St. Joseph, Missouri
The National Significance of the Pony Express
The Pony Express ran from April 3, 1860, until the transcontinental telegraph was completed in October, 1861. The Pony Express proved that the Central Route to California could be traveled all year. Part of this route would later be used by the transcontinental railroad. By keeping government lines of communication open, the Pony Express also helped keep gold-rich California in the Union during the Civil War. The legend of the Pony Express has become a part of American folklore and a symbol of the courage and determination of the American spirit.
The Pony Express Organization
On Tuesday, April 3, 1860, at 7:15 P.M., a rider on horseback left St. Joseph, Missouri, and headed west. He was the first link in a horse relay mail system to Sacramento, California. The Pony Express was organized as a private business venture by well-known freighters, Russell, Majors and Waddell, to meet the demand of Californians for faster communication with the East. Mail would be delivered in 10 days - half the time of any other service. The organizers also hoped to gain a $1,000,000 government mail contract. When Congress awarded the contract, Russell, Majors and Waddell only received a portion of it. This was too little and too late to save the company from bankruptcy. However, the Pony Express had accomplished its purpose of rapid, reliable communication. It was a spectacular success for 18 months, and even today its fame endures around the world.
The Pony Express Trail
The route of the Pony Express from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, was approximately 1,960 miles long. It ran across rivers and through prairies, plains, mountains and deserts. Relay stations, where a rider got a fresh horse, were 10 to 15 miles apart and home stations, where a new rider took the mail, were 75 to 100 miles apart. From St. Joseph, Missouri, the trail followed the Central Route to California through the present-day states of Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California.
The Pony Express Riders
Just over 100 riders were employed during the operation of the Pony Express. In early March, 1860, the following advertisement appeared in the Alta California
"Wanted: young, skinny wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. Wages $25 per week."
Although all were expert riders, few were orphans. The youngest rider was 11 and the oldest was in his forties. Each rider's route was approximately 100 miles. Sometimes evading hostile Indians, he rode day and night at about 10 miles an hour in all types of terrain and weather. The Pony Express rider was an example of the daring and boldness of the American character.