Pony Express History

This History Page is a compilation of People, Places, Vocabulary, and Dates of the Pony Express.

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The Overland Mail

The idea behind the Pony Express—a horseback relay mail service—goes back at least as far as thirteenth-century China, where Marco Polo saw “post stations twenty-five miles apart.” Oregon missionary Marcus Whitman proposed in 1843 using a relay of “fresh horses” to deliver mail from the Missouri to the Columbia in forty days. In 1845 it took President James K. Polk six months to get a message to California, which dramatically pointed up the need to improve communications in the expanding nation. After the Gold Rush brought hundreds of thousands of Americans to the far west, getting the mail between the nation’s coasts became an increasingly important problem.

Nothing meant more to people who went west in the 1840s and 1850s than mail from home. The government had wrestled with the challenge of developing a transcontinental mail service since the War with Mexico. Congress established postal service to the Pacific Coast in 1847, and in 1851 set the rate for a half-ounce letter at three cents if it went less than 3,000 miles and six cents if it went more. Private contractors handled the business, which depended on huge subsidies. The government struggled to provide an effective mail link to the west coast for the next decade. In 1855 Congress even appropriated $30,000 to investigate using camels to carry the mail from Texas to California. The camels proved impractical, but John Butterfield’s Overland Mail Company provided mail service contracts on routes that took three to four weeks to get to California via stagecoach. Butterfield’s main “ox bow” route left Fort Smith, Arkansas, and reached San Francisco via El Paso, Texas, and Yuma, Arizona Territory, crossing 2,800 miles of some of the toughest terrain in North America. Despite its length and the scarcity of water, no snowbound mountain blocked this route, and powerful Southern political interests kept most government subsidies on southwestern trails.

Source: National Park Service Pony Express National Historic Trail Brochure

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The Need

With the discovery of gold followed by statehood, the population of California exploded. Half a million Americans lived in the regions west of the rocky mountains. At that time, St. Joseph, Missouri, was the westernmost point which the railroad and telegraph had reached. It was the strategic starting point over the heart of the "great American desert" by way of the direct "Central" route to the west. Except for a few forts and settlements the route beyond St. Joseph was a vast, silent wilderness inhabited primarily by Indians. Transportation across this area on a year-round bases was believed impossible because of weather.

Mail normally took at least a month by boat. When carried by overland stagecoaches, mail between St. Louis and San Francisco took 24 days. This would be the same as if someone wrote you about their Thanksgiving dinner and you did not receive their letter until after Christmas (not much different as today!)

The people of California were eager for news from their many family and business connections back east. Increasing political tensions leading to the Civil War made it imperative to keep the far west, with its treasures of gold, in the Union.

With civil war threatening to close the southern routes, northern politicians wanted to keep the communication lines to California open. California Senator William Gwin had crossed the California Trail in 1854 with Benjamin F. Ficklin, “an enthusiastic supporter of closer communications with the East,” who proposed that the government provide mail service using a mounted relay. Sensing an opportunity, William H. Russell of the freighting firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell created the Pony Express almost by accident. Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors were Missouri businessmen with vast experience in overland freighting and passenger service—and a great interest in government mail contracts. Their firm already provided mail and passenger service between the Missouri River and Great Salt Lake City. With the support of Senator Gwin but to the dismay of his partners, Russell committed to open a mail service on the northern route in April 1860. The company had sixty days to do the job.

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Aaron V. Brown

Aaron V. Brown was Postmaster General of the United States at the start of the Pony Express. He favored a southern route for the federal mail contract which in fact was awarded to Benjamin Holladay.

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James H. Simpson

James H. Simpson was a Captain in the United States Topographical Engineers In 1849 he gained recognition for his part in the military reconnaissance from Santa Fe to the Navajo country. This began a series of rapid promotions, and he became very well-known in topographical service.

While working in Minnesota territory he had some political enemies that pressured for his removal. They were angry with his location of important wagon roads and charged the army with misapplication of government funds. As a result he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth and attached to the Utah Expedition.

