History Of The Pony Express
The Pony Express was short lived but managed to make a major impact on American history as well as open up a new frontier for our mail system.
Few people realize the Pony Express only lasted 18 months, from April 3, 1860 to October 26, 1861. The 2,000-mile stretch ran from St. Joseph Missouri (East) to Sacramento, California (West). The government did not run the Pony Express as most people believe but it was run by a private business firm named Russell, Majors, and Waddle. They paid their riders $25.00 per week.
Some problems the riders faced:
- Indian raids on relay stations
- Severe weather
- Natural disasters
It's interesting to note that only one rider lost his life in the service of the pony express.
The old method:
Before gold was discovered in California, ships carried the mail, leaving from the East Coast. They sailed south going around South America and some six months later they would arrive on the West Coast.
There are several different stories as to how the Pony Express came to be. California Senator William Gwin suggested a regular mail service using overland routes. In 1853 he introduced his idea to Congress but they did not pass the bill. In Washington Senator Gwin ran into William Russell and Russell liked the idea.
Water was hauled to the waystations but there was no pasture grass for the horses. Hay and feed had to be brought in for them but the horse's rations were always plentiful. The grain fed horses of the Pony Express saved their rider's life many times. Because they were healthy they could outrun the Indian ponies.
This ad ran in a California newspaper in March 1860.
"Wanted; young skinny wiry fellows not over
eighteen. Must be expert riders willing to
risk death daily. Orphans preferred."
Hundreds applied but only eighty were chosen. Some of the riders were:
- William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill)
- William Dennis
- Howard Egar
- William Fisher
- Johnnie Frye
- Sam Hamilton
- "Pony" Bob Haslam
- James Hickok (Wild Bill)
- Jack Keetley
- Jay Kelley
- Thomas King
When the station attendants saw a big cloud of dust coming, they knew it was a Pony Express rider. The riders adopted a shout to alert the station, called a "coyote yell." Their uniform consisted of a red shirt, slouch hat; denim jeans from Levi-Strauss tucked inside their boots. Soon, the uniform was abandoned and they were allowed to wear whatever they wanted.
By winter 1860, Indians were attacking the stations. They burned stations, killed men and stole ponies. The company suffered about $75,000 in losses. Soon, the company was merged with the Butterfield-Wells Fargo Company and became known as the Overland Mail Company and on October 26, 1861 the Pony Express came to an official end.
These thoughts were in an article in the California Pacific:
"A fast and faithful friend has the pony been to our far off state. Summer and winter, storm and shine, day and night, he has traveled like a weaver's shuttle back and forth 'til now his work is done.
Goodbye, Pony! You have served us well."