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By Sarah P. Jonas
Grade 6

Imagine: Men racing ponies carrying letters and small packages nearly 2,000 miles through the wilderness to deliver mail to its destination.

Founded by William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddle, the Pony Express had its start when Russell of Missouri agreed with California Senator William Gwin to start an express mail service between the two states. Russellís freighting firm backed the project.

The purpose of the Pony Express was to provide a faster mail service and to link the east and west coast. Russell also hoped to get a million-dollar government mail contract. Other mail routes of that time were by boat and stagecoach which took up to 3 weeks or more.

The Pony Express started on April 3, 1860 and ran until October 24, 1861. The 1,966 mile route started in St. Joseph, Missouri, and ran along the Platte River to South Pass and Fort Bridger, turned to the Great Salt Lake, headed west across the Salt Desert to the Sierra Nevadas and ended in Sacramento, California.

Russell purchased 400 fast horses and ponies, hired 83 riders, and made 190 stations. Stations stood 10 to 15 miles apart. The horses traveled at 10 miles per hour and a well rested horse was positioned at each station. New riders took over every 75 to 100 miles.

Advertisements for the Pony Express ran like this: ď Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.Ē Most riders weighed 120 pounds. The riders got paid $100 to $150 a month.

The schedule of the Pony Express was 10 days in summer and 12 to 16 days in winter. The longest drive was awarded to Pony Bob Haslam who rode 370 miles in the same day.

The saddle bag or mochila, which is the Spanish word for knapsack, was a light leather bag that only the riderís weight held in place, allowing them to change horses in 2 minutes or less. Riders always carried a knife or gun for protection.

The fastest run in the history of the Pony Express was in March 1861. It was a copy of Lincolnís inaugural address. It came to California in just 7 days and 17 hours after leaving Missouri.

On October 24, 1861 the telegraph was completed. It was the official end of the Pony Express. The owners spent $700, 000 on the Pony Express and only got $500,000 back. The owners also failed to get the million-dollar contract because the Civil War broke out.

However, the Pony Express had some success. It proved that the central route (across the American wilderness) could be traveled all through winter. It also kept communication open to California and provided faster communication from east to the west until the telegraph. But the most important achievement is that it captured the imagination and hearts of people across this globe. Although the Pony Express lasted only 19 months it is still talked about to this day.

A re-enactment is held every June to commemorate this important chapter in American history.

sjonas-Pony Express Map


Crews, Tom. Pony Express Home Station,

Fulk, Odie. Pony Express, World Book Encyclopedia, 2001 ed. CD-ROM.

Pony Express National Memorial. American West - Pony Express Information. 1996

Querna, Betsy. TV News: Pony Express Rides Again. .

Sarah is home-schooled and lives in San Juan, La Union, Philippines, where her parents are missionaries. Her Mom (Lynn Jonas) is her teacher. She got an A.

Well done, Sarah.