The Story of the Pony Express
Glenn D. Bradley
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The Story of the Pony Express
An account of the most remarkable mail service ever in existence, and
its place in history.
By Glenn D. Bradley
Author of Winning the Southwest
To My Parents
This little volume has but one purpose - to give an authentic, useful,
and readable account of the Pony Express. This wonderful enterprise
played an important part in history, and demonstrated what American
spirit can accomplish. It showed that the "heroes of sixty-one" were not
all south of Mason and Dixon's line fighting each other. And, strange to
say, little of a formal nature has been written concerning it.
I have sought to bring to light and make accessible to all readers the
more important facts of the Pony Express - its inception, organization
and development, its importance to history, its historical background,
and some of the anecdotes incidental to its operation.
The subject leads one into a wide range of fascinating material, all
interesting though much of it is irrelevant. In itself this material is
fragmentary and incoherent. It would be quite easy to fill many pages
with western adventure having no special bearing upon the central topic.
While I have diverged occasionally from the thread of the narrative, my
purpose has been merely to give where possible more background to the
story, that the account as a whole might be more understandable in its
relation to the general facts of history.
Special acknowledgment is due Frank A. Root of Topeka, Kansas, joint
author with William E. Connelley of The Overland Stage To California, an
excellent compendium of data on many phases of the subject. In preparing
this work, various Senate Documents have been of great value. Some
interesting material is found in Inman and Cody's Salt Lake Trail.
The files of the Century Magazine, old newspaper files, Bancroft's
colossal history of the West and the works of Samuel L. Clemens have
also been of value in compiling the present book.
I - At A Nation's Crisis
II - Inception and Organization of the Pony Express
III - The First Trip and Triumph
IV - Operation, Equipment, and Business
V - California and the Secession Menace
VI - Riders and Famous Rides
VII - Anecdotes of the Trail and Honor Roll
VIII - Early Overland Mail Routes
IX - Passing of the Pony Express
Transportation and communication across the plains
"A whiz and a hail, and the swift phantom of the desert was gone."
The Story of the Pony Express
At A Nation's Crisis
The Pony Express was the first rapid transit and the first fast mail
line across the continent from the Missouri River to the Pacific Coast.
It was a system by means of which messages were carried swiftly on
horseback across the plains and deserts, and over the mountains of the
far West. It brought the Atlantic coast and the Pacific slope ten days
nearer to each other.
It had a brief existence of only sixteen months and was supplanted by
the transcontinental telegraph. Yet it was of the greatest importance in
binding the East and West together at a time when overland travel was
slow and cumbersome, and when a great national crisis made the rapid
communication of news between these sections an imperative necessity.
The Pony Express marked the highest development in overland travel prior
to the coming of the Pacific railroad, which it preceded nine years. It,
in fact, proved the feasibility of a transcontinental road and
demonstrated that such a line could be built and operated continuously
the year around - a feat that had always been regarded as impossible.
The operation of the Pony Express was a supreme achievement of physical
endurance on the part of man and his ever faithful companion, the horse.
The history of this organization should be a lasting monument to the
physical sacrifice of man and beast in an effort to accomplish something
worth while. Its history should be an enduring tribute to American
courage and American organizing genius.
The fall of Fort Sumter in April, 1861, did not produce the Civil War
crisis. For many months, the gigantic struggle then imminent, had been
painfully discernible to far-seeing men. In 1858, Lincoln had forewarned
the country in his "House Divided" speech. As early as the beginning of
the year 1860 the Union had been plainly in jeopardy. Early in February
of that momentous year, Jefferson Davis, on behalf of the South, had
introduced his famous resolutions in the Senate of the United States.
This document was the ultimatum of the dissatisfied slave-holding
commonwealths. It demanded that Congress should protect slavery
throughout the domain of the United States. The territories, it
declared, were the common property of the states of the Union and hence
open to the citizens of all states with all their personal possessions.
The Northern states, furthermore, were no longer to interfere with the
working of the Fugitive Slave Act. They must repeal their Personal
Liberty laws and respect the Dred Scott Decision of the Federal Supreme
Court. Neither in their own legislatures nor in Congress should they
trespass upon the right of the South to regulate slavery as it best saw
These resolutions, demanding in effect that slavery be thus safeguarded
- almost to the extent of introducing it into the free states - really
foreshadowed the Democratic platform of 1860 which led to the great
split in that party, the victory of the Republicans under Lincoln, the
subsequent secession of the more radical southern states, and finally
the Civil War, for it was inevitable that the North, when once aroused,
would bitterly resent such pro-slavery demands.
And this great crisis was only the bursting into flame of many smaller
fires that had long been smoldering. For generations the two sections
had been drifting apart. Since the middle of the seventeenth century,
Mason and Dixon's line had been a line of real division separating two
inherently distinct portions of the country.
By 1860, then, war was inevitable. Naturally, the conflict would at once
present intricate military problems, and among them the retention of the
Pacific Coast was of the deepest concern to the Union. Situated at a
distance of nearly two thousand miles from the Missouri river which was
then the nation's western frontier, this intervening space comprised
trackless plains, almost impenetrable ranges of snow-capped mountains,
and parched alkali deserts. And besides these barriers of nature which
lay between the West coast and the settled eastern half of the country,
there were many fierce tribes of savages who were usually on the alert
to oppose the movements of the white race through their dominions.
California, even then, was the jewel of the Pacific. Having a
considerable population, great natural wealth, and unsurpassed climate
and fertility, she was jealously desired by both the North and the
To the South, the acquisition of California meant enhanced prestige -
involving, as it would, the occupation of a large area whose soils and
climate might encourage the perpetuation of slavery; it meant a rich
possession which would afford her a strategic base for waging war
against her northern foe; it meant a romantic field in which opportunity
might be given to organize an allied republic of the Pacific, a power
which would, perchance, forcibly absorb the entire Southwest and a large
section of Northern Mexico. By thus creating counter forces the South
would effectively block the Federal Government on the western half of
The North also desired the prestige that would come from holding
California as well as the material strength inherent in the state's
valuable resources. Moreover to hold this region would give the North a
base of operations to check her opponent in any campaign of aggression
in the far West, should the South presume such an attempt. And the
possession of California would also offer to the North the very best
means of protecting the Western frontier, one of the Union's most
vulnerable points of attack.
It was with such vital conditions that the Pony Express was identified;
it was in retaining California for the Union, and in helping
incidentally to preserve the Union, that the Express became an important
factor in American history.
Not to mention the romance, the unsurpassed courage, the unflinching
endurance, and the wonderful exploits which the routine operations of
the Pony Express involved, its identity with problems of nation-wide and
world-wide importance make its story seem worth telling. And with its
romantic existence and its place in history the succeeding pages of this
book will briefly deal.
Inception and Organization of the Pony Express
Following the discovery of gold in California in January 1848, that
region sprang into immediate prominence. From all parts of the country
and the remote corners of the earth came the famous Forty-niners. Amid
the chaos of a great mining camp the Anglo-Saxon love of law and order
soon asserted itself. Civil and religious institutions quickly arose,
and, in the summer of 1850, a little more than a year after the big rush
had started, California entered the Union as a free state.
The boom went on and the census of 1860 revealed a population of 380,000
in the new commonwealth. And when to these figures were added those of
Oregon and Washington Territory, an aggregate of 444,000 citizens of the
United States were found to be living on the Pacific Slope. Crossing the
Sierras eastward and into the Great Basin, 47,000 more were located in
the Territories of Nevada and Utah, - thus making a grand total of
nearly a half million people beyond the Rocky Mountains in 1860. And
these figures did not include Indians nor Chinese.
Without reference to any military phase of the problem, this detached
population obviously demanded and deserved adequate mail and
transportation facilities. How to secure the quickest and most
dependable communication with the populous sections of the East had long
been a serious proposition. Private corporations and Congress had not
been wholly insensible to the needs of the West. Subsidized stage routes
had for some years been in operation, and by the close of 1858 several
lines were well-equipped and doing much business over the so-called
Southern and Central routes. Perhaps the most common route for sending
mail from the East to the Pacific Coast was by steamship from New York
to Panama where it was unloaded, hurried across the Isthmus, and again
shipped by water to San Francisco. All these lines of traffic were slow
and tedious, a letter in any case requiring from three to four weeks to
reach its destination. The need of a more rapid system of communication
between the East and West at once became apparent and it was to supply
this need that the Pony Express really came into existence.
The story goes that in the autumn of 1854, United States Senator William
Gwin of California was making an overland trip on horseback from San
Francisco to Washington, D. C. He was following the Central route via
Salt Lake and South Pass, and during a portion of his journey he had for
a traveling companion, Mr. B. F. Ficklin, then General Superintendent
for the big freighting and stage firm of Russell, Majors, and Waddell of
Leavenworth. Ficklin, it seems, was a resourceful and progressive man,
and had long been engaged in the overland transportation business. He
had already conceived an idea for establishing a much closer transit
service between the Missouri river and the Coast, but, as is the case
with many innovators, had never gained a serious hearing. He had the
traffic agent's natural desire to better the existing service in the
territory which his line served; and he had the ambition of a loyal
employee to put into effect a plan that would bring added honor and
preferment to his firm. In addition to possessing these worthy ideals,
it is perhaps not unfair to state that Ficklin was personally ambitious.
Nevertheless, Ficklin confided his scheme enthusiastically to Senator
Gwin, at the same time pointing out the benefits that would accrue to
California should it ever be put into execution. The Senator at once saw
the merits of the plan and quickly caught the contagion. Not only was he
enough of a statesman to appreciate the worth of a fast mail line across
the continent, but he was also a good enough politician to realize that
his position with his constituents and the country at large might be
greatly strengthened were he to champion the enactment of a popular
measure that would encourage the building of such a line through the aid
of a Federal subsidy.
So in January, 1855, Gwin introduced in the Senate a bill which proposed
to establish a weekly letter express service between St. Louis and San
Francisco. The express was to operate on a ten-day schedule, follow the
Central Route, and was to receive a compensation not exceeding $500.00
for each round trip. This bill was referred to the Committee on Military
Affairs where it was quietly tabled and "killed."
For the next five years the attention of Congress was largely taken up
with the anti-slavery troubles that led to secession and war. Although
the people of the West, and the Pacific Coast in particular, continued
to agitate the need of a new and quick through mail service, for a long
time little was done. It has been claimed that southern representatives
in Congress during the decade before the war managed to prevent any
legislation favorable to overland mail routes running North of the
slave-holding states; and that they concentrated their strength to
render government aid to the southern routes whenever possible.
At that time there were three generally recognized lines of mail
traffic, of which the Panama line was by far the most important. Next
came the so-called southern or "Butterfield" route which started from
St. Louis and ran far to the southward, entering California from the
extreme southeast corner of the state; a goodly amount of mail being
sent in this direction. The Central route followed the Platte River into
Wyoming and reached Sacramento via Salt Lake City, almost from a due
easterly direction. On account of its location this route or trail could
be easily controlled by the North in case of war. It had received very
meagre support from the Government, and carried as a rule, only local
mail. While the most direct route to San Francisco, it had been rendered
the least important. This was not due solely to Congressional
manipulation. Because of its northern latitude and the numerous high
mountain ranges it traversed, this course was often blockaded with deep
snows and was generally regarded as extremely difficult of access during
the winter months.
While a majority of the people of California were loyal to the Union,
there was a vigorous minority intensely in sympathy with the southern
cause and ready to conspire for, or bring about by force of arms if
necessary, the secession of their state. As the Civil War became more
and more imminent, it became obvious to Union men in both East and West
that the existing lines of communication were untrustworthy. Just as
soon as trouble should start, the Confederacy could, and most certainly
would, gain control of the southern mail routes. Once in control, she
could isolate the Pacific coast for many months and thus enable her
sympathizers there the more effectually to perfect their plans of
secession. Or she might take advantage of these lines of travel, and, by
striking swiftly and suddenly, organize and reinforce her followers in
California, intimidate the Unionists, many of whom were apathetic, and
by a single bold stroke snatch the prize away from her antagonist before
the latter should have had time to act.
To avert this crisis some daring and original plan of communication had
to be organized to keep the East and West in close contact with each
other; and the Pony Express was the fulfillment of such a plan, for it
made a close cooperation between the California loyalists and the
Federal Government possible until after the crisis did pass. Yet,
strange as it may seem, this providential enterprise was not brought
into existence nor even materially aided by the Government. It was
organized and operated by a private corporation after having been
encouraged in its inception by a United States Senator who later turned
traitor to his country.
It finally happened that in the winter of 1859-60, Mr. William Russell,
senior partner of the firm of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, was called
to Washington in connection with some Government freight contracts.
While there he chanced to become acquainted with Senator Gwin who,
having been aroused, as we have seen, several years before, by one of
the firm's subordinates, at once brought before Mr. Russell the need of
better mail connections over the Central route, and of the especial need
of better communication should war occur.
Russell at once awoke to the situation. While a loyal citizen and fully
alive to the strategic importance which the matter involved, he also
believed that he saw a good business opening. Could his firm but grasp
the opportunity, and demonstrate the possibility of keeping the Central
route open during the winter months, and could they but lower the
schedule of the Panama line, a Government contract giving them a virtual
monopoly in carrying the transcontinental mail might eventually be
He at once hurried West, and at Fort Leavenworth met his partners,
Messrs. Majors and Waddell, to whom he confidently submitted the new
proposition. Much to Russell's chagrin, these gentlemen were not elated
over the plan. While passively interested, they keenly foresaw the great
cost which a year around overland fast mail service would involve. They
were unable to see any chance of the enterprise paying expenses, to say
nothing of profits. But Russell, with cheerful optimism, contended that
while the project might temporarily be a losing venture, it would pay
out in time. He asserted that the opportunity of making good with a hard
undertaking - one that had been held impossible of realization - would
be a strong asset to the firm's reputation. He also declared that in his
conversation with Gwin he had already committed their company to the
undertaking, and he did not see how they could, with honor and
propriety, evade the responsibility of attempting it. Knowledge of the
last mentioned fact at once enlisted the support or his partners.
Probably no firm has ever surpassed in integrity that of Russell,
Majors, and Waddell, famous throughout the West in the freighting and
mail business before the advent of railroads in that section of the men,
the verbal promise of one of their number was a binding guarantee and as
sacredly respected as a bonded obligation. Finding themselves thus
committed, they at once began preparations with tremendous activity. All
this happened early in the year 1860.
The first step was to form a corporation, the more adequately to conduct
the enterprise; and to that end the Central Overland California and
Pike's Peak Express Company was organized under a charter granted by the
Territory of Kansas. Besides the three original members of the firm, the
incorporators included General Superintendent B. F. Ficklin, together
with F. A. Bee, W. W. Finney, and John S. Jones, all tried and
trustworthy stage employees who were retained on account of their wide
experience in the overland traffic business. The new concern then took
over the old stage line from Atchison to Salt Lake City and purchased
the mail route and outfit then operating between Salt Lake City and
Sacramento. The latter, which had been running a monthly round trip
stage between these terminals, was known as the West End Division of the
Central Route, and was called the Chorpenning line.
