Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Pony Express

Well, I knew all week that I was to blog today (I have the 19th of every month). But the time got away from me, so here's a post from my own blog, Chatting with Anna Kathryn, that first appeared in August, 2009.

For today's blog, I'm once again turning to Mike Flanagan's book: IT'S ABOUT TIME: How Long History Took. I've done several blogs using this little book since I started The Friday Record and I recommend it for a quick look at history. The back blurb says that IT'S ABOUT TIME “chronicles nearly two hundred key events” which “offer an utterly unique and fascinating perspective on human history.”
(Left: Frank E. Webner)

On page 94, Flanagan reports on The Pony Express, which existed in 1860-61 for 1 year, 6 months, 22 days. With the Westward Expansion off to a pretty good start and large settlements established along the west coast, it was important for business to be conducted in a timely matter. Back then, timely manner meant twenty days by coach from St. Louis, Missouri to Sacramento, California or thirty days by ship from New York City to San Francisco, California . So, William Russell, Alexander Majors and W. B. Wendell devised a plan to send mail via horseback, a much faster mode of transportation, which cut the time in half to only ten days. The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco has posted a reprint of the San Francisco Newsletter, September 1925, which says,

Six hundred broncos, especially chosen for fleetness, toughness and endurance, were purchased. Seventy-five men, none of them weighing over one hundred and ten pounds, were engaged as riders, being selected on account of their bravery, their capacity for deprivation and their horsemanship, as well as for their shooting abilities and their knowledge of the craft and the manner of attack of the Indians. One of these, Henry Wallace**, was selected for the signal honor of inaugurating the Pony Express on April 3, 1860. In one of the laced pockets of his mochilla (Mexican saddlebags) he carried a message of congratulation from President Buchanan to the Governor of California, the words having been telegraphed that very morning from Washington to St. Joseph.

**This is in dispute. On the City of St. Louis, Missouri website, it says “Historians have never fully agreed whether Johnny Fry or Billie Richardson was the first rider...” So, I have know idea who Henry Wallace is...
(right, rider Billy Fisher).

One hundred ninety (190) stations were set up over the 1,966-mile trail. The riders were given six hours to ride sixty miles on six different horses, which were traded at the stations, for the first transcontinental trip. Other information shows that the riders were allowed to travel up to 75 miles before trading off with another rider.

While The Pony Express was a huge and instant success, its days were numbered from the start. Already, transcontinental telegraph wire was being strung and railroad tracks laid. In addition, the cost of sending a letter was prohibitive, $5 a half-ounce (compare with our 44 cents for the first ounce). The founders, who already owned a freighting business, envisioned government contracts to be big money-makers. Unfortunately, that never came about and when the telegraph was finally finished, The Pony Express met its doom. So did the financial situations of its founders. All three died in poverty, having lost half a million dollars in the venture.

However, during its short-lived life, The Pony Expressed covered over 650,000 miles and delivered 34,753 pieces of mail. Information in that mail included the election of Abraham Lincoln as president and the taking of Fort Sumter by the Confederates.

Anna Kathryn Lanier
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Susan Macatee said...

Interesting post! It goes to show how the rampant advance of technology in the nineteenth century quickly made a new innovation obsolete in a very short period of time.

Sort of what happens today. LOL.

Paty Jager said...

Fun Information, Anna Kathryn!

librarypat said...

Interesting post. for all the complaints about our mail system, we are lucky to have such a safe, efficient, and cheap service. Anyone who has lived in other countries can appreciate that.
One thing I didn't realize until just a few months ago was the Pony Express had nothing to do with the Post Office. It was a separate, private enterprise. It also had a much shorter run than I thought.
Have a great Christmas!

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Love your blog - two roads over is Pony Express Trail, which was the original roadway the riders used in our area. Once a year we have a rider reconstruct the actual ride at least through our area. One year we got behind the rider and followed him until we hit our road to go home. It was sort of a cool experience.