Jack Keetley

Photo of Jack Keetley Born: November 28, 1841, in England.

Died: October 2, 1912, in Salt lake City, Utah.

At the age of nineteen, Jack Keetley was hired by A. E. Lewis for his Division and put on the run from Marysville to Big Sandy. He was one of those who rode for the Pony Express during the entire nineteen months of its existence.

His longest ride, upon which he doubled back for another rider ended at Seneca were he was taken from the saddle sound asleep. He had ridden 340 miles in thirty-one hours without stopping to rest or eat.

In 1907, Keetley wrote the following letter:

Salt Lake City, Utah, August 21, 1907
Mr. Houston Wyeth, St. Joseph, MO.

Dear Sir:

Yours of the 17th inst. received, and in reply will say that Alex Carlyle was the first man to ride the Pony Express out of St. Joe. He was a nephew of the superintendent of the stage line to Denver, called the "Pike's Peak Express." The superintendent's name was Ben Fickland. Carlyle was a consumptive, and could not stand the hardships, and retired after about two months trial, and died within about six months after retiring. John Frye was the second rider, and I was the third, and Gus Cliff was the fourth.

I made the longest ride without a stop, only to change change horses. It was said to be 300 miles and was done a few minutes inside of twenty-four hours. I do not vouch for the distance being correct, as I only have it from the division superintendent, A.E. Lewis, who said that the distance given was taken by his English roadometer which was attached to the front wheel of his buggy which he used to travel over his division with, and which was from St. Joe to Fort Kearney. The ride was made from Big Sandy to Ellwood, opposite St. Joe, carrying the east going mail, and returning with the westbound mail to Seneca without a stop, not taking time to eat, but eating my lunch as I rode. No one else came within sixty miles of equaling this ride, and their time was much slower.

The Pony Express, if I remember correctly, started at 4 o'clock p.m., April 16, 1860, with Alex Carlyle riding a nice brown mare, and the people came near taking all the hair out of the poor beast's tail for souvenirs. His ride was to Guittard's, 125 miles from St. Joe. He rode this once a week.

The mail started as a weekly delivery, and then was increased to semi- weekly inside of two months. The horses, or relays, were supposed to be placed only ten miles apart, and traveled a little faster than ten miles per hour so as to allow time to change, but this could not always be done, as it was difficult then in the early settlement of the country to find places where one could get feed and shelter for man and beast, and sometimes horses had to go twenty-five to thirty miles, but in such cases there were more horses placed at such stations to do the work, and they did not go as often as the horses on the shorter runs.

At the start the men rode from 100 to 125 miles, but after the semi-weekly started, they rode about 75 or 80 miles. My ride and those of the other boys out of St Joe was 125 miles to Guittard's but later we only rode to Seneca eighty miles.

The first pony started from the one-story brick express office on the east side of Third Street, between Felix and Edmond Streets, but office was afterwards moved to the Patee House. At 7 o'clock a.m. we were ordered from the stables two blocks east of the Patee House by firing of a cannon in front of the Patee House which was the signal for the ferry boat to come from Ellwood and to lie in waiting at the landing until our arrival.

We rode into the office and put on the mail, which consisted of four small leather sacks six by twelve inches, fastened on to a square macheir which was put over the saddle. The sacks were locked with little brass locks much like one sees to-day on dog collars, and the sacks were sewed to the macheir, one in front and one behind each leg of the rider. When the mail was put on, and the rider mounted on his race horse, which was always used out of St. Joe to the Troy Station, nine miles from Ellwood, he bounded out of the office door and down the hill at full speed, when the cannon was fired again to let the boat know that the pony had started, and it was then that all St. Joe, great and small, were on the sidewalks to see the pony go by, and particularly so on the route that they knew the pony was sure to take.

We always rode out of town with silver mounted trappings decorating both man and horse and regular uniforms with plated horn, pistol, scabbard, and belt, etc., and gay flower-worked leggings and plated jingling spurs resembling, for all the world, a fantastic circus rider. This was all changed, however, as soon as we got on to the boat. We had a room in which to change and to leave the trappings in until our return. If we returned in the night, a skiff or yawl was always ready and a man was there to row us across the river, and to put the horse in a little stable on the bank opposite St. Joseph. Each rider had a key to the stable. The next day we would go to the boat, cross the river, bring our regular horse and our trappings across to the St. Joe side. We stayed in St. Joe about three days and in Seneca about the same length of time, but this depended pretty much on the time that we received the mail from the West.

The Pony Express was never started with a view to making a paying investment. It was a put-up job to change the then Overland mail route which was running through Arizona on the southern route, changed to run by way of Denver and Salt Lake City, where Ben Holladay had a stage line running tri-weekly to Denver and weekly to Salt Lake. The object of the Pony Express was to show the authorities at Washington that by way of Denver and Salt Lake to Sacramento was the shortest route, and the job worked successfully, and Ben Holladay secured the mail contract from the Missouri River to Salt Lake, and the old southern route people took it from Salt Lake City to Sacramento. As soon as this was accomplished and the contract awarded, the pony was taken off, it having fulfilled its mission.

Perhaps the war also had much to do with changing the route at that time. I hope the data I have given you will be satisfactory and of value to you. I have been asked for it many times, but have always refused. You will please excuse me for not sending my photo or allowing my people at home to furnish the old daguerreotype there that was taken when I made the ride as I am much opposed to publicity and newspaper notoriety or any other puffs, but it is impossible to always keep clear of reporters and to keep them from saying something.

I will add that the letters were all wrapped in oil silk, in case the pony had to swim, to keep the mail dry, and the regular charge was $5.00 a half ounce.

Yours truly,
Jack Keetley

Source: Visscher, Pony Express, A Thrilling and Truthful History

After the Pony Express was disbanded, Keetley went to Salt Lake City where he engaged in mining. For many years prior to 1902 he was superintendent of the Little Bell mine near Park City, Utah, and for four years afterward he served in the same capacity at the Silver King mine near the same place.

Source: Raymond W. Settle and Mary Lund Settle. Saddles and Spurs, The Saga of the Pony Express.