Sunday, January 3, 2010
150th Anniversary of the Pony Express
"Pony Express", statue in St. Louis Missouri
Thank you to hundreds of good brave horses!
Although it lasted only 18 months, the Pony Express was the Iphone of its time.
Here is a map showing the route traveled by horses and riders in this amazing scheme:
The maximum distance for one horse to travel was 20 miles. This made it necessary for exchange stations to be built at that interval all across the west.
Here's the eastern terminus station, in St. Joseph Missouri, which today houses the official Pony Express Museum:
It was a perfect job for crazy young men, the preferred riders as this poster shows:
If it was so dangerous for the riders, what about the horses? There is very little information on equine injuries and fatalities from Pony Express work. But we can imagine that the primacy of speed took its toll, along with the rough terrain.
The first Pony Express run in 1860 was actually a race, with riders setting out simultaneously from Sacramento California and St. Joseph Missouri in a dead heat to exceed one another to the midpoint.
Here's a statue from Sacramento which shows the iconic Pony Express pose: horse at maximum effort, ragged rider urging even more speed.
The Pony Express was done in by the invention of the telegraph, and this painting shows a rider waving happily to a work crew placing telegraph poles:
Another example of an episode in horse and human history, where horses did a great but difficult and dangerous job, then were relieved of that job and became a little less essential to human purposes: a mixed blessing for the horse.
This particular Pony Express station, in Hollenberg Kansas, is believed to be haunted. Brave night visitors claim to hear the sounds of frantic hoofbeats, and the cries of messengers calling for their exchange riders, on moonlit nights.
I imagine these Express horses, tough and lean as their young riders, enjoying the job and the sense of purpose even while they endured the discomforts of fatigue and thirst and sore muscles. Horses do love to have a job. So I send a big thank you out to all the noble horses who ran their legs off so that Aunt Sadie in California could hear about her new niece in Indiana, or Californians could read the inaugural address of political newcomer President Abraham Lincoln. Rest in peace, sweet ponies.