2,000 Miles In 10 Days On Horseback
The first Pony Express Rider left Sacramento, California, bound for St. Joseph, Missouri, on April 3, 1860. On that same day, another rider left St. Joseph bound for Sacramento. Since no official records have been found, there is still much debate over who those riders were. Some sources claim they answered help wanted ads in local newspapers. The ad simply stated:
Young, skinny, wiry fellows.
Not over 18.
Must be expert riders.
Willing to risk death daily.
Another ad found in 1860 archives was more descriptive:
The Undersigned Wishes To Hire
Ten or a dozen men, familiar with the management of horses, as hostlers or riders on the Overland Express Route via Salt Lake City. Wages $50 per month and found. I may be found at the St. George Hotel during Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
William W. Finney
In 1860, the Butterfield Overland Stage had already been in operation between Sacramento and St. Louis for more than a year, but it still took about 24 days to send a letter end to end. The Pony Express could do it in ten.
Founders of the Pony Express had high hopes of winning a Federal Mail Contract similar to the one awarded to the Butterfield Stage. Because of the civil war and the completion of a transcontinental telegraph line, their hopes were never realized. The Pony Express lost a lot of money but it found a place in American folklore that will last forever.
A healthy horse can run at full speed for about 12 miles. For that reason 165 stations were placed between Sacramento and St. Joseph. Each rider had an assigned route of about 100 miles and was expected to average ten miles per hour. He changed horses every ten to fifteen miles and rode as fast as the horse could manage. He handed the mail bag to a new rider at the end of his route, then sat back and waited for the next mail bag to arrive from the other direction that would take him back home.
The Pony Express route crossed only two states. California and Missouri. Everything else in between was wild unsettled territory. Hiring station masters and placing them in relay stations every 12 miles across hostile territory involved finding water, building shelters, obtaining livestock, and setting up the means to keep them supplied.
The longest ride recorded for a Pony Express rider was 380 miles. Pony Bob Haslam was assigned the route between Lake Tahoe and Buckland's Station located in the territory that eventually became Nevada. One day in May of 1861, Pony Bob arrived at Buckland's Station. He had completed his 75-mile route. Indians were on the warpath and were attacking anyone they found east of Buckland's. The relief rider refused to take the mail bag.
Pony Bob mounted the relief horse and left Buckland's Station in a cloud of dust. Without taking time to rest, he completed the second route to Smith's Creek. He had traveled 190 miles.
Nine hours later, the mail bag from the East arrived. Pony Bob took that bag and ran it all the way back to Lake Tahoe. Along the way, he passed the smoldering timbers at the Cold Springs Station. Indians had burned it to the ground and killed everyone there.
In July of 1861, an eleven year old boy by the name of Charlie was hanging around the Pony Express Station in Sacramento. He was waiting to watch the Pony Express rider mount up and race out of town with the mailbag bound for St Joseph. As the minutes ticked by, it became evident the rider assigned to the run was not going to show up. Charlie, took the mail bag, mounted the horse and raced out of town. He finished the route on time that day and every week after that for five months. Bronco Charlie secured his place in history as the youngest Pony Express rider to ever carry the mail. He was also the last one living before he died at the age of 105.