The unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service proclaims: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
The line is lifted from a Charles W. Eliot poem, which in turn references the writings of Greek historian Herodotus 2,500 years ago on the courier service in the ancient Persian Empire.
Even so, the average Persian postal carrier in 500 B.C. had more people on his route than Tebra Morris does today.
And the snow and gloom those carriers of ancient Persia faced ain’t got nothing on Wyoming.
To be fair, the royal road of Darius the Great was a sandal-pounder. Ancient western Asia couriers running decrees and other parcels between Susa and Sardis had to cover 1,677 miles. The trip took nine days by horseback, or 90 on foot.
Fast-forward to the Americas in 2023.
Morris, a native of tiny Bairoil, Wyoming, runs one of the longest mail routes in the nation. The typical mail carrier in the United States covers about 8-10 miles driving, half that if walking. It’s a six- to eight-hour day for most.
Then there are those like Morris, called rural route carriers. They’re hired by the USPS as independent contractors to cover more remote areas out in the sticks. Many use their own vehicles and are paid a flat rate determined by bid every year.
The average rural route carrier in the United States covers 45 miles a day.
Morris drives that far between mailboxes.
Her route is just shy of 300 miles, and she drives it six days a week, rain, shine or — more commonly in Wyoming winters — blizzard.
“Quite a winter!” Morris said of covering her route this past winter. “If you think I-80 was bad, [Highway] 287 North was closed more.
“I spent seven nights total stuck overnight in Lander. I ran nine days on closed roads with permission. In the month of February, I was able to complete my route — Rawlins to Lander and back — only 12 times. I've been doing this 11 years and I’ve never had a winter like that.”
Morris runs mail between Rawlins, where she is now based, and Lander every day but Sunday.
Her stops are roadside ranch drops where solidly built steel boxes are built to withstand thermonuclear war or the unrelenting Wyoming wind, whichever is worse at the time.
Morris’ beat includes mere placenames that appear on map software only when zoomed in to the max. Crossroads too tiny to even be called hamlets; like Lamont, which Google Maps calls a “a very small populated place.”
Morris hits stops like Muddy Gap, Split Rock and Ice Slough, all little more than forlorn mailbox clusters gravitated near a geographic oddity in the otherwise endless miles of featureless landscape along Highway 287.
Unnamed dirt roads known only to locals spider off into countless rutted two-tracks and slink out of sight toward a forgotten homestead, a pumpjack, a livestock water tank. Or nowhere.
This is not country you hurry in.
Hurry Up And Wait
But Morris is on the go. The 60-year-old makes her appointed rounds in something like eight hours on a good day. She’ll leave Rawlins at about 6 a.m. and be back by 2 p.m.
And occasionally, she won’t make it back at all.
“I get special permission to drive on closed roads by asking the highway department. There’s Marty Mayfield in Rawlins and Matt Sanders in Lander,” Morris said. “They might say something like, ‘You can try, but be careful,’ or ‘I wouldn’t advise it,’ or ‘Under no circumstance.’
“If they say ‘no’ I stand down, but otherwise I will probably try it.”
Twice this past winter Morris had to be rescued by the Wyoming Department of Transportation when her Dodge Dakota got stuck.
“There was no road. At least, none that I could see,” Morris said after burying her truck for the first time last winter.
She got a call through, which is no minor miracle, and explained where she was using a combination of mile markers and homegrown terminology like “that flat stretch between mile marker 8 and Willow Hill” or “just past the big rock and the turnoff for Buzzard Road.”
It's a language known only to Highway Patrol, WYDOT workers and UPS.
Just last month, three weeks into spring when most folks are thinking about getting their hydrangeas into the ground, Morris was stuck again in Lander waiting out an April snowstorm.
“I got to Lander fine, but I didn’t think I would make it back over the rim at Sweetwater Station,” Morris recalled. “I started out, but was soon stopped by a state plow driver. ‘You’re not going to make it,’ he said. I weighed my options. Stuck at Sweetwater with no potty or in a warm hotel room in Lander.”
Morris spent two days in Lander.
During one of the worst stretches of bad weather last winter, the residents of Jeffrey City hadn’t had mail delivered to them in 10 days. Morris arranged a postal party that could only happen in Wyoming.
“Jeffrey City was a warzone this winter. That little town was practically erased,” Morris said.
