AUCTION 23

 
 

The Jackass Express Gets a Raw Deal

“The classic pamphlet on the overland mail from Salt Lake City to California in the 1850s”—Streeter

“Anyone interested in the history of the overland mail and express routes, or the overland trails generally, may study this map with profit”—Wheat

 
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95.  [CHORPENNING, JR., George]. A Brief History of the Mail Service, Settlement of the Country, and the Indian Depredations Committed upon the Mail Trains of George Chorpenning on the Several Routes between Salt Lake and California from May 1st, 1850, to July, 1860 [wrapper title]. N.p., n.d. [ca. 1871]. [1] 2-10 pp., folding lithograph map (see below). 8vo (21.5 x 14.7 cm.), original blue printed wrappers, stitched. Blue cloth folding box with gilt-lettered dark brown morocco spine. One very small chip to lower right corner of upper wrapper; another chip to outer margin of lower wrapper, a few scattered very small spots, but overall a fine copy, with a superb copy of the map. This imprint is rare in commerce; only a few copies were sold or offered in the past five decades, including the Streeter copy (sold 1968 @ $1,600; provenance: Herschel V. Jones copy purchased from Dr. Rosenbach in 1939) and the Holliday copy (sold 1954 @ $600; provenance: Edward Eberstadt; subsequently resold at Parke-Bernet Eberstadt sale in 1954, Lot 202 @ $2,500). We sold a copy in our Auction 19 in 2006 @$10,925.

Map

Map Showing the Several Mail Routes through the Indian Country from 1850 to 1861, and Indian Depredations Committed upon Mail Trains. Lithograph map showing Chorpenning’s Salt Lake and San Pedro Mail Route and the Sacramento and Salt Lake Mail route, sites of attacks by Native Americans, and losses of men and stock; border to border: 51.3 x 62.5 cm; overall sheet size: 56 x 70 cm.

     First edition. Holliday Sale 202: “George Chorpenning left Sacramento City, California, on May 1, 1851, in charge of the first United States mail that ever crossed the country between the States and the Pacific, and located a mail station, which was the first settlement in the territory now known as the state of Nevada, but which at that time was part of Utah territory. It was Chorpenning who projected and put into operation the first ‘Pony Express’ that ever crossed the country.” Jones, Adventures in Americana 284. Not in Flake.

     Streeter Sale 3107:

This is the classic pamphlet on the overland mail from Salt Lake City to California in the eighteen-fifties. Chorpenning, as the contractor for the first United States mail route from Salt Lake City, carried the mail through under heart-rending difficulties only to have his contracts annulled. The annulment of the contract and Chorpenning’s subsequent attempts to get justice became a cause célèbre on which many pamphlets have been published. This map is unusual and of great interest.—TWS.

     Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West #1222 & V, p. 36 (attributed to Jno. C. Nolan, although that name does not appear on the map):

Chorpenning’s territory as a mail contractor extended no farther east than Salt Lake City, so there is less detail in other areas, but the map shows the road from Salt Lake City across South Pass to the North Platte, “Independence or St. Joseph and Salt Lake Mail Route (Magraw’s Route),” and farther to the south, extending two ways from Santa Fe, the “Independence & Santa Fe Mail Route (Hall’s Route),” making for the Arkansas, and the “San Antonio and Santa Fe mail route (Gidding’s Route),” heading down the Pecos. Anyone interested in the history of the overland mail and express routes, or the overland trails generally, may study this map with profit.

     The 1937 edition of Plains & Rockies (entry 371) lists this title without collation and a note: “From Graff—who has not seen this item. It may possibly have been issued later in connection with the Chorpending [sic] Claim.” Wheat concurs with a date of ca. 1871. Because the map shows Wyoming Territory, it cannot have been issued in 1861, since the Territory did not exist at that time, coming into being in 1868.

     Pennsylvanian Chorpenning (1820–1894), a disillusioned California miner of 1850 who envisioned reliable overland mail service through the newly acquired Western United States, was the first operator to carry mail between Salt Lake City and Sacramento starting in 1851. He carried on this service for nearly a decade under intensely dangerous circumstances and severe hardship, leading to loss of property and lives, including his partner Captain Wood (killed by Native Americans on their first trip West). Chorpenning continued alone, laying out the roads and building stations every twenty miles. Upon completing the first delivery of mail from Sacramento to Salt Lake, Governor Brigham Young bestowed on Chorpenning an honorary commission in the Utah Territory militia. Because Chorpenning’s operation used mules, it was referred to as the “Jackass Express.” After losing his contract in 1860, he submitted a claim for just over $400,000 in losses. This claim dragged out for years but was finally approved for payment by Congress in the amount of $433,010. A treasury warrant was issued to Chorpenning, but payment was stopped and he received nothing. During the Civil War, at the request of Abraham Lincoln, he raised two volunteer companies and served as a major and colonel in the First and Second Regiments of Maryland Volunteer Infantry. This pioneer who contributed to the development of the West died in poverty in a hospital in New York City.

(6,000-12,000)

Auction 23 Abstracts

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