Simpson was to find a route to California to replace the Beckwith Road over the Cedar Mountains. He left Camp Floyd (just west of Salt Lake City) on August 25, 1858, with 20 dragoons. First they traveled east to Fort Bridger. Simpson then directed that a work crew widen their trace to make a road. Then he turned his attention to the west. Improvement of travel to the west would serve military, economic, and political needs. He hoped to cut the previous route in half, find new grazing areas for the military, set up posts to control renegade Indians, and make a better route for civilians. This last item was intended to weaken the grip of the Mormons on the Great Basin. This expedition began in October, 1859. It included a Mormon guide, geologist, a number of laborers, about 35 soldiers. Following were wagons with foot soldiers, equipment, supplies, and astronomical instruments. His proposed route from the eastern Utah to the Carson Valley was 260 miles shorter than the Humboldt Route and 390 shorter than the Los Angeles Route.

In May 1859, Captain James H. Simpson of the United States Topographical Engineers, surveyed a new route from Camp Floyd south of Salt Lake City to Genoa, Nevada. This route crossed the central Nevada desert instead of following the Humbolt River route, thereby shortening the distance by about 150 miles. By December 1859, George Chorpenning had built several stations along the new route. The Central Overland California & Pike's Peak Express Company (the parent company of the Pony Express) also had a number of stations along this route.

This information was contributed by Jackie Lewin
Curator of History
St. Joseph Museum

References:

James H. Simpson, Report of Explorations across the Great Basin in 1859 (Reno, Nevada: University of Nevada Press, 1966).

W. Turrentine Jackson , Wagon Roads West (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965).

Donald Moorman, Camp Floyd and the Mormons.

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George Chorpenning

George Chorpenning was the first to use the Overland Route for carrying mail from Salt Lake City to California. Just establishing the route was a major endeavor involving the scratching out of a rough trail and the construction of stations every twenty miles over a line between 600 and 700 miles long.

In the fall of 1858, just as he opened the new route, Chorpenning put it to a use that, when later expanded, would spell his demise as a mail contractor. He conceived of the idea of stationing a horse at every mail station from Missouri to California for the purpose of carrying President Buchanan's second message to Congress through to the Pacific. The message reached Sacramento seventeen days eight and one-half hours after it was delivered to Congress. For the first time, news reached Sacramento from the east before it reached San Francisco by boat. It was not until two years later that regular Pony Express service was established.

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William Gwin

William Gwin was California's Senior U. S. Senator in 1860 and member of the Senate Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads. He had always been an advocate of the Central Route as the most advantageous route of "new" Pacific railroad.

In January 1853, Senator Gwin introduced a bill which provided that a road be built from San Francisco to Albuquerque and along the Red River. Although measure failed, interest in the idea of such a road caused an amendment to be attached to the Army Appropriations Bill which provided that the Secretary of War should survey such routes as he thought best. Five were surveyed and mapped, but everyone new that only the Central and Southern routes would receive serious consideration.

In the autumn of 1854, Senator Gwin 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. During a portion of his journey he had for a traveling companion, Benjamin Ficklin then General Superintendent for the big freighting and stage firm of Russell, Majors, and Waddell of Leavenworth Ficklin had already conceived an idea for establishing a much closer transit service between the Missouri River and the West Coast, but had never gained a serious hearing. Ficklin confided his scheme enthusiastically to Senator Gwin at the same time pointing out the benefits that would accrue to California should a ever be put into execution. The Senator at once saw the merits of the plan. 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 strengthen 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.

After a number of unsuccessful attempts to pass bills authorizing an overland mail service, the Post Office Appropriations Bill for 1856 was amended to fund such a service, but neither the Central nor Southern route was specified. The successful bidder was John Butterfield, president of the Butterfield Overland Mail Company. Since no route was specified in the bill, the Post Master General chose the Southern Route.

