Pony Express

In the year 1849, gold was discovered in California. People flocked to this great western state by the thousands. Men, women and children came by boat to Panama and then by land over to the Pacific Ocean, then on to California by boat. Countless thousands toiled across the plains, mountains and deserts to reach this promised land of gold. Disease, flood, cold, heat, storms and fatigue marked the journey by oxcart or mule train across thousands of miles for these brave souls that were referred to in California as the 49ers. They had a saying out there referring to the strength and energy of these people: “The cowards never started, the weak died on the way; only the strong and brave survived.”
California soon had sufficient population to be admitted into the Union, but there were problems. One was the distance. California was 2000 miles from the Mississippi River, across plains, mountains, and deserts. Hostile Indians made communications difficult. There was no railroad west of the Mississippi River, so all goods and travelers going west had to be transported by mule or ox trains and stagecoaches.
Nine years after gold was discovered, a stagecoach mail route was established from St. Louis, Missouri, to San Francisco, California, over the southern route to bypass the Rocky Mountains. This mail route was 2759 miles, and the scheduled time to cross it was 25 days. Two years later, because of the Civil War, the line was shifted to a more central route through Denver and Salt Lake City. This route measured 2000 miles and took 18 days.
Now I want to tell you about one of the most romantic and daring business ventures this country ever knew. The Pony Express! A transportation company by the name of Russell, Majors & Waddel, who were engaged in freight operations west of the Mississippi River employing 6000 teamsters and working 45,000 oxen, started and successfully operated the Pony Express for about two years from1860 to 1861. The route began at St. Joseph, Missouri and ended at Sacramento, California, 2000 miles west.
This was not a stunt but the most daring and hazardous one-man messenger or express service ever conceived. The operation of the Pony Express was a miracle of precision. Speed was the primary consideration, and the dedicated riders, mostly young men—tough, wiry and determined—rode through wind, rain, snow, sleet, floodwaters, Indian attacks, night and day.
The routes the riders covered were at least 55 miles in mountains and as much as 120 miles in level country. They would change horses every 10 to 15 miles at way stations where fresh horses, already saddled, were waiting. In spite of the dangers and obstacles, the Pony Express achieved astonishing regularity, and during the period of its operations, 150 round trips were made between Missouri and California, totaling 650,000 miles on horseback. Only one trip was lost and only one rider lost his life in the service.
The entire operation required 500 horses,190 stations and 80 experienced riders. Their load of mail was not to exceed 20 pounds, and the cost was high—five dollars per 1/2 ounce. But government and business concerns who had urgent mail did not hesitate to pay the price, as the Pony Express reduced mail time between New York and San Francisco from 21 days to eleven days.
The Pony Express served a useful purpose by furnishing a speedy communication service to East and West. But its usefulness ceased when telegraph lines were completed. So the Pony Express gave way to progress just as the ox carts and mule trains did when the railroads to the West were completed.
Who was the most famous of all the Pony Express riders? William F. Cody. What was his nickname? “Buffalo Bill.” Cody got that name because he was a buffalo hunter under contract to the Union Pacific Railroad to furnish them buffalo meat to feed the men working on the railroad. He also had a wild-west show that toured the world. I saw his show when I was just a boy in Columbia, South Carolina, and he became one of my boyhood heroes. Some years ago, I was in Denver, Colorado, and took a sightseeing trip high up in the Rocky Mountains. There, looking down over the city of Denver, is the tomb of this man of the West, carved out of solid stone in the side of the mountain.

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