Wyoming History: Pinedale Mailman Paid Ultimate Price In 1921 Blizzard

Delivering the mail across Wyoming’s vast empty spaces wasn’t for the faint of heart more than a century ago -- especially Pinedale and South Pass City. Mail carrier Ralph Faler got caught in a blizzard and never made it out.

DK
Dale Killingbeck

May 19, 20248 min read

A simple marker in the middle of nowhere between Pinedale and South Pass City, Wyoming, tells of the death of Ralph Faler on April 5, 1921. He was caught in a blizzard delivering the U.S. mail.
A simple marker in the middle of nowhere between Pinedale and South Pass City, Wyoming, tells of the death of Ralph Faler on April 5, 1921. He was caught in a blizzard delivering the U.S. mail. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Delivering the U.S. mail across Wyoming’s vast empty spaces wasn’t for the faint of heart or spirit more than a century ago.

That was especially true for those delivering mail between Pinedale and South Pass City in southwest Wyoming, where carriers were known to lose their lives or the route.

A former rancher, sometimes stage driver and Wyoming native Ralph Faler, 37, knew that as he headed up the pass after leaving his home in Pinedale in early April 1921 for a delivery route that would take him up the 7,400-foot mountain pass between the towns.

Faler had been there often, not only delivering mail, but driving a stage and hauling freight.

It was Monday, April 4, 1921. The Wyoming winter still had a grip on the region as he drove his car toward South Pass, leather mail pouch likely on the seat beside him. The wind was blowing and storm clouds gathering as Faler made his way up the familiar route.

He was expected back in Pinedale on Wednesday afternoon after completing his charge, which he knew would involve some hiking at the top of the pass.

Waiting for him in South Pass City was Sheriff’s Deputy Bert Clark of Cora, who had planned to return down South Pass with Faler on Tuesday. Clark was returning home from Lander.

A Well-Liked Man

But Faler never arrived to meet up with Clark.

A search would be organized, and after several days, Faler’s frozen body was found in a snowbank. The faithful carrier, husband, father and well-liked community member had become another victim of a merciless Wyoming mountain blizzard.

“My dad thought very highly of him, and he was named after him. My brother was also named after him,” said Lana Koppenhafer, Faler’s great-granddaughter, who lives in Pinedale. “They always talked really highly of him: hardworking, cowboy, dedicated to his family. That’s about all that was ever said.”

Faler was born in Baggs, a little community in Wyoming Territory near the Colorado border on Feb. 27, 1884, according to a Pinedale Roundup story on his death in 1921, although his grave in Pinedale states he was born in 1888.

Newspaper accounts of his life show a man who loved the outdoors and lived a typical Cowboy State existence.

“Mr. Faler is a strong, rugged and courageous young man who has spent all his life in this country,” the Pinedale Roundup wrote April 7, 1921. “Several years ago, he was in charge of horse freighting outfits between Pinedale and Rock Springs and also in and out of the South Pass country, being out in all kinds of weather day and night, summer and winter.”

Social columns in the region’s community papers would mention his name. He was mentioned on July 27, 1917, in the Rock Springs Rocket for his efforts hauling machinery to Douglas Mountain for the Douglas Mining Co. On May 9, 1919, the Wind River Mountaineer mentioned him for his role as a substitute driver.

“Ralph Faler of Pinedale is driving the South Pass stage while Walter Scott is away,” the newspaper reported.

He was a pretty good fisherman as well. An article in the July 29, 1920, Pinedale Roundup reported that Faler landed an 8-pound trout on a Sunday afternoon in Pole Creek near the New Fork River.

“There has been many large trout caught this spring in the lakes and streams around Pinedale,” the newspaper reported. “But to date, Ralph holds the record.”

An undated photo of Ralph Faler in his car with chains on his tires. A courier and mail carrier in early Wyoming, he died after being caught in a blizzard in 1921 delivering mail between Pinedale and South Pass City.
An undated photo of Ralph Faler in his car with chains on his tires. A courier and mail carrier in early Wyoming, he died after being caught in a blizzard in 1921 delivering mail between Pinedale and South Pass City. (Courtesy Lana Koppenhafer)

The Search

Koppenhafer said her understanding of her great-grandfather’s mail route in 1921 was that he typically did it on horseback, but he did have a car. And in early spring he would use the car to deliver mail on occasion.

“If he would run into a snowdrift or something he would just shovel and go as far as he could. If he knew he wasn’t going to make it he would just take off on foot if he was in just a few miles of South Pass,” she said.