“I called a few people there. I have all their numbers,” she continued. “I told them I was sorry, but I couldn’t get in to most of their places. I let them know I would be coming through and when I got there, I was surrounded by pickup trucks, four-wheelers and snowmobiles in the parking lot of Split Rock Bar where I handed out everyone’s mail.”
Morris got started as Wyoming’s loneliest mail carrier after moving back to the Cowboy State from South Dakota, where she lived briefly. She worked in the oil field industry for many years until the boom busted and she was out of a job.
Morris tried her hand at owning a restaurant — the Anna Lope Café in Rawlins — when a Lamont rural carrier stopped in for a bite back in 2012. He told Morris he was in need of a relief driver. Morris thought it was something she could do. The café wasn’t exactly going gangbusters.
Months later she ran into the same man at the Bairoil Post Office and by then he was desperate for a replacement. She worked his route part-time for a little while. When the job officially came open, Morris bid on it and has locked it up since.
Go The Distance
Morris logs 100,000 miles a year and will go through a vehicle every couple of years.
She keeps about three at any given time — a truck for winter, a smaller economical car for summer and a backup. Some carriers need a van, but Morris said her volume is not that much, just the travel.
The road warrior has had her share of mishaps, but relatively few considering the windshield time she logs.
“I killed a car hitting an antelope near Jeffrey City two years ago in July. I was doing 70 and never saw it. I had that car less than 24 hours,” Morris said.
Growing Up Small
Few could probably handle the isolation of Morris’ job, but this Wyoming woman hardly knows anything else.
Born in Rawlins, her family moved to booming Bairoil when she entered the fourth grade.
“There were 400 people in town then. Basketball was a big deal. We played Wamsutter, Rawlins — everybody came out for those games,” Morris remembered.
Like many small Wyoming towns, the school was the community center where everyone from the region gathered to celebrate and catch up. When it closed in 2013, the four students still attending the school were bussed to Sinclair, 42 miles away.
Bairoil is located on the northeast edge of the Great Divide Basin in Sweetwater County. It’s parked at the end of a 4-mile “driveway” known as Route 73. Heading north on 287 toward Lander, just hang a Louie at Lamont.
The town was founded by sheep rancher Charles M. Bair around 1916. He was the first to drill for oil in the area, thus the name.
A post office was established in 1924 and the town was eventually incorporated in 1980.
Tiny And Tenacious
Bairoil might be small, but it is home to a couple of noteworthy things beginning with oil production.
Amplify Energy used a then-experimental procedure of forced water injection in 1988. Fracking, as it is known today, is now a common practice of breaking free trapped oil and gas deposits from subterranean rock using water and other liquids. The process at Bairoil was the first of its kind in Wyoming at the time.
Also, the hang gliding world record for distance was set from a launch in Bairoil. Kevin Christopherson stepped off Whiskey Peak (9,225 feet in elevation) just north of town on Aug. 3, 1989, and rode an updraft more than six hours all the way to Kyle, South Dakota, 287 miles away.
Today, Bairoil is down to about 100 full-time residents. It’s the kind of place where time moves too slow for some. Teens can’t wait to get out, but some never do. They live their lives there.
“There is a lot of people, percentage-wise, who have been there all their life. It’s the kind of place where even if people don't like each other, they help each other,” Morris said. “They have to.”
Mayor Lowell Clawson still holds town council meetings twice monthly on Wednesday nights. Call out to town clerk, treasurer and general do-it-all wonder Ashley Hopkin. She keeps faithful minutes of the meetings that usually wrap in under a half-hour. After all, not much goes on in the 82322.
How Small Is Bairoil?
It lost its one and only police officer years ago and hasn’t been too bothered about not being able to find another. Under “Things to See & Do” on the town’s website there are three photos of the same steel building — an indoor riding arena that hasn’t been opened to the public in some time because it’s fallen out of repair.
The town is tiny and shrinking, but not ready to go gently into any good night. Its people are “can-do” Wyomingites who enjoy a more bucolic lifestyle with intentionality.
“They wanted to close the post office in Bairoil not long ago. They decided to have a meeting about it,” Morris said. “People from all over came and packed that cafeteria.
“One by one they told stories about Jeffrey City losing its post office. ‘We didn’t stand up for it then and we lost it,’ they warned.”
For now, the post office remains in Morris’ hometown. She visits once a day on her 300-mile route and says she would hate to see it return to sagebrush.
“You’ve already lost the school; lose the post office and you might as well roll up the streets,” she said.
Jake Nichols can be reached at: Jake@CowboyStateDaily.com