In January 1859. 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 exceeding $500 for each round trip. The bill was referred to the Committee on Military Affairs where it was quietly tabled and "killed".

In the winter of 1859, William Russell, senior partner of the firm of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, was in Washington in connection with some Government freight contracts. While there he became acquainted with Senator Gwin who encouraged Russell of the need of better mail connections over the central route, and of the special need of better communication should war occur.

After the commencement of the Civil War, Gwin deserted California and the Union and joined the Confederacy. After the War, he fled to Mexico and entered the service of Maximilian who bestowed an abundance of honors upon Gwin and made him Duke of the Province of Sonora. When Maximilian's monarchy disappeared, Gwin finally returned to California where he passed his old age in retirement.

Source: Waddell Smith, The Story of the Pony Express

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Benjamin Holladay

Benjamin Holladay was a creditor to the Central Overland California & Pike's Peak Express Company's Pony Express and stagecoach operations. Through foreclosure on March 21, 1861, he acquired the company.

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Bela M. Hughes

Bela M. Hughes was a lawyer turned expressman who succeeded William Russell as President of the Central Overland & Pike's Peak Express Company.

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J. H. Clute

J. H. Clute replaced B. F. Ficklin as General Superintendent for the Pony Express in June 1860.

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The Schedule

When first placed into operation the Pony Express carried the mail once a week in each direction, east and west. With the outbreak of the Paiute Indian War in May 1860 many of the stations and a large portion of the equipment between Salt Lake City and Carson City were destroyed and the operation was suspended. After the cessation of the war in July 1860, the mail was carried twice a week in each direction.

The delivery time of 10 days from St. Joseph to San Francisco (a revolution of its time). Later trips were made in 8 or 9 days.

Rumors about the firm’s shaky finances were almost as numerous as its actual money problems. To build public confidence, Russell, Majors & Waddell used the 1860 presidential election to provide a dramatic example of what the Pony Express could do. On November 7, a rider left the western end of the telegraph line at Fort Kearny with news of the election of Abraham Lincoln. Despite heavy snow, the mail reached Salt Lake in three days and four hours. A rider arrived at Fort Churchill, the eastern end of the telegraph line, in time to get the election results to the California newspapers by November 14, an impressive feat.

Buchanan’s last message to Congress was delivered in eight days from St. Joseph to Sacramento. When Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States, California knew about it eight days after the news had reached St. Joseph's telegraph terminal. Details of Lincoln's inaugural address covered the distance between St. Joseph and Sacramento in seven days, 17 hours! In eight days, 14 hours out of St. Joseph, the unionists and their foes in California knew that Fort Sumter had been bombarded.

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The Fastest Time

In March 1861 war between the North and the South seemed certain, and California was still a very doubtful state. Whether California remained loyal to the Union or joined the Confederacy depended a great deal upon the policies set forth in Lincoln's Inaugural Address. The attitude of the new President toward the pending conflict was anticipated with the deepest anxiety by the people of the Pacific Coast. California might swing to the cause of the Confederacy any day, and it was of the utmost importance that the address be relayed to Sacramento in the shortest possible time.

Weeks before the inauguration, Russell, Majors & Waddell made elaborate preparations for speeding the Presidents's address to California. They spared no expense, hired hundreds of extra men, and arranged to have fresh relay horses waiting every ten miles along the entire route.

This was the fastest trip ever made by the Pony Express. In just seven days and seventeen hours from the time President Lincoln's Inaugural Address was telegraphed from Washington to St. Joseph, the Pony Express delivered it to Sacramento, California.

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The Longest Ride

Several riders lay claim to the longest ride:

Pony Bob Haslam's ride was the result of the Indian problems in 1860. He had received the east bound mail (probably the May 10th mail from San Francisco) at Friday's Station. At Buckland's Station his relief rider was so badly frightened over the Indian threat that he refused to take the mail. Haslam agreed to take the mail all the way to Smith's Creek for a total distance of 190 miles without a rest. After a rest of nine hours, he retraced his route with the westbound mail. At Cold Springs he found that Indians had raided the place killing the station keeper and running off all of the stock. Finally he reached Buckland's Station, making the 380 mile round trip the longest on record.

