Buffalo Bill as a Pony Express Rider

by Vernon Combs, Nebraska
Pony Express Gazette, April 1999

Concerning Buffalo Bill as a Pony Express rider, I'll have to admit when I first started helping and was not very well read on the subject, it was hard for me to imagine a man as prominent as Buffalo Bill ever being a Pony Express Rider. But since I have read several books about his life I have gained a whole new respect for him. A man who came up through a humble beginning and worked his way through.

He was born Feb. 26, 1846, in Scott County, Iowa. When he was 5, his family moved to Le Clair, Iowa, where his father, Isaac, drove stage coaches between that place and Chicago. Naturally a 5-year-old boy would want to follow in his father's footsteps and that exposed him to the freighting business. When Kansas territory was opened up, his family took out a homestead in Salt Creek Valley. Living close to the Kickapoo Indians he spent boyhood days with them and learned how to ride and shoot. (quote from Saddles and Spurs). A quote from Pump On the Prairie, tells about Russell, Majors and Waddell's wagon train camped for the night near Gilman Ranch and among the stock tenders, there was a handsome Kansas boy, young Bill Cody. He said that he had worked for the company since he was nine years old. (This didn't seem at all hard for me to believe because I started raking hay full time when I was 10). In 1857 when he was 12, he went with Lew Simpson, transporting supplies for the Army to Gen. Albert S. Johnson. On his way back to Kansas he stopped at Gilman's Ranch and told about riding Pony Express on the Bill Trotter Division, 45 miles west of Jules Ranch. Next year when George Crisman, the leading Wagon Master for Russell, Majors and Waddell, had purchased the old Jules Ranch and was agent for the Pony Express, he encouraged Bill to ride again, this time from Red Buttes to Three Crossings.

(Quoting book Eph Hanks by Ivan J. Barrett) Eph Hanks wanted to be a Pony Express rider but when he applied was told he was too heavy and too old. So he opened a Pony Express Station at Mountain Dell. Among the applicants for this most dashing and dangerous job, the dream of all boys of the period, was a slim lad by the name of William Cody who said, "The fellers call me Bill." The manager looked him over and hesitated, because the run in his division was one of the most dangerous. The day Cody stopped at Eph Hanks Station for a fresh mount and refreshments, he had escaped from 15 armed Sioux Indians by sheer horsemanship, outriding them on his swift pony for 25 miles. A few months later he proudly told Eph, "I have broken all records for endurance in a run of 322 miles without a stopover."

In closing I would like to say I have taken quotes from five books and I feel the question of whether or not he was a Pony Express rider should leave no doubt in our minds.