Last updated: October 10, 2017
The Lusk Herald
February 21, 1990
Local Woman Reminisces About Hat Creek Days
When she began working in the Hat Creek Post Office she had done so to help out then Postmaster Dudley Fields who had to retire from the post office because of his age.
"He coaxed me to take it and said he'd help me," Mabel Osborn said, adding that she wanted her husband to take the job, but he encouraged her to take it. The post office would have been closed if she had not agreed to try to do the job.
Mabel began working at the post office as a substitute in 1949 and in February 1950 she was named the postmistress.
She was to be the last postmistress at Hat Creek because when she retired in 1972 the post office was closed. The post office was run out of Fields' Store for two years after Mabel took it over, and then it was moved to her home, which is a half mile north of the store and about 15 miles from Lusk on her mother's homestead, which she bought from her mother.
Mabel was born and raised in Rock County, Neb., where she attended school. She married Lue Osborn in Key-Paha County, Neb., and the couple farmed on Lue's father's place for five years. They moved to Niobrara County in 1922 and stayed until 1947 when they went to Oregon for two years. They returned in 1949.
Prior to the move to Oregon, Mabel was a seamstress and supervised the making of mattresses during the Depression, taught 4-H clubs, lived on her mother's homestead and raised five daughters.
"I kept myself busy sewing for them. Sewing is my hobby. I love to sew," she said.
Her husband worked in the oil fields and did farming. When he went to the oil field, Mabel managed the farm.
While in Oregon, Mabel clerked in a store and was a men's tailor for Montgomery Ward for a short time in Eugene, Ore. Her husband worked with the timber industry while they were there.
Mabel said the Hat Creek post office was probably the oldest post office between Cheyenne and the Black Hills because it was established before the area was surveyed.
"The measurements were by so many feet from the creek," she said.
Mabel said when she began working for the post office in Hat Creek there were no set hours of operation.
"When I started, the post office hours were whenever neighbors wanted to come to get the mail. If they saw a light they'd stop. We always had a bunch there playing cards in the evenings or on Sundays.
"The postage rate was about four or five cents a letter I think. I can't remember what the rates ere - they've changed so many times," she said.
Mabel said the most enjoyable part of her job was the contact with the people in the area.
"I enjoyed seeing and meeting my neighbors. They'd come get the mail and stay for coffee or cake. We'd visit. They stayed the evening. We always had company. It (Hat Creek) was a nice place for children to go to school on the bus. My girls all graduated from Lusk, except for Joy who graduated in Oregon while we were there."
Mabel said she disliked the bookkeeping the most in her job. She had support from the Lusk postmaster and from friends.
"The postmaster in Lusk was very helpful when I was ill and my help didn't know what to do, they could just call Lusk. Johnnie Thon was exceptionally good about that," she said.
Her help included Mrs. Evalyn Goddard and Mrs. Faye Baker who substituted for her when she was ill for two years. Neither woman could take the postmistress job full-time when Mabel retired, so the post office was closed.
"I think the country's lost something when they lose these little post offices," Mable said, adding that postal regulations have certainly changed since she was working.
"You used to be able to mail a package almost any size and it'd go through. Now it's very restrictive on size and the cost is prohibitive," she said. She said people used to mail animal hides and books such as encyclopedias, "and everything else came in the mail."
"One thing I like about it (being postmistress and having the post office in her home) was I could do my own special work when there was no one around. I think I pieced about 40 quilts," she said.
One of the most memorable experiences she had while she was postmistress was when a man had a heart attack while driving down the road. He came across three fields and hit the corner of her house. The driver's wife suffered a broken shoulder in the accident.
"The mailman came along and helped me with them and called the sheriff," she said.
Another experience, a bit more scary was when a man had been held up at gun point, his clothes taken and then had been shot and left for dead. He came to and walked in to her house, wrapped in some plastic he had found in a ditch. She called the sheriff who came and helped the man. She said it was scary because she was expecting someone else and when she got up to see who it was there was a man looking in her window and asking her for help because he had been shot.
The last experience which was particularly scary for her was when some Indian boys came to her house at dark. "They didn't know what they wanted and then decided they wanted a drink of water. I called the sheriff and he gave them a ride to the South Dakota line," she said.
Mabel helped many stranded tourists in snowstorms and recalls one group having a teacher and his wife and a nine-month-old baby. Another couple were newlyweds and another group were merchants from Colorado. She said one time there were eight cars stuck in her driveway.
"People would stop for shelter or gasoline to get them going. I fed a lot of bums during the Depression. They'd come along and wanted a hand out."
One of the funniest things that happened to her while she was postmistress was when Bunny Chard, who lived about 10-15 miles east of her, had gone to a horse sale and ran out of gas. She said she heard someone calling her name. "I thought I was dreaming. It sounded like someone saying, "Mabel hello." It was Bunny. He had run out of gas and couldn't get home. They had planned to get gas after the sale, but when the sale was over all the stations were closed. They had coasted down every hill they could, but just didn't have enough to get home."
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