Writins of Weakeyes Cody
Talented and witty writings
An American Phenomena - The Pony Express @ 2011
The one marvelous accomplishment we Americans formed early in our checkered history was the Rural Federal Delivery of mail. I can think of no greater triumph over isolation than a simple letter from a loved one, be it from a mother, father, sister, brother or friend. Our country was wild and open. People who moved west out on the prairies or on to distant California, were as far away from whence they came as Europeans were from the east coast and even more difficult to communicate with.
They say necessity is the mother of invention. I agree. And perhaps solitude is the mother of communication? Certainly a high priority was placed on the need to communicate with the far reaches of our people and this gave rise to the creation of the Pony Express.
Pony Express! The very name conjures up images of a reckless rider galloping full tilt across the prairie ignoring the dangers of prairie dog holes, resentful Comanche’s, storms, heat, cold and other possible hazards. Mark Twain, in his journey west aboard a stage coach mentions the approach of a Pony Express rider. Of how he came and went amid cheers and hoots from the passengers.
Before the advent of the Pony Express the only regular overland mail connection between New York City and San Francisco was by way of railroad as far west as St. Louis, and then by stage. This weary process took about twenty- three days. Therefore, the only advantage of the overland carriers compared to the twenty-five days from the east coast to Frisco, by steamer – via relay from Atlantic coast to Pacific coast vessels across the Isthmus of Panama – was more frequent deliveries. Only two trips were made each month by steamer.
In the winter of 1859-60 a company known as Russell, Majors and Waddell, benefitted by their reliable deliveries and experience as owners of a stage line plying between the Missouri river and Salt Lake City, began plans to establish what was to be known as the “Pony Express,” and were soon actually engaged in the necessary preparations.
Advertisements for riders were issued in major newspapers, Preferably light men, single or orphans. The project also required an initial outlay of thousands of dollars. Five hundred head of horses, 190 stations, 200 station-keepers and 80 riders were necessary to implement the service. Well chosen, brave and determined men were the riders, who would face hazard and hardships for a single purpose; to deliver the mail intact, regardless of cost to self and animal. Each rider was expected to ride seventy-five miles but occasionally much farther. One rider, Robert S. Hoslem better known as “Pony Bob,” made a sustained ride of 380 miles within a few hours of scheduled time. Another, William F. Cody, “Buffalo Bill,” rode 384 miles, stopping only for meals and fresh horses. According to Buffalo Bill.
After all the foregoing was in place and the great day arrived on April 3, 1860, a rider left Sacramento at 2:45 p.m., with the first pouch of mail consisting of fifty-six letters which came from San Francisco by river boat, one from Placerville and thirteen which had been posted in Sacramento. He crossed the Sierra through Emigrant Gap to Carson City, from there the Simpson route was followed over the desert in Churchill county, northeast to Ruby Valley in Elko county, thence southeast through Deep Creek valley into Utah, around the southern end of the Great Salt Lake to Salt Lake City, east to Julesburg, Colorado; east to Fort Kearney on the Platte river in Nebraska, then southeast to St. Joseph.
The initial trips in both directions were made in ten days, three and a half days being devoted to the Sacramento-Salt Lake City leg of the journey. Two minutes was the ordinary length of time allowed at stations to change horses, riders, and transfer the mail pouch.
On April 13th 1860, the arrival of the first Pony Express mail from the east, consisting of eight letters was hailed with enthusiasm in Sacramento. Billy Richardson was the rider and with horse and mail sack took passage on a San Francisco bound steamer arriving in Frisco at 1:00 a.m. Citizens of the Golden Gate City turned out en masse to greet the first arrival amidst a din of praise and cheers. 1,966 miles successfully negotiated.
And so, the time required for transmittal of letters was reduced from twenty-three days to thirteen. News dispatches, telegraphed from NYC to St Joseph, and again from Carson City to San Francisco were delayed for only the nine days of Pony Express travel between these two points. Until it was superseded by the progress of the transcontinental Railroad in 1869 and telegraph lines.
The Pony Express lasted eighteen months at a loss of eighteen thousand dollars but its maintenance and service played an important part in the development of the west.
There never sets the sun on rolling plains,
Nor evening shadows soothe the desert heat,
But ghostly riders fly on ghostly mountsAnd skim the twilit way with silent feet –
The men who brought the eager-waited mails,
Forgotten men who ride forgotten trails.
They come again to gallop sleeping roads,
These wraiths that race along the windy way;
They mark again the starlight on the sandUntil they see the streaks of the coming day –
Then vanish like the dust of desert gales.
Forgotten men who ride forgotten trails~Charles J. Carey