With the news of how the U.S. Postal Service is struggling to turn a profit, it brought to mind our earliest form of sending messages across our country, The Pony Express. I hadn’t realized it was such a short lived enterprise, just 19 months or so, roughly a year and a half. It opened for business April 3, 1860 and closed for good on October 24, 1861. The telegraph was the next big innovation to replace it.
Now, most of the time these kinds of facts just don’t stick with me very long. What has changed this to some degree is relating it to my family history research. I guess when I can tie it to my own roots it becomes a little more relevant for me. In trying to imagine what life would be like for some of my ancestors as I trace my lines it’s helpful to know some of this kind of trivia.
It would be my great great grandparents and one more generation further in the past who might have seen or heard about, if not experienced first hand, the services of the Pony Express. During it’s operation there were about 157 stations positioned about 10 miles apart. This was the average distance most horses could cover at a gallop before having to rest. The cost to send something by Pony Express was $5/oz. Yikes! No wonder they didn’t stay around very long, not many could afford those rates even now. Given the rates and what I know about my ancestors, I doubt any of them ever used the service. It would likely have been something they couldn’t have afforded.
Something else I did not know about the service; they never got an exclusive contract with the U.S. government to carry the mail. I guess I just assumed the government was the one backing the operation but in reading about it, I learned this wasn’t the situation at all. The service sent it’s founders into bankruptcy when it closed.
With an election year coming quickly toward us it is interesting to note that news of President Lincoln’s winning the election on November 7th, 1860 reached California newspapers just seven days and 17 hours after East coast papers received the news. A notable feat in those days and one the Pony Express had made a special effort to achieve, hiring extra riders and adding extra horses to make it happen.
It would be quite the honor to claim a Pony Express rider in your family tree. Most of them were teenage boys, lightweight and thin. Check this list to see if any of your kinfolk are among them. Pony Express Riders.
The next time I find myself complaining about postage rates or the speed of mail delivery, I think I’ll stop to consider I’m fortunate not to have to wait 7-10 days for my package or letter to travel across the country at a rate of $5/ounce!
Read more about the Pony Express:
- Pony Express Wikipedia Article
- Pony Express National Museum
- Pony Express National Historic Trail
- St. Joseph Missouri – Pony Express