Jefferson’s Blog: The Pony Express and The Pony Express Riders
Hello! Jefferson Eagle here with an update on my travels. I found myself in St. Joseph, Missouri listening to some wonderful jazz music. While enjoying some of America’s amazing music history, I met Lincoln, a Bluebird. He told me all about the Pony Express! If you think I’m fast, you should learn about the horses and riders of the Pony Express. Hey kids, did you know that before email and instant messages, there was something called the Pony Express? So what is the Pony Express you ask? Well, it was how people had their mail delivered to them before cars were invented.
Back in the middle of the 1800’s, California got a big rush of people and the population around the state boomed! The Pony Express was made to make communication faster from the eastern part of the U.S. to the western part of the U.S. Loved ones and business folk would send letters to the west by sending a man and his horse speeding into the west. Did you know that the ads for recruiting Pony Express riders specifically asked for orphans? They wanted young men and boys who had the energy and strength to ride long distances. Orphans were the perfect choice because they were unattached to a family. That meant they wouldn’t be missing their families or needing to get home any time soon. They also needed men and boys who weighed no more than 125 pounds because the horses could only carry 165 pounds. Once they added 20 pounds of mail, a saddle, water, and a bible, they were at their weight limit with a 125 pound rider!
WANTED. YOUNG, SKINNY, WIRY FELLOWS. NOT OVER 18. MUST BE EXPERT RIDERS. WILLING TO RISK DEATH DAILY. ORPHANS PREFERRED
California newspaper help wanted ad, 1860
Frank E. Webner, Pony Express Rider, circa 1861 via National Archives
The little birdy told me that the Pony Express was founded by William H. Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors. At that time, it was the fastest way for people to communicate with each other across the country. The Pony Express riders and their horses carried mail from Missouri to California along the Pony Express National Historic Trail. This trail spread across eight states and at the time, was the most direct and practical way to get communication from the east to the west. The Pony Express Riders had to travel a long and sometimes dangerous trail on their horses. When the Pony Express opened on April 3, 1860, riders left from St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California, to travel up to 11 days before reaching their final destinations. Then they had to turn around and do it all over again. Once they arrived at the end of the trail, the riders and their horses had traveled up to 1800 miles! At around midnight on April 14, 1860, the first mail pouch was delivered by the Pony Express to San Francisco. The amazing Pony Express could now deliver a letter faster than ever before.
Photo from Ernest and Elaine Hartnagle-original tintype from the Martin E. Ismert Collection-Kansas City, Missouri from History Buff.
“Men Wanted” The undersigned wishes to hire ten or a dozen men, familiar with the management of horses, as hostlers, or riders on the Overland Express Route via Salt Lake City. Wages $50 per month and found.” – Ad in Sacramento Union, March 19, 1860.
Eventually the Pony Express had over 100 stations, 80 Riders, and 500 horses. The Riders had to travel the very hazardous trail. Believe it or not, only one mail bag was ever lost! Interestingly, the Pony Express only lasted 18 months because of the telegraph. The transcontinental telegraph line, built by Pacific Telegraph, was built to connect the Missouri River and the Pacific Coast. In 1861 the Pacific Telegraph was completed and it ended the need for the Pony Express. Costs and difficulties of maintaining the extensive network of stations, people and horses also contributed to the end of the Pony Express.
Sadly over time, the trail that the Riders used, was destroyed by weather and people. However, there are about 120 stations that have been preserved and transformed into museums for people to visit and learn more about the Riders and the Pony Express. To learn more about this amazing piece of American history, check out Pony Express National Museum!
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P.S. For more great links and videos to learn about the Pony Express check these out:
Spirit of the Pony Express: Learn about the Pony Express with this fun video from Sundance.
The Pony Express 150th Anniversary Special: Watch this trailer to learn more fascinating facts about the Pony Express.
Pony Express Rider’s Journal: Learn about the Pony Express straight from one of the rider’s himself, Buffalo Bill Cody!
The First Pony Express Ride: Learn all about the first Pony Express Ride here!
Jefferson Eagle, Blog Contributor
Jefferson Eagle is an America’s Destination Pen Pals blog contributor and Destination Pen Pal adventurer. He has become one of ADPP’s foremost experts on the culture and geography of the United States, The Constitution and America’s rich history. Jefferson Eagle currently travels the United States with his Pen Pal Buddies exploring America and teaching children about the traditions, history and culture which built this great nation.