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Moving West

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photo of cutouts of people in the Moving West exhibit

During the 19th century, America's postal service was the primary medium of news and information. In Moving West, visitors encounter letters and stories of some of the western pioneers. 

Steamships took settlers and mail to the West Coast, but did little to encourage immigration between the West Coast and the Mississippi River. To entice settlers into the Great Plains, Congress passed the Homestead Act of 1862. The promise of 160 acres of free land lured thousands of eager immigrants to the West. In spite of their hunger for land, pioneers still wanted to feel connected to the rest of the country. Through mail contracts, Congress provided financial incentives to a growing number of stagecoach lines to create and maintain mail routes in the new territories. 

Your Letters are Read with Eagerness

A selection of letters show the critical importance of mail in the lives of the pioneers. 

Brown and Butterfield

Postmaster General Aaron Brown and stage line operator John Butterfield ensured that mail would be delivered across the new territories. 

Stagecoaches and Mud Wagons

Stagecoaches and mud wagons were the most commonly used horse-drawn vehicles to carry mail across the trans-Mississippi west. 

Life in the Stages

Here's what some who traveled on the stages and mud wagons had to say about the trip.