California was desperate for fast, efficient mail. Miners wanted to correspond with the folks back home, perhaps on the new illustrated stationery that predated picture postcards. Businessmen needed to transfer bank drafts and contracts. In 1848 Postmaster General Cave Johnson authorized its first post offices, in San Francisco and Sacramento, but service remained so poor that, in 18501 irate residents didn’t get the news that they had achieved statehood until six weeks after the fact. . . .
The federal government had been quick to use the post to strengthen its new stake in the Pacific Northwest, at least in theory, by authorizing the first post offices west of the Rockies in 1847: one at Astoria, a deepwater port on the Columbia River, and the other at Oregon City, on the outskirts of today’s Portland. By 1851, the region also had eighteen postal routes. However, mail from the outside world still had to reach San Francisco first, then travel north by bimonthly steamers to Astoria, where the portion destined for Oregon City was dispatched. Hopeful recipients had to travel to an often distant post office to fetch their letters in person or wait for an obliging traveler to bring them into the outback.
In 1853, the northern section of the Oregon Territory split off to become the Washington Territory. The tiny village of Seattle, founded in what’s now the Elliott Bay neighborhood, boasted a log post office as well as a church, a brothel, and two blockhouses used for protection during Indian attacks. Nevertheless, one of the few things on which its fifty or so white, Indian, Hawaiian, and Cape Verdean residents could agree was that postal service was worse on their side of the Columbia River.