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The Daring Concept, The Pony Express
Books about the Pony Express
The Amazing Short Story of the Pony Express
Mention the Pony Express and many people will conjure up pictures of Wild West Shows with Buffalo Bill. The truth about the Pony Express is very short. As I write the 150th Anniversary is now in 2010. The Service ran from St. Jo Missouri to Sacramento CA a diistance of a smidgeon under 2000 miles which its teams of horses covered in ten days.
This amazing service was never successful financially and came to an abrupt halt when the Telegraph service was extended beyond the Missouri, which meant no contest with the galloping ponies. The news that Abraham Lincoln had been elected president was carried to the West Coast using the Pony Express in 1860.
A leather saddle bag called a Mochila carried 20 lbs of mail in four pockets called cantinas. The Mochila was thrown over the horses back and was designed to fit over the horn of any saddle, the change over was completed in moments as a fresh rider vaulted onto the horses back. Only one set of mail was ever lost but several riders perished in the line of duty.
The riders were all young men between eighteen to twenty years old and very light weight. They had to be capable of galloping 75 miles at approx twelve miles an hour with four or five changes of pony. Not surprisingly the ponies, for they were only about 14 hands, were of very high quality stock with a lot of mustang blood. The young men had to swear an oath of exemplary behaviour and each were given leather bound bible.
The riders carried arms at all times. By and large they were left alone by the Indians as they carried nothing of value to them. One rider was captured and killed by Indians but the pony escaped and the mail saved. These brave lads were paid between $100 to $125 per month. The station keepers were paid $50 to $100 per month. Many stations remain in remote positions in Utah, Nebraska and Nevada.
Mark twain who caught a brief glimpse of a Pony Express Rider and wrote about it years later in his book "Roughing It". Buffalo Bill included a scene about it in his Wild West Show which was viewed by the Queen of England, the Kaiser of Russia and the Pope all got to watch the show.
This institution flourished for a short time (78 weeks) around 1860 but has never been forgotten. St Josephs Missourri has a reenactment each year. Many other towns along the way also celebrate the excitement and glamour. The stations or their ruins still punctuate the tortuous route bringing back memories of steaming horses and dusty riders. The mail, wrapped in oiled silk for protection had to be got through. Even at the initial cost of $5 for half an ounce of mail which is equivalent to $100 these days failed to make it pay.
The Pony Express will not be forgotten as it demonstrated the American spirit so strong in those days of challenge and daring.