Monday, May 04, 2015

The Pony Express: Long Rides, and a Short Life! - Full Article

Horses & History | April 28, 2015

By the time the famous Pony Express closed its doors, and retired its riders and horses on October 24, 1861, just 18 months after starting, it had some noteworthy statistics and some credible accomplishments to boast about: the riders and ponies covered about 250 miles a day in a 24-hour period; 35,000 pieces of mail were delivered during the service, there were more than 170 stations, and 80 riders and between 400 and 500 horses were used. However, perhaps the best statistic is that in the 18 months of its existence, there was just one mail delivery lost during Paiute Indian raids in 1860 and afterwards. These raids cost 16 men their lives, 150 horses were stolen or driven away, and $75,000 in equipment and supplies were lost. The mail pouch that was lost in these raids reached New York City two years later!

The service was the brainchild of three men, William H. Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors, who saw the need for a better way to communicate with the western part of the United States, and for the delivery of mail, newspapers, small parcels and messages. In 1848 gold had been discovered in California, and thousands of prospectors, businessmen and investors made their way out west. By 1860 the population had grown to 380,000. Also, the American Civil War was approaching so communications between east and west were crucial. However, on the day that the first rider set out for the inaugural ride west, Russell and Majors told the gala crowd that the service was the “precursor” to the construction of a transcontinental railway.

Majors was a religious man and gave each one of the riders a bible, and created an oath that each rider had to say that included the words that they would, ‘under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will not drink intoxicating liquors…’ Apparently few of the riders took the oath seriously, and they were described in all manner of ways including, ‘dreadful, rough and unconventional...’

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