Pony Express

      Have you heard the statement, “The check is in the mail”? Some have used this excuse when either an individual is behind on payments or just did not send a payment.

      Just think how out of date that excuse is in this day and age, when kids can text anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds or you can go on the Internet and send payments electronically in just seconds. Of course, it hasn’t always been that way.

      Now you can send a letter or card to California from the east coast usually in less than 4 days and it isn’t unusual for a letter to travel coast to coast in one day under certain conditions.

      Let’s go back 150 years and see how people communicated. It was by mail and the mail was very slow compared to today’s mail system.

      When a letter was sent from New York to Sacramento, CA, prior to the start of the Pony Express, there were three mail routes to California. the first was a steamship voyage from New York, then crossing the Isthmus of Panama by canoe and mule, and next connecting with another steamship run to San Francisco. This journey took 22 days but was used to carry the bulk of western mail prior to the Pony Express. The other two mail service options used wagon routes and stagecoach lines. The central route was used mainly for local mail. It ran from Independence, Missouri, along the Platte River, through South Pass, Salt Lake City, Carson City, and on to Sacramento with a total travel time of 21 plus days. The third option, The Butterfield Overland Mail Company route, followed an oxbow-shaped path some 600 miles south of the Central Route, taking up to three weeks to arrive in Southern California.

      This month 149 years ago the Pony Express came into existence. Actually the Pony Express started on April 3, 1860 and even though everyone has heard of some of the things accomplished by, and stories told over and over about the Pony Express and the young men that kept it running. The Pony Express had passed and stopped October 24, 1861, in just over eighteen months in all.

      The motivating factor behind the Pony Express was the discovery of gold in California and the beginning of the Civil War and trying to keep California in the Union and the gold to help pay for the war.

      The Pony Express was developed by William H. Russell William B. Wadell and Alexander Majors. The Pony Express was a mail service where riders on house back traveled from St. Joseph Missouri to Sacramento, California. Riders changed horses at stations placed about ten to fifteen miles apart. A rider handed the mail pack over to another rider after completing about 75 miles.

      The Pony Express consisted of relays of men riding fast ponies or horses that carried letters and small packages across 1,966 miles. Riders left simultaneously from St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. the first westbound trip was made in 9 days and 23 hours and the eastbound journey in 11 days and 12 hours. The pony riders covered 250 miles in 24 hours as compared with 100 to 125 miles by the stage coaches.

      Young, often teenage lightweight riders, under 125 pounds and usually orphans or young men with no family. They made normally $100.00 to $125.00 per month.

      Riders wore a bright red shirt and blue pants. They carried a small brass horn to signal their coming, which was later eliminated when it was discovered the hoof beats did the same thing. Each rider was issued a Bible to sustain their courage and hardiness to make the ride through potentially dangerous country of Indians, bandits, deadly blizzards and murderous heat. One of the most famous and remembered by most in history was Buffalo Bill Cody.

      When the Pony Express started the cost was $5.00 per ½ ounce and later the price dropped to $1.00 per ½ ounce.

      Many of our modern day jobs like the Pony Express are terminated by the use of technology. The Telegraph following the Railroad was completed on October 24, 1861 thus removing the need for written mail across the new nation.


Some facts, which vary from source to source:
  • St. Joseph, MO to Sacramento, CA, distance of 1,966 miles
  • Number of station: 190 (peak operation)
  • Number of Horses: 420 (peak)
  • Number of Riders: 80 (peak)
  • Average Speed: 7 miles per hour
  • Average Time: 10 days
  • Fastest time: 7 1/1 days (Lincoln’s Inaugural Message)
  • Distance per Rider: 60-120 miles each
  • William C. “Buffalo Bill” Cody: Rode 322 miles in 21 hours
       and 40 minutes using 21 horses
  • Home Stations: 60 miles apart
  • Swing Stations: average 11 ¾ miles apart
  • Rider Salary: $100.00 to $125.00 per month
  • Station Personnel: 2 agents, 1 station keeper and 1 assistant.


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