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I am a native of Illinois and grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. After dropping out of college, I moved to California in 1973 with my first husband. I married my present husband, Butch, in 1977 and got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me a grandmother 24 times over and a great-grandmother of 13. Three years after I married Butch I returned to school. I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication and was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 to return to school and get my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore and genealogy - and add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play a number of folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I am a Board Certified genealogist and more information on all this, as well as direct contact info, is on my Circlemending website.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

U.S. Postmasters - Part 5 . . . Early Arizona, Heber/Overgaard

My husband's family were early settlers of Arizona (all over the place, it seems). So it just seemed natural to do some checking on his ancestry to see if any family members had been Postmasters (see previous posts on this subject). I also was intrigued by the fact that our daughter is a Postmaster at the Heber/Overgaard Post Office, a few hours north of Phoenix. What was the history of that location? I'm pleased to say that it is not one of the POs scheduled to be closed down. People in that area do not get mail delivery; they need to go into the PO to collect their incoming mail.

So in this part of my US Postmaster series, I will examine the history of the Heber/Overgaard PO (for my daughter, of course) and the Post Offices that covered the territory that my husband's family settled. Views of the log book for these are very difficult to read. The paper must be very thin as it is almost as easy to read (backwards) what is written on the other side of the page as it is the page one is reading frontwards. Subsequent entries are also not always clear as one line blends into the next and it is difficult to determine which line a notation refers to. However, I can still get a little picture of the families who settled those areas back when my husband's ancestors were Arizona pioneers.

The first postmaster I find for the Heber (named for Mormon pioneer Heber J. Grant) PO was in 1890, when Arizona was still a territory (Arizona became a state on 14 February, 1912 as the 48th state . . . even I remember when the U.S. had only 48 states, just before Alaska and Hawaii joined us . . . until now, I hadn't realized Arizona was so late in joining the union). The first postmaster was James E. Shelley and he was appointed on 11 September 1890 (this information is collaborated on the history of Heber/Overgaard website). James E. Shelley was one of six men who were accompanied by their wives when they were sent, by the LDS Church, to establish the area in northern Arizona. There is a notation above his name that reads "N.B. 9 Oct." This means that on 9 October there was a notice about this location and, probably, the new postmaster, placed in the Postal Bulletin, "a publication of the Post Office Department. Copies of these publications are in the Reference Library of the Post Office Department, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives Building" ("Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832-September 30, 1971," M-841, RG 28, Publication Document, Washington, DC: National Archives, 1977).

One can get a feel for this area of the country just by reading the history of the Heber Post Office. On 5 January 1906, it was decided that the mail would be directed to Holbrook (that's about 45 miles away! While in the same county - Navajo - it was hardly an easy commute). That change took effect on 31 January 1906. I located Mr. Shelley, with wife Margaret, in Holbrook in 1930 (he was 78 years old) (Viewed on Ancestry.com: 1930 Federal Census; Holbrook, NavajoArizona; Roll: 60; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 7; Image: 702.0). I find James, age 68, is a farmer in St. Joseph, Navajo County (Viewed on Ancestry.com: 1920 Federal Census; St Joseph, NavajoArizona; Roll: T625_50; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 91; Image: 271). Joseph City (as it is now called) is only about 11 miles from Holbrook, quite a distance from Heber, but he was no longer the postmaster. (I need to emphasize here that a person's residence may not be in the same town where he/she works, so commuting is possible, just not always practical.)

The Holbrook delivery order was rescinded on 18 May 1907, after Mamie Baca had stepped in to handle things at the Heber location on 26 December 1906. She was officially assigned to the role of postmaster on 25 January 1908. Exactly what the legal situations were is not clear from the information in the Postmaster records and websites on the area are not helpful on this. Mamie was young (about 21) when she took on the responsibilities and she didn't last long in the position. Perhaps she got married. She was living with her father Juan in 1910 and lists no occupation for herself (Viewed on Ancestry.com: 1910 Federal CensusNavajoArizona; Roll: T624_41; Page: 17A; Enumeration District: 0088; Image: 470; FHL Number: 1374054). It is likely that anyone researching the Baca family would not even be aware that Mamie had been a postmaster for about four years of her life.

