The Mail Wagon
by Paula Bosse
Photo: Dallas Jewish Historical Society
by Paula Bosse
My mailman-hating duck post of yesterday reminded me of this photo I’ve had tucked away in a digital file for months but have never used because I have no information about it. It shows several people — possibly a family? — gathered in and around a U.S. Mail wagon — “Collector No. 20.” The horse team is probably close by. As this photograph was found on the Dallas Jewish Historical Society website, one must presume that the people seen here are Jewish. Why they’re posing with an unhitched mail wagon is unknown, but it’s a cool photo.
I read a bit about these wagons, which were used to collect mail from boxes around the area and from train depots. The larger ones had a driver for the team of horses, a collector, and two clerks in the back who sorted mail as they headed back to the main post office. (Click for larger image.)
Dallas Morning News, Oct. 2, 1896
Rural mail delivery began in Dallas in 1901, and wagons like this were eventually used to reach far-flung areas beyond the city. Some of them were set up to be mini mobile post offices, out of which the mail carrier could sell things like stamps and money orders while they were on their appointed rounds of delivering and collecting mail (these mobile post offices actually caused several rural post offices to close).
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, March 23, 1901
There were two main problems with these horse-drawn wagons which showed up time and time again in newspaper reports:
- They were constantly involved in collisions, mostly with electric streetcars slamming into them. I’m not sure why this happened so much — perhaps the trolleys were too fast and too quiet — but it was a constant problem.
- Also, these wagons, stuffed with letters and packages (and whatever goodies might have been contained therein), were often hijacked at gunpoint or stolen when left unattended. Kind of a holdover from frontier days of holding up stagecoaches.
The life of a turn-of-the-century mailman was fraught with danger.
Sources & Notes
Top photo from the Dallas Jewish Historical Society; I’d love to know some — any! — information about who these people were and why they were posing with a mail wagon.
Read the 1925 memories of mail carrier James H. Jackson, who began his career with the Dallas post office in 1884, in the Dallas Morning News article “Dallas Postoffice Grew As City Grew” by W. S. Adair (DMN, Feb. 1, 1925).
Another Dallas-mailman-related story I found interesting can be found in my post “Jim Conner, Not-So-Mild-Mannered RFD Mail Carrier,” here.
Images larger when clicked.
Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.