Pony Express.William H. Russell, of the firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell, freighters, of Leavenworth, was the individual who instituted the "pony express" from the Missouri river to the Pacific coast. St. Joseph, Mo., was the starting point, and on April 3, 1860, a little after sunset Johnnie Frey, mounted on a black pony, made his departure on the first trip. Anticipating the occasion St. Joseph was decorated in holiday attire, with bands discoursing enlivening music, while a large crowd had gathered on the levee to speed the departing messenger. At Sacramento the occasion was observed in a more ostentatious manner. A substantial fund had been contributed by the citizens for celebrating the inauguration of the enterprise; the city had been gaily decorated with flags and bunting; business was suspended; cannons boomed; brass bands played, while state officials and local orators made the occasion one long to he remembered.
A pure white pony ridden by Harry Roff left this city the same day the black pony left the other end of the line, and covered the first 20 milestwo stagesin 59 minutes. He changed horses in 10 seconds, changing again at Folsom and reaching Placerville, 5 miles from Sacramento, in 2 hours and 49 minutes. The first "pony" rider to reach Salt Lake was the east bound one, who arrived on the 7th, and reaching St. Joseph in 11 days and 12 hours from the Pacific coast. The rider from the eastern starting point reached the Utah capital on the 9th, entered Sacramento in 9 days and 23 hours from the time he started.
The quickest trip ever made over the route was in March, 1861, when President Lincoln's first inaugural address was carried from St. Joseph to Sacramento, 1,980 miles, in 7 days and 17 hours. On one occasion despatches were carried from St. Joseph to Denver, 675 miles, in 69 hours. The regular schedule for delivering mail to the Pacific coast, however, was 8 days for despatches and 10 days for letters. This schedule was about two weeks ahead of the best time by the Southern Overland Mail company.
The route from St. Joseph, after crossing the Missouri river, lay a little south of west until it reached the old military road from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Kearney, near the village of Kennekuk, in Atchison county, 44 miles out. Thence it diverged northwesterly across the Kickapoo Indian reservation via Granada, Log Chain, Seneca, Ash Point, Guittard's, Marysville and Hollenberg, which was the last station in Kansas; thence up the Little Blue Valley to Rock Creek, Big Sandy, Liberty Farm, thence over the plains to the Platte river and up that stream to Fort Kearney; thence west via Julesburg, Col., Fort Laramie, Wyo., through the Rocky mountains via South Pass to Fort Bridger, Salt Lake City, Carson City and Sacramento, where the pony was changed for steamer for San Francisco.
Pony charges were first fixed at $5.00 for each half ounce, but the postoffice department later ordered this price reduced to $1.50, which price prevailed until the Pacific telegraph put the "pony express" out of business. Thousands of letters were plastered over with "pony stamps" and during the British troubles with China one document for the English government had $135 in stamps on it. In addition to the "pony" charges the United States required a ten-cent stamp on all correspondence going by this route.
The line was operated semi-weekly. It was stocked with several hundred fleet-footed ponies, which were distributed at intervals of from 10 to 15 miles, at stations technically called "stages." Some 80 riders were employed, those selected usually having been chosen for lightness as well as being able to cope with the dangers attending the work. Their pay ranged from $50 to $150 a month, those portions of the route through the sections infested with treacherous Indians being most highly paid. The average weight of riders was about 135 pounds, and in addition to the rider the pony had to carry an average of 15 pounds of mail matter besides the weight of the bridle, saddle and mail bags, an extra 13 pounds. All mail matter was wrapped in oiled silk as a precaution against dampness.
To all but promoters the enterprise proved a blessing. Russell lost about $100,000, and his partners also lost fortunes. Their expenses were heavy, nearly 500 good saddle horses were required, 190 stations were kept up, and in addition about 200 men were employed as station keepers. All grain for the horses had to be freighted from the east at a cost of from 10 to 25 cents a pound. The "pony express" lasted less than two years, the daily overland stage coach following in July, 1861, two months before it ceased operations, and four month later the Pacific telegraph was working.Pages 486-488 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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