Before John Clum (astride his mule) settled into his postal duties in Nome, Alaska, in 1900, the special U.S postal commissioner traveled more than 8,000 miles over two years setting up post offices across the territory. Clum on Mule Courtesy LOC/July 8, 1900 “Seattle Post Intelligencer” Newsclipping Courtesy


John Clum’s great adventure in Alaska is still legendary.

John Clum is best known for his two years in Tombstone, serving as mayor, founder-editor of The Epitaph and various other aspects of civic leadership.

But he had a great impact in Alaska, where he spent more than a decade as a postal official.

In the late 1890s, Clum was working as a postal inspector in Washington, D.C. But he was destined for bigger and colder things. In 1898, he was named a special commissioner for Alaska. His job: start new post offices in key gold rush towns, and oversee and fix the ones already in service, many of which were overwhelmed by organizational issues.

Clum thought it would be a great adventure, so he brought his son, Woody, along as an assistant. The pair reached Skagway in March 1898. That town already had a post office; so did the nearby village of Dyea. But each had its troubles, probably because they were run by individuals who weren’t trained in running a post office. Clum reorganized both operations, leaving them running smoothly.

But he wasn’t done.



Over the next year, Clum traveled approximately 8,000 miles across Alaska. He started 11 new post offices in various gold rush towns. And he did so by carrying all the supplies with him—stamps, mailbags, postal locks and keys, and postmarking equipment. It was quite the load, especially in areas where the trails were narrow, icy and treacherous. But in his memoirs, Clum never really complained about those issues. It was still something of an adventure.

In the summer of 1900, at the height of the gold rush, Clum took over the operation of the Nome office. The mail flow was substantial for the 20,000 people who lived there. Clum employed 23 workers to handle the load. And he was aided by two failed gold seekers who had past postal delivery experience in the States. They offered to work for free—an offer Clum jumped at—and their efforts were applauded by many in Nome.

Nome allowed Clum to renew his friendship with Tombstone chum Wyatt Earp, a part-owner of the Dexter Saloon. 

Clum took over postmaster duties in Fairbanks in 1906. Once again, the job required him to fix the organization. But Clum’s great adventure was winding down along with gold discoveries.

In 1908, Clum unsuccessfully ran for public office. With few worlds left to conquer, he left the frozen north the next year, heading back to the States. And for the next dozen years or so, he was on the lecture circuit, talking about his experiences in the Old West. And that included the great adventure in Alaska, where Clum left a legacy that exists to this day. 


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