Benjamin Ficklin Born: December 28, 1827, Albemarle County, Virginia

Died: March 10, 1871, Washington, DC

Benjamin F. Ficklin was route superintendent, or general manager, of Russell, Majors & Waddell's stage and Pony Express operations when it was created in 1860. He has also been credited as the man who originated the idea of the Pony Express.

Although he was expelled from Virginia Military Institute (VMI) for firing a howitzer at the cadet barracks, he eventually graduated with the Institute's class of 1849.

By the early 1850s he was on the western plains working for Russell, Majors & Waddell freight line. In the fall of 1854, Ficklin joined Senator William W. Gwin of California on his trip back east to Washington. Gwin was on the Post Office and Roads Committee and was the sounding board for the pioneers' vocal demand for a speedier mail delivery system.

Years later, Gwin wrote in his memoirs that en route to Washington, Ficklin laid out plans for a transcontinental courier mail service. He wrote: "Ben Ficklin is the man who originated the Pony Express and carried it into operation."

When John S. Jones and William Russell formed the Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Express Company in 1859, Ficklin was hired as route agent. When Jones and Russell renamed their operation the Central Overland, California & Pike's Peak Express Company, Ficklin was retained as the superintendent on the Denver to Salt Lake stretch of the run.

At an immigrant ford on the South Platte, called the California Crossing, the company had established a station to serve the stages it had acquired from Hockaday. A Frenchman, named Jules Reni, who had previously settled there and was conducting a profitable trade with travelers, was appointed station keeper, and the place came to be known as Julesburg.

Jules was a man of innately vile character and his ethics in business belied him not. His iniquity, compounded with fraud in company affairs, was discovered by Ficklin while traveling through on an inspection trip. He ordered Jack Slade to replace the rogue and arrange with him a settlement on missing company property.

That idea didn't appeal to Jules. When Slade appeared to carry out his instructions, he was met by the blast of a double-barreled shotgun. Either Jules' aim was off or he skimped a few shot in loading, for Slade was carried away, not quite dead, to recuperate. On the next stage, the story goes, Ficklin arrived, saw his duty, hanged Jules, and promptly departed again. But cohorts of the Frenchman, in the nick of time, cut him down, and the outlaws went into hiding.

On January 27, 1860, Russell announced the formation of the Pony Express and Ficklin was made general superintendent of this new operation and oversaw the building of 190 relay stations. By April 3, 1860, the relay stations were ready and manned from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, a distance of 1,966 miles. Ficklin had done an almost superhuman job of pulling the whole operation together, not to mention recruiting 50 riders and procuring 500 of the best horses available for a very dangerous job.

Although Ficklin had been the mastermind and the ramrod of the operation, Russell was the boss. He also was a man prone to petty jealousies, especially when someone else was getting much of the credit for the smooth running of the express.

From his office in Washington, Russell sent several letters to his representative in St. Joseph, questioning Ficklin's loyalty and competence.

When Ficklin heard of this he was outraged. He immediately fired a telegram off to Russell:

"Send a man for my place damn quick!"

Other senior partners in the enterprise knew Ficklin's worth, but Russell insisted that he should go. By July 1860, Ficklin had left the Pony Express.

After his employment with Russell, Majors & Waddell, Ficklin attempted to bid for the construction of the government-subsidized overland telegraph. Although unsuccessful with his bid, when the Pacific Telegraph Company was incorporated in Nebraska June 11, 1861, Ficklin was shown as one of the incorporators.

By then the drums of Civil War were beating and he went to Virginia where he was commissioned a major in charge of the quartermaster department, ordnance, of the state's Confederate forces.

After the Civil War, in 1867, in association with Frederick P. Sawyer, Ficklin won a weekly mail contract between San Antonio, Texas, and Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Follow this link for the rest of the story of Benjamin Ficklin (including his adventures during the Civil War, ownership of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, being accused as an accomplice in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and choking to death on a fish bone.