Besides conducting the Pony Express, the corporation aimed to continue a
large passenger and freighting business, so it next absorbed the
Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express Co., which had been organized a year
previously and had maintained a daily stage between Leavenworth and
Denver, on the Smoky Hill River Route.
By mutual agreement, Mr. Russell assumed managerial charge of the
Eastern Division of the Pony Express line which lay between St. Joseph
and Salt Lake City. Ficklin was stationed at Salt Lake City, the middle
point, in a similar capacity. Finney was made Western manager with
headquarters at San Francisco. These men now had to revise the route to
be traversed, equip it with relay or relief stations which must be
provisioned for men and horses, hire dependable men as station-keepers
and riders, and buy high grade horses or ponies for the entire
course, nearly two thousand miles in extent. Between St. Joseph and Salt
Lake City, the company had its old stage route which was already well
supplied with stations. West of Salt Lake the old Chorpenning route had
been poorly equipped, which made it necessary to erect new stations over
much of this course of more than seven hundred miles. The entire line of
travel had to be altered in many places, in some instances to shorten
the distance, and in others, to avoid as much as possible, wild places
where Indians might easily ambush the riders.
The management was fortunate in having the assistance of expert
subordinates. A. B. Miller of Leavenworth, a noteworthy employe of the
original firm, was invaluable in helping to formulate the general plans
of organization. At Salt Lake City, Ficklin secured the services of J.
C. Brumley, resident agent of the company, whose vast knowledge of the
route and the country that it covered enabled him quickly to work out a
schedule, and to ascertain with remarkable accuracy the number of relay
and supply stations, their best location, and also the number of horses
and men needed. At Carson City, Nevada, Bolivar Roberts, local
superintendent of the Western Division, hired upwards of sixty riders,
cool-headed nervy men, hardened by years of life in the open. Horses
were purchased throughout the West. They were the best that money could
buy and ranged from tough California cayuses or mustangs to thoroughbred
stock from Iowa. They were bought at an average figure of $200.00 each,
a high price in those days. The men were the pick of the frontier; no
more expressive description of their qualities can be given. They were
hired at salaries varying from $50.00 to $150.00 per month, the riders
receiving the highest pay of any below executive rank. When fully
equipped, the line comprised 190 stations, about 420 horses, 400 station
men and assistants and eighty riders. These are approximate figures, as
they varied slightly from time to time.
Perfecting these plans and assembling this array of splendid equipment
had been no easy task, yet so well had the organizers understood their
business, and so persistently, yet quietly, had they worked, that they
accomplished their purpose and made ready within two months after the
project had been launched. The public was scarcely aware of what was
going on until conspicuous advertisements announced the Pony Express. It
was planned to open the line early in April.
 While always called the Pony Express, there were many blooded horses
as well as ponies in the service. The distinction between these types of
animals is of course well known to the average reader. Probably "Pony"
Express "sounded better" than any other name for the service, hence the
adoption of this name by the firm and the public at large. This book
will use the words horse and pony indiscriminately.
The First Trip and Triumph
On March 26, 1860, there appeared simultaneously in the St. Louis
Republic and the New York Herald the following notice:
To San Francisco in 8 days by the Central Overland California and Pike's
Peak Express Company. The first courier of the Pony Express will leave
the Missouri River on Tuesday April 3rd at 5 o'clock P. M. and will run
regularly weekly hereafter, carrying a letter mail only. The point of
departure on the Missouri River will be in telegraphic connection with
the East and will be announced in due time.
Telegraphic messages from all parts of the United States and Canada in
connection with the point of departure will be received up to 5 o'clock
P. M. of the day of leaving and transmitted over the Placerville and St.
Joseph telegraph wire to San Francisco and intermediate points by the
connecting express, in 8 days.
The letter mail will be delivered in San Francisco in ten days from the
departure of the Express. The Express passes through Forts Kearney,
Laramie, Bridger, Great Salt Lake City, Camp Floyd, Carson City, The
Washoe Silver Mines, Placerville, and Sacramento.
Letters for Oregon, Washington Territory, British Columbia, the Pacific
Mexican ports, Russian Possessions, Sandwich Islands, China, Japan and
India will be mailed in San Francisco.
Special messengers, bearers of letters to connect with the express the
3rd of April, will receive communications for the courier of that day at
No. 481 Tenth St., Washington City, up to 2:45 P. M. on Friday, March
30, and in New York at the office of J. B. Simpson, Room No. 8,
Continental Bank Building, Nassau Street, up to 6:30 A. M. of March 31.
Full particulars can be obtained on application at the above places and
from the agents of the Company.
This sudden announcement of the long desired fast mail route aroused
great enthusiasm in the West and especially in St. Joseph, Missouri,
Salt Lake City, and the cities of California, where preparations to
celebrate the opening of the line were at once begun. Slowly the time
passed, until the afternoon of the eventful day, April 3rd, that was to
mark the first step in annihilating distance between the East and West.
A great crowd had assembled on the streets of St. Joseph, Missouri.
Flags were flying and a brass band added to the jubilation. The Hannibal
and St. Joseph Railroad had arranged to run a special train into the
city, bringing the through mail from connecting points in the East.
Everybody was anxious and excited. At last the shrill whistle of a
locomotive was heard, and the train rumbled in - on time. The pouches
were rushed to the post office where the express mail was made ready.
The people now surge about the old "Pike's Peak Livery Stables," just
South of Pattee Park. All are hushed with subdued expectancy. As the
moment of departure approaches, the doors swing open and a spirited
horse is led out. Nearby, closely inspecting the animal's equipment is a
wiry little man scarcely twenty years old.
Time to go! Everybody back! A pause of seconds, and a cannon booms in
the distance - the starting signal. The rider leaps to his saddle and
starts. In less than a minute he is at the post office where the letter
pouch, square in shape with four padlocked pockets, is awaiting him.
Dismounting only long enough for this pouch to be thrown over his
saddle, he again springs to his place and is gone. A short sprint and he
has reached the Missouri River wharf. A ferry boat under a full head of
steam is waiting. With scarcely checked speed, the horse thunders onto
the deck of the craft. A rumbling of machinery, the jangle of a bell,
the sharp toot of a whistle and the boat has swung clear and is headed
straight for the opposite shore. The crowd behind breaks into tumultuous
applause. Some scream themselves hoarse; others are strangely silent;
and some - strong men - are moved to tears.
The noise of the cheering multitude grows faint as the Kansas shore
draws near. The engines are reversed; a swish of water, and the, craft
grates against the dock. Scarcely has the gang plank been lowered than
horse and rider dash over it and are off at a furious gallop. Away on
the jet black steed goes Johnnie Frey, the first rider, with the mail
that must be hurled by flesh and blood over 1,966 miles of desolate
space - across the plains, through North-eastern Kansas and into
Nebraska, up the valley of the Platte, across the Great Plateau, into
the foothills and over the summit of the Rockies, into the arid Great
Basin, over the Wahsatch range, into the valley of Great Salt Lake,
through the terrible alkali deserts of Nevada, through the parched Sink
of the Carson River, over the snowy Sierras, and into the Sacramento
Valley - the mail must go without delay. Neither storms, fatigue,
darkness, rugged mountains, burning deserts, nor savage Indians were to
hinder this pouch of letters. The mail must go; and its schedule,
incredible as it seemed, must be made. It was a sublime undertaking,
than which few have ever put the fibre of Americans to a severer test.
The managers of the Central Overland, California and Pike's Peak Express
Company had laid their plans well. Horses and riders for fresh relays,
together with station agents and helpers, were ready and waiting at the
appointed places, ten or fifteen miles apart over the entire course.
There was no guess-work or delay.
After crossing the Missouri River, out of St. Joseph, the official
route of the west-bound Pony Express ran at first west and south
through Kansas to Kennekuk; then northwest, across the Kickapoo Indian
reservation, to Granada, Log Chain, Seneca, Ash Point, Guittards,
Marysville, and Hollenberg. Here the valley of the Little Blue River was
followed, still in a northwest direction. The trail crossed into
Nebraska near Rock Creek and pushed on through Big Sandy and Liberty
Farm, to Thirty-two-mile Creek. From thence it passed over the prairie
divide to the Platte River, the valley of which was followed to Fort
Kearney. This route had already been made famous by the Mormons when
they journeyed to Utah in 1847. It had also been followed by many of the
California gold-seekers in 1848-49 and by Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston
and his army when they marched west from Fort Leavenworth to suppress
the "Mormon War" of 1857-58.
For about three hundred miles out of Fort Kearney, the trail followed
the prairies; for two thirds of this distance, it clung to the south
bank of the Platte, passing through Plum Creek and Midway. At
Cottonwood Springs the junction of the North and South branches of the
Platte was reached. From here the course moved steadily westward,
through Fremont's Springs, O'Fallon's Bluffs, Alkali, Beauvais Ranch,
and Diamond Springs to Julesburg, on the South fork of the Platte. Here
the stream was forded and the rider then followed the course of Lodge
Pole Creek in a northwesterly direction to Thirty Mile Ridge. Thence he
journeyed to Mud Springs, Court-House Rock, Chimney Rock, and Scott's
Bluffs to Fort Laramie. From this point he passed through the foot-hills
to the base of the Rockies, then over the mountains through South Pass
and to Fort Bridger. Then to Salt Lake City, Camp Floyd, Ruby Valley,
Mountain Wells, across the Humboldt River in Nevada to Bisbys', Carson
City, and to Placerville, California; thence to Folsom and Sacramento.
Here the mail was taken by a fast steamer down the Sacramento River to
A large part of this route traversed the wildest regions of the
Continent. Along the entire course there were but four military posts
and they were strung along at intervals of from two hundred and fifty to
three hundred and fifty miles from each other. Over most of the journey
there were only small way stations to break the awful monotony.
Topographically, the trail covered nearly six hundred miles of rolling
prairie, intersected here and there by streams fringed with timber. The
nature of the mountainous regions, the deserts, and alkali plains as
avenues of horseback travel is well understood. Throughout these areas
the men and horses had to endure such risks as rocky chasms, snow
slides, and treacherous streams, as well as storms of sand and snow. The
worst part of the journey lay between Salt Lake City and Sacramento,
where for several hundred miles the route ran through a desert, much of
it a bed of alkali dust where no living creature could long survive. It
was not merely these dangers of dire exposure and privation that
threatened, for wherever the country permitted of human life, Indians
abounded. From the Platte River valley westward, the old route sped over
by the Pony Express is today substantially that of the Union Pacific and
Southern Pacific Railroads.
In California, the region most benefited by the express, the opening of
the line was likewise awaited with the keenest anticipation. Of course
there had been at the outset a few dissenting opinions, the gist of the
opposing sentiment being that the Indians would make the operation of
the route impossible. One newspaper went so far as to say that it was
"Simply inviting slaughter upon all the foolhardy young men who had been
engaged as riders". But the California spirit would not down. A vast
majority of the people favored the enterprise and clamored for it; and
before the express had been long in operation, all classes were united
in the conviction that they could not do without it.
At San Francisco and Sacramento, then the two most important towns in
the far West, great preparations were made to celebrate the first
outgoing and incoming mails. On April 3rd, at the same hour the express
started from St. Joseph, the eastbound mail was placed on board a
steamer at San Francisco and sent up the river, accompanied by an
enthusiastic delegation of business men. On the arrival of the pouch and
its escort at Sacramento, the capital city, they were greeted with the
blare of bands, the firing of guns, and the clanging of gongs. Flags
were unfurled and floral decorations lined the streets. That night the
first rider for the East, Harry Roff, left the city on a white broncho.
He rode the first twenty miles in fifty-nine minutes, changing mounts
once. He next took a fresh horse at Folsom and pushed on fifty-five
miles farther to Placerville. Here he was relieved by "Boston," who
carried the mail to Friday Station, crossing the Sierras en route. Next
came Sam Hamilton who rode through Geneva, Carson City, Dayton, and
Reed's Station to Fort Churchill, seventy-five miles in all. This point,
one hundred and eighty-five miles out of Sacramento had been reached in
fifteen hours and twenty minutes, in spite of the Sierra Divide where
the snow drifts were thirty feet deep and where the Company had to keep
a drove of pack mules moving in order to keep the passageway clear. From
Fort Churchill into Ruby Valley went H. J. Faust; from Ruby Valley to
Shell Creek the courier was "Josh" Perkins; then came Jim Gentry who
carried the mail to Deep Creek, and he was followed by "Let" Huntington
who pushed on to Simpson's Springs. From Simpson's to Camp Floyd rode
John Fisher, and from the latter place Major Egan carried the mail into
Salt Lake City, arriving April 7, at 11:45 P. M. The obstacles to
fast travel had been numerous because of snow in the mountains, and
stormy spring weather with its attendant discomfort and bad going. Yet
the schedule had been maintained, and the last seventy-five miles into
Salt Lake City had been ridden in five hours and fifteen minutes.
At that time Placerville and Carson City were the terminals of a local
telegraph line. News had been flashed back from Carson on April 4 that
the rider had passed that point safely. After that came an anxious wait
until April 12 when the arrival of the west-bound express announced that
all was well.
The first trip of the Pony Express westbound from St. Joseph to
Sacramento was made in nine days and twenty-three hours. East-bound, the
run was covered in eleven days and twelve hours. The average time of
these two performances was barely half that required by the Butterfield
stage over the Southern route. The pony had clipped ten full days from
the schedule of its predecessor, and shown that it could keep its
schedule - which was as follows:
From St. Joseph to Salt Lake City - 124 hours.
From Salt Lake City to Carson City - 218 hours, from starting point.
From Carson City to Sacramento - 232 hours, from starting point.
From Sacramento to San Francisco - 240 hours, from starting point.
From the very first trip, expressions of genuine appreciation of the new
service were shown all along the line. The first express which reached
Salt Lake City eastbound on the night of April 7, led the Deseret News,
the leading paper of that town to say that: "Although a telegraph is
very desirable, we feel well-satisfied with this achievement for, the
present." Two days later, the first west-bound express bound from St.
Joseph reached the Mormon capital. Oddly enough this rider carried news
of an act to amend a bill just proposed in the United States Senate,
providing that Utah be organized into Nevada Territory under the name
and leadership of the latter. Many of the Mormons, like numerous
persons in California, had at first believed the Pony Express an
impossibility, but now that it had been demonstrated wholly feasible,
they were delighted with its success, whether it brought them good news
or bad; for it had brought Utah within six days of the Missouri River
and within seven days of Washington City. Prior to this, under the old
stage coach régime, the people of that territory had been accustomed to
receive their news of the world from six weeks to three months old.
