Own Scarce Pony Express Stamps
Few stamps match the Pony Express issues for romance and history – they’re genuine artifacts of the Wild West!
In April 1861, Wells, Fargo and Company took over the Pony Express routes west of Salt Lake City. To make accounting easier and to advertize their company, they hired Britton and Company to print stamps for the eastbound mail from California. The red $1 stamp was used to cover the fee for a ½ ounce letter and was used from July 1861 until October 1861.
The Pony Express stamp only covered the part of delivering the letter the Pony Express did. At the end of the run, the letters would be turned over to the Post Office to be delivered by the postal service, so a postage stamp was also required.
Legendary Pony Express Speeds the Mail West
In 1860, the call went out for small, brave young man that could ride a horse well. The rides were dangerous, but the pay was good – $25 a week, or the equivalent of over $4000 in unskilled labor wages today. These were the Pony Express riders. The men, usually younger than 18 years old, were expected to cover 250 miles a day in spite of inclement weather and Indian attacks.
Before 1860, it could take up to eight weeks to get mail from the East Coast to California. For the businessmen and bankers in growing Sacramento, that was too long. As the Civil War approached, they wanted news quickly and both the Union and the South wanted to persuade the state to join its side. The Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company developed the Pony Express to reduce the time it took to get news from the North to California. The first ride left St. Joseph, Missouri on April 3, 1860, and arrived in Sacramento, California just ten days later. In the mochilla or saddlebag was a message of congratulations from President Buchanan to the Governor of California, which had been telegraphed from Washington to St. Joseph.
The initial cost to mail a half-ounce letter was $5, or almost $840 in today’s wages. That rate was reduced to $2 by April 1861, but that was still a high price to pay – the equivalent of over $300 in our day. In spite of the cost, it is estimated that 35,000 letters were carried by the Pony Express.
Buffalo Bill Cody, who became famous for his Wild West Show, was hired to ride for the Pony Express when he was just 15 years old. His route was through Wyoming. He tells of one trip when he rode 322 miles round trip because his relief rider had been killed in a brawl. Buffalo Bill was the kind of dedicated man that characterized the Pony Express riders.
This adventurous service came to an end just 18 months after that first ride. In October 1861, the Pacific Telegraph lines reached California, and the need for the Pony Express vanished.
Farewell To “Buffalo Bill”
On January 10, 1917, famed scout and showman “Buffalo” Bill Cody died.
William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody, was born on February 26, 1846, in LeClaire, Iowa. Following his father’s death, Cody took his first job as a driver on west-bound wagon trains at age eleven. In that role, he rode on horseback alongside trains delivering messages between drivers and workmen. Cody became an accomplished horse wrangler, hunter, and “Indian fighter” by his teens.
Struck by “gold fever,” the 14-year-old Cody headed to California, and met an agent for the Pony Express along the way. Cody claimed he helped build several stations and corrals before working as a rider (though some historians believe he made this up for publicity in later years). He served as a scout for the Union Army during the Civil War (which earned him a Congressional Medal of Honor in 1872) and went on to assist the government in its attempts to wipe out Native American resistance.
Cody competed for the exclusive right to his nickname “Buffalo Bill” while supplying meat for the Kansas Pacific Railroad workers. He and hunter William Comstock spent eight hours shooting buffalo in a contest, which Cody ultimately won with 68 kills to Comstock’s 48. In all, Cody killed over 4,000 American bison in an 18-month span.
Cody became a celebrity after meeting Ned Buntline, a writer for the New York Weekly. Buntline published an article loosely based on Cody’s adventures that led to a highly successful novel, Buffalo Bill, King of the Bordermen. Cody’s daring feats provided material for other newspaper reporters and dime novelists, who transformed “Buffalo Bill” into a national folk hero. Over time, 557 dime novels were written about Cody, many by authors who had never been west of the Hudson River.
In 1872, Cody joined his friends in Chicago in a play called The Scouts of the Prairie and toured with the group for ten years. Then, on July 4, 1882, Cody held an “Old Glory Blowout” in North Platte, Nebraska. This show featured buffalo and bucking-bronc riding, steer roping, horse racing, a buffalo hunt, and re-enactments. Because of this show, North Platte claims to be home to the very first rodeo. The “Old Glory Blowout” was such a success that Buffalo Bill formed his spectacular Wild West Show in 1883.
It was an extravaganza featuring fancy shooting, hard-riding cowboys, parades, races, sideshows, and war-whooping “Indians.” Some of the top attractions included mock battles against Indians, and a demonstration of Cody’s marksmanship. The show’s stars included sharp-shooter Annie Oakley, Chief Sitting Bull, and Wild Bill Hickok. Extremely popular, the show lasted for almost 20 years, touring the U.S. and even overseas. Cody’s show toured Europe eight times. It was featured at Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 and at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
Cody had passed through the northwestern area of Wyoming in the 1870s and was impressed by its development possibilities. In 1895, he helped found the town of Cody, Wyoming, and built his massive ranch about 35 miles away. At its peak, the ranch encompassed about 8,000 acres and held 1,000 cattle. Cody spent most of his final years there until he died on January 10, 1917, at his sister’s house in Denver, Colorado.
Click here and here to view video of some of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows.