Pony Express Letter

The Mail

Placerville Cancellation The Pony Express charged $5.00 a half ounce; later this charge was reduced to $1.00. The first ten words of a telegram carried in the mochila was $3.45. This charge was in addition to any charges levied by the telegraph companies. For a comparison of 1860 cost vs. today's cost, check here.

Reports of the first mail carried by Pony Express is somewhat limited. Roy Bloss, in his book Pony Express-The Great Gamble, states that the number of letters carried was not very accurately recorded. Supposedly the first westbound rider carried 49 letters, five telegrams and a few special editions of the New York Herald and Tribune newspapers, printed on special lightweight paper. The St. Joseph Gazette also had a special edition on board which it claimed was the first newspaper every transmitted to California in eight days. On arrival in Sacramento, the Sacramento Union reported that the rider had brought about 80 letters for Sacramento and San Francisco. The first eastbound express carried 56 letters from San Francisco. Thirteen additional letters were added to the mochila in Sacramento.

Cancellations Hand franks were used at Pony Express offices to evidence payment for the courier service. Envelopes generally were stamped with two such devices, one marking receipt at the Pony office of origin, and the second on arrival at the destination office. In addition to these designs, occasionally there is found a "PAID" stamp in an oval shape, sometimes incorporating the words, "California Pony Express." After the advent of Wells, Fargo & Co., new franks were devised, eliminating the running horse in the San Francisco and St. Joseph impressions. Click here for more information on Pony Express Rate Periods.

Nathan and Boggs, in their book The Pony Express, have a listing of all known Pony Express covers. They list two eastbound letters both originating in San Francisco and dated April 3, 1860. They arrived in St. Joseph on April 13, 1860. One had a destination of "N.Y. 4/17" and the other "Wash. D. C." Both had 10c postage.

Richard Frajola, in his book The Pony Express: A Postal History, includes: Photo census of the 250 known Pony Express covers; List of all Pony Express trips with departure and arrival dates: Postal history including an examination of the markings and usages;Operational phases and rate periods accurately delineated for the first time; Historical perspective on the management of the Pony Express; Detailed route maps.

The Marysville, California, newspaper The Daily Appeal, reported on April 13, 1860 that

"Judge Field showed us a letter last evening which he had just received from New York through Pony Express. We suppose of course, that its contents were telegraphed to St. Louis, and thence to the extreme Western station, as its date is New York, April 3d. That looks like doing a lightning business with the East, don't it?"

The Pony Express was used frequently by the British Government in forwarding its Asiatic correspondence to London. In 1860, a report of the activities of the English fleet off the coast of China was sent through from San Francisco eastward. For the transmission of these dispatches the British Government paid $135 for Pony Express charges.

The commercial houses of the Pacific Coast cities did not appear to mind a little expense in forwarding their business letters. Often there would be up to twenty-five $1 "Pony" stamps and the same number of Government stamps (for a total of $27.50) on a single envelope.

For the nineteen months that the Pony Express was in service 308 runs were made (westbound and eastbound) for a total distance of 616,000 miles. A total of 34,753 pieces of mail was carried. Of that number 18,456 pieces of mail originated in San Francisco, 4900 originated in Sacramento. At the same time San Francisco received 9553 pieces of mail from the east; Sacramento received 1844.

Out of all of the mail carried, there are only two accounts of lost mail:

After the Paiute uprising in May 1860 a number of stations between Carson City and Salt Lake City were destroyed. The New York Daily Tribune of May 31, 1860, reported in a dispatch to the Tribune from St. Joseph that the mail that was supposed to arrive in St. Joseph on May 28 was a day late. It had dispatches from Salt Lake City, but not California. The Tribune quotes the following note from Salt Lake City which it says was attached to the waybill:

"The rider has just come in. The Indians have chased all the men from the stations between Diamond Spring and Carson Valley. The pouch in which the express matter is carried is lost."

Another account of accidental lost mail was in the New York Tribune around September 1, 1860, as a dispatch from San Francisco written around August 18:

"The pony which should have brought the express letters, with St. Louis dates to Aug. 4 arrived at Carson River on the morning of the 15th, without rider or letter bags. The supposition is that the horse threw the rider and got away, or else that the Indians killed the rider, took the letter-bags, and allowed the horse to escape-the latter part of the theory not being probable, as the Indians would have kept the horse also. The pony arrived at the station only a few hours behind time; so that the accident or whatever was the matter, must have happened but a short distance east of Carson Valley."

The above information provided by Jackie Lewin, Curator of History, St. Joseph Museum.

Another source states that only one Mochila was lost. It is believed that a letter from the missing Mochila was delivered to its destination in 1863. It was marked with a note indicating that the letter had been recovered from a Pony Express Mochila some Indians had taken during an attack on a rider.

Return to List