Buffalo Bill made the longest non-stop ride from Red Buttes Station to Rocky Ridge Station and back when he found that his relief rider had been killed. The distance of 322 miles over one of the most dangerous portions of the entire trail was completed in 21 hours and 40 minutes using 21 horses.

Jack Keetley's longest ride, upon which he doubled back for another rider ended at Seneca, Kansas, were he was taken from the saddle sound asleep. He had ridden 340 miles in thirty-one hours without stopping to rest or eat.

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Financial Problems

Financially, the venture did not pay off. Congress never got around to paying Russell, Majors & Waddell for services rendered during the Utah War. The firm had been surviving on loans made against its government debts since 1858, but the company was essentially bankrupt even when it launched the Central Overland California & Pike's Peak Express Company. (The C.O.C.&P.P. was also known to its employees as "Clean Out Of Cash and Poor Pay"). Russell counted on winning the overland mail contract, but Congress adjourned in June 1860 without taking any action. In desperation, Russell secured new loans using government Indian Trust Funds he did not own. The story became public in December 1860 and Russell was arrested. He eventually beat the charges, but the scandal spelled the end of the trail for Russell, Majors & Waddell.

With the country disintegrating, Congress finally appropriated money to support the overland mail after the succession of Texas closed the southern mail routes. But the contract went to the Butterfield company, which provided service west of Salt Lake using Wells Fargo and Company. The C.O.C.&P.P. controlled only the eastern half of the route, and the government contract ended with the completion of the overland telegraph.

Rumors about the firm’s shaky finances were almost as numerous as its actual money problems. The May to June disruptions caused by the Paiute Indian War cost the company $75,000, and loses mounted as Indian conflicts in the Great Basin continued through the summer. To build public confidence, Russell, Majors & Waddell used the 1860 presidential election to provide a dramatic example of what the Pony Express could do. On November 7, a rider left the western end of the telegraph line at Fort Kearny with news of the election of Abraham Lincoln. Despite heavy snow, the mail reached Salt Lake in three days and four hours. A rider arrived at Fort Churchill, the eastern end of the telegraph line, in time to get the election results to the California newspapers by November 14, an impressive feat.

Although the Pony Express was an efficient mail service, it failed as a profitable enterprise. It is not know exactly how much the service cost Russell, but during its operation the company only grossed $90,141, or about the cost of purchasing horses for the service. By all accounts the Pony Express had lost $200,000 by the time it closed operations.

Source: National Park Service Pony Express National Historic Trail Brochure

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Salaries

Pony Express riders were hired at $50 per month, plus room and board. Over time this rose to from $100 to $125. A few whose rides were particularly dangerous or who braved unusual dangers received $150.

Compared to present day standards the pay may seem small for the services rendered, but when the pay of other company officials is taken into account it does not appear to be out of line. Secretary John W. Russell received $150 per month and Superintendent Benjamin F. Ficklin received from $250 to $300 per month. The five Division Superintendents received $90 per month each. Station keepers and their men were paid from $50 to $100 per month.

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Pioneer Dresses

Godey's Lady's Book was one of the most popular lady's books of the 19th century. Each issue contained poetry, beautiful engraving and articles by some of the most well known authors in America. Although "Godey's" fashions were more than likely not worn along the trail, they were in vogue at the time.

Three web sites are available that show the fashions of 1850 and 1858, and fashions from 1855 to 1859.

Pioneer dress in nineteenth-century Utah and the West can be found here.

The Costume Closet of Historical American Costumes shows "Pioneer Sunbonnet" and dress.

This information was contributed by Elizabeth Larson whose Overland Trail site is one of the best on the web.

