Buchanan County, Missouri Genealogy Trails
Information obtained from the Patee House Museum in St Joseph, MO
Written and Pictures by Andrea Myers 2009

 

THE PONY EXPRESS - ST. JOSEPH MISSOURI

 



In 1860, the railroads could only bring mail as far west as St. Joseph, MO. Since there was a need to get mail, telegrams, and other written information to California quickly, the idea was introduced to create a Pony Express. The Pony Express would use riders and horses to run the mail out to California. With the riders and horses being exchanged for fresh riders and horses at certain stops along the way, the mail could be delivered to California, or vice-versa to St. Joseph in as little as 8 days with the riders moving the mail 24 hours a day.

It was decided to use The Patee House on Penn Street in St Joseph Missourias the eastern headquarters for the Pony Express. The Patee house was, at the time, one of the grandest hotels in the world. This was the largest hotel west of the Mississippi River, standing 4 stories tall. The Patee House was also one of the finest hotels, with such features as running water, gas lights, and flushable toilets. It was from the Patee House that the first Pony Express rider headed west on April 3, 1960.
The official name of the St Joseph headquarters was "The Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company", and it was run by William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell. The office was stationed on the lower floor in the northwest corner of the hotel. Riders would leave from the Patee House and head west on a hazardous ride to get the mail a total of 1966 miles through 8 states: Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and on to Sacremento California.
The qualifications for the riders were that they had to be young (under 18), skinny, wirey, and prefferably an orphan. Those applying for a job as a rider had to understand that the journey west was perilous, especially on a galloping horse, and they could lose their life at any time. The rider's pay was an incredible $25.00 per week, with the average laborer making about $5.00 per week at that time. Riders and fresh horses would be stationed at specific points along the route. One horse could gallop at full speed for approximately 10 miles where it would be exchanged for a fresh horse. After a rider rode for 100 miles (changing horses 10 times) he would be releaved by a fresh rider who would continue west. The riders were equiped with a horn to blow to warn the next station of their impending arrival and a fresh horse and/or rider would be waiting to be handed the mail and head further west.
The mail was carried in a leather pouch called a mochilla. The mochilla had 4 locked compartments to carry the mail and was thrown over the saddle. The rider would sit on the mochilla with the mail pouches hanging down the sides.

Letters were mailed at the Patee House or arrived from the east by railroad. Mail heading to California would cost $5.00 per half ounce and the advertised time of arrival was 10 days. The rider that picked up mail at the Patee House would actually ride his horse inside the building to grab the mochilla, in mere seconds he would gallop off toward Kansas. Each subsequent stop along the route to exchange the rider or horse would also take only seconds, as there was no time to waste.
The St. Joseph Pony Express horses were kept at the Pikes Peak Stables which was located two blocks west of the Patee House. The actual stables were in a state of collapse when in 1948 the Goetz family bought and began to restore the building. The first newspaper to travel west by Pony Express was a special edition of the St. Joseph Gazette, which was printed on tissue paper to make it light weight.
The Pony Express was used from April 3, 1860 to September 13, 1861 when the railroad to California was completed and the mail could be forwarded to California by train.
 

 

 

 

BACK
Buchanan County, Missouri Genealogy Trails

2006 - 2009 by Genealogy Trails -  All Rights Reserved - With full rights reserved for original submitters.