“Pony Express Day” is observed the last Sunday in August and is to honor and celebrate the brave riders who were a part of the mail service (with the same name) delivering mail, messages, newspapers, and small packages from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California. It began due to a need for faster communication with the West. Stretching 2,000 miles, the route trailed through the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Mail reached the end points in 10 days. This mail service lasted 18 months, beginning April 3, 1860 and ending October 24, 1861.
Even though it only lasted a short time, the Pony Express is an important part of our country’s history. It employed 120 riders and almost 400 personnel to work the stables, coordinate routes, man the stations, cook meals, etc. The company had 400 horses and 184 stations. There were 2 types of stations. “Swing” or “relay” stations were about 10-15 miles apart and used for the riders to change horses. “Home” stations were spaced 90-120 miles apart. Riders had their room and board here when not working.
Riders could not weigh over 125 pounds, use foul language, fight, or drink alcohol. Honesty and faithfulness to the job were also expected. At hiring, riders had to sign an oath to abide by these rules. On average, 80 riders were working at any time. They rode 75-100 miles at a time and switched horses 8-10 times. In an emergency, they might ride 2 stages. Riders rode day and night, year round, and through all types of weather. They carried 20 pounds of mail and 20 pounds of equipment, which included a water sack, Bible, a revolver, and a horn used to alert the upcoming station to get a horse ready for their arrival.
Some of the Pony Express’s famous employees were William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Robert “Pony Bob” Haslam, Jack Keetly, Bronco Charlie Miller, and James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok. Hickok was a stocktender, while the others were riders. Miller was hired at age 11 and is said to be the youngest rider. Keetly rode 340 miles in 31 hours without stopping to rest or eat. Haslam made the longest round trip on record at 380 miles. He was even shot in the jaw by an Indian arrow and lost 3 teeth during this ride.
Put out of business by the completion of the Pacific Telegraph lines in October 1861, the Pony Express was a massive employer during its reign. The original Pikes Peak Stables in St. Joseph, Missouri have been restored and are open as the Pony Express Museum. Pony Express Day festivals are held throughout the United States. The Pony Express and its riders are commemorated for exhibiting the pioneer spirit of the Old West. Maybe you can go to a museum, festival, or horseback riding in your area to celebrate the day!