A History of the Pony Express
The Utah portion of the Pony Express Trail. The Pony Express was
the first fast mail line across the North American continent from
the Missouri River to the Pacific coast. Messages were carried on
horseback across the prairies, plains, deserts, and mountains of
the western United States. It briefly brought the Atlantic and
Pacific coasts ten days nearer to each other.
The first successful Pony Express run from Saint Joseph, Missouri
to Sacramento, California started on April 3, 1860 and was
completed on April 13. The mayor of St. Joseph, M. Jeff Thompson,
presided over the ceremony inaugurating the first ride.
The Pony Express actually began as a "publicity stunt", in hopes
of winning the million dollar government mail contract for the
Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company
(COC&PP), and it had a brief existence of only sixteen months
before being supplanted by the transcontinental telegraph.
Frank E. Webner, pony express rider, ca. 1861Pony Express
stations were placed at intervals of about 10 miles (16 km) along
the route (this is about as far as a horse can go at a gallop).
The rider changed to a fresh horse at each station, taking only
the mail pouch (called a mochila) with him. The mochila was
thrown over the saddle and held in place by the weight of the
rider sitting on it. Each corner had a cantina, or pocket.
Bundles of mail were placed in these cantinas, which were
padlocked for safety. The mochila could hold 20 pounds (10 kg) of
mail along with the 20 pounds of material carried on the horse,
allowing for a total of 165 pounds on the horse's back. Riders
were changed about every 100 miles (160 km).
The Pony Express demonstrated that a unified transcontinental
system could be built and operated continuously the year around -
something that had previously been regarded as impossible. For
its brief time, the Pony Express was the most regular and
predictable mail service using overland travel.
Since its replacement by the First Transcontinental Railroad and
the telegraph, the Pony Express has entered the romance of the
American West. Its reliance on the ability and endurance of the
individual riders and horses over technological innovation is
part of American rugged individualism.
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