1860 - SESQUICENTENNIAL - 2010
One hundred and fifty years ago, the Pony Express was founded by W.H. Russell, Alexander Majors and William B. Waddell, operators of the Overland Stage Line of Leavenworth, Kansas. During a visit to Washington, Mr. Russell was urged by California Senator William Gwin to expand the Overland Stage operation to facilitate faster mail service. Mr. Russell’s partners hesitated due to projected high costs; he persevered and the first ride began on April 3, 1860.
Overland stagecoach stations were located every 10-12 miles as far as Salt Lake City. Eighty skilled and experienced riders, 400 horses and approximately one hundred-eighty-four stations were built in two months. There were thirty stations across Nevada, from Deep Creek, Utah to Genoa at the eastern base of the Sierra. The swift riders carried the mail 2000 miles in 10 days from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California. The “Pony” improved nationwide communication, western expansion and was credited with California’s continued participation in the Union at the beginning of the Civil War.
A high price was paid for the improved communication including the cost to post a letter and the trials of the employees during the ride. The cost of mailing a letter as advertised was not economical, “letters less than ¼ oz cost $5.00 and so on.” The riders, station masters and division agents faced hostile environments including poor housing, extreme heat and cold, poor access to potable water, food and dangers due to the conflicts between Native Americans and the newcomers to the West.
On October 24, 1861, the telegraph was born and the last ride was completed. What had taken ten days could be achieved in ten seconds thus ending the Pony Express, but the memory of the riders and the route live on.