Notes from the Past

Transcontinental Mail in 1860 - Part II

There is an intriguing note in John D. Young and the Colorado Gold Rush published by R. R. Donnelley & Sons in 1969 as  a part of their Lakeside Press Christmas Series (see previous Note from the Past for the introduction).  It concerns the party receiving mail upon their arrival at Fort Kearney on the Platte river near the middle of Nebraska.

The travelers' route took them through Kansas on the tributaries of the Blue River.  First, up Sandy Creek and then cross country to the Little Blue.  When they arrived at the end of the Little Blue they went north cross country to intercept the Platte River at Grand Island.  The next destination was Fort Kearney.

We now came in sight of Fort Kearney and could see the glorious old "Star Spangled Banner" floating proudly on the breeze.  The fort consists of about twenty houses occupied as barracks, officers quarters, and a post office enclosing a square of about one acre with twelve six pounder guns mounted three on each side of the square.  What they were placed there for I could not imagine as they could not fire them off without knocking down the buildings.  It is very curious why they selected such a position for a fort.  It has no natural advantages whatever.  There is not any shelter from an enemy not elevation to the ground and it is a mile away from the river and they have not even got a mud enclosure around it and I should think in case of assault the insiders would have no advantage over the besiegers.

We were not allowed to stop in the immediate neighborhood of the "fort" the rules being strict that no one should camp within two miles.  I stayed behind to get letters.  I found some from home the first I received since leaving.  We were as eager to get news from home as if we had been away years instead of only two weeks.  I read my letters found all well at home and then went out to the square to see the drill.

What is particularly interesting is the thought that the mail would have preceded them in reaching the Fort.  They had left Chicago on April 16 or 17 and arrived in Fort Kearney on May 5.  It would appear that the ordinary mails moved by a faster conveyance than wagons drawn by oxen.  The Pony Express mail didn't, as far as I know, carry mail for dropping off along the way so there must have been other "high-speed" freighters who carried the mail.  It is also worthy of note the importance that mail had for people in that time.

 Posted April 25, 2000

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