Did you know that there is such a thing as a Pony Express Museum? The Little Mail Carriers heard about it and wouldn’t stop badgering us to go… so when Duane (aka DuaneThePhilatelist) offered to take them for a visit, they jumped on an envelope and off they went. Here they are, to tell you all the story of that adventure.
Hello from a sunny St. Joseph, Missouri! We’re super excited to be taking a special tour of the Pony Express Museum today, and hopefully will learn a lot about this unique way mail was delivered back in 1860. The museum is actually inside a part of the Pike’s Peak Stables, from which westbound Pony Express riders set out on their journey — how cool!
The Pony Express was a short-lived mail service that delivered newspapers, letters, telegrams as well as government and commercial mail using riders on horses across the United States, between St. Joseph in Missouri and Sacramento in California. Here is a superb map of their route, which you can see in great detail on Wikipedia:
Why was there a need for this service though? Well, back in 1848, gold was found in California, and a lot of people rushed there in search of the opportunities it brought. California was a new state at the time, and its population was growing fast, so there was a lot of demand to connect the west coast with the rest of the country.
At the time, the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company ran a stagecoach service between Kansas and Missouri, and they thought that starting an express service could perhaps earn them a more lucrative contract with the United States government. So the Pony Express was launched on April 3, 1860, when two riders left from the opposite ends of the route, and completed their journeys of 1800 miles (or 2896 kms) in 10 days — an amazing feat that many thought would not be possible!
The Pony Express recruitment announcements were infamous for asking for young, skinny men, and stating that orphans were preferred. Although the payment was high for the time, the journey through the country was perilous, as there were often ambushes and raids. Some riders were killed and many horses stolen or driven off in the Pauite War with the Pauite Indian tribe, whose territory the route crossed. The Pony Express was forced to temporarily suspend its services due to the conflict, and some mail was lost.
Because this was an express service and the journey had to be super fast, riders could not carry a lot of mail with them. To make changing horses quick at relay stations, a special saddle cover (called a mochila) was crafted, which had four mail pouches (or cantinas) on each corner. Mail had to fit in these small pouches, so that the riders could be quick!
One of the most famous Pony Express riders was William Cody… aka Buffalo Bill! He began working for the Pony Express at age 15 and is said to have completed the longest ride, covering 322 miles (518 km) in 21 hours and 40 minutes, using 21 horses. His adventures were immortalised (and are said to have been greatly exaggerated) in a novel that launched him into the spotlight. Many more books and movies were made about his adventures, in which he often wore a “cowboy” hat.
Mail carried by the Pony Express riders had its own cancellation mark, and in the museum you get the opportunity to sort the mail yourself. Postal work is hard, and we were exhausted…
The Pony Express never managed to secure that government contract their founders had hoped for, and became bankrupt after 18 months, closing on October 26, 1861 — just 2 days after the first transcontinental telegraph started its operations. Despite having run for only a short period of time, the service is immortalised in the tales of the American West, and the original route is even a national historical trail that crosses 8 states.
And that’s it for our wonderful visit to the Pony Express Museum — we are off to explore a bit more, and hope you all have the opportunity to visit someday!
And a big thank you to Duane, for hosting the Little Mail Carriers and showing them around the museum! 😀 Who knows where the little ones are off to next… keep an eye on the blog for their future adventures!