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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Pony Express

Can you imagine traveling 1,800 miles in 10 days on horseback?? The pony express did just that, traveled from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento California to deliver mail to happy receivers. The pony express only lasted 18 months but made a lasting expression on history. April 1860 to October 1861 would place the Pony Express in the history books and somehow inner twine with the stories of the Old West.

The pony express system worked to deliver mail via a horse and a rider relay teams. The mail would travel some 2,000 miles between St Joseph Missouri and Sacramento California. Through time the pony express system would be portrayed in novels, western films and frontier lore.

There were only two main ways before the pony express that mail was delivered. The first took 25 days and went via stagecoach. The other was to travel in a ship a long a sea voyage that could take up to several months. The pony express advertised a 10 day system. There was an average of 200 relief stations that stretched across Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. Horses would be changed about every 10 to 15 miles and riders would hand off the cargo they were carrying about every 75 to 100 miles. While legend of the pony express riders have placed them in history the system never turned a profit during its time in history. A war between the United States and Paiute Indians would temporary shutdown service and the pony express company would become a money pit that could never recover.

The Pony Express demanded small wiry men who weighed between 100 to 125 pounds. The pony express riders could be compared to the jockeys of today. The average age of a rider was around 20 but there were much younger riders that were hired as well. 

Pony Express riders made around $100 to $150 monthly salaries. In exchange for the higher rate of pay they were expected to take a loyalty oath.

 “I do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God, that during my engagement, and while an employee of Russell, Majors and Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will drink no intoxicating liquors, that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers, so help me God.” 

It seems that while the oath was a must it was not always followed. Liquor could be found at relief stations, 

A special mailbag known as a "mochilla" was used via the Pony Express. The Spanish style knapsack was lighter and allowed the horses to run faster and helped with the switch between riders. The mailbag consisted of leather cover draped over saddle held in place by rider's own weight. Three pockets for mail and one for riders time card was part of the bag that could hold up to 20 lbs of cargo. 

Pony express riders had to deal with extreme weather conditions, harsh terrain and the threat of attacks by bandits and Indians. The stock keepers at the relief station were in just as much danger as the riders. Indians have been known to attack and / or burn several relay stations during the Pyramid Lake War during the summer of 1860. As many as 16 Stock hands compared to about 6 riders were killed in the line of duty during the time of the Pony Express. 

The pony express had bridged the gap between Eastern and Western telegraph lines. On October 24th 1861 the Western Union completed the transcontinental telegraph line at Salt Lake City. The pony express had provided a service that was no longer needed. There was a total of 35,000 pieces of mail that had traveled half a million miles across the Wild American frontier. 

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