During the 1960s and early 1970s, the Postal History Foundation (then called the Western Postal History Museum) commissioned five paintings and five dioramas from artist Cal Peters. Peters is especially known for murals and dioramas, some of which were funded by the Works Progress Administration, and much of which was done in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. While Curator of History at the Los Angeles County Museum, he worked on the Foundation’s paintings and dioramas.
The dioramas are on semi-permanent loan to the Arizona Historical Society. The paintings hang in the Slusser Library on the Postal History Foundation campus. The Slusser Library also holds a Cal Peters Collection in the archives, where some of his correspondence with our former director, William Alexander, is kept. These letters do give some insight on Peters’s choices of subject and aesthetics.
The Postal History Foundation has plans to revisit the manner in which the five paintings are presented to the public. New labels that provide more context and a more comprehensive perspective will be written. It is hoped that the new presentation will prompt visitors to think about various aspects of the people and events depicted in the paintings.
Yuma to Tucson Buckboard MailThe painting's current label reads: "YUMA TO TUCSON BUCKBOARDS MAIL ATTACKED. Light, buckboards were used in 1888 to carry the U.S. mail. On one occasion, Mr. Leonard was delivering the mail from Blue Water Station to Tucson. After passing Picacho Peak, he was ambushed by Indians near Nine Mile Water Hole. He was wounded but stayed with the mules and buckboard. He delivered the mail to Tucson."
Only one account of Mr. Leonard's story is known to exist, that of Thomas Thompson Hunter in his “Early Days in Arizona.” Hunter also said that Leonard escaped, had the bullets removed, and later left the area for “new pastures.”
Nine Mile Water Hole was located nine miles away from the Tucson Station, near the confluence of the Rillito and Santa Cruz rivers.
This painting is one of four owned by the Postal History Foundation that depicts Native Americans attacking white postal deliverymen. Unfortunately, the current labels for these paintings do not place the attacks in context and only present a one-sided perspective. We are working on new labels that help present a more comprehensive perspective.
Jeff Milton Stops the Fairbank Train RobberyThe painting's current label reads: "FAIRBANK ARIZONA ATTEMPTED MAIL AND EXPRESS ROBBERY FEBRUARY 15, 1900. At sunset, five outlaws, “Three Finger” Jack Dunlap, George and Louis Owens, “Bravo” Tom Yoas and Bob Brown, attacked the mail and express car at the station. The bandits shot Jeff Milton, Wells, Fargo agent, in his left shoulder. Jeff grabbed his shotgun, wounding Dunlap in his side and Yoas in the seat of his pants. The outlaws were later brought to justice. Agent Milton recovered."
During the robbery, Milton’s arm was pelted with shot and his body spun around from the impact. As he fell, he had the presence of mind to throw the key to the safe out of sight and quickly tie a tourniquet around his arm. The gang boarded the car through the open window. Through the pain of a severed artery, Milton shot back, hitting “Bravo Juan” Tom Yoas in the backside and “Three-Fingered Jack” Dunlap (or Dunlop) in the gut.
The gang's leaders, Burt Alvord and Billy Stiles, were lawmen and until now, had been able to keep other policemen from finding out their secret. Three-Fingered Jack died shortly after the robbery; Bravo Juan Tom Yoas died in the Amazon. Alvord spent time in the Yuma prison, then died of Yellow Fever in Brazil in 1910. Stiles also spent time in prison and was killed while sheriff in Nevada in 1908. Jeff Milton worked until he retired to Tucson in 1942.
Yuma to Tucson Pack Mule MailThe painting's current label reads: "YUMA TO TUCSON PACK MULE MAIL ATTACKED. This was the method of delivering the mail prior to 1857. Here, a mail rider is firing at pursuing Indians while herding the frightened pack mules before him. Indian attacks were frequent."
Mules are more surefooted and hardy than horses and were often preferred to horses as mail carriers. The mail line most famous for using mules in the Yuma area was the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line. The San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line was the first of its kind, blazing a trail for the more famous “Butterfield” Overland Mail Company that would soon use the same route.
While no Native Americans are depicted in the painting, the current label explains that the rider is fending off an attack by "pursuing Indians." The artist positions this rider as the victim of an attack, yet we have no context for what happened before. Again, this is a context we hope to bring in our future work with these paintings.
Captain Russell in Dragoon PassThe painting's current label reads: “On April 15, 1871, Captain G. Russell took his men on the Tucson road in search for the missing U.S. Mail. Found it in the Dragoon Pass along with the body of the killed driver, the mail wagon burned.”
During the time in which this painting is set, Russell was stationed at Ft. Bowie. He was part of the campaign against Cochise, who, with a group of men, hid out in the Dragoon Mountains, also called the Cochise Stronghold. In the painting, Russell is the man on the right, raising his arm.
As an officer, Captain Russell was required to report activities to the Adjutant General in Washington. There is no mention of Russell finding a dead mail carrier in Dragoon in April 1871. The only known incident involving Russell in Dragoon in April 1871 is the a-skirmish with Cochise.
Currently, our presentation of the painting does not explore why Native Americans (probably Cochise's group) would have attacked and killed the mail delivery person. We see a man with an arrow sticking out of his back and mail strewn across the road. What may have prompted this? And what was the point of it? We hope to address these questions in our new labels.
The Wickenburg AmbushThe painting's current label reads: "THE WICKENBURG MASSACRE on November 5, 1871, at about 8 a.m., at a spot eight miles from Wickenburg, the stage was attacked by a party of Indians. Two of the passengers survived to tell the story of what happened."
This event is often referred to as the Wickenburg Massacre or the Loring Massacre (named after one of the more prominent victims). We've given this painting the (temporary, until our re-labeling work is complete) name of the Wickenburg Ambush because six people were brutally murdered. One is too many, of course, but should six be considered a massacre? That is a question we'll be exploring.
The truth is, no one actually knows who the murderers were. Obviously, the artist favors the theory that a group of Yavapai (erroneously called the "Apache Mohave" at the time) did it. Contemporaneously, General Crook blamed them as well; several Yavapai regardless of innocence or guilt were killed as a result. Other people blamed Mexican bandits, one of which did have a bullet wound at the same time as the robbery. Some of them were killed, as well. Still others think it could have been whites from Prescott (where a passenger carrying a great deal of money embarked). And there is also a theory that the two survivors were in on the crime.
These theories will be explored in our new labels, as will the depictions of the Yavapai in this painting.
Artist Cal Peters at Event