The Pony Express

pony expressThe Pony Express was a legend even in its own time. The very idea of a brave, solitary rider astride a thundering horse transporting mail across 1,900-plus miles sent 19th Century hearts a-flutter, just as the faint, echoing sounds of the Pony’s hooves excite the imagination today.  It was the brainchild of William Russell, Alexander Majors & William Waddell, wealthy owners of a staging company that had lost its government subsidized overland mail contract.  The first west-bound rider left St. Joseph, Missouri, on April 3, 1860.  The next day, after retrieving mail sent from San Francisco by steamship, a rider sped down the darkened streets of Sacramento City, headed east.  The Pony carried no packages; only tissue-paper-weight correspondence at rates varying from $5, in the beginning, to $1 per letter toward the end of the enterprise. These were considered costly rates, but even so the Pony’s investors lost money from the start. Only the fleetest, strongest horses were chosen. Requisites for riders were that they be small in stature—and superb horsemen. More than 400 steeds had to be fed and cared for, relay stations every 10 – 12 miles (or less) built, staffed, and maintained; specially made, light-weight saddles and mail pouches purchased, and riders paid.  The Pony’s run came to an end in late October, 1861, when the joining of telegraph wires made an already financially exhausting investment (Majors was bankrupt) not worth continuing.  The Pony Express was in operation less than 19 months, yet it remains one of the West’s most impressive, romantic dramas.


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