No Letters: I hated Sundays!

Note: This is the first of two connected posts. The second post can be found here: The Family Spammer vs. The Cursive Queen

“I hated Sundays when I was a kid,” said my Dad (Milt Hanson).

To say I was surprised would undersell my reaction. He was 82-years-old, a devout Lutheran, and read the Bible every day.

Always send an expert for the letters in the mailbox
Always send an expert to get the mail. What year and model of vehicle is that? No not the car… the tricycle… photo by Helen Hanson

“Why Dad?”

“Because there wasn’t any mail delivery!”

Yup. Growing up as an only child on a ranch from 1928 to 1942, miles from the nearest neighbor, he lived for his letters. He had pen pals. He collected stamps. He craved contact with people outside his isolated world. The wide-open ranch landscape that I loved as a kid was lonely for him.

Like all remnants of the past, the photo of this little girl standing on her tricycle to open the mailbox poses something of a mystery. I don’t know who she is, but that’s my Mom and Dad’s 1950 Chevy Deluxe sedan in the background. It’s Wyoming (notice the vintage lawn): most likely Cody or Cheyenne. What model of tricycle?? Anyone know?

When my grandfather, Billy Hanson was born in 1881, and throughout his life, letters were the main means of communication with anyone who wasn’t an immediate neighbor. He and my grandmother, Betty, never did have a telephone until they moved to town in 1964. Loved ones in far off places, a nephew in the army, business correspondence: some, but not nearly enough of those letters have survived and will show up in the Alaska Billy Blog.

From Stagecoaches to E-mail

Typical overland stagecoach-1869
Typical stage of the Concord type used by express companies on the overland trails. Soldiers guard from atop, ca. 1869.

Mail delivery by horseback between “posts” (as in “post office”; and in “blog post”?) and by stagecoach had been in place in England for over a hundred years by the time Benjamin Franklin was appointed as postmaster of Philadelphia by the British Crown Post in 1737. He would become the first Postmaster General under the Continental Congress in 1775.

In the 1800’s stage routes brought mail to the cascade of settlers and communities that flooded across western North America. Mail contracts were a crucial source of income for the stage lines, much as today’s mail contracts provide an essential income stream for the small air taxi operators that move people, freight, and mail in small aircraft to the remote communities scattered across Alaska. Without the reliable mail delivery revenues, my guess is that the number of routes would have been limited, and the cost for passengers and freight would have been significantly higher.

In 1858, the Overland Mail Company established twice weekly mail service across the 2800 miles between Missouri and San Francisco. Visit the Legends of America website for more about stagecoach routes and the Pony Express. Transportation and changes in technology would figure prominently in Billy’s ranch life. For now, it’s enough to know that railroad expansion (finally transcontinental in 1869), and the coming of the automobile would eventually replace the stagecoaches.

Although not as significant as the Overland Stage, probably no stage line has attracted more attention than the Deadwood Stage, more properly, the Cheyenne and Blackhills Stage and Express Line ( The line went through to Deadwood City, infamous for the murder of Wild Bill Hikock and his ‘dead man’s hand’, a poker hand with a pair of black jacks and and pair of black eights.

Letters traveled on the old Stage Route past OH Bar Ranch
Where’s the postman? Milt Hanson and Bob Hanson (Bill’s brother) survey the possible old stage route past the OH Bar ranch next to the horse gate.

My father once pointed to the dirt road that led from gate of the ranch to the pastures, the same gate to which I led Grandpa’s horse, Dolly, each morning to turn her out to pasture. “The stage ran through here,” he said. Perhaps. I’m relating a 50-year-old comment here. It crossed Alkali Creek, but the maps I’ve seen seem to show it a mile or two closer to its confluence with the Cheyenne river. The Deadwood stage was long gone by the time that Billy Hanson homesteaded in 1903, having discontinued in 1887. If you like tales of the Wild West, it’s hard to beat the robberies, murders, and wild times of Deadwood and the stage line. For a full account, visit the Wyoming Tales and Trails website.

Note: This is the first of two connected posts. The second post can be found here: The Family Spammer vs. The Cursive Queen

Hanson Fathers and Sons – Fossil Photo

Bill, Billy, and Milton Hanson with fossil
Writer William Arthur Hanson (Bill Hanson) with his grandfather, Billy, and father, Milton. Fossil found by 10-year-old Bill.

