Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Western Wednesday: Communication in the Old West

Western Wednesday: Communication in the Old West 

Photo: Pixabay/Jan Vasek

I’m not the most savvy of technology users, and I was a long holdout on getting a smartphone. Unsurprisingly, the need to keep up with and communicate with family was the impetus for my upgrade. Texting was excruciating on my tiny flip phone, and there was no ability to send or receive photos. 

Westward expansion after the American Civil War sent hundreds of thousands of people across the nation. Some fled to escape the horrors of the war, others because they lost their homes. A great number craved adventure. Whatever their reasons, individuals packed what would fit in a covered wagon, paid their fees to the trail boss, and set out for a new life. More than a few left behind family, and telephones wouldn’t become commonplace for decades. 

How did pioneers keep in touch? 

Photo: Pixabay/Ellen26
The most common way settlers communicated with their loved ones was through the mail service. Created in 1792 with the Postal Service Act, the US Postal Service was originally part of the federal government, then elevated to a cabinet-level department in 1872. It would not become an independent agency until the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970. 

Until 1851, mailing letters through the Postal Service was an expensive proposition and did not serve many areas of the country. Additionally, there was no “regular delivery. As a result, most people used private means. Sometimes it was as easy as giving the letter to a friend, relative, business associate, or even stranger who was “heading that direction.” Another means was to hand the correspondence to the captain of a ship (Law required them to deliver all mail to the nearest post office at the first port of entry, but research indicates that didn’t always happen.) 
Stagecoaches were another avenue to send correspondence. In addition to people, they carried, bags, packages, and letters. Before 1810, stagecoaches were allowed to carry letters unless the route had been designated by Congress as a post road. After the Postal Act of 1810, it was unlawful for stages to carry mail on a post road or road adjacent to a post road. However, some drivers continued to offer the service. 
Photo: Public Domain
Private express companies (the forerunners to UPS/FedEx, etc.) were often used to carry money, packages, and legal documents, but were also known to convey letters. Until the Pony Express which delivered in ten days, then later through the use of trains, letters could take weeks, if not months to travel across the country. The telegraph was invented in 1844, but was expensive and only used in cases of emergencies. Early settlers would be amazed at the thought of cell phone usage that crosses oceans. I know I am. 


Ellie’s Escape 

She’s running for her life. He needs a trophy wife. They didn’t count on falling in love. 

Ellie Wagner is fine being a spinster school teacher. Then she witnesses a bank hold up and can identify the bandits. Fellow robbery victim Milly Crenshaw happens to run the Westward Home & Hearts Matrimonial Agency so she arranges for Ellie to head West as a mail-order bride. But her groom only wants a business arrangement. Can she survive a loveless marriage? 

Banker Julian Sheffield is more comfortable with numbers than with people, but he’s done well for himself. Then the bank president tells him that in order to advance further he must marry in six weeks’ time. The candid, unsophisticated woman sent by the agency is nothing like he expected, but time is running out. When her past comes calling, does he have what it takes to ensure their future?

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