Richard Cleve Was A Modest Man and Heroic Pony Express Rider

By Arleta Martin

Photo: St. Joseph Missuem
Born: 1841, Orleans County, New York
Died: January 11, 1916, Nebraska City

Richard Cleve was one of those modest but highly useful Pony Express riders of Russell, Majors and Waddell in 1860 and 1861.

At this late date it is difficult to get data on the lives of those boys, for the most of them performed their duty quietly, and when the Pony Express went out of existence they went into other useful occupations , and never referred to the glory and distinction to which they were so well entitled.

Richard Cleve was born in Orleans County, New York, in 1841. In the late 1850’s when yet very young, he came west to Leavenworth, Kansas and went into the employ of Russell, Majors and Waddell. He crossed the plains to the West many times with their wagon trains, delivering supplies to the United States Army posts along that route.

In 1860, being well versed in horsemanship, and also on account of his daring and bravery, Cleve became one of the very first Pony Express riders employed, and was one of the last at the end of this venture.

Cleve’s relay was along the Platte River in Nebraska, from Fort Kearny west to Cottonwood Springs, a distance of about one hundred miles. William Campbell, another Pony Express rider, had the same route in the opposite direction, and they therefore passed each other on every trip.

During Cleve’s regime as a Pony Express rider he met with many harrowing experiences and many narrow escapes. The Indians were very hostile to the white men at that time. He also had to be on the lookout for renegade white men, who used to masquerade as Indians and commit many depredations and lay them at the door of the Indian. During the wet seasons he often had to swim the swollen streams on horseback in order to deliver the mail on schedule. One time when he arrived at a station where he was to change horses, he found the station burned to the ground, the stock tender dead, and all the stock driven away. But he continued with the horse he had ridden, and delivered the mail to the next station on time.

The winter of 1860-1861 was a severe one on account of snowfall and blizzards. The riders on their route could not go five miles an hour on account of deep snow, and could tell the road only by the weeds that reached above the snow. Richard Cleve remained in the employ of this freighting company for several years after the Pony Express venture was abandoned.

Richard Cleve married Mary Murphy, and from this union two children were born, but both died in infancy. They later went to an Orphan Asylum in Des Moines, Iowa and picked out a little orphan boy. This adopted son, Henry R. had the Colt, .45 caliber pistol that his father carried as a Pony Express rider as a prized possession.

In the late 1860’s, Richard and Mary located near Nebraska City, NE. Soon after, they were joined by William Campbell, who bought a farm only one mile from theirs. The two former Express riders were together often and long, and no two brothers were ever dearer to each other than those two Pony Express boys. When Mr. Campbell retired from the farm, he and his family moved to Stockton, CA.

Richard Cleve passed away in Nebraska City on January 11, 1916 at he the age of seventy five years. He now rests in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Nebraska City.

Arleta Martin
April 2002

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