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:



"Orphans Preferred."

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.

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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.



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Here's a statue from Sacramento which shows the iconic Pony Express pose: horse at maximum effort, ragged rider urging even more speed.



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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.

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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.

20 comments:

Rocky Mountain Yankee said...

I had no idea it was the 150th anniversary of the Pony Express, thanks for posting that. The first time I was able to stand along a section of the route was in Wyoming, somewhere north of Cheyenne. It was awesome to stand there and imagine the horse and rider teams flying by to deliver the mail.

Flying Lily said...

RMY: What a marvelous experience to stand there an imagine the horses and riders on the actual route! It's hard for me to comprehend how rough that ride must have been, through the unknowns of weather and everything else.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Tough job for the horses and riders. I've always found the whole pony express adventure very interesting though. I love the want ad that they prefer orphans and they face death daily, that might have put me off a little.

Flying Lily said...

GreyHorse: I wondered whether they were deliberately appealing to young men's love of risk or challenge! Sort of a dare...

OnTheBit said...

What a wonderful post! Not only did I not know it was the 150th anniversary, I did not know a lot about the pony express. Thank you for this post!

Flying Lily said...

OnTheBit: thanks! I am now officially fascinated by the Pony Express and want to learn more...where they got horses, how they were fed and kept at the stop stations, etc.

sue said...

thank you for that wonderful blog.. I had no idea of the anniversary.. and yes, while we think of the romantic side of things, I can only imagine what it was like in "real life"... horses have certainly "served mankind" and we need to remember that and offer our kind payments in return...

Flying Lily said...

Sue: yes indeed; the debt we owe to horses can never be repaid but I love your phrase 'kind payments'...

Simrat said...

Another fan of the Pony Express here. I read Margauritte Henry's San Domingo so many times when I was a kid. Even so, I cry every time I get towards the end. It's well worth a read.

San Domingo and Bob Brislawn were both real, though use out of time and place in this fictionalized account. All my horses boast the real San Domingo in their pedigrees.

Yes indeed, RIP, sweet ponies...

Flying Lily said...

Simrat, I did not know about that book. I am going to check it out asap. I read some of M. Henry's books awhile back. San Domingo in your horse's pedigree??!! Waaaay exciting. Is there a really good horse-centered history of the Pony Express in print or should we write one?

jacksonsgrrl said...

Loved this post! Somehow you got deleted from my blogroll! Thanks for all your awesome comments, and looking over a few of your recent posts, I am sorry I haven't been a constant reader! I will readily remedy that! Fascinating history and I admit, the Pony Express has always intrigued me!! Being the 150th anniv. do you know if our POSTAL SERVICE is putting out any commemorative stamps? I hope so, but I fully expect to see an Obama stamp before I see Pony Express! :)
Also, I love that you recently posted that You Tube video on Equine Therapies. I am looking into leaving nursing, and a major interest is in becoming an EQUINE Body Worker, accupuncturist or chiro. I must have a career with horses, and I'm just not ready for the Olympic team this year! LOL!
~Mindy

Petra said...

beautiful post..very enjoyable and educational piece, thank you!
RIP ponies...

Once Upon an Equine said...

That's really interesting. Tough job for horse and human.

Flying Lily said...

JacksonsGirl: I would so love to see a stamp! Today in the gym I looked out the window and some huge delivery semi had a Pony Express rider and horse as its logo.

Petra; Thank you so much and yes, Godspeed ponies of great heart.

OnceUpon: I imagine both horse and rider being tested to their maximum of physical strength...amazing when we pick up the phone nowadays so effortlessly.

Rising Rainbow said...

I remember seeing old westerns when I was a kid that were based on the pony express "experience." They really played such a critical role in civilization of the west.

Thanks for pointing out their anniversary!

Flying Lily said...

RR: Thanks for stopping by...yes I can remember those movies too; wish I'd paid more attention to the details..

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Christopher Corbett said...

Check out Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express (Random House/Broadway Books)

prashant said...

Tough job for the horses and riders
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