US Postal Service on the Frontier

This image depicts the Butterfield Overland Mail leaving San Francisco. It appeared in the December 11, 1858 issue of Harper's Weekly, about 6 months before THBS headed home. It links to the website, Gossamer Networks, that shows the development of postal service in the American west.
Thomas Hart Benton Stasey was killed at the battle of Vassar Hill (explained at link)
The logo of the U.S. Postal service links to a history of the overland mail in the 1850s.

Thomas Hart Benton Stasey (THBS) left Hannibal, Missouri for California in the summer or fall of 1854. He returned in the summer or fall of 1859. During his stay he wrote letters home, including several to his fiancé, later wife, Margaret America Sparks. She wrote to him, as well, and he mentions some of her letters in his. Miss Sparks saved her future husband's letters, and several of them transited the years from her to us. None of her letters survived, but we know they made the trip from eastern Missouri to various locations in the California gold fields.

That so many of THBS's letters have survived is a remarkable testament to the vigilance of the intervening generations. Sadly, all but one of the envelopes is missing, but the letters themselves have been well preserved, and may be read in the book, "Stasey."

We can be pretty sure THBS followed what came to be called the California Road. The picture links to a brief history of the roads into the western frontier.

The U. S. Postal Service deserves as much credit as preservationist children, and grandchildren, for our access to these frontier documents. It broadened coverage of its mail routes quickly after the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill.

It was a dangerous trip from Sacramento to St. Joseph in 1849, and and barely less treacherous by 1860. There is an excellent web site, Gossamer Networks, for understanding the growth of postal service in the American West, and we provide a link behind the top picture. Below, we display two snapshot maps of post office locations and mail routes during the time THBS was sending and receiving letters between California and Sharpsburg, Missouri. The third shows the situation at the time THBS's brother set off for Texas.

The above map shows the location of post offices in the year before THBS went west. We don't know much about his trip except that he stopped at Fort Laramie, in present-day Wyoming, the lone purple dot in the center of the map, and that he passed through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There were a few post offices in California at that time. Click map to enlarge.
By the time THBS returned to Missouri in 1859, there were many more post offices in California, a few more on what had become the California Road, and several on the east side of Kansas. Kansas was just then calming down from the political rupture over slavery that soon led to the Civil War. The post offices had led to the formal recognition of roads, although they were little improved. Click map to enlarge.
THBS was killed early in the war, but his brother, William Anderson Stasey, managed to avoid the conflict, for the most part. His mother died at the family farm near Hannibal in 1875, and he moved to north Texas, a little south of Fort Worth. By that time, post offices were more densely packed, and the railroads had pushed in everywhere. His trip to Texas was undoubtedly less difficult than his brother's trip to California 20 years earlier. Click map to enlarge.