Probably no greater demonstrations were ever held in California cities
than when the first incoming express arrived. Its schedule having been
announced in the daily papers a week ahead, the people were ready with
their welcome. At Sacramento, as when the pony mail had first come up
from San Francisco, practically the whole town turned out. Stores were
closed and business everywhere suspended. State officials and other
citizens of prominence addressed great crowds in commemoration of the
wonderful achievement. Patriotic airs were played and sung and no
attempt was made to check the merry-making of the populace. After a
hurried stop to deliver local mail, the pouch was rushed aboard the fast
sailing steamer Antelope, and the trip down the stream begun. Although
San Francisco was not reached until the dead of night, the arrival of
the express mail was the signal for a hilarious reception. Whistles were
blown, bells jangled, and the California Band turned out. The city fire
department, suddenly aroused by the uproar, rushed into the street,
expecting to find a conflagration, but on recalling the true state of
affairs, the firemen joined in with spirit. The express courier was then
formally escorted by a huge procession from the steamship dock to the
office of the Alta Telegraph, the official Western terminal, and the
momentous trip had ended.
The first Pony Express from St. Joseph brought a message of
congratulation from President Buchanan to Governor Downey of California,
which was first telegraphed to the Missouri River town. It also brought
one or two official government communications, some New York, Chicago,
and St. Louis newspapers, a few bank drafts, and some business letters
addressed to banks and commercial houses in San Francisco - about
eighty-five pieces of mail in all. And it had brought news from the
East only nine days on the road.
At the outset, the Express reduced the time for letters from New York to
the Coast from twenty-three days to about ten days. Before the line had
been placed in operation, a telegraph wire, allusion to which has been
made, had been strung two hundred and fifty miles Eastward from San
Francisco through Sacramento to Carson City, Nevada. Important official
business from Washington was therefore wired to St. Joseph, then
forwarded by pony rider to Carson City where it was again telegraphed to
Sacramento or San Francisco as the case required, thus saving twelve or
fifteen hours in transmission on the last lap of the journey. The usual
schedule for getting dispatches from the Missouri River to the Coast was
eight days, and for letters, ten days.
After the triumphant first trip, when it was fully evident that the Pony
Express was a really established enterprise, the St. Joseph Free
Democrat broke into the following panegyric:
Take down your map and trace the footprints of our quadrupedantic
animal: From St. Joseph on the Missouri to San Francisco, on the Golden
Horn - two thousand miles - more than half the distance across our
boundless continent; through Kansas, through Nebraska, by Fort Kearney,
along the Platte, by Fort Laramie, past the Buttes, over the Rocky
Mountains, through the narrow passes and along the steep defiles, Utah,
Fort Bridger, Salt Lake City, he witches Brigham with his swift ponyship
- through the valleys, along the grassy slopes, into the snow, into
sand, faster than Thor's Thialfi, away they go, rider and horse - did
you see them? They are in California, leaping over its golden sands,
treading its busy streets. The courser has unrolled to us the great
American panorama, allowed us to glance at the homes of one million
people, and has put a girdle around the earth in forty minutes. Verily
the riding is like the riding of Jehu, the son of Nimshi for he rideth
furiously. Take out your watch. We are eight days from New York,
eighteen from London. The race is to the swift.
The Pony Express had been tried at the tribunal of popular opinion and
given a hearty endorsement. It had yet to win the approval of shrewd
 Root and Connelley's Overland Stage to California.
 So called because it was about half way between the Missouri River
 Reports as to the precise hour of starting do not all agree. It was
probably late in the afternoon or early in the evening, no later than
 Authorities differ somewhat as to the personnel of the first trip;
also as to the number of letters carried.
 On account of the Mormon outbreak and the troubles of 1857-58, there
was at this time much ill-feeling in Congress against Utah. Matters were
finally smoothed out and the bill in question was of course dropped.
Utah was loyal to the Union throughout the Civil War.
 Eastbound the first rider carried about seventy letters.
 The idea of a Pony Express was not a new one in 1859. Marco Polo
relates that Genghis Khan, ruler of Chinese Tartary had such a courier
service about one thousand years ago. This ambitious monarch, it is
said, had relay stations twenty-five miles apart, and his riders
sometimes covered three hundred miles in twenty-four hours.
About a hundred years back, such a system was in vogue in various
countries of Europe.
Early in the nineteenth century before the telegraph was invented, a New
York newspaper man named David Hale used a Pony Express system to
collect state news. A little later, in 1830, a rival publisher, Richard
Haughton, political editor of the New York Journal of Commerce borrowed
the same idea. He afterward founded the Boston Atlas, and by making
relays of fast horses and taking advantage of the services offered by a
few short lines of railroad then operating in Massachusetts, he was
enabled to print election returns by nine o'clock on the morning after
This idea was improved by James W. Webb, Editor of the New York Courier
and Enquirer, a big daily of that time. In 1832, Webb organized an
express rider line between New York and Washington. This undertaking
gave his paper much valuable prestige.
In 1833, Hale and Hallock of the Journal of Commerce started a rival
line that enabled them to publish Washington news within forty-eight
hours, thus giving their paper a big "scoop" over all competitors.
Papers in Norfolk, Va., two hundred and twenty-nine miles south-east of
Washington actually got the news from the capitol out of the New York
Journal of Commerce received by the ocean route, sooner than news
printed in Washington could be sent to Norfolk by boat directly down the
The California Pony Express of historic fame was imitated on a small
scale in 1861 by the Rocky Mountain News of Denver, then, as now, one of
the great newspapers of the West. At that time, this enterprising daily
owned and published a paper called the Miner's Record at Tarryall, a
mining community some distance out of Denver. The News also had a branch
office at Central City, forty-five miles up in the mountains. As soon as
information from the War arrived over the California Pony Express and by
stage out of old Julesburg from the Missouri River - Denver was not on
the Pony Express route - it was hurried to these outlying points by fast
horsemen. Thanks to this enterprise, the miners in the heart of the
Rockies could get their War news only four days late. - Root and
Operation, Equipment, and Business
On entering the service of the Central Overland California and Pike's
Peak Express Company, employees of the Pony Express were compelled to
take an oath of fidelity which ran as follows:
"I, - -, do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God, that during
my engagement, and while I am an employe of Russell, Majors & Waddell, I
will, under no circumstances, use profane language; that I will drink no
intoxicating liquors; that I will not quarrel or fight with any other
employe of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself
honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win
the confidence of my employers. So help me God."
It is not to be supposed that all, nor any considerable number of the
Pony Express men were saintly, nor that they all took their pledge too
seriously. Judged by present-day standards, most of these fellows were
rough and unconventional; some of them were bad. Yet one thing is
certain: in loyalty and blind devotion to duty, no group of employees
will ever surpass the men who conducted the Pony Express. During the
sixteen months of its existence, the riders of this wonderful
enterprise, nobly assisted by the faithful station-keepers, travelled
six hundred and fifty thousand miles, contending against the most
desperate odds that a lonely wilderness and savage nature could offer,
with the loss of only a single mail. And that mail happened to be of
relatively small importance. Only one rider was ever killed outright
while on duty. A few were mortally wounded, and occasionally their
horses were disabled. Yet with the one exception, they stuck grimly to
the saddle or trudged manfully ahead without a horse until the next
station was reached. With these men, keeping the schedule came to be a
sort of religion, a performance that must be accomplished - even though
it forced them to play a desperate game the stakes of which were life
and death. Many station men and numbers of riders while off duty were
murdered by Indians. They were martyrs to the cause of patriotism and a
newer and better civilization. Yet they were hirelings, working for good
wages and performing their duties in a simple, matter-of-fact way. Their
heroism was never a self-conscious trait.
The riders were young men, seldom exceeding one hundred and twenty-five
pounds in weight. Youthfulness, nerve, a wide experience on the frontier
and general adaptability were the chief requisites for the Pony Express
business. Some of the greatest frontiersmen of the latter 'sixties and
the 'seventies were trained in this service, either as pony riders or
station men. The latter had even a more dangerous task, since in their
isolated shacks they were often completely at the mercy of Indians.
That only one rider was ever taken by the savages was due to the fact
that the pony men rode magnificent horses which invariably outclassed
the Indian ponies in speed and endurance. The lone man captured while on
duty was completely surrounded by a large number of savages on the
Platte River in Nebraska. He was shot dead and though his body was not
found for several days, his pony, bridled and saddled, escaped safely
with the mail which was duly forwarded to its destination. That far more
riders were killed or injured while off duty than when in the saddle was
due solely to the wise precaution of the Company in selecting such
high-grade riding stock. And it took the best of horseflesh to make the
The riders dressed as they saw fit. The average costume consisted of a
buckskin shirt, ordinary trousers tucked into high leather boots, and a
slouch hat or cap. They always went armed. At first a Spencer carbine
was carried strapped to the rider's back, besides a sheath knife at his
side. In the saddle holsters he carried a pair of Colt's revolvers.
After a time the carbines were left off and only side arms taken along.
The carrying of larger guns meant extra weight, and it was made a rule
of the Company that a rider should never fight unless compelled to do
so. He was to depend wholly upon speed for safety. The record of the
service fully justified this policy.
While the horses were of the highest grade, they were of mixed breed and
were purchased over a wide range of territory. Good results were
obtained from blooded animals from the Missouri Valley, but considerable
preference was shown for the western-bred mustangs. These animals were
about fourteen hands high and averaged less than nine hundred pounds in
weight. A former blacksmith for the Company who was at one time located
at Seneca, Kansas, recalls that one of these native ponies often had to
be thrown and staked down with a rope tied to each foot before it could
be shod. Then, before the smith could pare the hoofs and nail on the
shoes, it was necessary for one man to sit astride the animal's head,
and another on its body, while the beast continued to struggle and
squeal. To shoe one of these animals often required a half day of
As might be expected, the horse as well as rider traveled very light.
The combined weight of the saddle, bridle and saddle bags did not exceed
thirteen pounds. The saddle-bag used by the pony rider for carrying mail
was called a mochila; it had openings in the center so it would fit
snugly over the horn and tree of the saddle and yet be removable without
delay. The mochila had four pockets called cantinas in each of its
corners one in front and one behind each of the rider's legs. These
cantinas held the mail. All were kept carefully locked and three were
opened en route only at military posts - Forts Kearney, Laramie,
Bridger, Churchill and at Salt Lake City. The fourth pocket was for the
local or way mail-stations. Each local station-keeper had a key and
could open it when necessary. It held a time-card on which a record of
the arrival and departure at the various stations where it was opened,
was kept. Only one mochila was used on a trip; it was transferred by the
rider from one horse to another until the destination was reached.
Letters were wrapped in oil silk to protect them from moisture, either
from stormy weather, fording streams, or perspiring animals. While a
mail of twenty pounds might be carried, the average weight did not
exceed fifteen pounds. The postal charges were at first, five dollars
for each half-ounce letter, but this rate was afterward reduced by the
Post Office Department to one dollar for each half ounce. At this figure
it remained as long as the line was in business. In addition to this
rate, a regulation government envelope costing ten cents, had to be
purchased. Patrons generally made use of a specially light tissue paper
for their correspondence. The large newspapers of New York, Boston,
Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco were among the best customers of
the service. Some of the Eastern dailies even kept special
correspondents at St. Joseph to receive and telegraph to the home office
news from the West as soon as it arrived. On account of the enormous
postage rates these newspapers would print special editions of Civil War
news on the thinnest of paper to avoid all possible mailing bulk.
Mr. Frank A. Root of Topeka, Kansas, who was Assistant Postmaster and
Chief Clerk in the post office at Atchison during the last two months of
the line's existence, in 1861, says that during that period the Express,
which was running semi-weekly, brought about three hundred and fifty
letters each trip from California. Many of these communications were
from government and state officials in California and Oregon, and
addressed to the Federal authorities at Washington, particularly to
Senators and Representatives from these states and to authorities of the
War Department. A few were addressed to Abraham Lincoln, President of
the United States. A large number of these letters were from business
and professional men in Portland, San Francisco, Oakland, and
Sacramento, and mailed to firms in the large cities of the East and
Middle West. Not to mention the rendering of invaluable help to the
Government in retaining California at the beginning of the War, the Pony
Express was of the greatest importance to the commercial interests of
The line was frequently used by the British Government in forwarding its
Asiatic correspondence to London. In 1860, a report of the activities of
the English fleet off the coast of China was sent through from San
Francisco eastward over this route. For the transmission of these
dispatches that Government paid one hundred and thirty-five dollars Pony
Nor did the commercial houses of the Pacific Coast cities appear to mind
a little expense in forwarding their business letters. Mr. Root says
there would often be twenty-five one dollar "Pony" stamps and the same
number of Government stamps - a total in postage of twenty-seven dollars
and fifty cents - on a single envelope. Not much frivolity passed
through these mails.
Pony Express riders received an average salary of from one hundred
dollars to one hundred and twenty-five dollars a month. A few whose
rides were particularly dangerous or who had braved unusual dangers
received one hundred and fifty dollars. Station men and their assistants
were paid from fifty to one hundred dollars monthly.
Of the eighty riders usually in the service, half were always riding in
either direction, East and West. The average "run" was seventy-five
miles, the men going and coming over their respective divisions on each
succeeding day. Yet there were many exceptions to this rule, as will be
shown later. At the outset, although facilities for shorter relays had
been provided, it was planned to run each horse twenty-five miles with
an average of three horses to the rider; but it was soon found that a
horse could rarely continue at a maximum speed for so great a distance.
Consequently, it soon became the practice to change mounts every ten or
twelve miles or as nearly that as possible. The exact distance was
governed largely by the nature of the country. While this shortening of
the relay necessitated transferring the mochila many more times on each
trip, it greatly facilitated the schedule; for it was at once seen that
the average horse or pony in the Express service could be crowded to the
limit of its speed over the reduced distance.
One of the station-keeper's most important duties was to have a fresh
horse saddled and bridled a half hour before the Express was due. Only
two minutes time was allowed for changing mounts. The rider's approach
was watched for with keen anxiety. By daylight he could generally be
seen in a cloud of dust, if in the desert or prairie regions. If in the
mountains, the clear air made it possible for the station men to detect
his approach a long way off, provided there were no obstructions to hide
the view. At night the rider would make his presence known by a few
lusty whoops. Dashing up to the station, no time was wasted. The courier
would already have loosed his mochila, which he tossed ahead for the
keeper to adjust on the fresh horse, before dismounting. A sudden
reining up of his foam-covered steed, and "All's well along the road,
Hank!" to the station boss, and he was again mounted and gone, usually
fifteen seconds after his arrival. Nor was there any longer delay when a
fresh rider took up the "run."
Situated at intervals of about two hundred miles were division
points in charge of locally important agents or superintendents.
Here were kept extra men, animals, and supplies as a precaution against
the raids of Indians, desperadoes, or any emergency likely to arise.
