Nebraskans bring Pony Express back to life

Story and Photos By Amy G. Hadachek | Cuba, Kan.

Once considered the only method of getting mail, the historic but archaic Pony Express was reenacted during a lively, popular 154th Anniversary Re-Ride throughout Nebraska and Kansas on Friday, June 20.

Since the “Pony Express” originated at its historical end points, stretching from Sacramento, Calif., to St. Joseph, Mo., officials scheduled the start of the full 2014 “Re-Ride,” or re-enactment ride, for June 18 in California and wrapping up June 20 in Missouri.

Eagerly poised and patiently awaiting the horseback riders clomping into Hebron, Neb., from the West, the Thayer County Visitors Committee and about two dozen visitors gathered with the riders at noon just off the east side of Highway 81, two miles north of Hebron, where both the historic Pony Express and Oregon Trail monuments are erected.

As some riders dismounted, they greeted the others who had been excitedly preparing their horses and themselves to begin the next two to three miles of the re-ride.

Some shared that they hoped to carry the saddlebag of mail — known in the early days as the mochila.

“The Pony Express was an unyielding way to work because it required so many people. Every few miles — they changed riders,” explained Shari Apking, with the Thayer County Visitors Committee. “It was really odd, that it lasted only 18 months.”

As the riders paused briefly at the historic site to greet and exchange places with the next set of riders in the unseasonably warm mid-day sun, the Thayer County Visitors Committee offered ice-cold water bottles and donuts to the riders and guests.

“After we did something special for the 150th year and also held the re-ride during other years, we actually skipped last year but a lot of riders said they missed it. So, we’re enjoying having it again. They do it once a year around this time of year,” Karen Keilwitz, president of the Thayer County Visitors Committee told The Fence Post at the Pony Express monument site.

Keilwitz said the historic 154th Anniversary of the Pony Express would then head east from Hebron, again switching horseback riders along Highway 53, near the town of Alexandria, and then travel through Nebraska’s Jefferson County.

“Riders come through, and Thayer County does this re-ride through Thayer, and Jefferson County does it to Jefferson County, and they follow the Pony Express Route,” shared Apking. “Thayer County is 24-miles square. So is Jefferson County. They go through Alexandria, since the town was on the Pony Express and on the Oregon Trail, although at that time-the town was called Meridian.”

Horseback riders all cowboyed-up for the occasion from their cowboy hats down to the spurs on their boots at the Hebron site included Lyle Ladner, national president of the Pony Express Association, who came for the event from Marysville, Kan.; Lyle Gronewold, the Nebraska Division president of the Pony Express Association; Dick Heinrichs, trail director for the National Pony Express Association, who is also the Thayer County roads superintendent; and other riders who all expressed appreciation for the opportunity to be part of the remembrance of an historic event in the county and the nation.

Heinrichs told The Fence Post, that participating in the Pony Express Route is an honor and a tradition. He’s been riding the Pony Express re-ride for 33 years.

“The history is really interesting. It’s a combination of cowboys and history in the United States,” shared Heinrichs.

Another rider, Herschel Talley of Crete, Neb., has been bucking up to the challenge for over 20 years.

“I enjoy being on this re-ride since it’s part of Nebraska history. We have so many miles of the Pony Express in Nebraska,” said Crete as he prepped his Quarter horse, Jerry.

For Talley, the ride was a father-daughter event, as he brought his daughter, Gwyneth, who was visiting from Los Angeles, and her Sandhills pony, Ben. Gwyneth’s friend Jennifer Hiatt of Lincoln, Neb., drove the truck that pulled their horses.

Gwyneth also shared a special honor that was bestowed upon her dad Herschel; for his horseback riding savvy.

“Dad carried the Olympic Torch at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia in 1996. He carried it for a mile on horseback,” Gwyneth said.

Other riders were checking on and reassuring their horses.

“I’ve been doing this re-ride for several years, and it’s interesting to see how they used to do things,” said Vaughn Hinrichs, a farmer and rancher in Belvidere.

“I like to see everyone and be involved in history,” added Hinrichs, who prepared his registered Quarter horse, Sparky, for the ride. “Most people ride one mile, but I’ll rider two to three miles, since I’m filling in for other people today,” said Hinrichs, adding, “I couldn’t imagine doing this in the heat of the day, like they did back then.”

It was however, the first year for Tobin Hoffman of Alexandria, who waited nearly an hour with his Paint horse, Dizzy, for the riders to cross Highway 81.

“I just decided to do it. I plan on riding two miles and helping carry the mailbag (alternately with Vaughn,)” relayed Hoffman who modestly admitted, he used to serve overseas in the U.S. Air Force. Hoffman works for Union Pacific Railroad, which interestingly follows the Pony Express route and the old Oregon Trail. ❖