BELLE FOURCHE | The history of the United States Postal Service is an ongoing story rooted in the principle that every person in the United States has the right to secure, efficient and affordable mail service.
The days of mail delivered on horseback were an important chapter in local delivery. Today’s mail still relies on individuals like Charles "Red" Nolin, a 24-year-old pony mail carrier in the late 1800's.
In Sturgis, on the southeast side of town near the Sturgis Regional Hospital, stands the Nolin monument, dedicated on May 30, 1932, with a re-enactment of the event of Charles Nolin's death.
John S. McClintock, author of Black Hills: Accurate History and Facts Related by One of the Early Day Pioneers, quoted a conversation he had with a pony mail carrier who he believed to be Nolin on the streets of Deadwood.
"Under sage and other brush all through the long days," said Charles Nolin. "It's wearing me out and I am tired of the job." U.S. Genweb Archives notes that a mail line was established between Cheyenne, Wyo. and Sydney, Neb. on the Union Pacific Railroad in early 1876. H. G. Rockfellow was the proprietor and the mail was carried on ponies. It is likely that Charles "Red" Nolin could have been one of these early day pony mail carriers on the Sydney-Deadwood trail who was employed by Rockfellow. It is recorded that he was ambushed, killed and scalped near the monument site by Indians on August 19, 1876.
The monument reads: "On this evening Nolin stopped on Alkali Creek where the National Cemetery is now located. Here a party from the 'Hay Camp,' now in Rapid City, were spending the night before hauling their hay on to Deadwood.
Nolin was urged to stay overnight because Indian war cries had been heard in the vicinity. He insisted on leaving, as he had promised his mother in Nebraska that this would be his last ride. The next morning his lifeless body was found here. His horse had been killed and the mail scattered. The freighters dug a shallow grave with their hay forks and covered the remains with rocks. The pile is still in evidence. In 1880 the remains were moved to the Bear Butte Cemetery.
Deadman Creek here, and Deadman Mountain to the southwest were named for the tragedy that befell that 24-year-old carrier." (Erected 1978 by the Sturgis-Ft. Meade Bi-centennial Committee and the South Dakota Bi-centennial commission).
Today’s mail carriers don’t face the dangers of the riders of pioneer days, but there are challenges to meeting customers’ expectations and providing quality service.
Daily mail delivery in our area is performed by Contract Delivery Service (CDS) carriers, rural carriers and city carriers.
CDS carriers are not postal employees. They work for other entities which contract with the Postal Service to provide delivery service to a particular route.
Rural carriers are postal employees who provide service to primarily rural areas and small communities. The delivery method is mainly curbside and most commonly from the carrier’s privately-owned vehicle.
City carriers are also postal employees who work mainly in larger communities. They deliver in a variety of ways; to the customer’s door, to curbside boxes or centralized units. Delivery can be on foot or mounted and city delivery vehicles are owned by the Postal Service.