It amazed me how little I knew of the Pony Express.
To me, it was a way to deliver mail before there were roads and I knew that they rode fast. But I didn’t understand the details.
Following my compulsion to research the Pony Express, I cannot believe how much I’d either forgotten or was never taught. So, inspired by a documentary movie trailer I saw on You Tube (wow, have methods of information delivery changed or what…), and Wikipedia (another unbelievable source according to 1861 standards) I decided to bring to you a brief history of the Pony Express.
FIRST, THE VIDEO THAT CAUGHT MY ATTENTION
It appears that an Independent film is in the works. Of course, being a producer myself, I mined deeply into the website provided and found out that the Director, CJ LongHammer, has worn a few hats in the Major Motion Picture Industry and my hat is off to him for digging in and doing this on his own. No easy feat, believe me.
Anyway, I was impressed with the quality and effort brought forth on a modest budget. I was doubly impressed with the amount of ‘difficult to stage and shoot’ scenes that involved many horses and riders, fire, danger and mayhem. Wahoo! I wish I was on this production! I think I would love every minute of it – even the unbelievable pressure of it all. I’d love the wardrobe (especially gear that jingles), the wranglers (maybe…), the horses, the art direction, the art department and of course, all the production elements. I was born 150 years too late.
Then I found out that last year, 2010, was the 150 year anniversary of the Pony Express. To celebrate, there was a re-ride. Wow! Where was I? This would have been fun to watch or participate… The good news is that they are doing it again this year in June. Please go to the website and learn about it. If you have questions, you can email this person (firstname.lastname@example.org or you can call me at 775-267-2059).
There is also a KIDS RIDE which I didn’t quite understand but it sounded good.
Anyway, what got to me is that I live an hour outside of the end of the Pony Express Route. In fact, there is a statue in Old Town that I’ve passed a million times and not even noticed. Sheesh.
Another bit of history that floored me was that the Pony Express came very close to where I live. In fact, I’ve passed named areas and not realized what the names meant. For example, there is a restaurant called the 5 Mile House that is built on a Stage Coach Route stop which was built over a Pony Express stop. I’ve been to that restaurant and that area often, riding. I have to tell you… now that I know it used to be a horse passageway, I gotta tell you that those horses must have been F-I-T. That area is not kind, winter or summer.
I loved this idea! The people who are organizing the re-ride are using GPS navigation so that web readers can follow the progress! I love this idea! How fun is that?! Here is the website for the GPS tracking.
I had no idea that this infamous line only ran from April 1860 to October 1861. Just 18 months.
The Pony Express was started by a few men (William Russell, Alexander Majors and William Waddell) who thought they could make money before the telegraph made it all the way across the country. The idea was to offer a very short relay from St. Louis to Sacramento in 10 days, which was unheard of at that time.
These men already owned and maintained an Overland Express service that employed Oxen and coaches. But, it wasn’t as fast as the proposed Pony Express.
It is said that the owners knew that the Pony Express wouldn’t make money, but they thought it was worthwhile for the fame and the good service (to connect California to the East during the Civil War uprising). The owners has hoped to swing this into a contract with the government to carry the mail. But, that didn’t happen.
So, these men set about the huge task of arranging 120 riders, 184 stations, 400 employees to man the stations, care for the stock and administrate as purchasing 400 horses.
THE RIDERS, THE HORSES, THE GEAR
The riders had to be small- 125 lbs or less. Usually, boys or teens. They preferred orphans. I swear, that is what the ad said! I cut and pasted it here:
“Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”
The horses were comprised of Morgans and Thoroughbreds which were often used on the eastern end of the trail. Pintos were often used in the middle section and Mustangs were often used on the western (more rugged) end of the mail route. (Need I comment on another reason why we should preserve our history-making and hard working Mustangs?…)
Also, the horses were small, sturdy and fleet of foot. Most were around 14 hands and weighed 900 lbs. This is how the expression “pony express” came to be although the horses weren’t ponies. I’m guessing Arabs would have been good at this but there weren’t enough around at the time…
The tack was very interesting. They need it lightweight and also protective of the mail and gear. And, the mail had to be removed from one saddle and onto the next rider’s saddle very quickly. So, they devised a “mochila” that could be easily removed and placed onto another saddle. It was like a leather saddle pad with pockets that went on top of the saddle with holes cut for the horn and cantle.
Another interesting aspect of the saddle/gear, was that they designed the saddle with several items attached to it but after a few rides, gave up everything but water and a gun.
Unfortunately, the Piute Indians in Nevada were upset and ready to war with the White Men around them. I’m not sure what was happening historically there, but the inconvenient part was that the Pony Express ran right through Piute land.
Uh oh. Bad. Although the chief of the Piutes didn’t want war, it happened anyway. The Pony Express lost several riders and employees via Indian attacks.
Understandably, there were several riders and employees who quit or refused to ride there. Yet, incredibly, the mail was only late ONCE during the 18 months of the Pony Express! Wow. You cannot say that now about USPS today!
(Interestingly, the BUCKET FUND for this month are Piute born orphan foals from Nevada. The same tribe only much later.)
The stations were on average about 10 miles apart depending upon terrain. They were supposed to be 15 miles apart because that is what horses at a gallop could do at the time (imagine…) but the average distance was 10 miles apart.
The rider would hop on a horse, ride as fast as he could without stopping and change horses at every station. The horse only went from station to station but the riders averaged 75 miles at a stretch.
The riders would sleep and eat at the stations and then mount up on another horse and take off to relieve the upcoming riders. The draw or sweet part of this job was the pay. These boys made $25/day when the average was $1.
Now, these riders were usually just kids… Some of them rode many more miles in a stint. The record was 340 miles in 31 hours by Jack Keetley. He didn’t eat or rest during that time. When he came into the station, he was fast asleep. The horse brought him in.
MOST FAMOUS RIDE
The most famous Pony Express ride was the route that carried the news of Lincoln’s election. Here is an excerpt:
On November 7, 1860, a Pony Express rider departed Fort Kearny, Nebraska Territory (the eastern end of the telegraph line) with the election results. Riders sped along the route, over snow-covered trails and into Fort Churchill, Nevada Territory (the western end of the telegraph line). California’s newspapers received word of Lincoln’s election only seven days and 17 hours after the East Coast papers, an unrivaled feat at the time
It is said that Wild Bill Cody was a Pony Express rider but this is widely disputed. He was too big and there was no documentation that he actually rode for the Pony Express. He did, for sure, help build several stations.
The telegraph connected and the Pony Express folded three days later.
As you may have calculated, the Civil War broke out shortly thereafter. The Pony Express is said to be the single information service that kept the West from becoming Confederate.
After the Civil War, the owners of the Pony Express sold to Wells Fargo. Here is an excerpt:
The Pony Express had grossed $90,000 and lost $200,000. In 1866, after the American Civil War was over, Holladay sold the Pony Express assets along with the remnants of the Butterfield Stage to Wells Fargo for $1.5 million.
Nice. They did make a profit after all. And so they should for creating such a huge endeavor with great historical impact.
Wells Fargo used the Pony Express logo for many years. I know that I associate Wells Fargo with the Pony Express… However, the logo was moved to the Security Division (armored cars) which was sold in 2001. So, the logo is no longer used by Wells Fargo.
HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth… if you like this, please pass it around!
JANUARY DROP IN THE BUCKET FUND: THE PIUTE ORPHAN FOALS
To learn all about the Bucket Fund and to donate the the ‘Saved from Slaughter Orphan Foals’, please click on the photo (photo credit, Trish Lowe)