On April 3, 1860, Johnny Fry galloped out of St. Joseph, Missouri, carrying a satchel of mail and the hopes of a new company—the Pony Express. At the same time , another rider, Billy Hamilton, left Sacramento, California, bringing mail east.
As the Frontier Travelers are natives of St. Joseph, we hold a special place in our hearts for the Pony Express.
On the 1966-mile ride, horses and riders were changed dozens of time. Finally, on April 13, the west-bound rider arrived in Sacramento, beating the east-bound mail by two days.
During its eighteen-month existence, the Pony Express hired about 100 young riders who flocked to ads such as these in local newspapers:
“Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”
Mail was carried day and night, in all seasons. Some of the mail was in the form of private letters, at other times it carried critically important news like the fall of Fort Sumter and the election of Abraham Lincoln.
Only one rider and one mail pouch was ever lost. Although short-lived, the Pony Express captivated the American imagination.
Pony Express Facts
- Riders’ Pay: $100 per month.
- Rider Relay: New riders took over every 75 to 100 miles.
- Horse Relay: Riders got a fresh horse every 10 to 15 miles.
- Speed: Horses traveled an average of 10 miles per hour.
- Horses: 400 horses purchased to stock the Pony Express route.
- Stations: Approximately 165 stations.
Pony Express Route: St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California, through the present-day states of Kansas, Nebraska, northeast corner of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California.
Pony Express Departure: Once a week from April 3 to mid-June 1860. Twice a week from mid-June, to late October 1861. Departures were from both the east and the west.
Fastest Delivery: 7 days and 17 hours between telegraph lines, delivering Lincoln’s Inaugural Address.
Cost of Mail: $5.00 per 1/2 ounce at the beginning. By the end of the Pony Express, the price had dropped to $1.00 per 1/2 ounce.
Visit the St. Joseph, Missouri Pony Express Stables. Or watch this video about Wells Fargo and the Pony Express:
The above is excerpted from a forthcoming book, We Call It History, by FrontierTraveler Nancy Hendrickson