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The Oath

Each pony rider was required to take the following oath:

"I, ......, do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God, that during my engagement, and while I am an employee of Russell, Majors and 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 employee 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."

In keeping with tradition, all National Pony Express Association Riders who participate in the annual Re-Run are required to take an Oath of Conduct very similar to the one required by Alexander Russell of his own Pony Express Riders. Each Rider is sworn prior to the Annual Re-Run and is presented with a small Bible as were the Riders of history.

NPEA Oath:

"I, ........, do hereby swear, before the great and living God, that during my engagement as a member of the National Pony Express Association Re-Run, 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 member of the Association, 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 associates. So help me God.

Return to NPEA Page

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James Buchanan

James Buchanan was President of the United States at the start of the Pony Express. The Pony Express carried a copy of his last message to Congress.

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First Rider - Westbound

On March 31, 1860, the first Pony Express mail was dispatched from Washington and New York by a messenger on board trains to St. Joseph.

As the assembled crowd in St. Joseph watched and a brass band played, the mail was stowed in the cantinas. There were 49 letters, 5 telegrams, and some special edition newspapers, written or printed on tissue paper and wrapped in oilskin.

At about 7:00pm on April 3, 1860, as a canon boomed in salute, the first Pony Express rider was off and one of the most colorful chapters in American history began.

Roy Bloss writes in his book Pony Express - The Great Gamble:

"Alex Carlisle, Charles Cliff, Gus Cliff, Johnny Fry, Jack H. Keetley, William Richardson and Henry Wallace - seven riders in all - have been named as the lad in the saddle of the bright bay mare (or the little sorrel, or the jet-black horse-take your choice), said to be named Sylph, which galloped out of town at 7:15 p.m., April 3, 1860. His identification, not quite settled a century later, has been sifted down by process of literary attrition to a draw between Johnny Fry and William Richardson. The patient reader may study the arguments of their respective advocates, ably presented in various publications and books, then decide for himself, perhaps with the aid of a flipped coin."

Jack Keetley states in a letter written in 1907 that the first rider out of St. Joseph was Alex Carlisle.

Jackie Lewin, Curator of History, St. Joseph Museum, provides the following:

On the April 7, 1860, ST. JOSEPH WEEKLY WEST reported "The rider is a Mr. Richardson, formerly a sailor, and a man accustomed to every description of hardship, having sailed for years amid the snows and ice bergs of the Northern ocean." We (St. Joseph Museum) do not know who wrote the article. Was it a person familiar with the people in St. Joseph? Anyway, this is the only place where Richardson is identified as the first rider.

In 1913 the Daughters of the American Revolution were preparing to place a monument in Patee Park designating the Pikes Peak Stables (now Pony Express Museum) as the starting point for the April 3, 1860, ride. Despite numerous eye-witness reports of Fry being the first rider, the DAR chose to go with the newspaper account. This caused quite a controversy in St. Joseph. Charles Cliff, Pony Express rider, was so angry that he refused to come to the DAR unveiling.

In 1923 the controversy again surfaced in St. Joseph. This time the eye-witness accounts were given a closer look and the St. Joseph Historical Society named Johnny Fry as the first rider. They also determined that Billy Richardson was only 10 years old in 1860.

Some of the eye-witness were:

Robert Strickland (later a rider): I saw him ride out of the stables at St. Joseph astride a little chestnut mare."

Mary Alicia Owen (from pioneer family and a early historian): "Why, everyone always knew the first rider out was Johnny Fry. My father saw him go. Johnny had a little racing mare of his own and won most of the races run along the river bank, but he didn't ride his own horse."

Mrs. Lewars (Fry's sweetheart in 1860): Said she waved to him as he rode past on that first ride. She said he told her he had to keep his pony in the stable because the crowd were pulling hairs out of her mane and tail.

Michael Whalen (later a rider) was at the April 3, 1860, event and said it was Fry.

There are also other accounts by local people whose name would not be recognized by those elsewhere.

