The Mail Must Go Through
12 Mar. 2000
Gunnison High School,
A race from the start, a rider jumped to the back of his fresh pony and bolted from the station, sweating and tired, but always knowing the mail must go through, the young boy spurred the pony on as the station keepers watched the dust rise under the feet of the United States fastest mail transport… Genghis Khan is often credited with the idea of a Pony Express, more however a relay then a mail service. He began the horse relay for provisions, using a station every 40 miles, then there was William “Lightfoot” Visscher, who’s credited with working the mail into the idea. He was a rider from a Boston paper, and used ponies to run for news (Bloss 13). And all the while the United States was growing, with it grew the demand for communication between east and west.
Having received assurances that fast communication from the Missouri River to California would be well patronized, three early stagecoach men, Senator W.M. Gwin, Alexander Majors, and Daniel E. Phelps, made preparations for the inauguration of the new service. Six hundred broncos, especially chosen for fleetness, toughness, and endurance, were purchased. Seventy-five men, none of them weighing over one hundred and ten pounds, were engaged as riders, being selected on account of their bravery, their capacity for deprivation and their horsemanship, as well as for their shooting abilities and their knowledge of the craft and the manner of attack of the Indians (When 1).
While the pony express founded the postal system and played a significant role in communication, it was doomed for failure, due to Indian warfare; hazards on the trail; and the economics, politics, and corruption within the system.
Indian warfare presented a large amount of turmoil for the Pony Express. Wars often broke out between settlements, and tribes, causing hardships to the riders. Some Indian tribes believed there was “magic” in the mochillas (leather pouches carrying the mail), which explained why the ponies they chose were so fast (Adams 86). More often then not, the wagon trains traveling west, would open fire on defenseless Indians, killing and wounding them, and creating more havoc for the express riders traveling from east to west and vice versa (Adams 88). More havoc and turmoil between the two groups was created when cases of slave labor were brought to light. The writer of an informational book on the pony Express, Samuel Hopkins Adam stated; “In some cases the gold-hunters rounded up Indians like animals and made them wash out gold in the stream beds without wages.” (Adams 83). Adams also quoted in his book several documentation of papers, and reliable sources. A San Francisco paper stated, “ ‘The pony express was simply inviting slaughter on all the fool hardy young men engaged as riders.’” (qtd. Adams 86). Not only was violence taken out on both the white man and the Indians alike, it seemed as though the Indians were more hostile towards the station keepers and the riders. The raids, and looting of the stations, and the savage murder of their keepers presented a problem for incentive towards keeping workers in the job (Adams 80). Many riders came barreling into stations riddled with arrows, slumped over the neck of their ponies, dead, the ponies hide covered in arrows sticking inches into their skin (Adams 92). A large number of the express’s riders quit due to the trauma and suffrage of the riders they’d seen on their endless trips to and from stations (Adams 96). The first time the pony express was stopped, was due to a traveler shooting an unarmed tribesmen, killing him, and initializing an ambush between the Calvary and the Indians (Adams 88). However. The Pony Express was brought back due to the great demand of the American People.
Not only were the Indians a problem, but there were other hazards on the trail as well. Bad weather caused many a lost rider; wildlife, outlaws, and injuries presented the sturdy young men with a challenge each time the rode. “ ‘Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.” “ (qtd. Pony 1). An instant in which the weather was so bad the travelers turned to cannibalism is explained as follows: “The Central route was given a bad name from the snow bound Donner party’s resort to cannibalism to survive a Sierra winger.’” (Findley 51). Storms, snow, and water, were all factors to making it to the next station. Lack of water for both the rider and the horse could result in death, or delayed times, both things detrimental to the survival of the pony express. Wildlife on the trail also created a negative environment. On the trail also created a negative environment.
Herds of buffalo were just as dangerous as the Indians, being unpredictable and able to kill a man, the riders were often warned to steer clear of the animals. Setting off a herd could mean stampedes, which could mean the death of the pony and the riders. The indignation the animals shown towards anything outside of their species, struck fear into the hearts of many riders. Injuries to either rider or pony could result in loss of a job, or a life. If a horse stumbled and injured itself, the rider had to walk into the next station. On one occasion, a rider’s horse stumbled over a cliff, broke its neck and died. The rider had to walk all the way down the hill to the horse, and then hike back up, taking twice as long to the next station, not only risking his own life, but the successful delivery of the mail as well (Adams 168).
