10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Pony Express

Posted April 3, 2018 by Amanda | No Comment

Did your ancestors ever received mail via the Pony Express? The Pony Express was once hailed as the fastest way to send and receive mail across the United States. Although it’s existence was short, its impact and popularity on the American West has continued to endure.

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Pony Express

Pony Express poster / Wikimedia Commons

Check out these interesting facts about the old mail-delivery system of the United States.

1. The Pony Express was founded by William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell.

With gold recently discovered in California and the growing population out West, the demand for a quicker way to get mail and communication from one end of the country to the next had dramatically increased. Businessmen William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell aimed to create a fast mail route to the Pacific coast utilizing relay teams of men and horses to quickly send correspondence across the country faster than ever before.

2. The first Pony Express relay launched on April 3, 1860 with two relay teams of horses and riders.

The relay teams were dispatched from St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California and made their way across the country simultaneously. Each team carried a pouch holding letters, telegrams, and other items for delivery. The westbound rider was the first to arrive at his destination, completing the 1,8000 mile journey in just 10 days.

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Pony Express

Pony Express station / Library of Congress

3. About 200 relay stations were located along the route.

Riders typically rode for 75 to 100 miles at a stretch. Thus, relay stations were strategically placed every 10-15 miles to allow riders to quickly switch horses. About every 75 miles was a home station, where extra provisions were kept and the mail was transferred to a new rider.

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Pony Express

Pony Express mail, c. 1861 / U.S. National Archives and Records Adminstration

4. Pony Express riders rode light.

Since speed was of most importance, Pony Express riders only carried essential items. This meant they often rode unarmed. A typical rider generally had a slight build and wore very light clothes to maximize speed and minimize strain on the horses. Even the mail itself was made of the lightest possible paper to minimize the weight carried by each rider.

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Pony Express

Mochila / Library of Congress

5. Special saddles and equipment were used.

Since weight was always a concern, specially made light-weight saddles were used on Pony Express rides. To carry the mail, riders used leather mochilas that had four pockets called cantinas to hold the mail. The mochila was draped over the saddle, so the rider could sit atop it. Each bundle of mail in the cantinas was wrapped in oil silk to protect against water damage during the ride.

6. Riders stuck to a strict schedule.

Pony Express riders were expected to stick to a very strict schedule to get the mail delivered on time. Riders rode through the day and night to stay on schedule. Not even harsh weather would stop the mail from being delivered.

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Pony Express

Pony Express rider Frank E. Webner, c.1861 / U.S National Archives and Records Adminstration

7. Every rider was required to sign a pledge.

About 80 riders were employed by the Pony Express. Once they were hired, Alexander Majors gave each person a Bible and required them to sign a pledge. The new hires had to promise not to swear, drink alcohol, or fight.

8. The fastest delivery took only 7 days and 17 hours.

The fastest delivery took place in March 1861. The riders carried President Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California in just 7 days and 17 hours.

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Pony Express

The Pacific Tourist, 1877 / Internet Archive Book Images, Flickr

9. The Pony Express was in business for only 19 months.

Many people may be surprised to learn that the historic Pony Express operated for only 19 months. The Pony Express officially ended on October 26, 1861 after the transcontinental telegraph line was completed.

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Pony Express

Ad for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show / Library of Congress

10. Buffalo Bill was probably not a Pony Express rider.

Despite its short lifespan, the Pony Express remained highly popular in American Western folklore. Stories of the Pony Express were romanticized in dime novels and public shows, such as Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. The frontiersman claimed he was a Pony Express rider at the age of 14 and many popular dime novels featured dramatic tales of his adventures. Although, historians have found little evidence that he carried any mail, it is possible that he actually worked as a messenger for the owners of the Pony Express.

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

See all posts by