Alva Porter took over on 6 December 1909. Alva lived in Heber and was a farmer, by occupation (Viewed on Ancestry.com: 1900 Federal Census, Heber, NavajoArizona Territory; Roll: T623_46; Page: 17A; Enumeration District: 43), but in 1900, when that information was retrieved, he had not yet taken over the Post Office responsibilities. In 1910, he is listed as a 48-year-old farmer in Pinedale (Viewed on Ancestry.com: 1910 Federal Census, Pinedale, NavajoArizona; Roll: T624_41; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0140; Image: 707; FHL Number: 1374054), 23 miles from Heber. It would seem that he was doing his postmaster duties as a part-timer as that commute, in 1910, would be terrible as a daily routine (the roads up there were not paved the way they are today).

Thomas H. Shelley toook over on 18 June 1919 with his commission signed and mailed on 28 July 1919 (he assumed charge on 13 August 1919). Thomas is living in Heber Precinct in 1920 and lists himself as a farmer-merchant (Viewed on Ancestry.com: 1920 Federal Census, Heber, Navajo, Arizona; Roll: T625_50; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 86; Image: 201). (Not sure how he was able to do that . . .the man must never have slept!) In 1930, Thomas H. Shelley, age 44, is listed as merchant (at a general merchandise store) living in Standard Justice Precinct 3, District 19, Navajo County, Arizona ("Heber, Arizona" is written in the margin) (Viewed on Ancestry.com: 1930 Federal Census; Standard Justice Precinct 3, NavajoArizona; Roll: 60; Page: 9B; Enumeration District: 19; Image: 985.0). As mentioned in an earlier post, the Post Office was often housed within the local general store so someone who was a merchant was likely to also be the postmaster, even though he/she might not list that as "occupation" on the census (after all, more time is spent selling groceries than stamping the post). On 30 June 1953, Thomas retired from his postmaster duties.

As of this writing the Federal Census for 1940 is not yet available and the 1950 one is only a dream away. But some additional family information on the Shelleys is available through this Postmaster resource: Leland H. Shelley (apparently born after 1930) became the acting postmaster of Heber on 27 July 1953. He had assumed charge on 30 June 1953, was confirmed on 22 January 1954, and his commission was signed and mailed on 29 March 1954. In this new official capacity, he assumed charge on 31 March 1954 (I have no idea how they straightened out the pay issues through all that).

Meanwhile, just down the road a piece . . . the Overgaard Post Office was established on 14 October 1938. William T. Shockley was appointed the first postmaster, confirmed on the date of establishment, commission signed 27 October 1938 and resigned (W.O.P. - without pay?) on 12 May 1939. The notation reads "4th Class" - I don't know what that means, either. Whatever the case, he didn't last long (perhaps local newspapers may carry more information on the situation). The position was taken over by Christ Overgaard, for whom the town was named, assumed charge on 26 May 1939 and was appointed acting postmaster on 10 June 1939, receiving his confirmation on 29 September 1939. His commission was signed on 1 November 1939.

But the Overgaard Post Office was discontinued on 31 December 1943 and mail was directed to Heber. The location was reopened on 16 April 1952. Possibly the close-down was attributed to the War, but it was a long time before the PO reopened. Somewhere (probably after 1971) the two were merged. Until then, Overgaard was handled by the following:

Mrs. Carmen Moody: acting postmaster, 14 March 1952; assumed charge, 16 April 1952.
Arthur E. Weech (?): confirmed, 25 May 1953; commission signed, 9 June 1953; assumed charge, 30 June 1953; retired, 30 April 1968.
Mrs. Chinesa V. Hagerman: assumed charge 6 March 1971.

The Postmaster films go back to September 1971, so the more recent information would have to be accessed from the PO itself or maybe local townsfolk or newspapers. I know when my daughter was appointed the new postmaster of Overgaard, a huge article appeared in their local paper with a great photo of her and some information about her family. That was a number of years ago now and whether or not the same building houses the local mail as back in the early days is not something I'm privy to (I imagine my daughter will respond, however, to fill in the gaps).

So this one is for you, Patty. Next entries will deal with Graham and Apache Counties.



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