Little Bits of History

Speedy Snail Mail

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 3, 2011

Poster for the Pony Express

April 3, 1860: The Pony Express officially opens for business. The company was founded by William H. Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors. The plan was spurred on by the threat of the impending Civil War. If war should break out, it was imperative that a faster method of communication with the West should be in place. The idea was for relays of riders to span the area covered by the plan. The route covered St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California.

The Pony Express itself was a subsystem of the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express Company of 1849. They became known as the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company in 1850. This company was founded by Russell, Waddell, and Majors, too. The three men decided to add the plains coverage in the winter of 1860 and took just two months to plan out the new business. They needed 120 riders, 184 stations [157 in 1860], 400 horses, and hundreds of other personnel to cover the approximately 1,900-mile route.

Riders covered 75-100 miles per shift with stations located about 10 miles apart along the route. Horses were only able to carry so much weight. Riders could not weigh more than 125 pounds. They carried a pouch called a mochila which was stored under the rider, making it necessary to kill both the horse and rider before one could get to the pouch of mail. The pouch could hold 20 pounds of mail and 20 pounds of supplies, including a water sack and a gun. Thus a horse could not be carrying more than 165 pounds on its back. Riders moved on day and night regardless of weather. They were paid $25 per week at a time when unskilled laborers were earning about $1 per week.

Riders left Missouri, crossed Kansas, Nebraska, part of Colorado, up into Wyoming, down into Utah, crossed the Rockies near Lake Tahoe, and arrived in California. Or, they followed the opposite route when leaving from California. On this day, riders left both St. Joseph and Sacramento. The westbound trip was completed in 9 days and 23 hours while the eastbound trip took 11 days and 12 hours to finish. The service remained active until October 1861.

“While I am the employ of A. Majors, I agree not use profane language, not to get drunk, not to gamble, not to treat animals cruelly and not to do anything else that is incompatible with the conduct of a gentleman. And I agree, if I violate any of the above conditions, to accept my discharge without any pay for my services.” –  Oath sworn by Pony Express Riders

“There were about eighty pony riders in the saddle all the time, night and day, stretching in a long, scattering procession from Missouri to California, forty flying eastward, and forty toward the west, and among them making four hundred gallant horses earn a stirring livelihood and see a deal of scenery every single day of the year.” – Mark Twain

“One of the hardest rides I ever had made was when I carried President Lincoln’s inaugural address from the telegraph station at Fort Kearney.  Another was when the news came that Fort Sumter had been fired on.  Such things broke the routine, and made every Pony Express rider feel that he was helping to make history.” – William Campbell

“The mail must go.  Hurled by flesh and blood across 2,000 miles of desolate space — Fort Kearney, Laramie, South Pass, Fort Bridger, Salt Lake City.  Neither storms, fatigue, darkness, mountains and Indians, burning sands or snow must stop the precious bags.  The mail must go.” – M. Jeff Thompson

Also on this day:
A new boxing record set – In 1936, a new record for shortest fight.
Cunard Line – In 1929, the shipping company announced a new ship to be built.

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