Pony Express Service Ends
After just 18 months, the Pony Express ceased operations on October 26, 1861.
In 1860, mail contractor Ben Holladay joined forces with the Russell, Majors, and Waddell freight company to create a mail-carrying operation that would be faster and more efficient than the stagecoaches of the Butterfield Overland Mail. Holladay established 200 stations 25 miles apart along a 1,900-mile trail from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California.
Holladay then put a call out for small, brave young men that could ride a horse well. He bought 500 of the fastest horses he could find and hired 80 daring riders. 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 rides were dangerous, but the pay was good – $25 a week, or the equivalent of over $4,600 in wages today. These were the Pony Express riders. The men, usually younger than 18 years old, were expected to cover 75 miles a day in spite of inclement weather and Indian attacks. Picking up a rested horse at each stop, they rode non-stop, day and night, rain or shine. 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 told of one time 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.
Their route could be completed in eight days, which was 12 to 14 days faster than the Overland Mail. The fastest trip was seven days, when riders delivered the news of Abraham Lincoln’s presidential election in November of that year. Initially, it cost $5 to send a letter between San Francisco and St. Joseph, Missouri, but that charge was later reduced to $1. An estimated 35,000 letters were carried by the Pony Express.
This adventurous service came to an end just 18 months after that first ride. On October 24, 1861, the Western Union Telegraph Company completed the first transcontinental telegraph line in Salt Lake City. This accomplishment ushered in a new age of communications in the U.S. It also marked the end of the Pony Express two days later, on October 26.
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