Pony Express Comes Alive

 

Pony Express flyer

Pony Express flyer

After the discovery of gold in California and the subsequent wave of prospectors, investors, and businessmen, mail sent from the eastern U.S. to the west had suddenly become an important issue.

 

In trotted the Pony Express in 1860:  a privately-owned company that supplied a transcontinental mail service from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California.  There were Pony Express stations dotted across the western plains, mountains, and desert about every ten miles–the distance it took for a horse to tire after traveling at a gallop.

 

The rider would change horses at every station, and usually travel about 75-100 miles at a stretch.  With 184 stations and 80-120 riders, the mail went in both directions every day and was boasted as reaching its destination in ten days or less.  If you think about a letter being carried from one side of this country to the other in ten days on horseback, you can figure there was masterful speed and dedication in this endeavor.

 

Pony Express Rider's Oath

Pony Express Rider’s Oath

Riders not only encountered extreme weather in this year-round enterprise; but robberies, raids, and ambushes also threatened their lives.  The men could not weigh more than 125 pounds, and orphans were preferred.  Mark Twain described the riders he had seen as, “…usually a little bit of a man.”

 

The mail was attached to pouches, called mochilas, and carried amidst the saddle, along with the riders’ essentials:  a water sack, a Bible, a horn for announcing their arrival, and a revolver.  William Cody “Buffalo Bill” was the most famous of the riders, who was said to have ridden the longest journey of 322 miles, when he found his relief rider had been killed.

 

Pony Express Station Remnants, Nevada

Pony Express Station Remnants, Nevada

While driving through the Great Basin area in Nevada recently, I saw the remnants of several Pony Express stations.  Highway 50 parallels the original Pony Express route.  Every ten miles there would be a sign and some rubble.  One of the station’s foundations is pictured here.

 

Surprisingly the Pony Express only existed for 18 months.  When the transcontinental telegraph was invented in 1861, delivering letters by horseback was no longer necessary.

 

I don’t know.  Maybe it was the road trip, driving 10 and 13 hours a day; maybe it was studying the Pony Express riders and all their perils.  But either way, driving an engine-powered vehicle across a paved road for a few hours just seems easy now.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

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31 thoughts on “Pony Express Comes Alive

  1. There you can see the inventive ingenuity and tremendous effort in short time becomes obsolete by progress! Great minds at work! Thanks Jet for your great post! 🙂

    • I read that the success and necessity of the Pony Express is part of what brought about the next step, the telegraph. Another example of evolving history. So glad you enjoyed it Amy! 🙂

  2. Very interesting read Jet. You’re right complaining about a few hours drive or the internet being slow is the least of our worries and is really shoving dirt in our forebears faces knowing the hardships of their time. A good thought to keep in our heads when we get impatient in our modern times 🙂

  3. Interesting read,Jet, and with a touch of Nostalgia ! You know I was looking forward to your Pony Express post and I was so glad to read all these details.I am amazed at how well they were organised and carried out their duty despite the unexpected obstacles and sometimes the bad weather conditions.Nowadays,we live in the high tech era and take everything for granted,but it is good to have a look back and appreciate what we have more.Great all your references,I did enjoyed it ; thank you ! Have a brilliant day 🙂

    • Yes I knew you were looking forward to it, and am delighted you enjoyed it Doda. I, too, was impressed with how organized it all was and how very swiftly the service moved the mail. I enjoyed learning about it and am glad I could share it. Wonderful to hear from you Doda. 😀

    • It was a big surprise to me, too, only being around for 18 mos. When you’ve grown up in the U.S., it seems the Pony Express was mentioned so much. And, ha ha, no flaw in the system; the good residents of the time just found a faster system. Thanks so much Nan, great to hear from you. 😀

  4. As someone who makes a living driving, it is particularly interesting seeing the remnants of the history of this nation in the form of ruins or abandoned buildings (such as the Pony Express foundation) along the roads I take to get to my destinations.
    I enjoy educating myself by stopping at the many historical markers alongside the roads, but more often than not, there is no plaque or marker, so I am left to wonder about the who, what, when, and why’s of the story behind each old farmhouse or barn, historical site, or natural wonder.
    It is just one of the many ways to pass the time as I travel to the corners of this great country.
    Keep the posts coming, I enjoy catching up on them in my down time as I travel!

    • This country is so huge and diverse, there is always something new to learn with every turn…as I am sure you have found. I’m glad my posts keep you entertained while on the road, tminch. Many thanks!

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