Your Letters are Read with Eagerness

A series of letters are used in this gallery to demonstrate the critical role of mail in the lives of these pioneers and adventurers. In a world without telephones, email or faxes, mail was the only link between families and friends separated by thousands of miles.

New Sweden, Iowa, June l5, l865

Dear parents, sisters, and brothers:

I will again write to you and thank you for the welcome letter which we read so eagerly. The week your letter came we were in anxious expectation, as I dreamed many times about Sweden and about you. I always dream about you before your letters arrive. You may rest assured that your letters are read with eagerness, and it is with joy that we learn that you are in good health and are prospering. I am a little disappointed that sister Sophia does not come—we would have happy times together. But this prospect has faded since her fiancé doesn't want to leave. Now I am in hopes that Johanna will get the "American fever."

Oliver speaks a great deal of moving to Sweden, but I don't favor it, as I have things as good as I could wish. The only thing that could induce me to go to Sweden is the pleasure of being with you. Uncle and Aunt say that we may expect you, but we do not want to insist. We will soon make our decision, and we wish you would write as soon as possible whether you have any thoughts of coming to America. 

Mary Stevenson

Pioneer Camp
Independence Mo., May 13, 1848

My Coz Nella,

I resume my pen for the first time since our arrival. . . . More than all I wish you might see the broad prairie as we see them now. We have a most beautiful camp on a high roll of the prairie with clear good springs of water on either side of us.

Tomorrow we cross the Big Blue and intend going 12 miles—our days journeys will be short until mules are well broken in—we had the fun of driving and breaking one wild one—and no small task it was I can assure you. . . . Our mess is composed of 3 young men from Michigan and 1 from New Hampshire and in professions we stand 2 Lawyers 2 Merchants and 2 Farmers.


Courtesy of The Rensselaerville Correspondence, The Frances Long Collection, New York 

Sept. 20, 1858

To the New York Herald:

The Pacific Railroad train, carrying the first overland mail, arrived at Tipton. . . . We found the first coach ready, the six horses all harnessed and hitched and Mr. John Butterfield, Jr. impatient to be off. . . . The time occupied in shifting the baggage and passengers was just nine minutes, at which time the cry of "all aboard" and the merry crack of young John Butterfield's whip, denoted that we were off. . . . We rode along a somewhat rapid pace, because John Jr. was determined that the overland mail should go through his section on time; and though his father kept calling out, "Be careful, John," he assured him that it was "allright" and drove on.

Our horses were four in number, that being the allotment all along the line from Tipton to San Francisco. They were harnessed at this point and to change teams was the work of but a few minutes, and we were off again. This time we got a driver who was slow . . . [and] did not know the road well, and we had to feel our way along. As the night was dark, the roads difficult, and the coach lamps seemed to be of little use in the dim moonlight . . . I began to feel some fear of wet feet and mail bags when the water reached the hub, but we got over safely and pretty dry, as the water was not deeper than half of the wheel. . . . I must confess it was a matter of utmost astonishment to me how the driver ever found his way in the wilderness.

Waterman Ormsby, passenger

Nevada Oct. 27th '54

My Beloved Mother

What can I say—where can I begin—to tell you of all that has taken place within our little house the last two weeks. I wish I had written by the last steamer, as I might just as well have done for I was quite well, and busy sewing, but I could not bear to write again till I could tell you all. I was tired of keeping anything back in my letters. But the time has come at last when I need keep nothing from you any longer. I am sitting in my large rocking chair in the parlor by the stove, and on the sofa beside me lies the sweetest, tiniest little boy that ever you saw, and every little while I go and uncover his little face and try to realize that it is indeed my little one,—mine and Niles's—What a world of thought as well as love rushes over my heart while I look upon him.

You know my dear mother far better than I can tell you—with what feelings I clasp my first born to my heart. A mother only can sympathize with a mother. There seems to be a new tie now to bind me to you—and indeed all our family—a new fountain of love is opened, and it seems to replenish all the old tendernesses and give new ardor to every affection.

—It is the fashion among the Pikes [Missourians] here to run the first day to see a new baby, and they take it as quite an unheard of thing to be refused admittance to the mother, but I took the liberty to refuse all company for one day and offended all whom I refused.


Courtesy of the Fred Searls Library 

Denver Col May 11, 1879

Dear Mary and Wife

I went to the Post Office this morning at nine o'clock. . . . The mail that comes in here from the East makes a load of mail bags filled on a large express wagon all two horses can draw. It comes or is due here about three and is assorted by night so evenings all go to get letters from home. Men that do not have boxes, have to stand in line, they say sometimes 1/4 mile long. I have seen several hundred men in a line.

Charles H. Harvey

Courtesy of the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress