Mail delivery in the gold rush

When gold was found in California in January 1848 only scattered Indian villages and a few trappers populated the area soon to become gold country. There were no roads, no towns, and no signs of civilization save the occasional land grant ranch along the Sacramento or San Joaquin Rivers. By the end of 1849 countless numbers of men had crossed the continent, 775 ships had departed east coast ports, steamboats plied the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and California’s population had increased by at least 80,000 souls. Most of these emigrants were scattered throughout the canyons and ravines of the Sierra foothills where there were no roads, no stores and no mail service. To meet the needs of these men, hardy entrepreneurs organized teams of 40-50 mules, each carrying about 300 pounds of flour, beans, whiskey, shovels, pans, and even pianos and plows. A two-week trip to the mines by one pack train could yield the owners a $20,000 profit.

A pack mule

In October 1849 the Kimball and Company advertised a daily express service between San Francisco and Sacramento as “attending personally to the transmission of parcels, bundles, orders, etc.” About the same time Alexander Todd began carrying letters between the southern mines and San Francisco, charging $16.00 a letter for the service. He was soon asked to carry gold to a bank as well and for that was paid a commission of 5%. On a good day Todd made over $1000. Express companies sprouted like mushrooms. The gold country was divided into zones. South of the Mokelumne River Todd operated out of Stockton with 20 other companies. To the north, up to the Bear River, Hunter and Company and about 20 competitors worked from Placerville. Langston Pioneer Express and 22 others worked the Yuba River from Downieville, and out of Marysville F. D. Everts had 9 rivals plying the Feather River.

A waterfall on the South Yuba River

Alvin Adams ca1850

In 1840 Alvin Adams had begun his own express service, personally delivering mail between New York and Boston. By 1845 his firm reached ‘to all parts of Europe by every steamer and sailing packet from Boston, New York and Philadelphia.’ On October 31, 1849 Daniel Dale Haskins arrived in San Francisco by Pacific Mail steamer and, as a resident partner of Adams and Company, soon set up shop. By September 1850 Todd and Company was doing business with Adams. Freeman and Company then Hunter and Company quickly followed and by 1852 Adams and Company had grown statewide. Then, in early 1852, Wells, Fargo and Company arrived in San Francisco. Sufficiently funded and ably managed, Wells Fargo had come to compete.



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