Newspaper accounts show that Wednesday, April 6, 1921, Clark assumed Faler had been prevented from coming by the blizzard South Pass had just experienced. He set out on horseback to catch the stage at Elkhorn, but on his way saw Faler’s mail car at Pine Creek.

He returned to South Pass, a search party was organized and a call for help went out.

“Searching parties were organized from Pinedale, Boulder, East Fork, Elkhorn, Atlantic and Rock Springs, who left for the Pine Creek country Wednesday night after driving all night and part of the day arrived at noon on Thursday,” The Pinedale Roundup reported April 7, 1921.

Faler had last been seen that Monday afternoon at the Elkhorn Post Office and had left for Pine Creek, 3 miles to the west of South Pass at 3 p.m. The paper reported he knew he would have to leave the car because of heavy drifts in the pass and walk the 3 miles with his mail into South Pass City.

Searchers found that Faler had drained the radiator in his car to keep it from freezing up, covered it with his mackinaw coat and apparently started his hike to South Pass City. They estimated that the blizzard would have arrived around 8 p.m. Monday night.

“About the same time a rain and thunderstorm started in that part of the county, and turned into one of the worst storms of the season,” the Pinedale Roundup reported.

Tracks Discovered

Searchers moving aside the fresh snow found tracks underneath that led them to find Faler’s pocketknife and some brush where he apparently tried to start a fire.

“It was of the opinion of the searching party that he either had no matches or that they were damaged,” the Roundup reported. “Being wet and chilled, there was nothing left for him to do but walk and try to keep warm, which direction he went is of course a mystery.”

Weather dipped to 17 degrees overnight and on Thursday and Friday as searchers looked for him with strong Wyoming winds blowing.

“Ralph is of nervous disposition and has often told his friends that he dreaded the thought of being lost, having gone through the experience once when 14 years of age,” the editor of the Pinedale Roundup wrote.

Faler’s body was discovered Monday, April 11, 1921, by a rancher in the middle of a road leading to the Burnt ranch a mile from the ranch house. His dog found the body and the rancher had passed it several times.

“Ralph was lying on his back using the mail pouch as a pillow and his hands folded across his chest, and the visor of his cap turned up,” The Pinedale Roundup reported April 14, 1921. “He was wearing a heavy sweater and a leather vest; he had on one glove and had apparently taken the other off for some reason as it was at his side.”

  • A story in the Pinedale Roundup on April 7 details the account of mailman Ralph Faler getting lost in a blizzard.
    A story in the Pinedale Roundup on April 7 details the account of mailman Ralph Faler getting lost in a blizzard. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)
  • The Casper Daily Tribune carried a front page story about Ralph Faler’s death in its April 14, 1921, edition.
    The Casper Daily Tribune carried a front page story about Ralph Faler’s death in its April 14, 1921, edition. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)
  • A week after sharing the story of the missing mailman, The Pinedale Roundup carried the story of the discovery of his body.
    A week after sharing the story of the missing mailman, The Pinedale Roundup carried the story of the discovery of his body. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Almost To Safety

Searchers traced Faler’s tracks back 5 miles down the road. A mile further and he would have reached the ranch house.

“My dad figures that he kind of figured out where he was and it was in the middle of the night in a horrible blizzard, and it was in April and he had laid down in the middle of the road to rest,” Koppenhafer said. “He was not very far from a ranch that he knew pretty well there, and I think he just laid down to rest and froze to death.

“They figure if he would have ditched the mailbag that he would have been able to get somewhere safely. He was using that mailbag for a pillow and that is the way they found him. So, it was kind of cool to think that he was that dedicated to his job.”

The Rock Springs paper carried a story about Faler’s death, reporting that he was known in that area and had a half-brother who lived there. The reporter wrote about the dangers of the Pinedale-Lander mail route.

“The Pinedale-Lander mail route is a dangerous one, some seven or eight mail carriers having lost their lives on this route,” the story says. “Storms occur in the vicinity of South Pass at all seasons of the year and have overcome many travelers. Faler was an experienced mountaineer and would have pulled through if such a thing had been possible.”

Faler left behind his wife, Elsie, and three children, Eva, 16, Elmer, 14, and Rita, 4.

A historical marker honoring Faler and his dedication to trying to deliver his last bag of mail was erected by the Sublette County Historical Board near the spot his body was recovered.

Contact Dale Killingbeck at dale@cowboystatedaily.com

A marker erected by the Sublette County Historical Board can be found near the location of Ralph Faler’s death.
A marker erected by the Sublette County Historical Board can be found near the location of Ralph Faler’s death. (Courtesy Lana Koppenhafer)

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at dale@cowboystatedaily.com.

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