In the mid-1800's, mail bound for California usually took 25 days by stagecoach or traveled by a long sea voyage. The Pony Express could bring mail from Missouri to California in ten days. The owners of the Pony Express were William H. Russell, William Waddell and Alexander Majors. The Pony Express used lone riders who changed horses every 10-15 miles on their way west. Their mail was handed off to a fresh rider after 75-100 miles. 200 stations were set up across the states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California where the riders changed horses or new riders picked up the mail. The best time made to California from Nebraska occurred when Lincoln's Inaugural Address was carried by one of their riders in seven days and 17 hours.
The Pony Express Company lasted only about one and one-half years. It began in April 1860 but had to stop for a while due to the war between the United States and Paiute Indians. The company lost $75,000 at that point. It continued after the stoppage, but couldn't obtain a government contract and had high costs, so it collapsed in October 1861.
Pony Express riders had to be small, about the same as a jockey today. Horses could travel faster with less weight. The normal age for a rider was 20, but young teenagers were known to have ridden for the Pony Express. Bronco 'Charlie' Miller said that he was only 11 when he joined the company. The riders received from $100-150 per month. This was a good salary for the time. They had to take a loyalty oath which was 'I do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God, that during my engagement, and while an employee of Russell, Majors and Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will drink no intoxicating liquors, that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers, so help me God.' Unfortunately, many of the employees did not keep the part of the pledge about not using liquor, even though they could be fired for failing to keep their pledge.
To gain the fastest transfer of the mail from one rider to the next or to another horse, the riders used a Mexican knapsack called a mochila. It was lightweight and was draped over the saddle. The rider's weight kept it from falling off. The mochila had four pockets which had locks on them. Three pockets were for mail and one for the rider's timecard. The knapsack could hold up to 20 lbs. It could be handed off to another rider or horse in two minutes.
The cost of sending mail by using the Pony Express was too high for the average person to afford. Mostly business documents, government dispatches and newspaper articles were carried. They were written on very thin paper to keep the weight down. The cost was $5 for every 1/2 ounce. This would be like $130 today.
Pony Express riders had to endure severe weather and possible attack by robbers or Indians. However, the men who manned the way stations and kept the horses for the riders to use were in a far more dangerous situation. The men lived alone in a shack next to a corral for the horses and were constantly in fear of Indian attack. In the summer of 1860, during the Paiute War, as many as 16 stock hands at several way stations were killed and the stations burned. Only six riders were killed during the life of the Pony Express.
The Pony Express stopped operating two days after Western Union finished building the telegraph system across the country on October 24, 1861, in Salt Lake City.
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