I have never been to the museum for the Pony Express in Saint Joseph, Mo., but folks tell me it is a great place to go see and research. The Pony Express was a unique part of the early western communications. There was a TV series based on it at one time and I recall seeing a few episodes of it. Since TV series are now on disc’s I suppose you could review it somewhere.
U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was a future thinker about a country as large and scattered as we were after his election. He worried that states like California would splinter off with other western states into another nation if they were left too far apart. Communications would make them more a part of the country as a whole. Lots of Americans had rushed to the west coast for gold in the past and stayed in California. These were not the stick in the mud kind of people who remained in one spot or put up with an absent federal government. With a civil war looming, Lincoln needed the California gold to pay for this battle he faced with the South. So he wanted the Pony Express to send and bring news to both sides.
The partnership of Russell, Majors and Alexander, a federal contract company who did lots of freighting for the government, set it up in hopes of getting a lucrative mail contract for doing so. They hired 180 young riders, 400 horses, plus support personnel and 187 rest stops.
The original ad called for only homeless boys and orphans to apply for the job as horseback messengers. Lots of the riders were simply tough boys looking for a job. As boys Buffalo Bill Cody and William Hickok were a part of the riders.
The mailbags were made of leather, which had four pockets, one in each corner to hold mail, which fit over the light saddle using the rider’s weight to hold it in place on the saddle. They called it a mochila, which in Spanish means knapsack. So the shift from rider to the next rider was a swift one and the next one went racing off to the next post. With a transfer of that pad and they were off. Each rider had a trumpet he blew to alert the next post to forewarn he was coming. They rode about 70 miles unless the next rider wasn’t there and then they rode on further.
These riders were issued a Colt revolver and a Bible. These, of course, were black powder and people who have seen Pony Express riders reloading handguns in movies with cartridges can laugh. They had no way to reload the revolver that they carried. It was 1872 before most cartridge revolvers were produced so they’d had to use gunpowder, lead bullets and caps.
Weight of rider and all could not exceed 128 pounds. There were 187 Pony Express stations set up stretched across the U.S. from Saint Joseph, Mo., to Sacramento, Calif. Today, somewhere out in Nebraska they advertise a complete original Pony Express station off the Interstate. The company assembled all this in January and February 1860. A letter made the route in 10 days.
Mail originally cost $2.50 for a half ounce to get it delivered across country via this fast mail but as time passed it went to $2 and eventually as the telegram wires began to clack across the country it ended at $1 per half ounce. The service shut down a year and half later with a large loss to the firm and no rich federal mail subsidy contracts as they expected.
God bless America, you and your family, Dusty Richards


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