Mail Service, the Old Fashion Way

The first white settlers of Del Norte County had contact with the world only through a scant trail system and the ships that stopped here. Although it was a more primitive system than available to travelers now, the number of roads was not so many more than those of modern times.

The first trails were cut through the forest. One crossed Cold Spring Mountain into Oregon, the other crossed the Siskiyou Range to the gold fields. The Oregon route cost $3,000 to open and maintain.

Teamsters would load up in Crescent City early in the morning so they could go over Redwood Ridge at daybreak. They could ranch their stock at a ranch owned by John Mavity, who served as a county supervisor in 1863-65.

Not until 1858, when Horace Gasquet’s City and Yreka Plank and Turnpike Road opened for use, did residents have a third connection to the world. Five-hundred mules were used to freight.

Most of them left the area after the plank road was finished From Oregon came the seeds that early settlers used for crops. From San Francisco came their other goods.

Shortly after Gasquet and his largely Chinese work crews finished the City and Yreka Plank and Turnpike Road, Nicholas McNamara Sr. and his partners, Stateler, McKay and Dobson” (no first names given), advertised their newly formed freighting company, the Northern California or Southern Oregon Mountain Express. The group owned at least 75 mules, which bore the loads during the area’s five-year heyday of mule train teamstering.

One pioneer’s writing states the group paid $50,000 for the animals and other pre-opening expenses. Crescent Herald reporter George P. Johnson identified the company’s operation base at Dugan & Wall’s store, and its lead Agent, A.B. McElwain.

“The route led through Sailor Diggings (later known as Waldo, Ore.), Althouse, Applegate, Sucker, Canon and Gallice Creeks.”

It connected at Jacksonville, Ore., then went to Yreka. The company advertised “letters procured from any Express or Post Office in California … treasure, packages and letters carried at reduced rates.”

T.H. Miles described the trails that teamsters drove their “long teams” across as “ankle deep dust in summer, and practically stopped by mud in winter.”

Little thought was given to making easy grades, and no attempt was made to eliminate the hairpin turns.

The trail led from Crescent City over Redwood Ridge, crossed the Smith River at Peacock Crossing (near the present-day golf course), and along the North Bank of the river just past its confluence with the North Fork of the Smith River. From there it was upriver to Cold Springs Mountain, into Illinois Valley and onward to Sailors Diggings and other camps.

More than a quarter century later, mules still were used to deliver mail to the Klamath area, where Joe Fountain would drop mail. From there a man identified only as “Hayes” packed the mail to Trinidad, a three-day round trip.

Nicholas Tack Jr. served as Constable of Mountain Township from 1863 to 1864. He was road overseer from 1867 to 1869.

Jean Napier was born April 4, 1842 at Port Robinson, Canada. Her father was a stone cutter on the Niagra Falls suspension bridge.

In 1861 she married John Purdy. They had three children.

John Purdy died before 1870 leaving a widow with two daughters and a son. In 1870, Jean Purdy came to Del Norte County to be a nurse and companion to Laura Tryon, mother of Dennis Tryon.

Jean Purdy married Darlan Tryon, a son of Dennis Tryon, but later divorced him. On June 30, 1874, Jean Purdy married Nicholas Tack Jr.

At the time, an old bridal custom was practiced. When a widow remarried it was proper for her to wear black for her wedding dress.

Jeans’ wedding gown was black. That gown is on display at the Del Norte County Museum.

Nicholas and Jean had three children.

Nicholas Tack Jr. was the proprietor of a saloon. It was located on the southeast corner of Fifth and H streets. Their home was located behind the saloon of Fifth Street. Both buildings are still standing and in use today.

Nicholas Tack Jr. died June 22, 1917. He was almost 83.

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