Monday, April 15, 2013

The Pony Express
"Young, skinny, wiry fellows, not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred." Made up the ads for Pony Express riders published in newspapers and on flyers throughout the west. 

The approaching Civil War created a need for a speedy way to get mail from Missouri to California and was the driving force behind the creation of The Pony Express. Though it only lasted little over a year, the success of the program captivated attention and set forth the need for congress to appropriate funding for a nationwide, reliable and all inclusive postal system.

A special light-weight saddle was created for the riders, and initially the cost to send mail averaged $5.00 per ½ ounce, but was later reduced. The two thousand mile distance between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California was divided into 75-100 mile sections. Riders would change horses every 10-15 miles depending on the terrain before handing over his ‘freight’ to a fresh rider for the next hundred miles. The rides took an average of ten days each way.  
Buffalo Bill Cody age 19

Buffalo Bill Cody, at the age of 15 was a Pony Express rider in Wyoming , and wrote this passage about one of his adventures in: Cody William F., The Life of Buffalo Bill (1879, republished 1994)… 

“As I was leaving Horse Creek one day, a party of fifteen Indians 'jumped me' in a sand ravine about a mile west of the station. They fired at me repeatedly, but missed their mark. I was mounted on a roan California horse - the fleetest steed I had. Putting spurs and whip to him, and lying flat on his back, I kept straight on for Sweetwater Bridge - eleven miles distant - instead of trying to turn back to Horse Creek. The Indians came on in hot pursuit, but my horse soon got away from them, and ran into the station two miles ahead of them. The stock-tender had been killed there that morning, and all the stock had been driven off by the Indians, and as I was therefore unable to change horses, I continued on to Ploutz's Station - twelve miles further - thus making twenty-four miles straight run with one horse. I told the people at Ploutz's what had happened at Sweetwater Bridge, and with a fresh horse went on and finished the trip without any further adventure.”

Buffalo Bill also wrote about Wild Bill Hickock who was a Pony Express rider, too, in Kansas. He claimed one of Wild Bill’s adventures included a day when his relay station was being robbed. The station master had already been killed when Wild Bill arrived, and after saving the man’s widow from five robbers, Wild Bill stayed with her until the stage arrived before galloping off to make up for lost time. 

A Pony Express Rider
Pony Express riders were paid $100 a month, which would equate to approximately $2,500 in today.  Though it changed the west, and initiated a mail courier system, the Pony Express was a financial failure for the company that operated it. The initial undertaking alone involved 125 riders, 180 stations, and 400 horses besides other personnel. Numbers vary as to how many young men actually rode for the Pony Express, but at any given time during its existence there was an average of 80 Pony Express riders traveling the routes, and each rider had been presented a Bible upon hire.


Caroline Clemmons said...

Lauri, this is an interesting post. I didn't realize the Pony Express Company didn't make money, but I can see how expenses would eat at every dime. I also thought the boys received what would, in today's money, be a nice yearly salary. Thanks.

Ellen O'Connell said...

Very interesting post, Lauri. Can you imagine if you advertised jobs in those terms today? You'd be hounded out of town, the government would go after you for breaking all sorts of laws and regulations, and then you'd be sued by an orphan claiming emotional damage.

I knew the Pony Express didn't last long, but am surprised every time I see it how short its existence really was. Can't even imagine running a horse for 10 miles. Surely they had to take a breather now and then, although I read another account of someone running from Apaches when researching Dancing on Coals, and he said his horse ran all night.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Short as it lasted, the Pony Express sure did ignite the imagination of the dime novelists, and we've been fascinated since.

Christopher Corbett said...