Pony Express

Alexander Majors Founder Of Pony Express

Dollywood Express Train Whistle
Dollywood Express Train Whistle

As the United States expanded westward, there was little in the way of communication from the East Coast to the often barren communities in the West. Settlers were creating small villages and towns, and they depended on recent arrivals to hear any news from back East.

The Union created a method to communicate between the already established states to the new state of California and many states in between. They established the Pony Express to carry mail by horseback in satchels, and everything depended on how fast the riders could get the mail to its destination. The Pony Express has become one of the U.S. icons of the West.

  • The need for a communication method between the states was very obvious. Besides getting news from new arrivals, the only other ways were by ship from the New York or other ports that traveled to the Panama Isthmus (the Panama Canal hadn’t been built yet) across by mule, then taking an additional ship to San Francisco. A majority of the mail was sent and received this way, and it took months. Another way was from the Butterfield Overland Mail Company that had established themselves by taking the southern route to the West Coast. This method also took months.
  • As tensions increased between the North and South, the Northern states needed a faster way to send and receive communications with California. The Midwest and West Coast settlements were expanding, and there was a requirement for faster and better ways to get information.
  • The Pony Express was the idea of William B. Waddell, Alexander Majors, and William H. Russell. They created a 1966-mile trail starting in St. Joseph, Missouri, that extended to Sacramento, California. They created a poster ad that was looking for lightweight less than 125 lbs) orphans that could ride horses. This poster is considered to be the first American “classified ad.” They sent multiple riders out from both Sacramento and St. Joseph on April 3, 1860. Riders would carry the satchels, meet up at a designated place where they would pass the satchel to new riders with fresh horses. The journey heading east took 11 days, 12 hours. The journey heading west took nine days, 23 hours.
  • The riders were pretty much on their own, and they had to travel through the dangerous country. They experienced awful weather, and the time that it took depended upon how good the weather was. Traveling through the snow was treacherous, and they had to always be on the lookout for attacks by Native Americans.
  • The horses were the major ingredient in the success of the Pony Express. With a healthy, superb horse, a rider could travel as far as 250 miles per day. This was over twice as far as a standard stagecoach or covered wagon could travel. It was coordinated so that the riders switched out horses around every 75 miles, and they would switch out riders every several hundred miles or so.
  • The riders took incredible chances, and because the job was so dangerous, only orphans or people that we’re completely alone in the world were hired. While most riders were younger, the age for the riders ranged from 11 years to almost 50 years. The pay was $100 per month, which was considered a fantastic income for the time.
  • At its peak, the Pony Express had around 183 riders, 400-500 horses, and 165-way stations. However, the progress of the telegraph meant that information could be transmitted across the country in a much faster way, and within 19 months after the Pony Express started, the last rider was sent out on October 24, 1861.
  • The Pony Express ended up losing over $200,000, but it should be noted that only one mail shipment was lost, and only one rider was ever lost. The image of the Pony Express and the riders have remained as one that acts as an example of the American West.

Q&A:

What were the requirements for a Pony Express Rider to be hired?
125 lbs or less, be able to ride a horse well, orphan or alone

How often would the Pony Express riders switch out horses?
Every 75 miles

Why was the Pony Express established?
For communication between the East Coast and the new settlements to the West

How far could a good Pony Express rider travel in a day?
250 miles

How long did the Pony Express last?
19 months

What were the obstacles the Pony Express riders had to face?
Bad weather and Native Americans