Division agents had considerable authority; their pay was as good as
that received by the best riders. They were men of a heroic and even in
some instances, desperate character, in spite of their oath of service.
In certain localities much infested with horse thievery and violence it
was necessary to have in charge men of the fight-the-devil-with-fire
type in order to keep the business in operation. Noted among this class
of Division agents, with headquarters at the Platte Crossing near Fort
Kearney, was Jack Slade, who, though a good servant of the Company,
turned out to be one of the worst "bad" men in the history of the West.
He had a record of twenty-six "killings" to his credit, but he kept his
Division thoroughly purged of horse thieves and savage marauders, for he
knew how to "get" his man whenever there was trouble.
The schedule was at first fixed at ten days for eight months of the year
and twelve days during the winter season, but this was soon lowered to
eight and ten days respectively. An average speed of ten miles an hour
including stops had to be maintained on the summer schedule. In the
winter the run was sustained at eight miles an hour; deep snows made the
latter performance the more difficult of the two.
The best record made by the Pony Express was in getting President
Lincoln's inaugural speech across the continent in March, 1861. This
address, outlining as it did the attitude of the new Chief Executive
toward the pending conflict, was anticipated with the deepest anxiety by
the people on the Pacific Coast. Evidently inspired by the urgency of
the situation, the Company determined to surpass all performances.
Horses were led out, in many cases, two or three miles from the
stations, in order to meet the incoming riders and to secure the supreme
limit of speed and endurance on this momentous trip. The document was
carried through from St. Joseph to Sacramento - 1966 miles - in just
seven days and seventeen hours, an average speed of ten and six-tenths
miles an hour. And this by flesh and blood, pounding the dirt over the
plains, mountains, and deserts! The best individual performance on this
great run was by "Pony Bob" Haslam who galloped the one hundred and
twenty miles from Smith's Creek to Fort Churchill in eight hours and ten
minutes, an average of fourteen and seven-tenths miles per hour. On this
record-breaking trip the message was carried the six hundred and
seventy-five miles between St. Joseph and Denver in sixty-nine
hours; the last ten miles of this leg of the journey being ridden in
thirty-one minutes. Today, but few overland express trains, hauled by
giant locomotives over heavy steel rails on a rock-ballasted roadbed
average more than thirty miles per hour between the Missouri and the
The news of the election of Lincoln in November 1860, and President
Buchanan's last message a month later were carried through in eight
Late in the winter and early in the spring of 1861, just prior to the
beginning of the war, many good records were made with urgent Government
dispatches. News of the firing upon Fort Sumter was taken through in
eight days and fourteen hours. From then on, while the Pony Express
service continued, the business men and public officials of California
began giving prize money to the Company, to be awarded those riders who
made the best time carrying war news. On one occasion they raised a
purse of three hundred dollars for the star rider when a pouch
containing a number of Chicago papers full of information from the South
arrived at Sacramento a day ahead of schedule.
That these splendid achievements could never have been attained without
a wonderful degree of enthusiasm and loyalty on the part of the men,
scarcely needs asserting. The pony riders were highly respected by the
stage and freight employees - in fact by all respectable men throughout
the West. Nor were they honored merely for what they did; they were the
sort of men who command respect. To assist a rider in any way was deemed
a high honor; to do aught to retard him was the limit of wrong-doing, a
woeful offense. On the first trip west-bound, the rider between Folsom
and Sacramento was thrown, receiving a broken leg. Shortly after the
accident, a Wells Fargo stage happened along, and a special agent of
that Company, who chanced to be a passenger, seeing the predicament,
volunteered to finish the run. This he did successfully, reaching
Sacramento only ninety minutes late. Such instances are typical of the
manly cooperation that made the Pony Express the true success that it
Mark Twain, who made a trip across the continent in 1860 has left this
glowing account of a pony and rider that he saw while traveling
overland in a stage coach:
We had a consuming desire from the beginning, to see a pony rider; but
somehow or other all that passed us, and all that met us managed to
streak by in the night and so we heard only a whiz and a hail, and the
swift phantom of the desert was gone before we could get our heads out
of the windows. But now we were expecting one along every moment, and
would see him in broad daylight. Presently the driver exclaims:
"Here he comes!"
Every neck is stretched further and every eye strained wider away across
the endless dead level of the prairie, a black speck appears against the
sky, and it is plain that it moves. Well I should think so! In a second
it becomes a horse and rider, rising and falling, rising and falling -
sweeping toward us nearer and nearer growing more and more distinct,
more and more sharply defined - nearer and still nearer, and the flutter
of hoofs comes faintly to the ear - another instant a whoop and a hurrah
from our upper deck, a wave of the rider's hands but no reply and man
and horse burst past our excited faces and go winging away like the
belated fragment of a storm!
So sudden is it all, and so like a flash of unreal fancy, that but for a
flake of white foam left quivering and perishing on a mail sack after
the vision had flashed by and disappeared, we might have doubted whether
we had seen any actual horse and man at all, maybe.
 This was the same pledge which the original firm had required of its
men. Both Russell, Majors, and Waddell, and the C. O. C. and P. P. Exp.
Co., which they incorporated, adhered to a rigid observance of the
Sabbath. They insisted on their men doing as little work as possible on
that day, and had them desist from work whenever possible. And they
stuck faithfully to these policies. Probably no concern ever won a
higher and more deserved reputation for integrity in the fulfillment of
its contracts and for business reliability than Russell, Majors, and
 Exact figures are not obtainable for the west bound mail but it was
probably not so heavy.
At this time - Sept., 1861 - the telegraph had been extended from the
Missouri to Fort Kearney, Nebraska, and letter pouches from the Pony
Express were sent by overland stage from Kearney to Atchison. Messages
of grave concern were wired as soon as this station was reached.
 These were executive divisions and not to be confused with the
riders' divisions. The latter were merely the stations separating each
 Slade was afterward hanged by vigilantes in Virginia City, Montana.
The authentic story of his life surpasses in romance and tragedy most of
the pirate tales of fiction.
 The dispatch was taken from the main line to the Colorado capital
by special service. Denver, it will be remembered, was not on the
regular "Pony route," which ran north of that city. There was then no
telegraph in operation west of the Missouri River in Kansas or Nebraska.
 Roughing It.
California and the Secession Menace
When the Southern states withdrew, a conspiracy was on foot to force
California out of the Union, and organize a new Republic of the Pacific
with the Sierra Madre and the Rocky Mountains for its Eastern boundary.
This proposed commonwealth, when once erected, and when it had
subjugated all Union men in the West who dared oppose it, would
eventually unite with the Confederacy; and in event of the latter's
success - which at the opening of the war to many seemed certain - the
territory of the Confederate States of America would embrace the entire
Southwest, and stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Aside from its
general plans, the exact details of this plot are of course impossible
to secure. But that the conspiracy existed has never been disproved.
That the rebel sympathizers in California were plotting, as soon as the
War began, to take the Presidio at the entrance to the Golden Gate,
together with the forts on Alcatraz Island, the Custom House, the Mint,
the Post Office, and all United States property, and then having made
the formation of their Republic certain, invade the Mexican State of
Sonora and annex it to the new commonwealth, has never been gainsaid.
That these conspiracies existed and were held in grave seriousness is
revealed by the official correspondence of that time. That they had been
fomenting for many months is apparently revealed by this additional
fact: during Buchanan's administration, John B. Floyd, a southern man
who gave up his position to fight for the Confederacy, was Secretary of
War. When the Rebellion started, it was found that Floyd, while in
office, had removed 135,430 firearms, together with much ammunition and
heavy ordnance, from the big Government arsenal at Springfield,
Massachusetts, and distributed them at various points in the South and
Southwest. Of this number, fifty thousand were sent to California
where twenty-five thousand muskets had already been stored. And all this
was done underhandedly, without the knowledge of Congress.
California was unfortunate in having as a representative in the United
States Senate at this time, William Gwin, also a man of southern birth
who had cast his fortunes in the Golden State at the outset, when the
gold boom was on. Until secession was imminent, Gwin served his adopted
state well enough. His encouragement of the Pony Express enterprise has
already been pointed out. It is doubtful if he were statesman enough to
have foreseen the significant part this organization was to play in the
early stages of the War. Otherwise his efforts in its behalf must have
been lacking - though the careers of political adventurers like Gwin are
full of strange inconsistencies.
Speaking in the Senate, on December 12, 1859, Gwin declared, that he
believed that "all slave holding states of this confederacy can
establish a separate and independent government that will be impregnable
to the assaults of all foreign enemies." He further went on to show that
they had the power to do it, and asserted that if the southern states
went out of the Union, "California would be with the South." Then, as a
convincing proof of his duplicity, he had these pro-rebel statements
stricken from the official report of his speech, that his constituents
might not take fright, and perhaps spoil some of the designs which he
and his scheming colleagues had upon California. Of course these remarks
reached the ears of his constituents anyhow, and though prefaced by a
studied evasiveness on his part, they contributed much to the feeling of
unrest and insecurity that then prevailed along the Coast.
It is of course a well-known fact that California never did secede, and
that soon after the war began, she swung definitely and conclusively
into the Union column. The danger of secession was wholly potential. Yet
potential dangers are none the less real. Had it not been for the
determined energies of a few loyalists in California, led by General E.
A. Sumner and cooperating with the Federal Government by means of the
swiftest communication then possible - the Pony Express - history today,
might read differently.
Now to turn once more to the potential dangers that made the
California crisis a reality. About three-eighths of the population were
of southern descent and solidly united in sympathy for the Confederate
states. This vigorous minority included upwards of sixteen thousand
Knights of the Golden Circle, a pro-Confederate secret organization that
was active and dangerous in all the doubtful states in winning over to
the southern cause those who feebly protested loyalty to the Union but
who opposed war. Many of these "knights" were prosperous and substantial
citizens who, working under the guise of their local respectability,
exerted a profound influence. Here then, at the outset, was a vigorous
and not a small minority, whose influence was greatly out of proportion
to their numbers because of their zeal; and who would have seized the
balance of power unless held in check by an aroused Union sentiment and
Another class of men to be feared was a small but powerful group
representing much wealth, a financial class which proverbially shuns war
because of the expense which war involves; a class that always insists
upon peace, even at the cost of compromised honor. These men, with the
influence which their money commanded, would inevitably espouse the side
that seemed the most likely of speedy success; and in view of the early
successes of the Confederate armies and the zealous proselytizing of
rebel sympathizers in their midst they were a potential risk to loyal
The native Spanish or Mexican classes then numerically strong in that
state, were appealed to by the anti-Unionists from various cunning
approaches, chief of which was the theory that the many real estate
troubles and complicated land titles by which they had been annoyed
since the separation from Old Mexico in 1847, would be promptly adjusted
under Confederate authority. While nearly all these natives were
ignorant, many held considerable property and they in turn influenced
their poorer brethren. Chimerical as this argument may sound, it had
Another group of persons also large potentially and a serious menace
when proselyted by the apostles of rebellion, were the squatters and
trespassers who were occupying land to which they had no lawful right.
Many of these men were reckless; some had already been entangled in the
courts because of their false land claims. Hence their attitude toward
the existing Government was ugly and defiant. Yet they were now assured
that they might remain on their lands forever undisturbed, under a rebel
Added to all these sources of danger was the attitude of the thousands
of well-meaning people - who, regardless of rebel solicitation, were at
first indifferent. They thought that the great distance which separated
them from the seat of war made it a matter of but little importance
whether California aroused herself or not. They were of course
counseling neutrality as the easiest way of avoiding trouble.
Turning now to the forces, moral, military, and political, that were
working to save California - first there was a loyal newspaper press,
which saw and followed its duty with unflinching devotion. It firmly
held before the people the loyal responsibility of the state and
declared that the ties of union were too sacred to be broken. It was the
moral duty of the people to remain loyal. It truthfully asserted that
California's influence in the Federal Union should be an example for
other states to follow. If the idea of a Pacific Republic were
repudiated by their own citizens, such action would discourage secession
elsewhere and be a great moral handicap to that movement. And the press
further pointed out with convincing clearness, that should the Union be
dissolved, the project for a Pacific Railroad with which the future
of the Commonwealth was inevitably committed, would likely fail.
Aroused by the moral importance of its position, the state legislature,
early in the winter of 1860-1861, had passed a resolution of fidelity to
the Union, in which it declared "That California is ready to maintain
the rights and honor of the National Government at home and abroad, and
at all times to respond to any requisitions that may be made upon her to
defend the Republic against foreign or domestic foes." Succeeding events
proved the genuineness of this resolve.
In the early spring of 1861, the War Department sent General Edwin A.
Sumner to take command of the Military Department of the Pacific with
headquarters at San Francisco, supplanting General Albert Sidney
Johnston who resigned to fight for the South. This was a most fortunate
appointment, as Sumner proved a resourceful and capable official,
ideally suited to meet the crisis before him. Nor does this reflect in
any way upon the superb soldierly qualities of his predecessor. Johnston
was no doubt too manly an officer to take part in the romantic
conspiracies about him. He was every inch a brave soldier who did his
fighting in the open. Like Robert E. Lee, he joined the Confederacy in
conscientious good faith, and he met death bravely at Shiloh in April,
Sumner was a man of action and he faced the situation squarely. To him,
California and the nation will always be indebted. One of his first
decisive acts was to check the secession movement in Southern California
by placing a strong detachment of soldiers at Los Angeles. This force
proved enough to stop any incipient uprisings in that part of the state.
Some of the disturbing element in this district then moved over into
Nevada where cooperation was made with the pro-Confederate men there.
The Nevada rebel faction had made considerable headway by assuring
unsuspecting persons that it was acting on the authority of the
Confederate Government. On June 5, 1861, the rebel flag was unfurled at
Virginia City. Again Sumner acted. He immediately sent a Federal force
to garrison Fort Churchill, and a body of men under Major Blake and
Captain Moore seized all arms found in the possession of suspected
persons. A rebel militia company with four hundred men enrolled and one
hundred under arms was found and dispersed by the Federals. This
decisive action completely stopped any uprisings across the state line,
uprisings which might easily have spread into California.
In the meantime, under General Sumner's direction, soldiers had been
enlisted and were being rapidly drilled for any emergency. The War
Department, on being advised of this available force, at once sent the
following dispatch, which, with those that follow are typical of the
correspondence which the Pony Express couriers were now rushing across
the Continent toward and from Washington.
Telegraph and Pony Express.
Washington, July 24, 1861.
Brigadier General Sumner,
Commanding Department of the Pacific.
One regiment of infantry and five companies of cavalry have been
accepted from California to aid in protecting the overland mail route
via Salt Lake.
Please detail officers to muster these troops into service. Blanks will
be sent by steamer.
By order: George D. Ruggles.
Assistant Adjutant General.
