The Mail Must Go Through
The unsung heros of the Gold Rush era must surely have been the mail carriers who braved the elements to maintain that thin thread of contact with the outside world. In 1897 an author wrote, "To see the excitement that the mail from outside makes, to see the eagerness with which the men press up to the postmaster's desk for their letters, and the trembling hands as they are opened, and the filling eyes as they read, touches the heart..." It took three weeks for mail to get from St.Michael to Dawson and at least 100 days to get an answer by mail from any place in the central or eastern states. Mail carrying was an expensive and risky business. In 1899 one early contractor attempted to use horses for the run from Valdez to Eagle. The first trip killed eleven horses, cost $3000 and delivered only three letters. From the beginning, mail carriers used dog teams in the winter, but there was always the danger of thin ice and overflows and the possibility of losing letters...and lives, too. In 1900 two mail pouches were found that had been lost two years before by Mounties, one of whom had lost his life. Among the letters and valuables was a bank draft for $100,000 which was duly honored and cashed. By 1901, a mail trail ran nearly the whole length of the Yukon River. The U.S. Post Office divided the route into districts, or "runs" of fifty to seventy-five miles in length and contracted with the Northern Commercial Company or individuals to carry the mail and maintain the trails for each run. Mail carriers had to keep a rigid schedule. Any delay would hold up carriers all along the line. The mail sled always had the right of way. The carrier stood out as the most important person on the trail or at the road house.
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