William Campbell

William Campbell Born: April 16, 1841, in County Down Ireland

Died: 1932, Stockton, California

William Campbell emigrated to the United States in 1849 with his parents and nine siblings. The family settled in Rock Island, Illinois. At 16 years of age he and an older brother went to Nebraska City where they were employed by Russell, Majors & Waddell. As a bullwhacker he made a number of trips to Santa Fe and other places. When it was decided to start the Pony Express he was sent out on the route east of Salt Lake City to help build stations and supply them.

Seeing riders pass by every week, he decided he would rather carry a mochila than drive a slow-motion ox-wagon. Consequently in the summer of 1860, at 15 years of age, he was put on the run between Valley Station and Box Elder west of Fort Kearny.

Once he was caught between home stations by a terrific blizzard which piled up snow drifts from three to six feet deep. The trail was completely buried but he managed to keep to it by observing the tops of tall weeds in the day time and trusting the instinct of his horse at night.

When he reached Fort Kearny there was no one to carry on with the mochila. Since it was contrary to the Pony Express rider's code that it should stop, he went on with it to Fairfield Station, some fifteen miles to the east, where he arrived in an exhausted condition, having been in the saddle twenty-four hours without rest. He went to bed at four o'clock in the afternoon and slept until ten o'clock the next morning.

One night he got lost along the Platte River in a thunderstorm. He heard the sound of water in the stream, but in the darkness could not tell which way it was running. Untying his lariat he cast one end into the water. It floated downstream and by this he got his bearings.

On another night he came upon a pack of wolves devouring the carcass of a buffalo. When he forced his unwilling horse past them, the fierce animals gave chase. He quickly outdistanced them and got safely away. The next day he poisoned another carcass. When he came along again he found twelve dead wolves nearby, which he skinned. He gave the hides to a Sioux squaw whom he knew and she made him a beautiful robe.

On still another night his horse, "Ragged Jim," stepped into a buffalo wallow and threw the rider over his head. Then he galloped off toward the station he had just left. Gathering up the mochila which had also been thrown off, Campbell started down the trail running and shouting to attract the attention of a stage coach driver who had just passed. The driver heard him, took him aboard, and carried him to the next station where he got a horse.

The swiftest run he ever made was early in 1860 when a copy of Lincoln's first message to Congress was forwarded by Pony Express to California. Orders were sent along the line to break the record and every rider determined to do his best to comply with them. Fifteen miles an hour was announced as the schedule.

The reason for haste was that the issue of peace or war hung upon that message. People everywhere, both East and West, anxiously waited to hear what he would say. The fateful words were telegraphed to St. Joseph and delivered to the Pony Express riders. Away they raced through rain and sunshine, day and night. The mochila reached its destination in Sacramento in a few hours over seven days after it started from St. Joseph. The riders suffered no ill effects from their grueling experience but it cost a number of good horses their lives.

After his last ride with the Pony Express William Campbell turned to other occupations. He and his brother were well known in Salt Lake City as freighters. They secured contracts to haul merchandise from various points sometimes making as high as three trips in one season. Evidently it was not a paying proposition, for they sold their complete outfit within a few years and took a contract for grading along the line of the Union Pacific railroad, working on canals, and selling mules to the government.

In 1869 Campbell went to Nebraska City, Nebraska, where he became an important man in civic affairs. He later was elected State Senator. One of his most precious possessions was the Bible given to all Pony Express riders by Russell, Majors & Waddell. He was offered $300.00 for it but refused to part wtih this memento of Pony Pony Express days. He died at Stockton, California, in 1934 at 93 years of age, having lived to become the last surviving Pony Express rider.

Sources: Settle and Settle, 1972, Carter, 1960, and Joy Campbell Panzer, great grand daughter of William Campbell.