In a time when we receive messages via email, Facebook and texting, “snail mail” seems a little old timey. In 1890 though, getting messages in and out of a frontier town was vital.
T.C. Van Eaton wasted no time setting up a post office in Eatonville. The first post office opened July 25, 1890, and “Van Eaton’s first commission as Postmaster bore the signature of Benjamin Harrison, President of the United States.”
Charley Williams Takes Over
In 1907 Charley (C.H.) Williams took over as postmaster. Charley already had a reputation for avoiding red tape. “Before becoming postmaster, he drove a stagecoach and carried mail form Eatonville to Longmire. One day he got in an argument with a bear, which delayed his arrival at Longmire by nearly three hours. When Washington, D.C. heard of this delay, they were agitated and sent a long form in quadruplicate to Charley to explain his tardiness.” Instead of filling out the lengthy form, Charley scrawled across it, Stopped to skin a bear. He heard no more on the matter.
While Charley was postmaster, Washington D.C. decided Eatonville would be a postal savings office and sent Charley $37,000 in postal savings certificates and forms to be filled out. Since it was more responsibility and no extra pay, Charley promptly dumped the certificates and forms in a corner. Letters began to arrive from D.C., each more urgent, wanting to know where the forms were. Charley added them to the pile. Finally a postal inspector came to find out where the forms were. Charley pointed to the now substantial pile, saying, “There they are.” That was the end of the savings certificates.
Fred Matheny Postal Carrier
On April 1, 1909, the first rural route was established and Fred Matheny was appointed carrier. He would hold the position until 1935 when he retired.
The Dispatch states, “Fred Matheny started out with his old black horse, Old Bill. The route was 29 miles long with about 80 patrons. Old Bill would tire out around Clear Lake and [Fred] would sometimes borrow a horse. The second year Old Bill had help by a pair of wild ponies.” (It’s too bad the stories about mail delivery by wild ponies aren’t still around.)
After a few years, Fred used a bicycle and “pumped the long weary miles on cycle to give his horse a resting period.” Fred also used a motorcycle, before buying a Metz automobile in 1914. Next was a two-cylinder Brush. (People said the rattling chains announced their mail delivery.) Later, the Brush was replaced by “a reliable Model T. Ford.”
During Fred’s 26 years, he saw the roads go from mud and planks to pavement. He also saw the weight and number of packages increase. When he began there were about 4,000 pieces of mail a month and parcel post packages were limited to four pounds. By 1919 he had 15,000 piece of mail monthly and in 1924 the weight of parcel post was raised to 50 pounds and 70 in some instances.
Thank goodness the job qualifications for today’s carriers don’t require a strong back, a good horse, and the skills to fend off bears.
Information comes via The Dispatch and Edith’ Erickson’s Timber Town and Later.
Photo courtesy of the Dispatch and Williams family.
Click on image to enlarge.