On this day in 1860, the Pony Express began its first day of service, linking St. Joseph, Missouri to the new (and important) state of California. A customer paid $5.00 per half-ounce to have his envelope whisked along the 1900 mile route in an astonishing 10 days. A company of 120 riders (each weighing less than 125 pounds) would race between each of the 184 stations, each spaced about 10 miles apart—the distance a horse could gallop without resting. Upon approach, the rider would blow a bugle and the stationmaster would prepare the next horse. The horseman would leap off his horse, onto the next, ensuring he kept the all-important, locked mailbag with him at all times. The horsemen rode day and night, in 10 hour shifts. Occasionally, a rider was required to complete two consecutive shifts—20 hours astride a series of galloping horses.
Each horseman carried his mailbag (weighing 20 pounds), a water bag, a revolver, a bugle, and a Bible. One of the Pony Express’s owners, Alexander Majors, was a very religious man and would present the Bible to each rider after the rider completed an oath, before God and Company, that he would not cuss, drink alcohol, or fight with other riders.
Riders were recruited through advertisements which read: “Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”
While California was growing by leaps and bounds, alas, the Pony Express was not long-lived. After 18 months, the service was discontinued, falling victim to the new technology: the transcontinental telegraph. The final leg of the telegraph cable was laid on 24 October 1861. Two days later, the Pony Express announced its closure.
Although the Pony Express was short-lived, its legacy has flourished in the following decades. Americans have been much-captivated by the romantic image of young, hardy, self-reliant horsemen, working relentlessly to expand the Golden West.
The sculpted pony (at rest), pictured above, might be relaxing between assignments. Please click on the photo to learn more about him.