The Pony Express
Between St. Joseph, MO and Sacramento, CA
April 1860 - October 1861
The image of the Pony Express is of young riders galloping across the prairie. But hundreds of years ago when John Upson made his first run, he spent a lot of the riding time walking.
It was April 1860, The Pony Express had a goal: deliver mail 1,966 miles between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California in less than 10 days. Today, ten days is very slow to deliver mail, but a hundred years ago ten days was very fast. Ships usually took months to cross oceans and coaches took at least 25 days to travel 1,000 miles. So a transportation company put out the call: "Wanted-young, skinny, wiry fellows, not over 20. Must be expert riders, and are willing to risk their lives for the job. Orphans preferred. Wages twenty five dollars a week."
Company employees came up with a relay system. Each rider would travel 100 miles, night or day. Riders would stop every ten to twenty miles to change new horses. When a rider got to their home station, a new rider would take over. In all, there would be 190 stations along the Pony Express trail. Upson’s route took him east from sportsman’s hall, near Sacramento, California. Across the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The night of his ride, a blizzard tested Upson’s courage and strength. Some bet Upson could not make it across the mountains. But he was determined to uphold the Pony Express motto: "The mail must go through." The reputation of the new mail service depended on him. Snow covered the wagon tracks and landmarks along the way, making it difficult to find the route. At times, Upson had to walk, leading his horse. At other times, his sure-footed mustang, cut the trail. In steep canyons, a wrong step could mean death.
Slowly, Upson advanced from station to station until reaching his home station. There, he passed the eastbound mail on to the next rider. A few days later, the westbound mail arrived and Upson crossed back over the snowy Sierra. Again, he was successful and the Pony Express was off and running.
Less than two years later, progress caught up with the Pony Express. The transcontinental telegraph was completed Oct. 24, 1861, and the Pony Express was no longer needed. The new "Talking wires," could carry information quickly across the country. But the Pony Express left behind a stirring legacy.
In less than 19 months, riders had covered 650,000 miles and carried 34,753 pieces of mail. Only one mail sack was ever lost. Perhaps the California newspaper, the Pacific, put it best with its tribute to the Pony Express: "Goodbye Pony! You have served us well."
The Pony Express in Kansas
During the winter of 1859-1860, W. H. Russell, of the firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell, completed plans for the two-thousand-mile Pony Express Route between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California.
Because of its effort to speedily deliver mail over great distances, the Pony Express has gained a glamorous and romantic history, though it operated less than a year and a half (April 1860 - October 1861).
Pony Express riders carried mail in relays. Each rider rode about thirty-three miles, changing horses twice, about every eleven (10 to 15) miles, after leaving his home station. The entire one-way trip required ten days.
More than 125 miles of the eastern end of the Pony Express Route was in Kansas. The twice-a-week deliveries each way found the riders on this section carrying the mail at an average speed of ten miles an hour. The Kansas section of the route had 11 stations.
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