Washington Obituaries - 1909 - John M. Patton


Father of Railway Postal Service Dies in Olympia at Advanced Age

The funeral services of the late John M. Patton will be held at the family residence, 812 East Fourth street, at 2 o'clock this afternoon. Interment will be at Quincy, Ill., in the family cemetery plot.

John Malcolm Patton was born in Bolivar, Pa., October 24, 1829, and died in this city September 7, 1909. His parents were natives of the north of Ireland.

On leaving school he went into business with his father, who was a railroad contractor, and who built the first road over the Allegheny Mountains, and many other railroads in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois.

He located at Pana, Ill., and in 1857 married Miss Sarah Elizabeth Graham of Shelbyville, Ill. In 1858, all his property having been destroyed by a cyclone, he moved to Shelbina, Mo., where he took charge of reconstruction work on the Hannibal & St. Joe Railroad.

In 1861 President Lincoln, who had been the attorney and friend of Mr. Patton's father, appointed the son a mail route agent to run on the Hannibal & St. Joe railroad. This was the first appointment made by the new administration in Northern Missouri and the appointee received many threatening letters warning him not to attempt to perform the duties of his position or he would be killed. As the Hannibal & St. Joe was the only railroad completed from the Mississippi to the Missouri, its possession was of prime importance from a strategical standpoint. With this line once in the hand of the Confederates, the whole West and Northwest would have been endangered. Hence the struggle throughout the entire war for its capture from the Union forces. Mr. Patton rendered invaluable service in protecting this line.

Mr. McKay, quartermaster of the G.A.R. post in Olympia, was a soldier of the Second Iowa, whose company was detailed to protect the railroad from Quincy, Ill., to St. Joseph, Mo., during part of the time in which Mr. Patton was in charge of the mail service in this disputed territory.

In response to President Lincoln's first call for volunteers, John M. Patton enlisted. Five of his brothers also joined the Union army, of whom one died in Libby prison, one was an army surgeon and two marched with Sherman to the sea.

It soon transpired that the services of a man of his courage, tenacity and experience were more urgently needed in the mail service than at the front, he was given an honorable discharge from the army and resumed management of the mail service.

In the winter of 1861 - 2 he conceived the idea of a railway post office on wheels for the sorting, distribution and pouching of mails in transit. At that time mails for the West, Northwest, Southwest, the Pacific Coast and intervening territories were carried by stage coach from St. Joseph and were subject to serious delays at that point. Similar congestion existed on other routes and in many offices, much of which could be obviated by sorting and distributing mail en route, but no adequate facilities existed for such work. As the young inventor's idea grew it soon became evident that mail of every class could be separated and packaged en route. After some correspondence the post office department adopted the plan. Extra baggage cars at first were used. The Hannibal & St. Joe soon decided to construct special cars for postal purposed and Mr. Patton personally superintended the planning and construction of these cars and they were the first regular railway post office cars ever used.

In 1890 Mr. Patton, then United States post office inspector, was sent to the Pacific Northwest, and put in charge of the territory embracing Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. He held this position until his health failed some years ago when he retired, devoting his time thereafter to private business affairs.

His unquestioned integrity, fine sense of justice and high standards made him a valuable citizen. His is survived by his wife, two daughters, Mrs. C. C. Van Etten of this city, and Mrs. Addison A. Lindsley of Portland, Ore., and a grandson, John C. Van Etten.

Source: "The Morning Olympian" of Sep. 9, 1909, Olympia, Thurston County, Washington

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