By Marjory J. Sente

One of the great annoyances for early Prescott residents was the isolation from friends and relatives “back in the states,” an isolation that was made much worse by inadequate mail service. Surviving letters written by Margaret Griffiths Hunt McCormick, the wife of Richard Cunningham McCormick—the Territory of Arizona’s first secretary and second governor— illustrate the situation and the annoyances felt.

Margaret expressed such feelings in correspondence from Prescott to her friend Emma Denike in Rahway, New Jersey between February 10, 1865 and February 25, 1866. These letters and some of their covers (envelopes) are part of a collection in the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives.

In Margaret’s letter to Emma written December 22, 1865, she related to her friend some of the issues of receiving and sending mail.  Margaret wrote, “Your first letter reached me a week ago last Monday.  I wish Emma you would keep an account of the letters you send to me, and number each that I may know if any are lost.  The ‘old Scratch’ (Devil) is to pay with the Prescott mail.  A great part of it is sent by way of Santa Fe, instead of San Francisco, and remains there sometimes for six or eight months, which of course is encouraging?  The mail carriers, bringing the mail by way of San Francisco got on a sort of drunken ‘spree’ last week, and threw away one bag of the mail, which we are in hopes will be brought through next Sunday afternoon.”

Margaret numbered the covers on letters she sent to Emma and she also kept a detailed list in her journal of the letters she had written and received.  From the time she was at Aspinwall (an alternative name for Colon, Panama) in October 1865 on the McCormick’s honeymoon journey from Rahway to Prescott until October 1866, Margaret wrote 120 letters including 15 penned to Emma.

Margaret wrote twice to Emma in February 1866.  In the first one, she immediately launches into issues with the mail: “Your letter which you state is the fourth reached me this afternoon but is only the third I have received.  I presume the fourth is lying at Santa Fe or Albuquerque and the probability is it will not arrive for five or six months.  You said at the time you wrote that you had received a letter from me the week before dated San Bernardino, & on the same date I find I wrote you and four days later.  This is my fifth letter to you, which I consider doing well for an old married lady.” Margaret’s journal entries show she wrote two letters to Emma from San Bernardino.  It had taken three months to complete a cycle of correspondence.

In her second February letter, Margaret only briefly mentions the mail.  She noted, “Sun Eve.  Instead of the mail leaving Tuesday, as was the report, it will leave to-morrow morning, and as I feel rather tired I will send the ‘plan’ perhaps by next mail or soon.” The plan was the floor plan sketch of the Governor’s Mansion that Margaret included in her next letter dated April 1, 1866.  In that letter Margaret tells of finding a centipede on her pillow as she was preparing for bed, but more importantly she described the layout of the Governor’s Mansion which she refers to as “our house.”  She noted, “The upper story has but two finished rooms, one of which my cousin has and the other is occupied by Mr. Fleury.”  She continued her letter telling about a ball that had recently been given by the Prescott Brass Band and allowed that the first piano is on its way to Prescott, “. . . so you see we are becoming quite civilized.”

Margaret’s letter dated April 9 was brief.  She closed it noting, “Well Emma you must excuse this short letter for the mail will soon close and I am in haste.” She had to get to the post office to mail her letters by 8 am according to rules set by Prescott Postmaster Calvin White.  His remaining tenure was short.  Apparently Governor McCormick asked him to accept mail until 10 am, and when White refused he was replaced.

In its May 30, 1868, issue, the Arizona Miner offered its position on White’s ouster, “The removal of Mr. White is about the only thing McCormick’s great influence at Washington has ever accomplished, and that one out of petty spite worked great injury to our people, as Mr. White was the best postmaster we ever had.”

Next week: Margaret McCormick’s further adventures with the postal service.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.