Bret Harte

Born in 1836, Bret Harte tried several occupations before he became a writer and a journalist, and his writing life was full of ups and downs. He became the founding editor of the Overland Monthly in 1868, some years after being run out of Eureka California for printing a factual report of a massacre of Indians.

In the early 1870s, Harte was at the top of his career. It's said he was the highest paid, most-read author of the day. Mark Twain is quoted as saying " . . though I am generally placed at the head of my breed of scribblers in this part of the country, the place properly belongs to Bret Harte."

But his popularity became his undoing and he found himself unable to produce and compete with other writers of the day. In 1877 he became a commercial agent in Prussia, and later American Consul in Glasgow, Scotland. He died 25 years later in London.

While best known for his stories such as The Luck of Roaring Camp and The Outcasts of Poker Flat, Harte also wrote numerous poems, including the wildly popular satire "The Heathen Chinee," which he called "the worst poem I ever wrote."

This poem by Bret Harte comes from "Poems Two Men of Sandy Bar and Stories and Poems and Other Uncollected Writings", The California Edition, Vol. 5, by Bret Harte, Boston and New York, Houghton Mifflin Co. 1929. It was first published in the GOLDEN ERA, July 1, 1860 (this is the paper Harte worked at as a typesetter, after having left Humboldt County in March 1860.)


In times of adventure, of battle and song,
When the heralds of victory galloped along,
They spurred their faint steeds, lest the tidings too late
Might change a day's fortune, a throne, or a state.
Though theirs was all honor and glory---no less
Is his, the bold Knight of the Pony Express.
No corselet, no vizor, nor helmet he wears,
No war-stirring trumpet or banner he bears,
But pressing the sinewy flanks of his steed,
Behold the fond missives that bid him "God-speed."
Some ride for ambition, for glory, or less,
"Five dollars an ounce" asks the Pony Express.

Trip lightly, trip lightly, just out of the town,
Then canter and canter, o'er upland and down,
Then trot, pony, trot, over upland and hill,
Then gallop, boy, gallop, and galloping still,
Till the ring of each horse-hoof, as forward ye press,
Is lost in the track of the Pony Express.

By marshes and meadow, by river and lake,
By upland and lowland, by forest and brake,
By dell and by caņon, by bog and by fen,
By dingle and hollow, by cliff and by glen,
By prairie and desert, and vast wilderness,
At morn, noon, and evening, God speed the Express.

Poem kindly provided by Tom Cairns, September 2001.