With the holiday season finishing up, many of you have probably scurried to the mailbox to either send out well wishes or receive tidings of joy from loved ones. Nowadays, there are multiple airlines dedicated to delivering your parcels in a timely fashion, and local postmen/women who dedicate their livelihoods to well-organized mail routes by truck and foot.
Back in the humble beginnings of homesteading in Gateway, Colorado, Nellie (Foy) Massey and Weston Massey, interviewees of the Mesa County Oral History Project, recall the early 1900’s approach to receiving and sending out mail.
For those of you who haven’t visited, Gateway is a remote and stunningly beautiful community about fifty miles from Grand Junction, Colorado in Mesa County. The 2018 population was 368 people, but when the first settlers came upon the area, the amount of people-free, wide-open space was far more abundant. In 1901, the William B. Foy family (Nellie Foy’s grandparents) traveled from Utah along the Dolores River and became one of the first families to homestead in the area.
In 1903 the settlers instituted the first post office in the area, and they decided to name the post office and the surrounding community Gateway. Minnie (Beer) Hall established and ran this first post office. Nellie and Weston Massey describe how during the first days of the mail system, the mail only came to Gateway once a week and it took multiple days to get there from one of the main mail hubs of the area: Whitewater, Colorado. Transporting the mail from towns such as Grand Junction or Whitewater to Gateway originally involved a relay team and several days on horseback and wagon. There were many dangerous river crossings involved in order to travel to the Gateway area, and no bridges at the time to ease the grief of the delivery. To make it across the rushing river waters, the men rigged wagon beds using ropes and pulleys to provide a make-shift solution.
The snowstorms of higher elevation winters added an additional headache to this delivery process. During an especially memorable storm in 1915, the Masseys remembered a “big snow” that forced the mail carrier to drive his horses down the Unaweep Canyon using the telephone lines for his only means of visual reference points among the blizzard. A wagon could not make it through so a toboggan was attached to the horses, which added stress to the cold, volatile process.
Around 1915 a truck was purchased to help deliver mail via roughly developed dirt roads. Gateway started receiving mail six days a week by 1952; the road through Unaweep Canyon was finally paved in 1958.
Travel to Gateway these days is more leisurely and comfortable. The drive along Highway 141 on the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and there are many opportunities for outdoor recreation once you arrive. If you’re in town on a Tuesday or Thursday, don’t forget to pop in and browse the selection at Mesa County Library’s Gateway Branch. Your Mesa County Library card is valid at any of our eight locations, and Gateway hosts story time for your kiddos throughout the month.