While recognizing the great need of extending proper military protection
to the mail route, it must have been disheartening to Sumner and the
loyalists to see this force ordered into service outside the state. For
now, late in the summer of 1861, the time of national crisis - the
Californian trouble was approaching its climax. On July 20, the Union
army had been beaten at Bull Run and driven back, a rabble of fugitives,
into the panic stricken capital. Then came weeks and months of delay and
uncertainty while the overcautious McClellan sought to build up a new
military machine. The entire North was overspread with gloom; the
Confederates were jubilant and full of self-confidence. In California
the psychological situation was similar but even more acute, for
encouraged by Confederate success, the rebel faction became bolder than
ever, and openly planned to win the state election to be held on
September 4. If successful at the polls, the reins of organized
political power would pass into its hands and a secession convention
would be a direct possibility. And to intensify the danger was the
confirmed indifference or stubbornness of many citizens who seemed to
place petty personal differences before the interests of the state and
nation at large.
As is well known, Lincoln and the Federal Government accepted the defeat
at Bull Run calmly, and set about with grim determination to whip the
South at any cost. The President asked Congress for four hundred
thousand men and was voted five hundred thousand. In pursuance of such
policies, these urgent dispatches were hurried across the country:
Washington, August 14, 1861.
Hon. John G. Downey,
Governor of California, Sacramento City, Cal.
Please organize, equip, and have mustered into service, at the earliest
date possible, four regiments of infantry and one regiment of cavalry,
to be placed at the disposal of General Sumner.
Secretary of War.
By telegraph to Fort Kearney and thence by Pony Express and telegraph.
War Department, August 15, 1861.
Hon. John G. Downey,
Governor of California, Sacramento City, Cal.
In filling the requisition given you August 14th, for five regiments,
please make General J. H. Carleton of San Francisco, colonel of a
cavalry regiment, and give him proper authority to organize as promptly
Secretary of War.
Telegraph and Pony Express and telegraph.
The work of enlisting the five thousand men thus requisitioned was
carried forward with great rapidity. Within two weeks, on the 28th, the
Pony Express brought word that the War Department was about to order
this force overland into Texas, to act, no doubt, as a barrier to the
advancing Confederate armies who were then planning an invasion of New
Mexico as the first decisive step in carrying the conflict into the
heart of the Southwest. It was understood, further, that General Sumner
would be ordered to vacate his position as Commander of the Department
of the Pacific and lead his recruits into the service.
To the authorities at Washington, a campaign of aggression with western
troops had no doubt seemed the best means of defending California and
adjacent territory from Confederate attack. To the Unionists of
California, the report that their troops and Sumner were to leave the
state spelt extreme discouragement. They had felt some degree of hope
and security so long as organized forces were in their midst, and the
presence of Sumner everywhere inspired confidence among discouraged
patriots. To be deprived of their soldiers was bad enough; to lose
Sumner was intolerable. Accordingly, a formal petition protesting
against this action, was drawn up, addressed to the War Department, and
signed by important firms and prominent business men of San
In this petition they said among other things, that the War Department
probably was not aware of the real state of affairs in California, and
they openly requested that the order, be rescinded. They declared that a
majority of the California State officers were out-and-out secessionists
and that the others were at least hostile to the administration and
would accept a peace policy at any sacrifice. They were suspicious of
the Governor's loyalty and declared that, "Every appointment made by our
Governor within the last three months, unmistakably indicates his entire
sympathy and cooperation with those plotting to sever California from
her allegiance to the Union, and that, too, at the hazard of Civil
Continuing at detailed length, the petitioners spoke of the great effort
being put forth by the secession element to win the forthcoming
election. Whereas their opponents were united, the Union party was
divided into a Douglas and a Republican faction. Should the
anti-Unionists triumph, they declared there were reasons to expect not
merely the loss of California to the Union ranks but internecine strife
and fratricidal murders such as were then ravaging the Missouri and
The petition then pointed out the truly great importance of California
to the Union, and asserted that no precaution leading to the
preservation of her loyalty should be overlooked. It was a thousand
times easier to retain a state in allegiance than to overcome disloyalty
disguised as state authority. The best way to check treasonable
activities was to convince traitors of their helplessness. The
petitioners further declared that to deprive California of needed United
States military support just then, would be a direct encouragement to
traitors. An ounce of precaution was worth a pound of cure.
The loyalists triumphed in the state election on September 4, 1861, and
on that date the California crisis was safely passed. The contest, to be
sure, had revealed about twenty thousand anti-Union voters in the state,
but the success of the Union faction restored their feeling of
self-confidence. The pendulum had at last swung safely in the right
direction, and henceforth California could be and was reckoned as a
loyal asset to the Union. Such expressions of disloyalty as her
secessionists continued to disclose, were of a sporadic and flimsy
nature, never materializing into a formidable sentiment; and, adding to
their discouragement, the failure of the Confederate invasion of New
Mexico in 1862, was no doubt an important factor in suppressing any
further open desires for secession.
Sumner was not called East until the October following the election. His
removal of course caused keen regret along the coast; but Colonel George
Wright, his successor in charge of the Department of the Pacific, proved
a masterful man and in every way equal to the situation. In the long
run, Colonel Wright probably was as satisfactory to the loyal people of
California as General Sumner had been. The five thousand troops were not
detailed for duty in the South. Like the first detachment of fifteen
hundred, their efforts were directed mainly to protecting the overland
mails and guarding the frontier.
Throughout this crisis, news was received twice a week by the Pony
Express, and, be it remembered, in less than half the time required by
the old stage coach. Of its services then, no better words can be used
than those of Hubert Howe Bancroft.
It was the pony to which every one looked for deliverance; men prayed
for the safety of the little beast, and trembled lest the service should
be discontinued. Telegraphic dispatches from Washington and New York
were sent to St. Louis and thence to Fort Kearney, whence the pony
brought them to Sacramento where they were telegraphed to San Francisco.
Great was the relief of the people when Hole's bill for a daily mail
service was passed and the service changed from the Southern to the
Central route, as it was early in the summer. * * * Yet after all, it
was to the flying pony that all eyes and hearts were turned.
The Pony Express was a real factor in the preservation of California to
 After the War had started, Gwin deserted California and the Union
and joined the Confederacy. When this power was broken up, he fled to
Mexico and entered the service of Maximilian, then puppet emperor of
that unfortunate country. Maximilian bestowed an abundance of hollow
honors upon the renegade senator, and made him Duke of the Province of
Sonora, which region Gwin and his clique had doubtless coveted as an
integral part of their projected "Republic of the Pacific." Because of
this empty title, the nickname, "Duke," was ever afterward given him.
When Maximilian's soap bubble monarchy had disappeared, Gwin finally
returned to California where he passed his old age in retirement.
 Senate documents.
 All parties in California were unanimous in their desire for a
transcontinental railroad. No political faction there could receive any
support unless it strongly endorsed this project.
 The signers of this petition were: Robert C. Rogers, Macondray &
Co., Jno. Sime & Co., J. B. Thomas, W. W. Stow, Horace P. James, Geo. F.
Bragg & Co., Flint, Peabody & Co., Wm. B. Johnston, D. 0. Mills, H. M.
Newhall & Co., Henry Schmildell, Murphy Grant & Co., Wm. T. Coleman &
Co., DeWitt Kittle & Co., Richard M. Jessup, Graves Williams & Buckley,
Donohoe, Ralston & Co., H. M. Nuzlee, Geo. C. Shreve & Co., Peter
Danahue, Kellogg, Hewston & Co., Moses Ellis & Co., R. D. W. Davis &
Co., L. B. Beuchley & Co., Wm. A. Dana, Jones, Dixon & Co., J. Y.
Halleck & Co., Forbes & Babcock, A. T. Lawton, Geo. J. Brooks & Co.,
Jno. B. Newton & Co., Chas. W. Brooks & Co., James Patrick & Co., Locke
& Montague, Janson, Bond & Co., Jennings & Brewster, Treadwell & Co.,
William Alvord & Co., Shattuck & Hendley, Randall & Jones, J. B. Weir &
Co., B. C. Hand & Co., 0. H. Giffin & Bro., Dodge & Shaw, Tubbs & Co.,
J. Whitney, Jr., C. Adolph Low & Co., Haynes & Lawton, J. D. Farnell,
C. E. Hitchcock, Geo. Howes & Co., Sam Merritt, Jacob Underhill & Co.,
Morgan Stone & Co., J. W. Brittan, T. H. & J. S. Bacon, R. B. Swain &
Co., Fargo & Co., Nathaniel Page, Stevens Baker & Co., A. E. Brewster &
Co., Fay, Brooks & Backus, Wm. Norris, and E. H. Parker.
(Above data taken from Government Secret Correspondence. Ordered printed
by the second session of the 50th Congress in 1889, Senate Document No.
 In the writer's judgment, these charges against Governor Downey
were prejudicial and unjust.
 During the War of the Rebellion, California raised 16,231 troops,
more than the whole United States army had been at the commencement of
hostilities. Practically all these soldiers were assigned to routine and
patrol duty in the far West, such as keeping down Indian revolts, and
garrisoning forts, as a defense against any uprising of Indians, or
protection against Confederate invasion. The exceptions were the
California Hundred, and the California Four Hundred, volunteer
detachments who went East of their own accord and won undying honors in
the thick of the struggle.
Riders and Famous Rides
Bart Riles, the pony rider, died this morning from wounds received at
Cold Springs, May 16.
The men at Dry Creek Station have all been killed and it is thought
those at Robert's Creek have met with the same fate.
Six Pike's Peakers found the body of the station keeper horribly
mutilated, the station burned, and all the stock missing from Simpson's.
Eight horses were stolen from Smith's Creek on last Monday, supposedly
by road agents.
The above are random extracts from frontier newspapers, printed while
the Pony Express was running. The Express could never have existed on
its high plane of efficiency, without an abundance of coolheaded,
hardened men; men who knew not fear and who were expert - though
sometimes in vain - in all the wonderful arts of self-preservation
practiced on the old frontier. That these employees could have performed
even the simplest of their duties, without stirring and almost
incredible adventures, it is needless to assert.
The faithful relation of even a considerable number of the thrilling
experiences to which the "Pony" men were subjected would discount
fiction. Yet few of these adventures have been recorded. Today, after a
lapse of over fifty years, nearly all of the heroes who achieved them
have gone out on that last long journey from which no man returns. While
history can pay the tribute of preserving some anecdotes of them and
their collective achievements, it must be forever silent as to many of
their personal acts of heroism.
While lasting praise is due the faithful station men who, in their
isolation, so often bore the murderous attacks of Indians and bandits,
it is, perhaps, to the riders that the seeker of romance is most likely
to turn. It was the riders' skill and fortitude that made the operation
of the line possible. Both riders and hostlers shared the same
privations, often being reduced to the necessity of eating wolf meat and
drinking foul or brackish water.
While each rider was supposed to average seventy-five miles a trip,
riding from three to seven horses, accidents were likely to occur, and
it was not uncommon for a man to lose his way. Such delays meant serious
trouble in keeping the schedule, keyed up, as it was, to the highest
possible speed. It was confronting such emergencies, and in performing
the duties of comrades who had been killed or disabled while awaiting
their turns to ride, that the most exciting episodes took place.
Among the more famous riders was Jim Moore who later became a
ranchman in the South Platte Valley, Nebraska. Moore made his greatest
ride on June 8, 1860. He happened to be at Midway Station, half way
between the Missouri River and Denver, when the west-bound messenger
arrived with important Government dispatches to California. Moore "took
up the run," riding continuously one hundred and forty miles to old
Julesburg, the end of his division. Here he met the eastbound messenger,
also with important missives, from the Coast to Washington. By all the
rules of the game Moore should have rested a few hours at this point,
but his successor, who would have picked up the pouch and started
eastward, had been killed the day before. The mail must go, and the
schedule must be sustained. Without asking any favors of the man who had
just arrived from the West, Moore resumed the saddle, after a delay of
only ten minutes, without even stopping to eat, and was soon pounding
eastward on his return trip. He made it, too, in spite of lurking
Indians, hunger and fatigue, covering the round trip of two hundred and
eighty miles in fourteen hours and forty-six minutes an average speed of
over eighteen miles an hour. Furthermore, his west-bound mail had gone
through from St. Joseph to Sacramento on a record-making run of eight
days and nine hours.
William James, always called "Bill" James, was a native of Virginia. He
had crossed the plains with his parents in a wagon train when only five
years old. At eighteen, he was one of the best Pony Express riders in
the service. James's route lay between Simpson's Park and Cole Springs,
Nevada, in the Smoky Valley range of mountains. He rode only sixty miles
each way but covered his round trip of one hundred and twenty miles in
twelve hours, including all stops. He always rode California mustangs,
using five of these animals each way. His route crossed the summits of
two mountain ridges, lay through the Shoshone Indian country, and was
one of the loneliest and most dangerous divisions on the line. Yet
"Bill" never took time to think about danger, nor did he ever have any
Theodore Rand rode the Pony Express during the entire period of its
organization. His run was from Box Elder to Julesburg, one hundred and
ten miles and he made the entire distance both ways by night. His
schedule, night run though it was, required a gait of ten miles an hour,
but Rand often made it at an average of twelve, thus saving time on the
through schedule for some unfortunate rider who might have trouble and
delay. Originally, Rand used only four or five horses each way, but this
number, in keeping with the revised policy of the Company, was afterward
doubled, an extra mount being furnished him every twelve or fifteen
Johnnie Frey who has already been mentioned as the first rider out of
St. Joseph, was little more than a boy when he entered the pony service.
He was a native Missourian, weighing less than one hundred and
twenty-five pounds. Though small in stature, he was every inch a man.
Frey's division ran from St. Joseph to Seneca, Kansas, eighty miles,
which he covered at an average of twelve and one half miles an hour,
including all stops. When the war started, Frey enlisted in the Union
army under General Blunt. His short but worthy career was cut short in
1863 when he fell in a hand-to-hand fight with rebel bushwhackers in
Arkansas. In this, his last fight, Frey is said to have killed five of
his assailants before being struck down.
Jim Beatley, whose real name was Foote, was another Virginian, about
twenty-five years of age. He rode on an eastern division, usually west
out of Seneca. On one occasion, he traveled from Seneca to Big Sandy,
fifty miles and back, doubling his route twice in one week. Beatley was
killed by a stage hand in a personal quarrel, the affair taking place on
a ranch in Southern Nebraska in 1862.
William Boulton was one of the older riders in the service; his age at
that time is given at about thirty-five. Boulton rode for about three
months with Beatley. On one occasion, while running between Seneca
and Guittards', Boulton's horse gave out when five miles from the latter
station. Without a moment's delay, he removed his letter pouch and
hurried the mail in on foot, where a fresh horse was at once provided
and the schedule resumed.
