Ghost Riders of Hollenberg Station
Gerat H. Hollenberg
The Pony Express only operated from April 1860 through October, 1861. Before that railroads and telegraph lines extended no further west than St. Joseph, MO. Mail carried west by stagecoach and wagons could take months to reach its destination…if it arrived at all. Pony Express riders dramatically reduced the amount of time it took for mail to be delivered. But, it was a dangerous job. Riders, most about 20 years of age, faced savage Indian attacks, rough terrain and severe weather.
The only remaining Pony Express stop still standing in its original location is located five miles northeast of Hanover, Kansas, on Cottonwood Creek. The ranch house was built in 1858 by Gerat H. Hollenberg, a German who immigrated to the United States in the late 1840s. Hollenberg had lived an adventurous life before he came to Kansas Territory in 1854. He spent several years searching for gold in South America and Australia and was part of the great California Gold Rush of 1849.
No one knows how much gold Hollenberg found during his travels. However, one legend says he lost it all when he was shipwrecked off the coast of Florida. Most of the passengers drowned but Hollenberg survived. Some have said he walked all the way to Chicago. Not much else is known about him until 1854 when he settled near the Oregon-California Trail on the Black Vermillion River in Marshall County, Kansas Territory. He began selling goods to travelers out of his small log cabin. In 1857 he moved his business to the present site of Hollenberg Station in Washington County.
Before it became one of the 163 Pony Express stations, it was the largest stop along the route and served as a grocery store, tavern and an unofficial post office.
The route ran 2,000 miles from St Joseph, MO. to Sacramento, CA. During the eighteen months it was in operation, it was estimated the riders carried about 35,000 pieces of mail and racked up over 650,000 miles. Amazingly, it’s said they only lost one sack of mail.
Apparently, some at the Hollenberg Station aren’t aware their services are no longer needed. Many visitors and staff claim to have heard the sounds of running horses and voices of young men calling out in the dead of night. Others claim to have seen the riders, heard strange sounds and disembodied voices as well as experiencing cold spots within the building.
It would only be natural for these phantom riders to remain there. It was probably the only home they ever knew. Most were orphans or had no living family members worrying about them. An 1860 advertisement in CA read, "Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows, not over 18. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”
However, out of the 183 that rode for the Pony Express, the youngest was 11 and the oldest about 45. The pay was $100 a month. Each rider would cover about 75 to 100 miles before a fresh rider took his place. They changed horses every 10-15 miles and the entire trip took about ten days.
Although the Pony Express forever changed the way mail would be delivered it was a financial disaster as a business. The company declared bankruptcy and closed down in 1861 when the telegraph was completed. Most of the stations were abandoned and fell into disrepair, but the Hollenberg Station managed to survive.
In 1869, the town of Hanover, that Hollenberg had founded, made every effort to preserve the old station. When Hollenberg died in 1874, the station became a farm home until 1941 when the Kansas Legislature purchased the building and the surrounding seven acres. The site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1961 and two years later it became officially known as the Hollenberg Pony Express Station Historic Site. It now operates under the auspices of the Kansas Historical Society. They say their mail is always on time.