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As the United States expanded across the Mississippi River, mail delivery proved to be a challenge. Mail carried by stagecoach or steamship took over a month to get to California. For a time, there was the Pony Express, which boasted famous riders like Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickock, that could carry mail from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California in only ten days. A lesser-known Pony Express route traversed Dakota Territory, but the first winter put an end to it. The southern route didn't last much longer, running from April, 1860 to October, 1861.

Railroads delivered mail more quickly, but there were limitations. While they were able to deliver mail to the populated areas along their routes, the mail still had to reach customers in the countryside. And railroads sometimes decided it wasn’t worth their time to carry the mail, since it took up space in baggage cars and didn't pay well.

On this date in 1904, a notice appeared in the Hope Pioneer announcing that the Great Northern would no longer carry mail on the Edmore branch. To compensate, the Postal Department established a Star Route between Lakota and Edmore. Star routes were handled by private contractors.

The mode of Star Route transportation varied with the terrain. In North Dakota, mail was commonly carried by wagon or horseback in the summer and sleighs in the winter. Mule trains delivered mail in Arizona. On the Rogue River in Oregon, mail was delivered by boat in the summer and sleighs in the winter. Contractors also used skis and snowshoes where necessary.

No longer called Star Routes, Contract Delivery Service still brings the mail to some remote areas. The Rogue River route that began in 1895 has remained active, although today mail is delivered by jet boat instead of canoe. People in remote areas are no doubt just as happy about getting their mail today as they were in 1904. The newspaper reported that the people living along the new Star Route in North Dakota were “rejoicing” that they'd continue to receive their mail.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Hope Pioneer. “The G.N. no longer carries mail on the Edmore Branch.” Hope ND. 2/4/1909. Page 2.

National Park Service. “Pony Express.” https://www.nps.gov/poex/planyourvisit/maps.htm Accessed 12/29/2021.

American Association for State and Local History. “Collecting Star Routes.” https://aaslh.org/collecting-star-routes-interpreting-the-unusual-delivery-methods-of-the-uspss-independent-contractors/ Accessed 12/29/21.

United States Postal Service. “Star Routes.” https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/star-routes.pdf Accessed 12/29/21.

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