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Contributed by Oracle Historical Society & Acadia Ranch Museum
This collection is a collaboration between Oracle Historical Society and the Postal History Foundation . It includes photographs, postal documents, postcards, postmarks, and covers or cachets, which are envelopes with special illustrations on them. There were a number of different post office locations in the Oracle area during the territorial period, including the American Flag Ranch, Acadia Ranch, and the Mercantile Store. The history of the town of Oracle is, like many other towns in Arizona, deeply intertwined with mining and ranching. As the population grew, post offices would open, and as mines closed and people moved away, the post offices would also close. Because postal history cannot be separated from human history, the items in this collection reflect various aspects of daily life from the Territorial period to recent years, including settlement and ranch life.
Located approximately 39 miles northeast of Tucson in the Santa Catalina Mountains, Oracle is at an elevation of 4,154 feet. As a result, it is much cooler than Tucson or Phoenix and, in the days before air conditioning, the climate attracted people for health reasons, as well as for comfort that towns at lower elevations could not provide. In 1878 Oracle was named for a ship built in Bath, Maine. According to local legend, a prospector named Albert Weldon made the trip to the western part of the United States via the Cape Horn aboard his uncle's ship, The Oracle. In gratitude for his safe passage, Weldon named his first mining claim "The Oracle" which the town later adopted as its own.
American Flag Ranch
In the late 1870s Isaac Lorraine of Martinique began mining near the present day town of Oracle in Pinal County. He developed the American Flag Mine, as well as the American Flag cattle ranch. As other mines in the area opened, by 1880 there were enough people in the area to warrant a post office. The American Flag Post Office was established on December 28, 1880 and was discontinued on July 16, 1890. The first postmaster, Peter H. Loss, served for two years and received an annual compensation of $3.77 in 1881. Other postmasters serving there include Mary Wiggans (1882), Alfred Dinkley (1882), Isaac Lorraine (1882-1885), and Joseph Clark (1885-1890). The American Flag Ranch is believed to be the oldest existing Territorial post office in the state that is still standing. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
At the same time as the establishment of the American Flag Ranch post office, a second post office opened in Oracle. James Branson served as the first postmaster, beginning on December 28, 1880 and, while the location of the original post office is not known for sure, it is thought to have been in Branson's home. On April 24, 1883 the post office was closed and Branson moved out to tend a herd of cattle. There was a period of time without a post office and in 1885 it was re-opened at Acadia Ranch with Edwin S. Dodge serving as postmaster for 16 years. Dodge and his wife came to Oracle to start a lodging house for travelers. It continued to be popular among guests for many years and is now the home of the Oracle Historical Society. Dodge wanted to use the name "Acadia" for the post office, but that name was rejected and "Oracle" was selected instead.
Word of the mining claims in the Oracle area spread and one of the most celebrated people to purchase mining stock was William Cody or Buffalo Bill. Made famous by his Wild West Show in the 1880s and 1890s, he was initially enthusiastic about his investment in Campo Bonito. He appears in this exhibit in front of the Acadia Ranch, as well as passing through town with William Neal, who built the Mountain View Hotel.
Oracle General Store
The third postmaster, John Estill, moved to Oracle from Ohio for the benefit of the health of his arthritic wife. He built a small square building to store the merchandise that was periodically hauled up from Tucson, and opened Oracle's first store. On January 21, 1901 Estill accepted the position of postmaster and located the post office in his store. In 1906 he sold the store to Thomas V. McCauley, who served as Oracle's postmaster from 1906-1911. As the town grew, the store was expanded, and McCauley entered into partnership with John W. Lawson. Lawson, who served as postmaster from 1911-1915, was the last Territorial postmaster, as well as the first postmaster in the new state of Arizona.
The town store became the center of activity for the community of Oracle. On the days that the mail arrived by stagecoach from Tucson, the residents of the town, as well as cowboys from nearby ranches, congregated in the store and stocked up on supplies. Leslie C. Terry arrived from Kentucky, buying out McCauley's share of the store, and becoming postmaster on December 23, 1914. His infant son died and Terry moved his family to Florida, which left Lawson back in the role of postmaster again in 1926.
From 1943-1946 Thorval Newton Clark served as Oracle's postmaster, and was succeeded by Lloyd K. Basteen in that role (1946-1959). The Oracle Post Office and General Merchandise Store burned down in 1949.
Nancy Terry, daughter of Leslie C. Terry, spent the war years in the U.S. Navy. She returned to Arizona, where she attended the University of Arizona, and entered the postal service as assistant to Basteen. She was appointed postmaster on December 31, 1959 and served for 24 years, which makes her the longest serving postmaster in Oracle's history. Many of the photos in this exhibit are from her collection.
Oracle Postmasters (1880-1984)
Note that there is sometimes a discrepancy among dates, as there may be different dates for appointment, commission, and taking possession, and thus you will find only the years listed below. In some cases a postmaster was also "Acting".
- James Branson (1880-1883)
- Post office discontinued (1883-1885)
- Edwin S. Dodge (1885-1901)
- John W. Estill (1901-1906)
- Thomas V. McCauley (1906-1911)
- John W. Lawson (1911-1915)
- Leslie C. Terry (1915-1926)
- John W. Lawson (1926-1943)
- Thorval Newton Clark (1943-1946)
- Lloyd Basteen (1946-1959)
- Nancy L. Terry (1959-1984)
Ranch Life in Oracle
It is impossible to talk about Oracle without discussing its rich history as a ranching town. The Wilma Huggett Collection contains many images of life on her family's 3C ranch. Wilma's father, William (Bill), worked in a mine in Minnesota, where he contracted tuberculosis. Like many others, he chose to come to Oracle for his health. Working as an early guide at the Grand Canyon and in northern Arizona, he purchased property in Oracle in 1924. He met Elna at a Mesa hotel, where she was a hairdresser, and they got married and moved to 3C. Wilma was born in 1932 and was their only child. The family had a significant holding of land in Pinal County and after Bill's death in 1937, Elna and Wilma ran the cattle ranch for another 50 years.
The term "cover" can refer to envelopes, letter sheets, or postal stationery items with or without adhesive postage stamps. Collectors save these for their postal markings, stamps, or both. A cachet is a decoration on an envelope, most often used to commemorate a special event. They may be hand-painted, rubber-stamped, printed or elaborately lithographed and engraved.
- Alexander, William L. Arizona statehood post offices and postmasters, 1912-1979. Tucson, Ariz. : Western Postal History Museum, 1989-1992.
- Barnes, Will C. Arizona Place Names. Tucson, Ariz. : University of Arizona Press (1960).
- Ellis, Catherine H. Oracle and the San Pedro River Valley. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing (2008).
- Jones, Evaline. Acadia Ranch among First Buildings in Early Oracle. Oracle Historian, Vol. 1, no. 2 (April, 1978); Oracle, Ariz. : Oracle Historical Society.
- Patera, Alan H. and John S. Gallagher. Arizona Post Offices. Lake Grove, Ore. : The Depot (1988).
- Theobald, John and Lillian. Arizona Territory: Post Offices and Postmasters. Phoenix: Arizona Historical Foundation (1961)
- Williamson, Omega. The Postal History of Oracle. The Heliograph, Vol. 1, No. 1 (1987); Tucson Ariz.: Western Postal