The last shipment every shipped was the only occasion in which a rider was injured and could not continue on with the mail. This was the on the last shipment East and fortunately for the rider, a stagecoach carrying a retired rider happened by, and the rider offered to take the shipment the last leg. Had id not been for the retiree, the mail wouldn’t have made it through.
Not only did injuries present blocks in the forward movement of the Pony Express, but outlaws presented themselves as a problem as well. Creating roadblocks in narrow portions of the trail, or in canyons, where it was easy to stop and intimidate stagecoaches and pony express riders made the job of stealing the mail an easy task. Being in a group of several to one, the odds of getting out of a situation such as that was slim to none. More often then not, the stages would have to surrender their mail boxes so as to be permitted to pass through, where as the Ponies had to try and avoid them all together.
In the world of Politics, the Pony Express was often brushed to the side. It cost too much, caused too much worry, and within the system, there was too much scandal and corruption. At the time the Pony Express was trying to gain funding, the United States seemed too busy with other things. Politics were raging, and the civil war was rearing its ugly head. There was just no time to worry about a postal service (Adams 133). Even those who took over major positions in the post office considered the pony express most impractical. Howell and North, partner authors on a book titled “Pony Express-The Great Gamble” quoted a head authority in the postal service as he said; “ ‘Until a railroad shall have been constructed across the continent, the conveyance of the Pacific mails overland must be regarded as wholly impracticable.’ “ (qtd. Bloss 24). A man named Joseph Holt quoted that, he took over the postal service as Post Master just as the pony Express took off.
Not only were politics stacked against the Pony Express, but technology also. The telegraph and the trains seemed so pressing, that since the start of 1860, Congress made a notice that they’d pay $40,000 dollars a year to whoever could string a telegraph across the country (Adams 151). All the meanwhile, the problem of outlaws and scandals within the system had to be dealt with. A man named Jules Reni, also known as the man Julesburg Colorado was named after, was found to have been gibing out trail times to outlaws, and striking deals with several bands of them. Because of him, the outlaws were able to successfully prepare for stages and express riders. A man nicknamed “Slade” took over the head of the Pony express after Reni, and took the law into his own hands, tying Jules up to a post and shooting him one day, and then coming back the next to finish killing him (Findley 59). As far as economics went, first the people couldn’t afford the system, or any system for that matter, due to inconsistency in a postal service (Bloss 23). Bloss, a writer of an informative book on the Pony Express states: “More pointedly, the Pony Express is to be explained in terms of a gigantic gamble. At stake was a veritable monopoly in mail transport to California. Russell’s unique plan, in effect, was a brave bet tossed in the poker game of postal policy” (Bloss 25). The purpose of the Pony Express had not began entirely due to mail transportation, but to gain $1 million dollars annually for a government mail system using the Central Overland California, and Pikes Peak Express Companies. It had started off as a money making deal, with the mail being the least of their worries (Pony 1). And when all was said and done, the owners and founders of the Pony Express had spend $700,000, with a $200,000 deficit, and they still failed to gain their &1,000,000 contract due to the upcoming Civil War and the Politics surrounding it (Pony 1). All these factors created a harsh environment for the people managing and running the pony express.
After 18 months of service, and 3,000 miles of trail, 400 horses, and almost 200 riders, the Pony Express came to a screeching halt. The telegraph wire had spread over 3,000 miles of land, facing Indian threats and bad weather, connecting east and west, and ridding the United States of the young and dangerous journey across the nation for communication (Adams 156). Although the Pony Express had been the fastest form of communication, and had proved there was a central travel route through the country during the winter, the Pony Express couldn’t have been any more successful. The odds were stacked to high against them, the Indian warfare, the endless hazards to come across every leg of the trip, and the money that wasn’t being made, stopped the movement of the Pony Express from East to West.
Findley, Rowe. “A Buckaroo Stew of Fact and Legend: The Pony Express.” National Geographic July 1980: 45+.
“Pony Express Information.” (1996): Online. Internet. 24 Feb. 2001. http://www.americanwest.com/trails/pages/ponyexp1.htm.
Adams, Samuel Hopkins. The Pony Express. EAU Claire: EM Hale, 1950.
“When the Pony Express was in Vogue.” (September 1925): Online. Internet. 23 Feb. 2001. http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist1/pxpress.html.
Bloss, Roy S. Pony Express-The Great Gamble. Berkley: Howell-North. 1959.