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

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William Arthur Hanson (Bill Hanson) is an Alaskan writer who searches for the roots of life in landscapes and the inhabitants they shape. He draws on 30 years as a biologist, forester, and ecologist. He has worked from the rainforests of Southeast Alaska to the subarctic taiga of the Interior. His writing mixes his deep knowledge of Alaska with people and places from his worldwide travels to Vietnam, Russia, Mexico, Ecuador, Europe, Malaysia, and much of the United States.

3 thoughts on “No Letters: I hated Sundays!”

  1. Thank you, Bill, for taking the initiative to connect the dots of history in such a personal, well-researched, and meaningful recollection. I think it´s interesting that all your (our) family photos and certainly all my childhood memories are of a crisp, largely barren, toasted land. Perhaps it is the black-and-white photos that don’t fully allow us to appreciate the beauty; perhaps it is selective memory.

    But some years ago, on a clear May day, I happened to be driving from Minneapolis to Denver and decided to take the old family path through Pierre, the Black Hills, Lusk, and Cheyenne, and I had truly a life-changing experience. The rolling Niabrara hills were infinite carpets of green – just absolutely stunningly gorgeous! Even now, it almost seems surreal to me that this land that I had only experienced as hot, dry, and utterly unproductive (in my mind), could ever hold such beauty. How could it possibly have taken me 40 years to experience this?

    That single memory will always remind me that we can go for years without fully appreciating the beauty of a landscape (or what else/who else in our lives?) that we think we know well and of which we have much experience. It has given me the realization that for whatever reason — our pattern of life, perhaps, or our naturally faulty memory — we have been granted only a selective series of snapshots that never reveals the “truth” or at least the “whole truth” of our surroundings.

    Definitely something I will think more about. Thanks for the trigger — I had not thought about this in a long, long time.

    1. My memory of Wyoming from childhood days is much the same. Hot, arid, brown. Perhaps one or two visits with green grass. Your more recent experience was in MAY. We always visited after school was out, so late June, July, August– very dry months. I suspect that someone who only visited Minnesota in October would have quite a different view compared to March or April, with the deciduous forests changing. You touch on two concepts that I have been thinking much about: 1) our perceptions/memories of landscape; and 2) Changes inherent to the landscapes.

      Our personal perception of landscapes depends on everything internal to us. You can fill in unlimited criteria here, but I think childhood and early adult years are very different than later life. The other part of immediate perception for me is “making a place my own”, experiencing it once or twice or daily with conscious and unconscious building of memories that then shape how I feel about and remember that place/landscape. For me, the experience of the ranch stopped in 1964 when Grandpa and Grandma moved to town. Even in one or two later visits, it was no longer my place. Everything I really cared most about was attached to Grandpa and Grandma and the ranch as a home, not just as a place. Of course, we begin to edit our memories at the moment they form. Although, I find it miraculous that they spring out of our minds 50 or 60 years later– see my latest post and the effect of the fragrance of Grandpa’s shaving cream on my memory.

      The other aspect of landscapes that I find endlessly entertaining relates to how they “live” and change through time, whether it is in a time frame that we can relate directly to like the annual rainfall cycle and its effect on the visible vegetation, or changes that change over longer periods– the rapid retreat of Mendenhall Glacier here in Juneau that we have seen and continue to see and that stimulates us to think not only about climate change, but also about the changes in our lives. Human-caused changes are also quite apparent in many cases– the conversion of agricultural land to suburbia between south Denver and Colorado Springs comes to mind. Of course, beneath all of this there are changes that occur at much longer time frames or that are largely invisible to us for many reasons (we don’t see the place every day, or the changes operate so slowly that we can only infer them from historical accounts or geological evidence, etc.)

      Every day, I look out my window at Gastineau Channel, check the wind direction and strength, figure out which way the tide is moving, evaluate my possibilities for the day. And every day, I see something new in my wake-up landscape. Very lucky, I am. I’m glad that the post got you thinking about landscapes.


      2) time within the landscape (annual cycles of weather, biota, human activity, sporadic events like landslides, etc.); 3)

      also has many versions that are endless, but might include:

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