The Pony Express
A Magnificent Failure
The Pony Express was an 18 month long experiment that failed in its stated mission, but succeeded in capturing the hearts of many who heard about it and created a mythology that lives to this day. The evidence of which is even present in recent movies such as “The Postman”, in which a drifter played by Kevin Costner revives the Pony Express and Postal Service in a post-apocalyptic era.
Back in 1860, when the Pony Express was formed, there was no reliable way to get information back and forth to California from any point east of Missouri. At that time the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company was already providing regular freight and passenger service between these areas and wanted to win the government contract to handle mail too. Such a contract could not only be lucrative but have many perks and benefits for services and protection that the ordinary company might not enjoy.
To prove they could do it, they bought 400 horses, including pintos, mustangs and Morgans. They then stationed put them at key locations all along the route west. Then they recruited young riders, most of which were under 20 years old. Mail began at once a week, and then quickly went to twice a week, over the 2,000 mile path. Delivery took about a week from one end to the other.
Classified ads in newspapers called for "Young skinny wiry fellows not over 18 and must be expert riders willing to risk death, orphans preferred. Wages $25 per week.” The young men also had to sign a statement to promise not to use profane language, gamble, become drunk, or do anything that would be "incompatible with the conduct of a gentleman."
William E Cody, later better known as “Buffalo Bill” was among the riders who signed up for this hazardous duty at the ripe old age of 15.
The system was full of problems ranging from unreliable riders and ambushes to supply shortages and theft. Unfortunately, the Pony Express never had the opportunity to realize its full potential. The cost was too high; in addition, the Civil War and the introduction of the transcontinental telegraph in 1861, spelled the end and the pony express was discontinued.
The Pony Express is featured on Scott #s: 894, 1154
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