Celebrating the Pony Express
On April 3, 1860, the first rider carrying mail as part of the Pony Express set out from St. Joseph, Mo., and this year events to celebrate the service are already under way as part of the Pony’s sesquicentennial. During the week of April 12 members of the National Pony Express Association were in Washington, D.C., doing what they do best: delivering the mail. That is just one of the many events slated for the next 18 months.
William H. Russell, William B. Waddell and Alexander Majors founded the Pony Express in response to the need for faster communication between Eastern and Western areas of the country as the threat of Civil War escalated. From the get-go, it was a two-way service, so when Johnny Fry set off with the mochila from St. Jo on April 3, 1860, another rider also departed from Sacramento, Calif., the western terminus of the 2,000-mile trail, riding east.
The logical place to begin a journey along the Pony Express trail is at the Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, Mo., which is on the site of the original stables.
Each year members of the National Pony Express Association (NPEA) carry mail across the route by relay riding, just as the original Pony Boys did. This year’s reride will be structured a bit differently since all of the riding will be done in daylight hours covering three weeks in June as the relays travel the entire distance from California to Missouri. This plan will allow communities across the route to hold events coinciding with the mail run.
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In order to provide the quick service desired, the mail carriers worked in relays. The riders averaged about 10 miles per hour with the first westbound trip made in nine days and 23 hours and the eastbound journey in 11 days and 12 hours. To provide a place to change horses, or get a meal occasionally, the riders used a series of stations set roughly 20 miles apart. Those used for a quick change of horse were relay stations, while the home stations served as places for the riders to actually live between their runs.
Their route took them from Missouri across Kansas, Nebraska, down into Colorado to Julesburg, then across Wyoming, Utah and Nevada, before ending in California. Although the overland trail ended at Sacramento, the mail was delivered by boat between Sacramento and San Francisco.
Some key places to visit, if you want to follow the Pony Express Trail are certainly the Pony Express Museum and Pattee House Museum in St. Joseph, Mo., and Hollenberg Station in Hollenberg, Kan. In Nebraska learn more about the men who organized the Pony Express: William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell, at the Old Freighters Museum in Nebraska City, then visit Rock Creek Station near Fairbury, Fort Kearny, and the original Pony Station that has been moved in to Gothenburg Station. Continuing west, the trail follows the South Platte River to Julesburg, where you will see a massive monument to the service, “God Speed to the Boy and the Pony,” a sculpture created by Brenda Jean Daniher.
In Wyoming, the Pony Express had stops at Fort Laramie and Fort Bridger, with dozens of home and relay stations scattered across the landscape between those two 19th century frontier posts. When following the trail these days be sure to visit the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center and Fort Caspar, both located in Casper, Wyo. The Trails center has a permanent display related to the Pony Express, while Fort Caspar has a special exhibit in place this year.
The trail entered Utah east of Salt Lake City and struck out to the west on a route that is now across a Bureau of Land Management’s Backcountry Byway from Fairfield to Faust, Lookout Summit, and through the Snake Valley to Callao and Ibapah. This is mainly over dirt roads, but is along the main Pony route and there are markers and ruins of 14 stations.
The route across Nevada takes you to Elko and then south on State Highway 228 through Jiggs and eventually through Diamond Valley toward Eureka before heading west generally along the route of Highway 50 to Fort Churchill, which was constructed beginning July 20, 1860, to guard the Pony Express route and other mail routes.
The route crosses out of Nevada and into California to its land terminus in Sacramento, now located in the historic area of Old Sacramento, where you will find museums, stores, restaurants, and other establishments where you can shop, dine or even find something to wet your whistle and cut the dust from the trail.
For complete information about the Pony Express events and this year’s reride, please visit http://www.XPHomeStation.com.
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