When is Pony Express Day? August 20
What was the Pony Express?
"The Pony Express was a fast mail service crossing the North American continent from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, from April 1860 to October 1861. It became the nation's most direct means of east-west communication before the telegraph and was vital for tying California closely with the Union just before the American Civil War."
"The original fast mail services had messages carried by horseback riders in relay across the prairies, plains, deserts, and mountains of the Western United States. It briefly reduced the time for mail to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to about ten days. By traveling a shorter route and using mounted riders rather than stagecoaches, the founders of the Pony Express hoped to establish their service as a faster and more reliable conduit for the mail and win the exclusive government mail contract."
"The Pony Express demonstrated that a unified transcontinental system could be built and operated continuously year round. Since its replacement by the First Transcontinental Telegraph, the Pony Express has become part of the lore of the American West. Its reliance on the ability and endurance of individual riders and horses over technological innovation was part of "American rugged individualism"."
"Its route has been designated the Pony Express National Historic Trail. Approximately 120 historic sites along the trail may eventually be available to the public, including 50 stations or station ruins."
"From 1866 until 1890, the Pony Express logo was used by Wells Fargo, which provided secure mail and freight services. Presently, the United States Postal Service (USPS) uses "Pony Express" as a trademark for postal services in the US. Freight Link international courier services, based in Russia, also uses the Pony Express trademark, and a logo similar to that of the USPS."
"A total of about 190 Pony Express stations were placed at intervals of about 10 miles (16 km) along the approximately 2,000 miles (3,200 km) route. This was roughly the maximum distance a horse could travel at full gallop. The rider changed to a fresh horse at each station, taking only the mail pouch called a mochila, (from the Spanish Language--"pouch") with him. The employers stressed the importance of the pouch. They often said that, if it came to be, the horse and rider should perish before the mochila did. The Mochila was thrown over the saddle and held in place by the weight of the rider sitting on it. Each corner had a cantina, or pocket. Bundles of mail were placed in these cantinas, which were padlocked for safety. The mochila could hold 20 pounds (10 kg) of mail along with the 20 pounds of material carried on the horse, allowing for a total of 165 pounds (75 kg) on the horse's back. Riders, who could not weigh over 125 pounds, changed about every 75–100 miles (120-160 km). Included in that 20 pounds were: a water sack, a Bible, a horn for alerting the relay station master to prepare the next horse, a revolver, and a choice of a rifle or another revolver. Eventually, they took away everything except one revolver and a water sack to cut down on the weight. In case of emergencies, there are several documented cases where a given rider rode two stages back to back--over 20 hours on a galloping horse. The riders rode day and night, winter and summer. Departures were from both the Midwest and the far West."
"It is unknown if riders tried crossing the Sierras in winter but they certainly crossed central Nevada. By 1860 there was a telegraph station in Carson City, Nevada. The riders received $25 per week as pay. A comparable wage for unskilled labor was about $1/day for a 12-hour day's labor."
"Majors had acquired from 420 to 500 horses for the project, and these averaged about 14½ hands (1.47 m) high and averaged a light 900 pounds (410 kg) each; thus, the name pony was appropriate, even if not strictly correct for all the horses."
The First Ride
"The rides were scheduled to leave San Francisco and St. Joseph simultaneously on April 3, 1860. The westbound route has gotten more publicity. No photographs of riders beginning in either direction are known and none are believed to exist."
"The messenger delivering the mochila from New York and Washington missed a connection in Detroit and arrived in Hannibal, Missouri, two hours late. The railroad cleared the track and dispatched a special locomotive called the "Missouri" with a one-car train to make the 206-mile (332 km) trek across the state in a record 4 hours, 51 minutes — an average of 40 miles per hour (64 km/h). It arrived at Olive and 8th Street — a few blocks from the company's new headquarters in a hotel at Patee House at 12th Street and Pennsylvania and the company's nearby stables on Pennsylvania. The first pouch contained 49 letters, five private telegrams, and some papers for San Francisco and intermediate points."
"St. Joseph Mayor M. Jeff Thompson, William H. Russell and Alexander Majors gave speeches before the mochila was handed off. The ride began at about 7:15 p.m. The St. Joseph Gazette was the only newspaper included in the bag."
"The identity of the first rider has long been in dispute. The Weekly West (April 4, 1860) reported Johnson William Richardson was the first rider ?."
"The first horse-ridden leg of the Express was only about a half mile (800 m) from the Express stables/railroad area to the Missouri River ferry at the foot of Jules Street. Johnny Fry is credited as the first westbound rider who carried the pouch across the Missouri River ferry to Elwood, Kansas. Reports indicated that horse and rider crossed the river. In later rides, the courier crossed the river without a horse and picked up his mount at a stable on the other side."
The first westbound mochila reached its
destination, San Francisco, on April 14, at 1:00
"James Randall is credited as the first rider from
the San Francisco Alta telegraph office, since he
was on the steamship Antelope to go to
Sacramento. At 2:45 a.m., William (Sam)
Hamilton was the first rider to begin the journey
Celebrate this holiday with a Party!