Melville Baughn, usually known as "Mel," had a pony run between Fort
Kearney and Thirty-two-mile Creek. Once while "laying off" between
trips, a thief made off with his favorite horse. Scarcely had the
miscreant gotten away when Baughn discovered the loss. Hastily saddling
another steed, "Mel" gave pursuit, and though handicapped, because the
outlaw had the pick of the stable, Baughn's superior horsemanship, even
on an inferior mount, soon told. After a chase of several miles, he
forced the fellow so hard that he abandoned the stolen animal at a place
called Loup Fork, and sneaked away. Recovering the horse, Baughn then
returned to his station, found a mail awaiting him, and was off on his
run without further delay. With him and his fellow employes, running
down a horse thief was but a trifling incident and an annoyance merely
because of the bother and delay which it necessitated. Baughn was
afterward hanged for murder at Seneca, but his services to the Pony
Express were above reproach.
Another Eastern Division man was Jack Keetly, who also rode from St.
Joseph to Seneca, alternating at times with Frey and Baughn. Keetley's
greatest performance, and one of the most remarkable ever achieved in
the service, was riding from Rock Creek to St. Joseph; then back to his
starting point and on to Seneca, and from Seneca once more to Rock Creek
- three hundred and forty miles without rest. He traveled continuously
for thirty-one hours, his entire run being at the rate of eleven miles
an hour. During the last five miles of his journey, he fell asleep in
the saddle and in this manner concluded his long trip.
Don C. Rising, who afterwards settled in Northern Kansas, was born in
Painted Post, Steuben County, New York, in 1844, and came West when
thirteen years of age. He rode in the pony service nearly a year, from
November, 1860, until the line was abandoned the following October, most
of his service being rendered before he was seventeen. Much of his time
was spent running eastward out of Fort Kearney until the telegraph had
reached that point and made the operation of the Express between the
fort and St. Joseph no longer necessary. On two occasions, Rising is
said to have maintained a continuous speed of twenty miles an hour while
carrying important dispatches between Big Sandy and Rock Creek.
One rider who was well known as "Little Yank" was a boy scarcely out of
his teens and weighing barely one hundred pounds. He rode along the
Platte River between Cottonwood Springs and old Julesburg and frequently
made one hundred miles on a single trip.
Another man named Hogan, of whom little is known, rode northwesterly out
of Julesburg across the Platte and to Mud Springs, eighty miles.
Jimmy Clark rode between various stations east of Fort Kearney, usually
between Big Sandy and Hollenburg. Sometimes his run took him as far West
as Liberty Farm on the Little Blue River.
James W. Brink, or "Dock" Brink as he was known to his associates, was
one of the early riders, entering the employ of the Pony Express Company
in April, 1860. While "Dock" made a good record as a courier, his chief
fame was gained in a fight at Rock Creek station, in which Brink and
Wild Bill "cleaned out" the McCandless gang of outlaws, killing five
of their number.
Charles Cliff had an eighty-mile pony run when only seventeen years of
age, but, like Brink, young Cliff gained his greatest reputation as a
fighter, - in his case fighting Indians. It seems that while Cliff was
once freighting with a small train of nine wagons, it was attacked by a
party of one hundred Sioux Indians and besieged for three days until a
larger train approached and drove the redskins away. During the
conflict, Cliff received three bullets in his body and twenty-seven in
his clothing, but he soon recovered from his injuries, and was afterward
none the less valuable to the Pony Express service.
J. G. Kelley, later a citizen of Denver, was a veteran pony man. He
entered the employ of the company at the outset, and helped
Superintendent Roberts to lay out the route across Nevada. Along the
Carson River, tiresome stretches of corduroy road had to be built.
Kelley relates that in constructing this highway willow trees were cut
near the stream and the trunks cut into the desired lengths before being
laid in place. The men often had to carry these timbers in their arms
for three hundred yards, while the mosquitoes swarmed so thickly upon
their faces and hands as to make their real color and identity hard to
At the Sink of the Carson, a great depression of the river on its
course through the desert, Kelley assisted in building a fort for
protecting the line against Indians. Here there were no rocks nor
timber, and so the structure had to be built of adobe mud. To get this
mud to a proper consistency, the men tramped it all day with their bare
feet. The soil was soaked with alkali, and as a result, according to
Kelley's story, their feet were swollen so as to resemble "hams."
They next erected a fort at Sand Springs, twenty miles from Carson Lake,
and another at Cold Springs, thirty-two miles east of Sand Springs. At
Cold Springs, Kelley was appointed assistant station-keeper under Jim
McNaughton. An outbreak of the Pah-Ute Indians was now in progress, and
as the little station was in the midst of the disturbed area, there was
plenty of excitement.
One night while Kelley was on guard his attention was attracted by the
uneasiness of the horses. Gazing carefully through the dim light, he saw
an Indian peering over the outer wall or stockade. The orders of the
post were to shoot every Indian that came within range, so Kelley blazed
away, but missed his man. In the morning, many tracks were found about
the place. This wild shot had probably frightened the prowlers away,
saving the station from attack, and certain destruction.
During this same morning, a Mexican pony rider came in, mortally
wounded, having been shot by the savages from ambush while passing
through a dense thicket in the vicinity known as Quaking Asp Bottom.
Although given tender care, the poor fellow died within a few hours
after his arrival. The mail was waiting and it must go. Kelley, who was
the lightest man in in the place - he weighed but one hundred pounds -
was now ordered by the boss to take the dead man's place, and go on with
the dispatches. This he did, finishing the run without further incident.
On his return trip he had to pass once more through the aspen thicket
where his predecessor had received his death wound. This was one of the
most dangerous points on the entire trail, for the road zigzagged
through a jungle, following a passage-way that was only large enough to
admit a horse and rider; for two miles a man could not see more than
thirty or forty feet ahead. Kelley was expecting trouble, and went
through like a whirlwind, at the same time holding a repeating rifle in
readiness should trouble occur. On having cleared the thicket, he drew
rein on the top of a hill, and, looking back over his course, saw the
bushes moving in a suspicious manner. Knowing there was no live stock in
that locality and that wild game rarely abounded there, he sent several
shots in the direction of the moving underbrush. The motion soon ceased,
and he galloped onward, unharmed.
A few days later, two United States soldiers, while traveling to join
their command, were ambushed and murdered in the same thicket.
This was about the time when Major Ormsby's command was massacred by the
Utes in the disaster at Pyramid Lake, and the Indians everywhere in
Nevada were unusually aggressive and dangerous. There were seldom more
than three or four men in the little station and it is remarkable that
Kelley and his companions were not all killed.
One of Kelley's worst rides, in addition to the episode just related,
was the stretch between Cold Springs and Sand Springs for thirty-seven
miles without a drop of water along the way.
Once, while dashing past a wagon train of immigrants, a whole fusillade
of bullets was fired at Kelley who narrowly escaped with his life. Of
course he could not stop the mail to see why he had been shot at, but on
his return trip he met the same crowd, and in unprintable language told
them what he thought of their lawless and irresponsible conduct. The
only satisfaction he could get from them in reply was the repeated
assertion, "We thought you was an Indian!" Nor was Kelley the only
pony rider who took narrow chances from the guns of excited immigrants.
Traveling rapidly and unencumbered, the rider, sunburned and blackened
by exposure, must have borne on first glance no little resemblance to an
Indian; and especially would the mistake be natural to excited wagon-men
who were always in fear of dashing attacks from mounted Indians -
attacks in which a single rider would often be deployed to ride past the
white men at utmost speed in order to draw their fire. Then when their
guns were empty a hidden band of savages would make a furious onslaught.
It was the established rule of the West in those days, in case of
suspected danger, to shoot first, and make explanations afterward; to do
to the other fellow as he would do to you, and do it first!
Added to the perils of the wilderness deserts, blizzards, and wild
Indians - the pony riders, then, had at times to beware of their white
friends under such circumstances as have been narrated. And that added
to the tragical romance of their daily lives. Yet they courted danger
and were seldom disappointed, for danger was always near them.
 Root and Connelley.
 Pony riders often alternated "runs" with each other over their
respective divisions in the same manner as do railroad train crews at
the present time.
 "Wild Bill" Hickock was one of the most noted gun fighters that the
West ever produced. As marshal of Abilene, Kansas, and other wild
frontier towns he became a terror to bad men and compelled them to
respect law and order when under his jurisdiction. Probably no man has
ever equaled him in the use of the six shooter. Numerous magazine
articles describing his career can be found.
 Inman & Cody, Salt Lake Trail.
 Indians would sometimes gaze in open-mouthed wonder at the
on-rushing ponies. To some of them, the "pony outfit" was "bad medicine"
and not to be molested. There was a certain air of mystery about the
wonderful system and untiring energy with which the riders followed
their course. Unfortunately, a majority of the red men were not always
content to watch the Express in simple wonder. They were too frequently
bent upon committing deviltry to refrain from doing harm whenever they
had a chance.
Anecdotes of the Trail and Honor Roll
No detailed account of the Pony Express would be complete without
mentioning the adventures of Robert Haslam, in those days called "Pony
Bob," and William F. Cody, who is known to fame and posterity as
Haslam's banner performance came about in a matter-of-fact way, as is
generally the case with deeds of heroism. On a certain trip during the
Ute raids mentioned in the last chapter, he stopped at Reed's Station on
the Carson River in Nevada, and found no change of horses, since all the
animals had been appropriated by the white men of the vicinity for a
campaign against the Indians. Haslam therefore fed the horse he was
riding, and after a short rest started for Bucklands, the next
station which was fifteen miles down the river. He had already ridden
seventy-five miles and was due to lay off at the latter place. But on
arriving, his successor, a man named Johnson Richardson, was unable or
indisposed to go on with the mail. It happened that Division
Superintendent W. C. Marley was at Bucklands when Haslam arrived, and,
since Richardson would not go on duty, Marley offered "Pony Bob" fifty
dollars bonus if he would take up the route. Haslam promptly accepted
the proposal, and within ten minutes was off, armed with a revolver and
carbine, on his new journey. He at first had a lonesome ride of
thirty-five miles to the Sink of the Carson. Reaching the place without
mishap, he changed mounts and hurried on for thirty-seven miles over the
alkali wastes and through the sand until he came to Cold Springs. Here
he again changed horses and once more dashed on, this time for thirty
miles without stopping, till Smith's Creek was reached where he was
relieved by J. G. Kelley. "Bob" had thus ridden one hundred and
eighty-five miles without stopping except to change mounts. At Smith's
Creek he slept nine hours and then started back with the return mail. On
reaching Cold Springs once more, he found himself in the midst of
tragedy. The Indians had been there. The horses had been stolen. All was
in ruins. Nearby lay the corpse of the faithful station-keeper. Small
cheer for a tired horse and rider! Haslam watered his steed and pounded
ahead without rest or refreshment. Before he had covered half the
distance to the next station, darkness was falling. The journey was
enshrouded with danger. On every side were huge clumps of sage-bush
which would offer excellent chances for savages to lie in ambush. The
howling of wolves added to the dolefulness of the trip. And haunting him
continuously was the thought of the ruined little station and the
stiffened corpse behind him. But pony riders were men of courage and
nerve, and Bob was no exception. He arrived at Sand Springs safely; but
here there was to be no rest nor delay. After reporting the outrage he
had just seen, he advised the station man of his danger, and, after
changing horses, induced the latter to accompany him on to the Sink of
the Carson, which move doubtless saved the latter's life. Reaching the
Carson, they found a badly frightened lot of men who had been attacked
by the Indians only a few hours previously. A party of fifteen with
plenty of arms and ammunition had gathered in the adobe station, which
was large enough also to accommodate as, many horses. Nearby was a cool
spring of water, and, thus fortified, they were to remain, in a state of
siege, if necessary, until the marauders withdrew from that vicinity. Of
course they implored Haslam to remain with them and not risk his life
venturing away with the mail. But the mail must go; and the schedule,
hard as it was, must be maintained. "Bob" had no conception of fear, and
so he galloped away, after an hour's rest. And back into Bucklands he
came unharmed, after having suffered only three and a half hours of
delay. Superintendent Marley, who was still present when the daring
rider returned, at once raised his bonus from fifty to one hundred
Nor was this all of Haslam's great achievement. The west-bound mail
would soon arrive, and there was nobody to take his regular run. So
after resting an hour and a half, he resumed the saddle and hurried back
along his old trail, over the Sierras to Friday's Station. Then "Bob"
rested after having ridden three hundred and eighty miles with scarcely
eleven hours of lay-off, and within a very few hours of regular schedule
time all the way. In speaking of this performance afterwards, Haslam
modestly admitted that he was "rather tired," but that "the excitement
of the trip had braced him up to stand the journey."
The most widely known of all the pony riders is William F. Cody -
usually called "Bill," who in early life resided in Kansas and was
raised amid the exciting scenes of frontier life. Cody had an unusually
dangerous route between Red Buttes and Three Crossings. The latter place
was on the Sweetwater River, and derived its name from the fact that the
stream which followed the bed of a rocky cañon, had to be crossed three
times within a space of sixty yards. The water coming down from the
mountains, was always icy cold and the current swift, deep, and
treacherous. The whole bottom of the cañon was often submerged, and in
attempting to follow its course along the channel of the stream, both
horse and rider were liable to plunge at any time into some abysmal
whirlpool. Besides the excitement which the Three Crossings and an
Indian country furnished, Cody's trail ran through a region that was
often frequented by desperadoes. Furthermore, he had to ford the North
Platte at a point where the stream was half a mile in width and in
places twelve feet deep. Though the current was at times slow, dangers
from quicksand were always to be feared on these prairie rivers. Cody,
then but a youth, had to surmount these obstacles and cover his trip at
an average of fifteen miles an hour.
Cody entered the Pony Express service just after the line had been
organized. At Julesburg he met George Chrisman, an old friend who was
head wagon-master for Russell, Majors, and Waddell's freighting
department. Chrisman was at the time acting as an agent for the express
line, and, out of deference to the youth, he hired him temporarily to
ride the division then held by a pony man named Trotter. It was a short
route, one of the shortest on the system, aggregating only forty-five
miles, and with three relays of horses each way. Cody, who had been
accustomed to the saddle all his young life, had no trouble in following
the schedule, but after keeping the run several weeks, the lad was
relieved by the regular incumbent, and then went east, to Leavenworth,
where he fell in with another old friend, Lewis Simpson, then acting as
wagon boss and fitting up at Atchison a wagon train of supplies for the
old stage line at Fort Laramie and points beyond. Acting through
Simpson, Cody obtained a letter of recommendation from Mr. Russell, the
head of the firm, addressed to Jack Slade, Superintendent of the
division between Julesburg and Rocky Ridge, with headquarters at
Horseshoe Station, thirty-six miles west of Fort Laramie, in what is now
Wyoming. Armed with this letter, young Cody accompanied Simpson's
wagon-train to Laramie, and soon found Superintendent Slade. The
superintendent, observing the lad's tender years and frail stature, was
skeptical of his ability to serve as a pony rider; but on learning that
Cody was the boy who had already given satisfactory service as a
substitute some months before, at once engaged him and assigned him to
the perilous run of seventy-six miles between Red Buttes and Three
Crossings. For some weeks all went well. Then, one day when he reached
his terminal at Three Crossings, Cody found that his successor who was
to have taken the mail out, had been killed the night before. As there
was no extra rider available, it fell to young Cody to fill the dead
courier's place until a successor could be procured. The lad was
undaunted and anxious for the added responsibility. Within a moment he
was off on a fresh horse for Rocky Ridge, eighty-five miles away.
