Mail delivery was challenging in 1879

Photo courtesy John M. Motter This wall full of pelts was taken by members of the Chapson family, who ranched on the West Fork of the San Juan River during the late 1890s and early 1900s. Photo courtesy John M. Motter
This wall full of pelts was taken by members of the Chapson family, who ranched on the West Fork of the San Juan River during the late 1890s and early 1900s.

Capt. Francis F. Dodge, commander of Company D, 9th cavalry, assumed command of Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs Jan. 8, 1879. At that time, Fort Lewis was garrisoned with two companies of infantry and one company of cavalry. The troops making up the 9th Cavalry were all black and known as “Buffalo Soldiers,” a name given them by the Native Americans with whom they fought.

On Feb. 1, 1879, Dodge ordered Lt. Guilfoyle to move the horses belonging to the 9th Cavalry from Animas City to Fort Garland in the San Luis Valley.

On March 4, Dodge wrote the following letter to the postmaster general complaining about the mail service to Pagosa Springs:

“Sir: I have the honor to invite attention to the inefficiency of the mail service between the post and the East, and to recommend that said service be increased to at least semi- or tri-weekly mail. At present all the mail for this post comes over the route from Ojo Caliente, N.M., to Animas City, Colo. It is true a weekly route has been established between Pagosa Springs and Del Norte, Colo. (carried on foot over the summit) but I have yet to learn that a single letter has been brought into the garrison by it. I cannot tell where the fault lies, but there is evidently a screw loose somewhere. The mail from Ojo Caliente is carried on horseback and as a rule, only letters come through. Official communications have been fifteen days enroute between this post and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and a longer time has been occupied in the transmission of letters between here and Santa Fe, N.M., a distance of only 160 miles. Last month a detachment of recruits were sent to my company from Santa Fe in a six mule team. Their description lists were sent by mail. The recruits arrived here just six days in advance of their description lists. A person might just as well be in Alaska as at Fort Lewis as far as any benefits to be derived from the public press are concerned. An officer informed me yesterday that he had lost a hundred papers since the first of January, and for myself I can say that I have received but three numbers of a weekly periodical which has been regularly sent to me since the 20th of December last. I am informed by two gentlemen whom I know to be reliable, that in January last, when passing through Ojo Caliente they saw a large amount of mail which had accumulated in that office — one of them was allowed to look it over and take out letters addressed to himself and friend. They report that the business of the office was conducted in a loose manner, registered letters receiving no more attention than newspapers, and all the mail stored in such a manner as to be easily pilfered. I should have made an earlier report on this matter had I not been informed that the Postmaster at Ojo Caliente has been changed as well as the contractor over the route, and hoped for some improvement.

“I am told the mail sometimes comes through in ordinary grain sacks, and I have deemed it necessary to send a courier with letters to Santa Fe because of the uncertainty on its delivery by the mail.

“In conclusion I would make the suggestion that the contractor be required to carry the mail in buckboards or some light vehicle, and not on horseback as is now customary. We might then hope to get what belongs to us, and there is also a possibility that we might get it on time, something as yet almost unknown.”