Serving a Fluid Population

Excerpts from "Alaska's First Free Mail Delivery in 1900"
by Fred Lockley

What added materially to our work was the fact that not only the individuals and firms were in constant motion like the bits of glass in a kaleidoscope, but the places of business themselves were likewise not exempt. Tents gave place to frame buildings over night. When we presented ourselves with mail for the mining broker whose office on the previous day had been a tent, we found he had folded his tent and quietly stampeded to some newly discovered district or likely creek.

One such instance comes to my mind out of dozens of similar experiences. My comrade in the service received orders to deliver the mail for the Red Cross Pharmacy. It was a canvas and frame-work affair located on the north side of Front Street near the Alaska Exploration Company's store. He booked the order, delivered the mail a few days, when the whole thing disappeared. Next day I found it on my route near the "Gold Digger" office. We made the necessary corrections on our books, and I took his mail, when he again disappeared, moving to a new location on my comrade's route, and taking his house with him like a snail. My partner booked the order and I erased it from my book. We soon lost him again and found that he had discovered a more favorable location on my side of the street, and resumed his residence there. Where one would see a tent in the forenoon there might be a building site for sale in the afternoon. That night a large force of carpenters would be put to work, and by next day a frame building would be almost ready for occupancy, cloth tackers and paper-hangers following the carpenters closely. At best the season was but short and every moment must be utilized. Most of the stores were open day and night, being run by two shifts of clerks.

A man called me into his tent one morning and asked me to deliver his mail. Next day I returned with mail for him. Imagine my surprise when I could not even locate the place where his tent had stood. I rubbed my eyes, looked up the order, got out my route map, and found the place where the tent should have been; but in its place was a frame structure upon which the carpenters were still at work. A grocer was arranging his stock. I asked him where his predecessor was. "Oh, he has mushed on," was his response. "But he told me to bring his mail here," I said. "Well, that is all right, but that was yesterday," he answered as though discussing ancient history. "I bought him out yesterday afternoon, hired a gang of carpenters and ran up this building last night, and we put our stock of goods in this morning. The man you are looking for pulled his freight for Council City this morning. I guess you had better forward his mail there." I could multiply instances, but I will only cite one more.

I delivered the mail for a second-hand man at his tent opposite the North American Trading & Transportation Company's store. As I passed along the street opposite the Barracks one forenoon someone hailed me. It was my second-hand man. He said, "Leave my mail here after this, I sold my business out last night." He had put in a stock of fruits and fancy groceries, changing not only his location but his business over night. That same afternoon I passed his way, when he again hailed me. "Hold my mail for a few days," he said. "What is up now?" I inquired. "I got a lease on this business site for fifty dollars," he answered. "This noon the Babcock Undertaking Co. offered me one hundred and fifty dollars, so I sold it and am one hundred dollars ahead of the game. I am going to auction my stuff off this evening, as he takes possession tomorrow morning." He had owned and disposed of two business enterprises within twenty-four hours, and made money on both transactions.