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Pony Express

Pony Express


The Pony Express was a fast mail service crossing the North American continent from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California from April 1860 to October 1861. Messages were carried on horseback relay across the prairies, plains, deserts, and mountains of the Western United States. It briefly reduced the time for mail to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to around ten days.

By traveling an easier shorter route and using mounted riders rather than stagecoaches, the founders of the Pony Express hoped to establish their service as a faster and more reliable conduit for the mail and win away the exclusive government mail contract.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. Since its replacement by the First Transcontinental 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".

Frank Webner
Frank E. Webner
Pony Express Rider, c. 1861

Founded by William Hepburn Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors, the Pony Express officially opened on April 3, 1860. The first trip, westbound, was made in 10 days, 7 hours, and 45 minutes. The eastbound trip was made in 11 days and 12 hours. Every 24 hours they covered approximately 250 miles.
The route roughly followed the Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail and California Trail.

After crossing the Missouri River at St. Joseph to Kansas, it followed what is modern day US 36—the Pony Express Highway—to Marysville, Kansas, where it turned northwest following Little Blue River to Fort Kearney in Nebraska.

Through Nebraska it followed the Great Platte River Road, cutting through Gothenburg, Nebraska and passing Courthouse Rock, Chimney Rock, and Scotts Bluff, clipping the edge of Colorado at Julesburg, Colorado, before arriving Fort Laramie in Wyoming. From there it followed the Sweetwater River, passing Independence Rock, Devil's Gate, and Split Rock, to Fort Caspar, through South Pass to Fort Bridger and then down to Salt Lake City. It crossed the Great Basin, the Utah-Nevada Desert, and the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe before arriving in Sacramento. Mail was then sent via steamer down the Sacramento River to San Francisco. On a few instances when the steamer was missed, riders took the mail via horseback to Oakland, California.

The Pony Express had grossed $90,000 and lost $200,000.
In 1866, after the American Civil War was over, Holladay sold the Pony Express assets along with the remnants of the Butterfield Stage to Wells Fargo for $1.5 million.




Newspaper Items concerning the Pony Express

Source: Illinois State Democrat, Wednesday June 6, 1860
St. Joseph, June 1.
The Pony express, with the dispatches and mail missing from the pony, which arrived Thursday evening last, arrived here at 2:20 this afternoon. No explanation is given as to the cause of its detention. Mail all safe.

The last Pony Express brought intelligence that several Americans had been murdered by the Indians while asleep, at Miller's Station, on Carson river, some thirty miles from the settlements of Carson Valley: and also that various companies had organized at Virginia City, Gold Hill, and other settlements in the Washoe mines, and gone in pursuit of the Indians, supposed to have committed the murder. It subsequently appeared that they had united in one body, under command of Major Ormsby. They were mounted and numbered one hundred and five men. This force, on the twelfth instant, at four P. M., came upon the Indians at bend of Truckee river about sixty-five miles northward towards Pyramid Lake from Virginia City. The Indians were in ambush at a narrow pass through which the Ormsby party were proceeding, and numbering, it is supposed, not less than five hundred, all having firearms, plenty of ammunition, and one hundred and fifty horses within convenient distance. They opened a fire upon our troops from their sale hiding places, and Major Ormsby ordered a charge, but the Indians continued to skulk, firing occasionally from behind rocks and ages bushes, doing damage without suffering much in return. This condition of things continued two hours, when the ammunition of Ormsby's party gave out. The Indians seeing this, closed upon our men, pouring in volley after volley, killing many on the spot. The balance retreated, scattering in all directions, over bills and among gage bushes. They were pursued twenty-five or thirty miles by mounted Indians, and many detached parties cut off.

The survivors came straggling into Virginia City during the two following days.
The exact number of killed is not yet ascertained, but it probably exceeds fifty.

Among the slain are
Major Ormsby, Henry Meredith, a distinguished California lawyer, Wm. S. Spear, Richard Snowden, Wm. Arrington, Dr. Jader, Chas Dexans, James Dee. F. Johnson, Charles McLeod, John Fleming, S. Anderson, Andrew Schlead, M Knezswitch, John Gormbo, A. K. Elliott, W. Hawkins, George
Jones, Wm McIntosh, O. McNoughton

Total known to be killed, 21; wounded, 3.
The fate of 43 is unknown. Returned, alive, 38.

Very exaggerated accounts of the battle were telegraphed to all parts of California on the 13th.
It was first reported that all of Ormsby's party were killed except six, that the victorious Indians, numbering 2,000, were marching upon Virginia City, determined to kill all American citizens in the Washoe mines, that all the Indians from Walker river on the south to Humboldt on the [text is unclear] were in full war paint, and had sent away their women and children, and that while thus threatened with destruction, the Americans in Washoe mines had no arms or ammunition for defence.

These exaggerated reports caused powerful exertions throughout California to send relief. At Placerville and Sacremento the people assembled and raised about three thousand dollars, and fitted out a company of well armed volunteers, who started from Placerville on their way over the mountains on the 14th. On the 10th 150 volunteers started out from Downieville, and another company from Nevada. All the principal military companies in the state expressed their willingness to embark in the same duty. The state authorities promptly dispatched 200 stands of arms, with a good supply of ammunition.

Gen. Clark, commanding the Pacific ???? of the U. S. Army, dispatched from San Francisco, on the 14th, 150 U. S. troops, all the available men in central California, together with 500 stand of arms and 100,000 rounds of ammunition. He also sent orders to the 100 U. S. troops stationed at Honey Lake, 100 miles north of Carson Valley, to proceed to the Pyramid Lake regions and aid in suppressing hostilities. The movements warrant the belief that there are now not less than 300 well armed volunteers from California, and 200 United States soldiers ready for duty on the eastern slope of the mountains, which is an ample force to protect the people as long as unpaid volunteers can afford to remain in the field. At the last accounts the hostile Indians were all to the north of the Pony Express and Salt Lake mail and emigrant route, and the troops will be so posted as to keep that route open. The Indians on the eastern side of the mountains, extending north into Oregon, and westward into the interior of Utah, number probably 2,000, and from their contiguity with Mormons and other unavoidable causes, are all liable to become hostile to Americans, unless permanent means are taken by the government to restrain them. At least 500 United States soldiers should be stationed at different exposed points, between the Humboldt and Walker rivers. There is little other news.
[Submitted by C. Horton]



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