In launching the Alaska Billy Website yesterday, the photo shown in this post appeared in Facebook without the caption. My grandfather collected fossils and artifacts throughout his life. He knew they were petrified wood and remnants of dinosaurs, but didn’t investigate further as far as I can tell. When he and my grandmother sold the ranch and moved to town in 1964, they still didn’t have running water or a telephone; there was still a privy behind house. The costs were simply beyond their income level. And yet, Billy embraced technology like motorized vehicles and electricity when they became available in the 1920’s and 1930’s. What would his life had been like in the world of cell phones and the internet, I wonder.

This is just an update to yesterday’s post. I plan to post to the Alaska Billy Blog approximately every two weeks.


Introduction to the Alaska Billy Blog


The Alaska Billy Blog uses family history to consider how the landscapes of our past shape our future lives. Born in 1881, only 5 years after Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Big Horn, my grandfather and namesake, William Otis Hanson (Billy Hanson), grew up in a sod house on the Nebraska prairie. At the age of 15, Billy left home to become a cowboy in Wyoming.

I’m Bill Hanson (writing under my full name, William Arthur Hanson). The Alaska Billy Blog unites my desires to produce immediately readable work, interact with other writers and interested readers, and conduct research for my novels in an entertaining way.

Billy Hanson's travelling trunk
Billy Hanson’s travelling trunk. Tin over wood with reinforcing wooden slats across the sides and the rounded top.

I’ll combine relics from Billy’s steamer trunk with memories of my grandpa’s ranch (called “The Billy” by neighbors) to link the society and history of life in the rural West from 1881 to 1964 to life in the present day.




Billy Hanson's traveling trunk
Billy Hanson’s traveling trunk. Wood covered with metal. A junk and treasure trove from the early 20th century until 1964. Wyoming.

I plan to explore topics useful in writing my novel Spinning Heart, including themes, history, and changes in American society at the dawn of the 20th century: exploration of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, migration and settlement of new territory, and the changing roles and perspectives of women. At the same time, I’ll include thoughts about contemporary life, writing, and the relationship between landscapes in different parts of the world.



In the future, this first blog post will also available in the menu under the About Alaska Billy Blog tab .

William Otis Hanson – Billy Hanson

WA Hanson's grandpa, Billy brings Wyoming landscapes to an Alaskan's heart.
Grandpa Billy Hanson (left), Tom (right). Six gun and lariat. Chaps. Alaskan writer William Arthur Hanson uses The Alaskan Billy Blog to bring life in early 20th century Wyoming into his Alaskan landscape novels.

The Alaska Billy Blog originates in my grandfather, Billy Hanson, but if these writings ended in a simple family history, they would serve little purpose. A family tree standing by itself without the context of the culture in which our predecessors lived is a barren landscape.

Rather than a family chronicle, I want to learn about the origins of my own heroes and dreams. True, I’ll learn about my family, and hopefully come to understand my fascination with the stories of fathers and sons. My name, William Arthur Hanson, is a combination of Billy’s first and last names, with the middle Arthur from my maternal grandfather (whose middle name in turn, was Wilhelm). And yet, Billy was not a blood relative of mine. He was my father’s stepfather, so we’re talking about nurture here, not nature.

Grandpa Billy Hanson with Bill Hanson. City kid home on the range. WY 1953
Grandpa Billy Hanson with Bill Hanson (Age 4,1957) with cattle on the OH Bar Ranch, Wyoming. The city kid, home on the range.

Despite our separate genes, I share a number of characteristics with Billy: my fascination with rocks and fossils, and my love of open spaces and wild places. Perhaps there are other shared interests as well. My father, Milt Hanson, found his first love of music listening to Billy’s records on the Victrola. Dad moved on to classical music in his own time, but I think that the universal presence of music in my life (encouraged by both my mother and my father) from birth until now can be traced back through the generations.

The Billy

Ranch House with neighbors' brands. Billy's OH Bar brand in low center.
O-H Bar Ranch House with neighbors’ brands. Billy’s OH Bar and WOH brands in center of lower frame, along with Betty Hanson’s Square and Compass brand. Painting by Dorothy Morse

There’s another Billy that looms out of my sense of myself. That would be ‘The Billy’, my grandfather’s ranch in the dry lands of eastern Wyoming. This is the first place that I can point to as a Place of My Own, a landscape that I had all to myself, a personal world in which to act out my dreams, explore and discover, to return to every year to explore again, recognize changes, and become part of.