Notwithstanding the dangers and great fatigue of the trip, Cody rode
safely from Three Crossings to his terminal and returned with the
eastbound mail, going back over his own division and into Red Buttes
without delay or mishap - an aggregate run of three hundred and
twenty-two miles. This was probably the longest continuous performance
without formal rest period in the history of this or any other courier
Not long afterward, Cody was chased by a band of Sioux Indians while
making one of his regular trips. The savages were armed with revolvers,
and for a few minutes made it lively for the young messenger. But the
superior speed and endurance of his steed soon told; lying flat on the
animal's neck, he quickly distanced his assailants and thundered into
Sweetwater, the next station, ahead of schedule. Here he found - as so
often happened in the history of the express service - that the place
had been raided, the keeper slain, and the horses driven off. There was
nothing to do but drive his tired pony twelve miles further to Ploutz
Station, where he got a fresh horse, briefly reported what he had
observed, and completed his run without mishap.
On another occasion it became mysteriously rumored that a certain
Pony Express pouch would carry a large sum of currency. Knowing that
there was great likelihood of some bandits or "road agents" as they were
commonly called getting wind of the consignment and attempting a holdup,
Cody hit upon a little emergency ruse. He provided himself with an extra
mochila which he stuffed with waste papers and placed over the saddle in
the regular position. The pouch containing the currency was hidden
under a special saddle blanket. With his customary revolver loaded and
ready, Cody then started. His suspicions were soon confirmed, for on
reaching a particularly secluded spot, two highwaymen stepped from
concealment, and with leveled rifles compelled the boy to stop, at the
same time demanding the letter pouch. Holding up his hands as ordered,
Cody began to remonstrate with the thugs for robbing the express, at the
same time declaring to them that they would hang for their meanness if
they carried out their plans. In reply to this they told Cody that they
would take their own chances. They knew what he carried and they wanted
it. They had no particular desire to harm him, but unless he handed over
the pouch without delay they would shoot him full of holes, and take it
anyhow. Knowing that to resist meant certain death Cody began slowly to
unfasten the dummy pouch, still protesting with much indignation.
Finally, after having loosed it, he raised the pouch and hurled it at
the head off the nearest outlaw, who dodged, half amused at the young
fellow's spirit. Both men were thus taken slightly off their guard, and
that instant the rider acted like a flash. Whipping out his revolver, he
disabled the farther villain; and before the other, who had stooped to
recover the supposed mail sack, could straighten up or use a weapon,
Cody dug the spurs into his horse, knocked him down, rode over him and
was gone. Before the half-stunned robber could recover himself to shoot,
horse and rider were out of range and running like mad for the next
station, where they arrived ahead of schedule.
The following is a partial list, so far as is known, of the men who
rode the Pony Express and contributed to the lasting fame of the
Brink, James W.
Cody, William F.
Ellis, J. K.
Faust, H. J.
Hogan (first name missing)
Jenkins, Will D.
Kelley, Jay G.
McCall, J. G.
Rising, Don C.
Many of these men were rough and unlettered. Many died deaths of
violence. The bones of many lie in unknown graves. Some doubtless lie
unburied somewhere in the great West, in the winning of which their
lives were lost. Yet be it always remembered, that in the history of the
American nation they played an important part. They were bold-hearted
citizen knights to whom is due the honors of uncrowned kings.
 Afterwards named Fort Churchill. This ride took place in the summer
 Some reports say that Richardson was stricken with fear. That he
was probably suffering from overwrought nerves, resulting from excessive
risks which his run had involved, is a more correct inference. This is
the only case on record of a pony messenger failing to respond to duty,
unless killed or disabled.
 After the California Pony Express was abandoned, Bob rode for Wells
Fargo & Co., between Friday's Station and Virginia City, Nevada, a
distance of one hundred miles. He seems to have enjoyed horseback
riding, for he made this roundtrip journey in twenty-four hours. When
the Central Pacific R. R. was built, and this pony line abandoned,
Haslam rode for six months a twenty-three mile division between Virginia
City and Reno, traveling the distance in less than one hour. To
accomplish this feat, he used a relay of fifteen horses. He was
afterwards transfered to Idaho where he continued in a similar capacity
on a one hundred mile run before quitting the service for a less
 Inman & Cody, Salt Lake Trail.
 Root and Connelley's Overland Stage to California.
Early Overland Mail Routes
In the history of overland transportation in America, the Pony Express
is but one in a series of many enterprises. As emphasized at the
beginning of this book, its importance lay in its opportuneness; in the
fact that it appeared at the psychological moment, and fitted into the
course of events at a critical period, prior to the completion of the
telegraph; and when some form of rapid transit between the Missouri
River and the Pacific Coast was absolutely needed. To give adequate
setting to this story, a brief account of the leading overland routes,
of which the Pony Express was but one, seems proper.
Before the middle of the nineteenth century, three great thoroughfares
had been established from the Missouri, westward across the continent.
These were the Santa Fe, the Salt Lake, and the Oregon trails. All had
important branches and lesser stems, and all are today followed by
important railroads - a splendid testimonial to the ability of the
pioneer pathfinders in selecting the best routes.
Of these trails, that leading to Santa Fe was the oldest, having been
fully established before 1824. The Salt Lake and Oregon routes date some
twenty years later, coming into existence in the decade between 1840 and
1850. It is incidentally with the Salt Lake trail that the story of the
Pony Express mainly deals.
The Mormon settlement of Utah in 1847-48, followed almost immediately by
the discovery of gold in California, led to the first mail route
across the country, west of the Missouri. This was known as the "Great
Salt Lake Mail," and the first contract for transporting it was let July
1, 1850, to Samuel H. Woodson of Independence, Missouri. By terms of
this agreement, Woodson was to haul the mail monthly from Independence
on the Missouri River to Salt Lake City, twelve hundred miles, and
return. Woodson later arranged with some Utah citizens to carry a mail
between Salt Lake City and Fort Laramie, the service connecting with the
Independence mail at the former place. This supplementary line was put
into operation August 1, 1851.
In the early fifties, while the California gold craze was still on, a
monthly route was laid out between Sacramento and Salt Lake City.
This service was irregular and unreliable; and since the growing
population of California demanded a direct overland route, a four year
monthly contract was granted to W. F. McGraw, a resident of Maryland.
His subsidy from Congress was $13,500.00 a year. In those days it often
took a month to get mail from Independence to Salt Lake City, and about
six weeks for the entire trip. Although McGraw charged $180.00 fare for
each passenger to Salt Lake City, and $300.00 to California, he failed,
in 1856. The unexpired contract was then let to the Mormon firm of
Kimball & Co., and they kept the route in operation until the Mormon
troubles of 1857 when the Government abrogated the agreement.
In the summer of 1857, General Albert Sidney Johnston, later of Civil
War fame, was sent out with a Federal army of five thousand men to
invade Utah. After a rather fruitless campaign, Johnston wintered at
Fort Bridger, in what is southwestern Wyoming, not far from the Utah
line. During this interval, army supplies were hauled from Fort
Leavenworth with only a few way stations for changing teams. This
improvised line, carrying mail occasionally, which went over the old
Mormon trail via South Pass, and Forts Kearney, Laramie, and Bridger,
was for many months the only service available for this entire region.
The next contract for getting mail into Utah was let in 1858 to John M.
Hockaday of Missouri. Johnston's army was then advancing from winter
quarters at Bridger toward the valley of Great Salt Lake, and the
Government wanted mail oftener then once a month. In consideration of
$190,000.00 annually which was to be paid in monthly installments,
Hockaday agreed to put on a weekly mail. This route, which ran from St.
Joseph to Salt Lake City, was later combined with a line that had been
running from Salt Lake to Sacramento, thus making a continuous weekly
route to and from California. For the combined route the Government paid
$320,000.00 annually. Its actual yearly receipts were $5,142.03.
The discovery of gold in the vicinity of Denver in the summer of 1858
caused another wild excitement and a great rush which led to the
establishment in the summer of 1859 of the Leavenworth and Pike's Peak
Express, from the Missouri to Denver. As then traveled, this route was
six hundred and eighty-seven miles in length. The line as operated by
Russell, Majors, and Waddell, and that same year they took over
Hockaday's business. As has already been stated, the new firm of Pony
Express fame - called the Central Overland California and Pike's Peak
Express Co. - consolidated the old California line, which had been run
in two sections, East and West, with the Denver line. In addition to the
Pony Express it carried on a big passenger and freighting business to
and from Denver and California.
Turning now to the lines that were placed in commission farther South.
The first overland stage between Santa Fe and Independence was started
in May, 1849. This was also a monthly service, and by 1850 it was fully
equipped with the famous Concord coaches, which vehicles were soon to be
used on every overland route in the West. Within five years, this route,
which was eight hundred fifty miles in length and followed the Santa Fe
trail, now the route of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad, had
attained great importance. The Government finally awarded it a yearly
subsidy of $10,990.00, but as the trail had little or no military
protection except at Fort Union, New Mexico, and for hundreds of miles
was exposed to the attacks of prairie Indians, the contractors
complained because of heavy losses and sought relief of the Post Office
and War Departments. Finally they were released from their old contract
and granted a new one paying $25,000.00 annually, but even then they
fell behind $5,000.00 per year.
By special act passed August 3, 1854, Congress laid out a monthly mail
route from Neosho, Missouri, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with an annual
subsidy of $17,000.00. Since the Mexican War this region had come to be
of great commercial and military importance. A little later, in March
1855, the route was changed by the Government to run monthly from
Independence and Kansas City, Missouri, to Stockton, California, via
Albuquerque, and the contractors were awarded a yearly bonus of
$80,000.00 This line was also a financial failure.
The early overland routes were granted large subsidies and the privilege
of charging high rates for passengers and freight. To the casual
observer it may seem strange that practically all these lines operated
at a disastrous loss. It should be noted however, that they covered an
immense territory, many portions of which were occupied by hostile
Indians. It is no easy task to move military forces and supplies
thousands of miles through a wilderness. Furthermore, the Indians were
elusive and hard to find when sought by a considerable force. They
usually managed to attack when and where they were least expected.
Consequently, if protection were secured at all, it usually fell to the
lot of the stage companies to police their own lines, which was
expensive business. Often they waged, single-handed, Indian campaigns of
considerable importance, and the frontiersmen whom they could assemble
for such duty were sometimes more effective than the soldiers who were
unfamiliar with the problems of Indian warfare.
Added to these difficulties were those incident to severe weather, deep
snow, and dangerous streams, since regular highways and bridges were
almost unknown in the regions traversed. Not to mention the handicap and
expense which all these natural obstacles entailed, business on many
lines was light, and revenues low.
News from Washington about the creation of the new territory of Utah -
in September 1850 - was not received in Salt Lake City until January
1851. The report reached Utah by messenger from California, having come
around the continent by way of the Isthmus of Panama. The winters of
1851-52, and 1852-53 were frightfully severe and such expensive delays
were not uncommon. The November mail of 1856 was compelled to winter in
In the winter of 1856-57 no steady service could be maintained between
Salt Lake City and Missouri on account of bad weather. Finally, after a
long delay, the postmaster at Salt Lake City contracted with the local
firm of Little, Hanks, and Co., to get a special mail to and from
Independence. This was accomplished, but the ordeal required
seventy-eight days, during which men and animals suffered terribly from
cold and hunger. The firm received $1,500.00 for its trouble. The Salt
Lake route returned to the Government a yearly income of only $5,000.00.
The route from Independence to Stockton, which cost Uncle Sam $80,000.00
a year, collected in nine months only $1,255.00 in postal revenues,
whereupon it was abolished July 1st, 1859.
By the close of 1859 there were at least six different mail routes
across the continent from the Missouri to the Pacific Coast. They were
costing the Government a total of $2,184,696.00 and returning
$339,747.34. The most expensive of these lines was the New York and New
Orleans Steamship Company route, which ran semi-monthly from New York to
San Francisco via Panama. This service cost $738,250.00 annually and
brought in $229,979.69. While the steamship people did not have the
frontier dangers to confront them, they were operating over a roundabout
course, several thousand miles in extent, and the volume of their postal
business was simply inadequate to meet the expense of maintaining their
The steamer schedule was about four weeks in either direction, and the
rapidly increasing population of California soon demanded, in the early
fifties, a faster and more frequent service. Agitation to that end was
thus started, and during the last days of Pierce's administration, in
March 1857, the "Overland Mail" bill was passed by Congress and signed
by the President. This act provided that the Postmaster-General should
advertise for bids until June 30 following: "for the conveyance of the
entire letter mail from such point on the Mississippi River as the
contractors may select to San Francisco, Cal., for six years, at a cost
not exceeding $300,000 per annum for semi-monthly, $450,000 for weekly,
or $600,000 for semi-weekly service to be performed semi-monthly,
weekly, or semi-weekly at the option of the Postmaster-General." The
specifications also stipulated a twenty-five day schedule, good coaches,
and four-horse teams.
Bids were opened July 1, 1857. Nine were submitted, and most of them
proposed starting from St. Louis, thence going overland in a
southwesterly direction usually via Albuquerque. Only one bid proposed
the more northerly Central route via Independence, Fort Laramie, and
Salt Lake. The Postoffice Department was opposed to this trail, and its
attitude had been confirmed by the troubles of winter travel in the
past. In fact this route had been a failure for six consecutive winters,
due to the deep snows of the high mountains which it crossed.
On July 2, 1857, the Postmaster General announced the acceptance of bid
No. "12,587" which stipulated a forked route from St. Louis, Missouri
and from Memphis, Tennessee, the lines converging at Little Rock,
Arkansas. Thence the course was by way of Preston, Texas; or as nearly
as might be found advisable, to the best point in crossing the Rio
Grande above El Paso, and not far from Fort Filmore; thence along the
new road then being opened and constructed by the Secretary of the
Interior to Fort Yuma, California; thence through the best passes and
along the best valleys for safe and expeditious staging to San
Francisco. On September is following, a six year contract was let for
this route. The successful firm at once became known as the "Butterfield
Overland Mail Company." Among the firm members were John Butterfield,
Wm. B. Dinsmore, D. N. Barney, Wm. G. Fargo and Hamilton Spencer. The
extreme length of the route agreed upon from St. Louis to San Francisco
was two thousand seven hundred and twenty-nine miles; the most southern
point was six hundred miles south of South Pass on the old Salt Lake
route. Because of the out-of-the-way southern course followed, two and
one half days more than necessary were nominally-required in making the
journey. Yet the postal authorities believed that this would be more
than offset by the southerly course being to a great extent free from
On September 15, 1858, after elaborate preparations, the overland mails
started from San Francisco and St. Louis on the twenty-five day schedule
- which was three days less than that of the water route. The postage
rate was ten cents for each half ounce; the passenger fare was one
hundred dollars in gold. The first trip was made in twenty-four days,
and in each of the terminal cities big celebrations were held in honor
of the event. And yet today, four splendid lines of railway cover this
distance in about three days!
