Excerpts from "Alaska's First Free Mail Delivery in 1900"
by Fred Lockley
It was remarkable what absolute confidence the public reposed in us. I entered a saloon one day, delivered the mail to the barkeeper and to the men who were running the various games, such as "Black Jack," "Stud Poker," "Roulette" and "Craps" and the "Wheel of Fortune." An old gray-beard, a stranger to me, called to me. I went over to see what he wanted. "Here, son," he said, as he pushed over a pile of twenty dollar gold pieces, "I have started a little game here that is panning out pretty well. Get me a money order for one hundred dollars to send my wife in Los Angeles." I wrote down her name and address, pocketed the gold and next morning brought the man his money order. This is not an isolated case. I suppose I have bought a dozen or more money orders for men who were too busy to attend to it themselves. They would hand me fifty or one hundred dollars, throw down a silver dollar and say, "That will cover the cost of the order and pay you for your trouble."
While on my way to the postoffice one day I went up a side street not on my regular route. A man came to the door of his tent and motioned to me. He tried to speak but was too sick. A spell of coughing seized him so that I had to support him to keep him from falling. His eyes were unnaturally bright, and I could see that he was a very sick man. As best he could, interrupted constantly by severe spells of coughing, he told me that he had not been able to get his mail. He was sick and alone. He had taken his place in the line and, after keeping it half an hour and having gotten nearly to the delivery window, he had become weak and fallen down, and thus lost his place. No one was allowed to ask for more than one person at a time. If he wished to ask for two persons he must take his place at the foot of the line and work up again. The sick man had no friend whom he could ask to stand in line for him, and was very anxious for his mail. Poor fellow, I felt very sorry for him. Sick, alone, possibly dying and unable to hear from home. I went back to the postoffice and got him his home letters of which there were more than 30. When I returned he was in bed and in a high fever. He did not seem to be able to realize what I wanted. I propped him up in bed, showed him his letters, told them they were from home and left him. Much to my surprise and pleasure he lived to get to the States.
A man stopped me as I was going in the back door of the postoffice one day and said he would pay me well to get his mail. I said that in justice to those who had to stand in line we were not allowed to receive money to make any "side-door deliveries." "Well, just notice if there is any mail for me, and if there is not I will be saved the bother of standing in line and waiting for it; if there is I will take my place and get it." Laughing at his persistence I asked him his name. As soon as I heard it I recognized it as the name of a man who had married a young lady of my acquaintance who, while on a protracted visit to an adjacent state, and met and married him. While I had never seen Grace's husband, I had often heard of him through his wife's relatives who lived not far from my home. In a moment or two I came out with a letter in Grace's familiar handwriting. "Well, Grace did not forget you," I said as I handed him the letter. I asked him several questions which showed a thorough familiarity with his business and the affairs of his friends and acquaintances. I left him speechless with amazement, so astonished in fact that he did not even inquire my name. I presume he is still wondering how I could tell, by looking at the handwriting on the outside of the letter, his wife's first name, the nature of his business, and the affairs of his friends and relatives. As I do not think his wife knew of my trip to Nome, I presume his natural curiosity will forever remain ungratified.
The Nome postoffice did a large business in the money order department. It is the only postoffice, to my knowledge, in the United States that accepted gold dust in payment for money orders, the usual price allowed for gold dust being from fifteen and a half dollars to sixteen dollars per ounce. One day a man came in, produced his "poke," poured out a quantity of gold dust on the scoop and presented an application for a money order. The gold dust did not look quite right to the money order clerk, so he called Inspector Clum and the assistant money order clerk to examine it. They did not like the looks of it, either, so a little acid was poured upon it to test its purity. Instantly heavy green fumes arose, showing that it was bogus gold dust, composed of brass and copper filings. Later a man, I think the same one, was arrested for attempting to pass some bogus dust.
Speaking of gold dust reminds me of a little instance I witnessed on the street one day. A man stepped up to dealer and made some little purchase, paying for it with gold dust. The dealer shook out more gold dust in the scoop than was necessary, and after weighing out the proper amount in payment for the purchase, he attracted the customer's attention, at the same time holding the scoop to one side and pouring out about half a teaspoon of gold dust on the ground. Then, taking the customer's pouch, he poured in the remaining gold dust, scrupulously shaking in every particle. If he had an opportunity to repeat that operation many times during the day he would have a good clean-up at nightfall, as he could readily scoop up the dirt at the side of his stand and pan it out.