In 1923, Glen Bradley, history professor at the University of Toledo and author of THE STORY OF THE PONY EXPRESS written in 1913, was contacted. He wrote in a letter:

"I arrived at the conclusion the Johnny Fry was the first pony rider out of St. Joseph; this conclusion as you have observed, is consistently set forth in the book on pages 32 and 106, and I still maintain that Fry was the first rider. In fact, no evidence has ever come to my attention that would warrant changing my assertion. . . Mr. W.E. Connelley of Topeka [Kansas Historical Society] holds the same opinion, which is further corroborated by certain citizens in your community who were eye-witnesses, it seems a little strange that any of your local historians would seek to deprive Fry of his honor."

Finally, in 1938, Billy Richardson spoke out. He had been out of St. Joseph for many years and was older when he heard of the controversy. He died in St. Joseph in 1947 at age 96. He would have been 9 or 10 years old in 1860. His obituary states:
"'A writer billed me as the first Pony Express rider but that's not so' explained Billy to his friends. 'Johnny Fry was the first rider. It just happened that my brother, Paul Coburn, was the manager for the Pony Express here and he accidentally threw the mail pouch on my pony instead of Frye's. We set off down the street with the ponies hooves clattering and my pony carrying mail. Down at the ferry, however, the mail was transferred to Frye's mount. He was the one who deserved the credit'"

Our research into county records show that Billy Richardson was a ward of Bella Hughes, one of the directors of the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company and that Paul Coburn was his half-brother.

Accounts of the arrival of this first westbound express are found in Pony Tales, a collection of newspaper articles from the 1860's reporting the goings on of the Pony Express.

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First Rider - Eastbound

The San Francisco Alta
April 4, 1860

The first "Pony Express" started yesterday afternoon, from the office of the Alta telegraph company, on Montgomery street. The saddle bags were duly lettered "Overland Pony Express," and the horse, (a wiry little animal,) was dressed with miniature flags. He proceeded just before four o'clock, to the Sacramento boat, and was loudly cheered by the crowd as he started. We had forgotten to say that the rider's name was James Randall - - an old hand at this business - - and evidently quite at home as a rider, though he did get up on the wrong side in his excitement.

The express matter amounted to 85 letters which at $5 per letter gave a total receipt of $425. In nine days the news by this express is expected to reach New York.

James Randall took the pony as far as Sacramento.

William (Sam) Hamilton was the first east bound rider out of Sacramento. Warren (Boston) Upson carried the mail from Sportsmans Hall in Pollock Pines over the Sierras to Friday's Station on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Pony Bob Haslam took the mail from Friday's Station to Fort Churchill.

NOTE: Some give credit Harry Roff as being the first pony rider out of Sacramento Eastward.
The announcement of the Pony Express created excitement and anticipation along the route. The prospect of increased communication between the coasts excited newspapermen, businessmen, and federal authorities. The prospect of good pay and adventure attracted young men.

In St Joseph, crowds of young men showed up at the offices of the Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company, located in the Patee House, to apply for jobs as riders and hostlers. In Sacramento, job seekers lined up at the St George Hotel to sign on.

All was in order on April 3,1860, when riders left San Francisco and St Joseph simultaneously. "A crowd gathered in front of the office gave three hearty cheers," said the Sacramento Union. The rider was so unnerved that he mounted on the wrong side of the horse, but he rode in good order to the Broadway wharf and then got aboard a river steamer, sailing at 4 p.m. for Sacramento.

Ten hours later, one of the successful job seekers at the St George Hotel was waiting in a rain storm at the Alta Telegraph office in Sacramento when the Antelope docked. At 2:45 am, April 4, 1860, with little ceremony, William (Sam) Hamilton was given the mochila, stepped into the stirrups, swing into the saddle, and began the first overland leg of the Pony Express.