These stages - to use the west-bound route as an illustration - traveled
in an elliptical course through Springfield, Missouri, and Fayetteville,
Arkansas, to Van Buren, Arkansas, where the Memphis mail was received.
Continuing in a southwesterly course, they passed through Indian
Territory and the Choctaw Indian reserve - now Oklahoma - crossed the
Red River at Calvert's Ferry, then on through Sherman, Fort Chadbourne
and Fort Belknap, Texas, through Guadaloupe Pass to El Paso; thence up
the Rio Grande River through the Mesilla Valley, and into western New
Mexico - now Arizona to Tucson. Then the journey led up the Gila River
to Arizona City, across the Mojave desert in Southern California and
finally through the San Joaquin Valley to San Francisco.
Today a traveler could cover nearly the same route, leaving St. Louis
over the Frisco Railroad, transferring to the Texas Pacific at Fort
Worth, and taking the Southern Pacific at El Paso for the remainder of
As has been shown, the outbreak of the Civil War in the spring of 1861
made it necessary for the Federal Government to transfer this big and
important route further north to get it beyond the latitude of the
Confederacy. Hence the Southern route was formally abandoned on
March 12, 1861, and the equipment removed to the Central or Salt Lake
trail where a daily service was inaugurated. About three months was
necessary to move all the outfits and in July 1861, the first daily
overland mail - running six times a week - was started between St.
Joseph and Placerville, California, 1,920 miles by the way of Forts
Kearney, Bridger, and Salt Lake City.
The Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad had been built into St. Joseph and
was doing business by February 1859. For some time that city enjoyed the
honor of being the eastern stage terminal; but within a year the
railroad was extended to Atchison, about twenty miles down the stream.
The latter place is situated on a bend of the river fourteen miles west
of St. Joseph, and so the terminal honors soon passed to Atchison since
its westerly location shortened the haul.
In transferring the Butterfield line from the Southern to the Central
route, it was merged with the Central Overland California and Pike's
Peak Express Company which already included the Leavenworth and Pike's
Peak Express Company, under the leadership of General Bela M. Hughes.
This line was known to the Government as the Central Overland California
Route. As soon as the transfer was completed, through California stages
were started on an eighteen day schedule a full week less time than had
been required by the Butterfield route, and ten days less than that of
the Panama steamers. This was the most famous of all the stage routes,
and except for three interruptions, due to Indian outbreaks in 1862,
1864, and 1865, it did business continuously for several years.
Within a few months came another change of proprietorship, the route
passing on a mortgage foreclosure into the hands of Benjamin Holladay, a
famous stage line promoter, late in 1861. Early the following year
Holladay reorganized the management under the name of the Overland Stage
Line. This seems to have been what today is technically known as a
holding company; for until the expiration of the old Butterfield
contract in 1863, he allowed the business east of Salt Lake City to
be carried on by the old C. O. C. & P. P. Co.; west of Salt Lake, the
new Overland Line allowed, or sublet the through traffic to a vigorous
subsidiary, the Pioneer Stage Line.
Holladay was fortunate in securing a new mail contract for the Central
route which he now controlled. For supplying a six day letter mail
service from the Missouri to Placerville together with a way mail to and
from Denver and Salt Lake City, he was paid $1,000,000 a year for the
three years beginning July 1, 1861. At the expiration of this period he
was to get $840,000.
In the meantime gold was discovered in Idaho and Montana, and Holladay,
encouraged by his big subsidy from the Government, put stage lines into
Virginia City, Montana, and Boise City, Idaho.
In 1866 the Butterfield Overland Despatch, an express and fast freight
line, was started above the Smoky Hill route from Topeka and Leavenworth
across Kansas to Denver. Within a short time this organization, mainly
because of the heavy expense caused by Indian depredations, and was
consolidated with the Holladay Company. Just prior to this transfer, Mr.
Holladay received from the Colorado Territorial legislature a charter
for the "Holladay Overland Mail and Express Company," which was the full
and formal name of the new concern. This corporation now owned and
controlled stage lines aggregating thirty-three hundred miles. It
brought the service up to the highest point of efficiency and used only
the best animals and vehicles it was possible to obtain.
In addition to his federal mail bonus, Holladay had the following rates
for passenger traffic in force:
In 1863, from Atchison to Denver $75.00
In 1863, from Atchison to Salt Lake City $150.00
In 1863, from Atchison to Placerville $225.00
In 1865, on account of the rise of gold and the depreciation of
currency, these rates were increased; the fare from the Missouri River
to Denver was changed to $175.00; to Salt Lake $350.00. The California
rate varied from $400.00 to $500.00. A year later the fare to Virginia
City, Montana, was fixed at $350.00 and the rate to Salt Lake City
reduced to $225.00.
These high rates and Indian dangers did not seem to check the desire on
the part of the public to make the overland trip. Stages were almost
always crowded, and it was usually necessary for one to apply for
reservations several days in advance.
Late in the year 1866, Holladay's entire properties were purchased
by Wells Fargo and Co. This was a new concern, recently chartered by
Colorado, which had been quietly gaining power. Within a short time it
had exclusive control of practically all the stage, express, and
freighting business in the West and this business it held.
Meanwhile the overland stage and freight lines were rapidly shortening
on account of the building of the Pacific railroads, and the terminals
of the through routes became merely the temporary ends of the fast
growing railway lines. By the early autumn of 1866, the Kansas Pacific
had reached Junction City, Kansas, and the Union Pacific was at Fort
Kearney, Nebraska. The golden era of the overland stage business was
from 1858 to 1866. After that, the old through routes were but fragments
"between the tracks" of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific roads
which were building East and West toward each other.
Wells Fargo & Co., however, clung to these fragments until the lines met
on May 10th, 1869, and a continuous transcontinental railroad was
completed. Then they turned their attention to organizing mountain stage
and express lines in the railroadless regions of the West, - some of
which still exist. And they also turned their energies to the railway
express business, in which capacity this great firm, the last of the old
stage companies, is now known the world over.
 Authority for Early Mail Routes is Root and Connelley's Overland
Stage to California.
 The reader will keep in mind that during the early days of
California history, practically all communication between that locality
and the East was carried on by steamship from New York via Panama.
 In June, 1860, Congress got into trouble with this company over
postal compensations. The steamship company, it appears, thought its
remuneration too low and it further protested that the diversion of mail
traffic, due to the daily Overland Stage Line and the Pony Express would
reduce its revenues still further. Congress finally adjourned without
effecting a settlement, and the mail, which was far too heavy for the
overland facilities to handle at that time, was piling up by the ton
awaiting shipment. Matters were getting serious when Cornelius
Vanderbilt came to the Government's relief and agreed to furnish steamer
service until Congress assembled in March, 1861, provided the Federal
authorities would assure him "a fair and adequate compensation." This
agreement was effected and the affair settled as agreed. At the
expiration of the period, the war and the growing importance of the
overland route made steamship service by way of the Isthmus quite
 The contractors are said to have been awarded $50,000 by the
Government for their trouble in haying the agreement broken.
 See page 153. Holladay secured possession of the outfits of the C.
O. C. & P. P. Exp. Co., between the Missouri and Salt Lake City.
 The Pioneer Line which had recently come into power and prominence
had gained possession of the equipment west of Salt Lake. This line was
owned by Louis and Charles McLane. Louis McLane afterward became
President of the Wells Fargo Express Co.
 Holladay is said to have received one million five hundred thousand
dollars cash, and three hundred thousand dollars in express company
stock for his interests. Besides these amounts which covered only the
animals, rolling stock, stations, and incidental equipment, Wells Fargo
and Co. had to pay full market value for all grain, hay and provisions
along the line, amounting to nearly six hundred thousand dollars more.
Passing of the Pony Express
When Edward Creighton completed the Pacific telegraph, and, on October
24, 1861, began sending messages; by wire from coast to coast, the
California Pony Express formally went out of existence. For over three
months since July 1, it had been paralleled by the daily overland stage;
yet the great efficiency of the semi-weekly pony line in offering quick
letter service won and retained its popularity to the very end of its
career. And this was in spite of the fact that for several weeks before
its discontinuance the pony men had ridden only between the ends of the
fast building telegraph which was constructed in two divisions - from
the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Missouri River - at the same time,
the lines meeting near the Great Salt Lake.
The people of the far West strongly protested against the elimination of
the pony line service. Early in the winter of 1862 it became rumored -
perhaps wildly - that the Committee on Finance in the House of
Representatives had, for reasons of economy, stricken out the
appropriation for the continuance of the daily stage. Whereupon the
California legislature addressed a set of joint resolutions to the
state's delegation in Congress, imploring not only that the Daily Stage
be retained, but that the Pony Express be reestablished. The stage was
continued but the pony line was never restored.
As a financial venture the Pony Express failed completely. To be sure,
its receipts were sometimes heavy, often aggregating one thousand
dollars in a single day. But the expenses, on the other hand, were
enormous. Although the line was so great a factor in the California
crisis, and in assisting the Federal Government to retain the Pacific
Coast, it was the irony of fate that Congress should never give any
direct relief or financial assistance to the pony service. So completely
was this organization neglected by the government, in so far as
extending financial aid was concerned, that its financial failure, as
foreseen by Messrs. Waddell and Majors, was certain from the beginning.
The War Department did issue army revolvers and cartridges to the
riders; and the Federal troops when available, could always be relied
upon to protect the line. Yet it was generally left to the initiative
and resourcefulness of the company to defend itself as best it could
when most seriously menaced by Indians. The apparent apathy regarding
this valuable branch of the postal service can of course be partially
excused from the fact that the Civil War was in 1861 absorbing all the
energies which the Government could summon to its command. And the war,
furthermore, was playing havoc with our national finances and piling up
a tremendous national debt, which made the extension of pecuniary relief
to quasi-private operations of this kind, no matter how useful they
were, a remote possibility.
That the stage lines received the assistance they did, under such
circumstances, is to be wondered at. Yet it must be borne in mind that
at the outset much of the political support necessary to secure
appropriations for overland mail routes was derived from southern
congressmen who were anxious for routes of communication with the West
coast, especially if such routes ran through the Southwest and linked
the cotton-growing states with California.
At the very beginning, it cost about one hundred thousand dollars to
equip the Pony Express line in those days a very considerable outlay of
capital for a private corporation. Besides the purchase of more than
four hundred high grade horses, it cost large sums of money to build and
equip stations at intervals of every ten or twelve miles throughout the
long route. The wages of eighty riders and about four hundred station
men, not to mention a score of Division Superintendents was a large
Most of the grain used along the line between St. Joseph and Salt Lake
City was purchased in Iowa and Missouri and shipped in wagons at a
freight rate of from ten cents to twenty cents a pound. Grain and food
stuffs for use between Salt Lake City and the Sierras were usually
bought in Utah and hauled from two hundred to seven hundred miles to the
respective stations. Hay, gathered wherever wild grasses could be found
and cured, often had to be freighted hundreds of miles.
The operating expenses of the line aggregated about thirty thousand
dollars a month, which would alone have insured a deficit as the monthly
income never equaled that amount.
A conspicuous bill of expense which helped to bankrupt the enterprise
was for protection against the savages. While this should have been
furnished by the Government or the local state or territorial militia,
it was the fate of the Company to bear the brunt of one of the worst
Indian outbreaks of that decade.
Early in 1860, shortly after the Pony Express was started, the Pah-Utes,
mention of whom has already been made, began hostilities under their
renowned chieftain Old Winnemucca. The uprising spread; soon the
Bannocks and Shoshones espoused the cause of the Utes, and the entire
territory of Nevada, Eastern California and Oregon was aflame with
Indian revolt. Besides devastating many white settlements wherever they
found them, the Indians destroyed nearly every pony station between
California and Salt Lake, murdered numbers of employes, and ran off
scores of horses. For several weeks the service was paralyzed, and had
it been in the hands of faint-hearted men it would have been ended then
The climax came with the defeat and massacre of Major Ormsby's force of
about fifty men by the Utes at the battle of Pyramid Lake in western
Nevada. Help was finally sent in from a distance, and before the first
of June, eight hundred men, including three hundred regulars and a large
number of California and Nevada volunteers, had taken the field. This
formidable campaign finally served the double purpose of protecting the
Pony Express and stage line and in subduing the Indians in a primitive
and effective manner. Order was restored and the express service resumed
on June 19. Desultory outbreaks, of course, continued to menace the line
and all forms of transportation for months afterwards.
During this campaign, the local officers and employes of the express
gave valiant service. It was remarkable that they could restore the line
so quickly as they did. The total expense of this war to the Company was
$75,000, caused by ruined and stolen property and outlays for military
supplies incidental to the equipment of volunteers.
This onslaught, coming so soon after the enterprise had begun, and when
there was already so little encouragement that the line would ever pay
out financially, must have disheartened less courageous men than
Russell, Majors and Waddell and their associates. It is to their
everlasting credit that this group of men possessed the perseverance and
patriotic determination to continue the enterprise, even at a certain
loss, and in spite of Federal neglect, until the telegraph made it
possible to dispense with the fleet pony rider. Not only did they stick
bravely to their task of supplying a wonderful mail service to the
country, but they even improved their service, increasing it from a
weekly to a semi-weekly route, immediately after the disastrous raids of
June, 1860. Nor did they hesitate at the instigation of the Government a
little later to reduce their postal rates from five dollars to one
dollar a half ounce.
This condensed statement shows the approximate deficit which the
To equip the line .....................................$100,000
Maintenance at $30,000 per month (for sixteen months). $480,000
War with the Utes and allied tribes ................... $75,000
Sundry items ...........................................$45,000
Total ................................................ $700,000
The receipts are said to have been about $500,000 leaving a debit
balance of $200,000. That the Company changed hands in 1861 is not
While the Pony Express failed in a financial way; it had served the
country faithfully and well. It had aided an imperiled Government,
helped to tranquilize and retain to the Union a giant commonwealth, and
it had shown the practicability of building a transcontinental railroad,
and keeping it open for traffic regardless of winter snows. All this
Pony Express did and more. It marked the supreme triumph of American
spirit, of God-fearing, man-defying American pluck and determination -
qualities which have always characterized the winning of the West.
 Senate Documents.
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