Wednesday, April 10

We Were There with the Pony Express

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After the Gold Rush, Oregon Trail, and flood of Americans to the west, a mail service was needed that went beyond the Rocky Mountains.  To meet this need, three men founded an express mail company that came to be known as the Pony Express.  Though it only operated for eighteen months, it came to symbolize the Old West.

In April of 1860, the first rider set off on the 1,800 mile journey from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California.  The mail was exchanged, and a new horse provided, at every station along the route.  About every hundred miles, a new rider took over as well.  This kept the mail moving at a good clip!  (Mail usually took weeks to arrive, but came in only nine days on the Pony Express.)

The speedy pace wasn’t cheap though…it cost $5 / half-ounce to mail a letter.  That’s roughly $100 today!  Riders were paid $100 / month (at a time when people made $1 / day), but faced some difficult weather and many dangers, including Indians, robbers, and animal attacks.  Most riders were skinny teenagers who wanted excitement!

Only ten weeks after the Pony Express began, the government started building a telegraph line.  When that was completed in October, 1861, the Pony Express shut down because it was much quicker to send a telegram.  Interestingly, the fastest delivery in the history of the Pony Express was clocked at seven days and seventeen hours – it was to deliver President Abraham Lincoln's inaugural address.


Make / Do


Define / Identify
  • rushed
  • hurried
  • ambush
  • plains
  • express
  • mochila
  • stagecoach
  • telegraph
  • St. Joseph
  • Sacramento
  • William Cody

  • Write a journal entry describing your day as a rider on the Pony Express.  Include details about terrain, weather, and who you meet along the journey.
  • What kind of job do you think the Pony Express riders might want to have if they lived today?  Why?

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  1. They weren't merely 'skinny teenagers who wanted excitement' … Wells Fargo targeted orphans so that if they died during the course of the journey, they wouldn't leave behind families who would miss them.

    The orphans themselves had a hard time passing up a job that required so few hours but would pay that well.

    1. I believe that. That quote was derived from information in the public domain. I imagine orphans often were 'skinny teens,' however, as they probably had little to eat and were working hard. Thanks for pointing that out.