Post offices reveal history

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During the years, Jan Leslie has learned how to tell large stories by focusing on small things. Her first book used the records from rural schools as a way of exploring forgotten corners of Routt County's story. Her second book, which she will be discussing today at the Tread of Pioneers Museum, hangs her historic hook on post offices.

Titled "Anthracite, Barbee and Tosh: The History of Routt County and its Post Offices 1875 to 1971," her latest book isn't about post offices at all.

"It's about the places that had them," Leslie said. Places such as Hilton Gulch and Pleasant Valley that long have been under the eye of area historians did not end up in her book simply because they never had post offices.

Instead, she wrote about places such as Dunckley, Pagoda, Sydney and Trull.

"Those places were not really towns," Leslie said. "They were just on the way to somewhere."

Seeing names such as Hard Scrabble in postal records was the only way she would have ever known they exist. Hard Scrabble, near Slater Creek, didn't last very long. According to records, it only had a post office for six months.

"Some of these places died on the vine rather quickly," she said.

"Anthracite, Barbee and Tosh" follows Routt County through its boom and bust cycles -- the gold rush, the coal mines and the cattle bust -- by mapping the life cycle of 48 post offices.

The post offices she writes about weren't buildings. Some--times, they were just drawers in somebody's house or a box where letters were kept, which was the case in places such as Mystic, Brookston and Deep Creek.

All you needed to be a post office was a canceling stamp, a postmark, some ink and a letter scale.

"Some of these places wanted to be towns," Leslie said. "They were platted but never got off the paper. There was a Dawson and a West Hayden that were slated to be towns, but it just never happened."

Jan Leslie wrote the 224-page book with the help of her sister Nadine Leslie. Nadine talked her sister into writing the book on a computer. Until then, she wrote long hand or with a typewriter.

Nadine Leslie scanned all the historic photos for the book and arranged to have it published by Sunburst Graphics and Printing in Grand Junction.

"Anthracite, Barbee and Tosh" is available at the libraries in Oak Creek, Yampa and Toponas and at the Tread of Pioneers Museum and Off the Beaten Path Bookstore.

"A lot of people have called to thank us for publishing these stories," Nadine Leslie said. "All this information is getting lost. The people who really knew what happened are gone or going, and we need to have a sense of our history."

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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