Pony Express was one of the most legendary of the frontier
trails in the American West. It signified that mans need
to communicate with his fellow man should supercede nearly
all else, including his own safety. While not the first
mail route or mail business to cross into the west, it was
certainly the most famous.
E. Webner, pony express rider," Ca. 1861.
to the Pony Express, mail was transported over a 2,800 mile
southern route which often took months to complete. Sometimes
the mail never even arrived. The Civil war was threatening
to close down the southern route and northern politicians
and statesman were anxious to find a more northerly route
to get the mail to and from the west. California Senator
William Gwin and one Benjamin F. Ficklin had traveled a
route that they saw fit for transporting the mail. An enterprising
freighter by the name of William H. Russell saw the opportunity
and immediate began work on the logistics of what would
become the Pony Express.
United States government then issued a contract (later to
be worth one million dollars) to the firm that could provide
mail service along this route. William Russell and his company
set out to win that contract. Russell and his partners started
a new firm called the Central Overland California &
Pike's Peak Express Company to handle the mail service along
the new 1,996 mile route.
new route ran through parts of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska,
Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. Its point
of origin was St. Joseph, Missouri, which was the western
most point in the United States serviced by the railroads
at the time. The route traveled over what was dry, dusty
salty deserts in the summer and snow filled icy death traps
in the winter.
began advertising for riders to employ in bringing the mail
along this route. His ad read, "Wanted: Young, Skinny, Wiry
Fellows not over 18. Must be expert riders willing to risk
death daily. Orphans preferred." Most of the young riders
wound up being about 20 years of age. The youngest, Bronco
Charlie, was only 11 and the oldest was in his mid 40's.
A book entitled, "Tales of Bronco Charlie"
provides addition fascinating reading on this ride who was
also once part of the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show.
The average weight of the riders was 120 pounds. There were
eventually 183 men known to have ridden for the Pony Express.
3, 1860 was the date of the first ride. The St. Joseph Dail
Gazette's Pony Express Edition declared it would "forward,
by the first Pony Express, the first and only newspaper
which goes out, and which will be the first paper ever transmitted
from the Missouri to California in eight days." At 7 P.M.
that evening the first westbound rider, Johnny Fry, and
the first eastbound rider, Billy Hamilton, were underway.
eastbound mail reached St. Joseph, Missouri on the scheduled
day, April 13th. The Weekly West, a newspaper in St. Joseph,
Missouri printed this upon arrival of the first Pony Express:
first through messenger on the Pony Express from
San Francisco, which place it left on the 3d, reached
this city about 4 o'clock last evening, bringing
dates from the principal Pacific cities, ten days
later, and to the 7th from Salt Lake City. The courier
left San Francisco at 4 P. M. of the 3d; Sacramento
4 A. M. of the 4th; Placerville 6:50 A. M.; Carson
City 10:10 P. M., reaching Salt Lake City on the
7th, which place he left at 12:10 of that day. The
number of letters brought through was eighty-five.
The complete success which was attended the first
trip on this great overland route is due in no small
degree to the efforts of Ben. Ficklin, the efficient
superintendent, who has been over the route and
has the general management of the enterprise.
westbound mail reached its destination, San Francisco, California,
one day late on the 14th of April about 1 A.M. Along the
last parts of the route were bands, banners and crowds cheering
and greeting the rider.
that first trek on, riders rode once a week from April 3
to mid-June making the trip both west and eastbound. Then
from mid-June to late October 1861, the adventurous souls
made the journey two times per week. The average trip length
in the summer was 10 days, and in the winter 12-16 days.
Most riders averaged about 10 miles per hour getting a fresh
horse from the Pony Express' stock of 400 every 10-15 miles
at one of the 165 stage stations along the way. Riders would
average about 75 to 100 miles before they were too weary
too continue. Then they would return to their station of
origin the next day. The longest ride by ponyman Bob Haslam
was an incredible 380 miles over terrain that is in present
day Nevada. The shortest trip was 7 days and 17 hours.
soon became an issue as more people were using the mail
service and riders needed to be "light and airy." The price
per 1/2 ounce was $5.00. This lead to newspapers and mail
being written on the lightest paper possible. Mark Twain
once remarked of the Pony Express rider from his stagecoach,
"heard only a whiz and a hail, and the swift phantom of
the desert was gone before we could get our heads out of
the windows." Riders earned $25 a week plus room and board.
They were issued a pair of revolvers, a rifle and a knife
for self defense but many riders rode with no firearm at
all to save weight. Each rider carried 20 pounds of mail
and 25 pounds of equipment.
for the Pony Express was a dangerous job. No one has an
exact amount of riders that lost their life while delivering
the mail, but there are stories. One riderís horse arrived
in the summer at a Nevada station with its rider presumed
dead. Another got lost and froze to death. Still another
was killed when his horse stumbled over an ox in the road.
On Bob Haslam's famous 380 mile trip, he found one station
master dead and persuaded the next one to come along with
him. Upon return, they found the second station burned to
the ground by Indians.
completion of the overland telegraph system on October 26,
1861 spelled the end of the Pony Express. The last run was
made in late October 1861. With the ability to send instant
telegraphs, the importance of the mail service was diminished.
Although the Pony Express only lasted 18 months, it carried
34,753 letters on 308 runs that covered 616,000 miles. It
remains an American legend, a tribute to our heartiness,
determination and will to succeed. Each year to this day,
riders retrace the Pony Express' trail. If you are looking
for the adventure of a lifetime, maybe you will too...
more information, visit the Pony Express Home Station at