Ahead of him was a soggy, rain-soaked road through the heart of Sacramento, past Sutter's Fort, along the American River, and the plain beyond. At that time of night, there was no traffic, but it was difficult to keep to the dark and muddy trail.

He changed horses at Five mile House, Fifteen Mile House, Mon-non Tavern, Duroc, and Mud Springs. At 6:45 am, he arrived in Placerville, having covered 45 miles in 4 hours. Changing horses again, he was off for Sportsman's Hall, twelve miles away. He made it in an hour, and his first ride was finished.

Awaiting him at Sportsman's was Warren Upson, his relief. Warren's first ride was then, and still is, the worst section of trail on the whole route. The road was upgrade, steep in place, rugged, and through the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Normally clogged with the traffic of the Washoe Road, its track that day was covered with snow. Deep snow that would be with him all the way to Woodfords.

His route took him through the pines and snow to Brockliss Bridge, a toll crossing of the South Fork of the American River. His horse clattered over the plank bridge above the rushing water, and climbed to the north side of the canyon. Beyond, he changed mounts at Moss', Webster's and Strawberry and made a treacherous river crossing at Slippery Ford.

Upson crossed Johnson's Summit (7382 ft) in the driving snowstorm and dropped 1300 feet on a steep 2 mile trail to the Upper Truckee River. Riding south over Luther Pass (7740 ft), he skirted Grassy Meadow, dropped through the Aspen to Hope Valley, and down the rocky West Carson River to Woodfords. After a change of Horses, he entered Utah Territory and made a final change of horses at Genoa.

One Adolph Sutro was travelling westward across Sierras and encountered Upson on the summit. The account of Sutro's trip, and the terrible conditions found on the road were published in the Daily Alta Californian on April 14, 1860.

An account of Upson's ride was also reported in the Sacramento Daily Union on April 16, 1860.

Late that night he rode into Carson City, having covered 85 miles There he rested, but the mochila went on, reaching St Joseph on April 13th.

Hamilton's and Upson's rides were short, but completed in extremely harsh weather, and with terrible trail conditions. They made history and created a legend in the process. The nation owes all honor and glory to them and the others who rode the Pony Express.

Larry Carpenter
California Division, NPEA

The list of eastbound Riders continues:

Source: W. F. Bailey, 1964.

Accounts of the arrival of this first eastbound express are found in Pony Tales"," a collection of newspaper articles from the 1860's reporting the goings on of the Pony Express.

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Historical Significance of the Pony Express

Although in action for only 19 months when the completion of the transcontinental telegraph ended its operations, the Pony Express was of great historical significance. The Pony Express proved to the eastern establishment that the Central Route could be used by the railroads to bind our country together. In less than a decade the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific rails would meet at Promontory, Utah, to form the nation's first transcontinental railroad.

The ten-day delivery time of the Pony Express was a revolution in its day bringing political and social news to a hungry readership.

Buchanan’s last message to Congress was delivered in eight days from St. Joseph to Sacramento. When Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States California knew about it eight days after the news had reached St. Joseph's telegraph terminal. Details of Lincoln's inaugural address covered the distance between St. Joseph and Sacramento in seven days, 17 hours! In eight days, 14 hours out of St. Joseph, the unionists and their foes in California knew that Fort Sumter had been bombarded.

The Pony Express can be credited with keeping California in the Union during the dark days preceding the civil war when there was a real threat that California would side with the Confederacy. There was some pro-secessionist sentiment in Benicia. Critical, was the question of General Johnston’s loyalty to the Union, for he commanded the entire Department of California. Edmund Randolf, who was a Virginian loyal to the Union, told James McClatchey in 1861 that Johnston was disloyal and was going to turn the Benicia Arsenal's arms over to the rebellious south. McClatchey hurried a secret message by the new Pony Express to President Lincoln. Brigadier General Sumner, whose loyalty to the Union was unquestioned, was sent to relieve General Johnston. Before General Sumner arrived in Benicia, General Johnston resigned his commission and went to the South.

