Pony Express Never Used Ponies
The Pony Express made deliveries from April 1860 until October of 1861. I have no idea why Pony Express was used to name the service because only horses were used. Well, maybe a few mules too.
William Russell, Alexander Majors and William Waddell owned the Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Express Company. They were pioneer stagecoach operators who came up with the idea of the Pony Express to cut down on mail delivery time.
The typical delivery took 25 days by stagecoach to California. The average delivery time for the Pony Express was 10 days. That's better than some of the mail I've received in recent times.
To achieve that kind of speed the owners set up a string of just under 200 relief stations from what is currently Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California.
A lone rider would ride full tilt from one station heading to the next switching mounts every 10 to 15 miles, handing their cargo off to a new rider after about 75 to 100 miles. The company's personal beest happened in March of 1861 when riders carried the inaugral address of Abraham Lincoln from Nebraska to California 7 days and 17 hours.
There are no financial records from the business but just putting pen to paper it doesn't take a major brain thrust to figure there was no profit in it. Just a few months after starting the deliveries were halted when the Pyramid Lake War erupted between the United States and Paiute Indians.
According to estimates that war cost the company approximately $75,000 and every run was a loss due to the high operations costs. No government mail contract was secured either. Estimates by some are the approximately 18 month operation lost about $200,000.
Since speed was essential the Pony Express had a weight limit for it's riders meaning they were mostly very young men. The average age was 20. They sought small, wiry individuals weighing between 100 and 125 pounds.
Buffalo Bill Cody claimed he was a Pony Express rider when he was 14 years of age. He grew up in Kansas along the route.
This ad appeared in the Sacramento Union, March 19, 1860
"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."
There were ads also touting montly salaries of $100 to $150 which was a significant amount of money at the time.
The Pony Express used a special leather mailbag known as a "mochila" which is the Spanish word for knapsack. It had a leather cover that would be draped over the saddle and held in place by the rider's weight. It featured four padlocked pockets, three for mail and one for the rider's timecard. It was capable of holding up to 20 pounds of cargo. At each relief station rider's would gran the mochila off one mount and throw it over the next allowing a rapid exchange to save time.
It was not cheap. When it first started the cost was $5 for every half ounce of mail (about $130 today).Prices eventually came down to a dollar but still too expensive for average people to use the service. It was mainly used to deliver government dispatches, business documents and newspaper reports.
Imagine the costs of keeping horses fresh, paying all the riders and the people who took care of the horses at the various stations along the way (184 total). It's no wonder it lost money.
The service started with:
- 80 riders
- 184 stations
- 400 horses
- Stockhands were at each station
At the height of the service there were 180 riders.
The accounts do differ but Indians reportedly attacked or burned several relay stations during the Pyramid Lake War in the summer of 1860, killing as many as 16 stock hands. The National Park Service says six riders died in the line of duty during the brief history of the Pony Express.
The Pony Express ended on October 24, 1861 when the Western Union completed the transcontinental telegraph line at Salt Lake City. The Pony Express went out of business two days later.
These are very cool to check out.
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