Pony Express Turns 150

  |   History, Politics   |   1 Comment

Pony Express Turns 150; photo by bikingantoine

Amidst all the furor over the impending USPS apocalypse, we might take a moment to remember that April 3rd is the 150th anniversary of the Pony Express.

It delivered mail between St. Joseph, Missouri and San Francisco in about 10 days – half the time claimed by stagecoach (it promised 23 days, but was almost always much, much longer). But the Express operated for only 18 months until the telegraph’s westward expansion obsoleted it.

During its short life, it embodied and perpetuated cultural motifs such as “cowboy vs. Indian,” “man vs. technology,” and the gold/silver rush.

It has remained highly romanticized to this day, with both Wells Fargo and the USPS appropriating the “Pony Express” mark for subsequent branding efforts.

Some fun facts:

  • 600 “horses” (some were mules!) and 75 riders were in the fleet, each galloping about 60 miles until reaching the next relay station.
  • The riders were usually teenaged boys.
  • Horse and rider rode a riverboat from Sacramento to San Francisco for the final relay of the trip.
  • Stories exist of ads saying, ““Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows, not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. Wages $25 a week.” The stories have never been corroborated.

Links: 1, 2, 3

  • Nelson | Mar 7, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    One of my favourite bits of prose from Mark Twain is his description of the Pony Express, from Roughing It.

    Away across the endless dead level of the prairie a black speck appears against the sky, and it is plain that it moves. Well, I should think so! In a second or two it becomes a horse and rider, rising and falling, rising and falling–sweeping toward us nearer and nearer–growing more and more distinct, more and more sharply defined–nearer and still nearer, and the flutter of the hoofs comes faintly to the ear–another instant a whoop and a hurrah from our upper deck, a wave of the rider’s hand, but no reply, and man and horse burst past our excited faces, and go winging away like a belated fragment of a storm! So sudden is it all, and so like a flash of unreal fancy, that but for the flake of white foam left quivering and perishing on a mail-sack after the vision had flashed by and disappeared, we might have doubted whether we had seen any actual horse and man at all, maybe.