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JPR Feature
Slow Mail   
Tuesday August 2, 2005
By Alice Mullaly

Welcome to As It Was: Tales from the State of Jefferson

In this age of instant messaging, communication is so fast that word can be received anywhere in the world within moments. But in the pioneer West, not hearing from home for years was a common occurrence.

In February 1896, Thomas Smith wrote about this hardship in the Roseburg, Oregon, Plain Dealer newspaper. Smith came to the Oregon Territory in 1847, but didn't receive his first letter from home until 1850. And when it arrived, it was already eighteen months old!

Most correspondence was entrusted to someone traveling west. That's how Smith got his letter. It passed from one person to another until finally reaching Oregon City where it was first read by Smith's brother. A traveler going south then brought the letter to Smith near Roseburg and charged him $1 for the delivery.

The U.S. Postal Service initiated mail delivery to the West Coast in 1848 via ship to Panama, canoe and mule across the Isthmus, and a Pacific Mail steam ship to San Francisco. It still took a long time. By 1855 there was semi-monthly mail in Roseburg, and a letter was likely to be only three months old. 

Today people still complain about not hearing from home, but they can't blame a slow boat any more.

Today's episode of As It Was was written by Alice Mullaly, the program engineer is Raymond Scully.  I'm Shirley Patton. As It was is a co-production of JPR and the Southern Oregon Historical Society.  To Share stories or learn more about the series visit asitwas - dot- org

Smith, Thomas, "The Isolation of the Oregon Pioneers," Ashland Tidings, Feb. 17, 1896, p.2; "History Timeline-1846-1899," American President Line,

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