Since the early months of Dodge City's existence, mailing a letter out or receiving one has been relatively easy. But in other places, it hasn't always been so simple.
The ease of mail service here was related to what made Dodge thrive in the frontier days. Buffalo City or, Dodge City, had the luxury of having the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad run through town.
Most of our mail came and left by train along with many other goods and commodities. Early commodities shipped out included buffalo hides and, later, longhorn cattle, both of which built this city.
Before the railroads came west, mail took months to travel from coast to coast. It had to be shipped over poor roads by stagecoach or take a perilous journey sailing ship around the notorious Horn at the bottom of South America. In this region, a network of wagon roads connected US Army outposts during the 1860's.
Along with the Santa Fe Trail, trails ran from Fort Dodge to other forts including Fort Hays, Fort Larned, Camp Supply in Indian Territory and Fort Lyon, Colorado.
As settlers moved west, stage lines moved into the fill the need of movement of people and goods, including mail. But, stagecoaches and wagons were slow and had to stop at night.
To speed things up, William Russell along with Alexander Majors, and William Waddell, instituted the Central Overland Pony Express Co., which began delivering mail on April 3, 1860.
Their endeavor was to get mail across the country at the speed of continually galloping horses, which turned out to be as little as 10 days. The effort required hundreds of horses, scores of riders and numerous stations to trade horses every 10 to 15 miles and riders every 75.
The route which ran from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, did not come through Dodge City, but the eastern end ran through the northeast part of our State.
The trip was dangerous as it went through Indian country. To attract young riders Russell had to pay the riders well at $1,900 to $2,750 per month in today's money. Ads for riders read "Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18.
Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred."
Only one of the 183 riders, aged from 11 through the 40's, was killed by Indians and his pony completed his route mail intact to the next station.
Though a half-ounce piece of mail cost $5, which would be nearly $100 today, the business still operated at a loss. Russell was counting on government contracts which never came through.
On Oct. 24, 1861, Russell ended the Pony Express two days after the first coast-to-coast telegraph made this service obsolete. Despite delivering 34,753 pieces of mail during the 19 months of its existence, the venture lost nearly $200,000.
Even after the railroads made services such as the Pony Express even more outdated, the railroads did not go everywhere. P.G. Reynolds filled a need in our area by operating the Dodge City and Panhandle Stage Line which carried passengers, freight and US mail south into Texas, north to Wakeeney and as far west as New Mexico. This stage line lasted until 1888.
The history of mail delivery in this part of the country, including the Pony Express, demonstrates just how much we take our "snail mail" service for granted. We would be outraged if a letter from St. Joseph to Sacramento took as long as 10 days.