All through the spring and summer of 1861 the far west followed the tidings of the ebb and flow of battle, calls for volunteers, the Battle of Bull Run, and the lists of dead, wounded and missing. Because of the rapid communication afforded the military and the timely delivery of news of early Union victories, California and its gold stayed in the Union.

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The Brand

The following information was provided by Jackie Lewin, Curator of the St. Joseph Museum:

"During our research we have continually looked for information about the horses having a brand - especially since one of our early curators thought there was one. However, we have found no documentation about a brand. When I spoke with our now retired curator who is elderly, he could not recall where the information came from other than to say it was on a horse hide in our collections. He said that is what was used to fashion a replica brand with an XP. Upon looking very closely at the hides, there was nothing. It seems that in the 40s, 50s, and early 60s, there were several things started about the Pony Express that just can't be verified. Maybe it is folklore. It is a mystery to me since I don't think our former curator would have just made it up.

"The closest thing we could find to a brand mentioned was from a newspaper article in the Utah area that said some horses were branded to thwart rustlers."

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Alta & California State Telegraph Companies

The Alta Telegraph Company and the California State Telegraph Company served as agents for the Pony Express in the B.F. Hastings Building in Old Sacramento from April 1860 to March 1861.

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Fort Kearney, Nebraska Territory

Fort Kearney was the western most telegraph station located approximately 100 miles from St. Joseph. Westbound Pony Express riders were able to receive the latest news by telegraph cutting the actual time of delivery even shorter than the ten-day delivery of mail.

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St. Joseph, Missouri

St. Joseph was the Missouri River town which was the eastern starting point for the westbound Pony Express. Although Lexington was the headquarters of the freighting company of Russell, Majors and Waddell, St. Joseph was selected as the headquarters for the Pony Express for several reasons. First it had the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad as well as a telegraph line. In addition, St. Joseph had agreed to provide the company at no cost twelve lots in town, office space on Second & Francis, an office building at Fifth & Francis, free railroad passage for Pony Express employees for one year, and free passage on the Missouri River ferry to Pony Express riders for two years.

M. Jeff Thompson, the Mayor of St. Joseph, gave the inaugural speech for the Pony Express on April 3, 1860.

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Carson City, Utah Territory

Carson City was the eastern most telegraph station, where westbound riders could relay news received at Fort Kearney thereby cutting the delivery of news from the east to as short a time as possible.

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Placerville, California

Placerville was the western terminus of the Pony Express from June 1861 to November 1861.

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April 3, 1860 - November 1861: dates of the Pony Express operation.

1860
JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC

1861
JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC

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January 1860: William H. Russell and U.S. Senator William M. Gwen meet to discuss establishing a 10-day mail service to California. Russell then met with Alexander Majors and William B. Waddell, to form the Pony Express.

March 1860: First ad placed for riders.

April 3, 1860: Pony Express begins operations with the first rider (Johnny Frey) leaving from St. Joseph, Missouri.

April 3, 1860:James Randall carries the first eastbound Pony Express mail from the Alta Telegraph Company, Montgomery Street, to the San Francisco wharf where it is placed on the steamer "New World" for transport to Sacramento.

April 4, 1860: First eastbound run (rider Sam Hamilton) by the Pony Express leaves Sacramento, California, at 2:45 a.m.

April 13, 1860: First Eastern mail arrives in Sacramento (rider Sam Hamilton).

April 23, 1860: First westbound mail to be routed overland between Sacramento and Oakland arrives in Benicia, California. Rider Sam Hamilton delivered the mochila to Thomas Bedford who carried the mail on to Oakland.

October 18, 1861: Westward building crew of the transcontinental telegraph project, under the direction of Edward Creighton, arrives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

October 24, 1861: Eastward building crew of the transcontinental telegraph project, under the direction of James Gamble, arrives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

October 26, 1861: Pony Express officially ceased operations.

November 21, 1861: Last run of the Pony Express completed.

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