Arts & Culture

This Week in History | The Pony Express


RORY LARSON
larso066@rangers.uwp.edu

Our first modern postmen and their steeds

Founded on April 3 1860, now nearly 160 years ago, the Pony Express was a short lived business that became the stuff of legends in the wild west.

The Pony Express was founded by William Hepburn Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Bradford Waddell. These three men came up with a solution to the problem the gold rush in California and other areas of the west had caused–a lack of communication between families that lived across the country from one another. The route began in Missouri and ran over 2,000 miles to California. Before the express began letters took months to travel from the east to the west. The Pony Express cut the time it took for letters to travel down to a mere ten days. The first Pony Express ad read, “WANTED: Young, skinny, wiry fellows, not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. Wages: $25 per week. Apply: Central Overland Pony Express Alta Building Montgomery Street”.

The route

The riders of the Pony Express were well known for their bravery and sacrifices made to get their precious cargo from one destination to the next. Even famed American author Mark Twain weighed in on the riders, calling them “swift phantoms of the desert”. Along the route, there were over 190 way stations that riders could stop at to feed and care for or switch out horses when their own become exhausted. These stations were set up every ten to twelve miles and were no small part of the business’s short-lived success.

One of the most famous riders was an individual by the name of Robert Halsam, who was more commonly known as “Pony Bob”. Pony Bob gained his fame for his bravery on one of his routes when he ran straight through the Paiute War around the age of 18 or 19. The uprisings in the area had shut down nearly all the other routes that ran through the territory.

Down in history

Unfortunately, less than a year and a half after the Pony Express began, it ended. The riders were quickly replaced by the transcontinental telegraph, which sent messages with even more speed than the riders could ever hope to keep up with. Still, due to the Pony Express’ short but impactful place in American history, it has gone down as a legend for the ages. Though many of the stories of the Pony Express are mostly myth now, it is still rooted in a real business that revolutionized how mail was delivered to people of the United States. The perils the riders of the express faced crossing the country to deliver their precious cargo cannot be forgotten.

Categories: Arts & Culture

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