Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Pony Express

Since we didn't start our trip west until noon on Sunday, September 15, our main goal for that day was just to get Chicago behind us, so we traveled only as far as Joliet, Illinois. The next day, the 16th, we crossed the rest of Illinois and all of Iowa and stayed that night in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The first two pictures in this post were taken on the afternoon of the 16th, as we drove across Iowa.

IMG_1644_MM70_I-80_Iowa Farmland
A farm scene in Iowa. Wind turbines are visible on the horizon, on the right.

This tower is at a scenic overlook on I-80 at Mile 15. I didn't really think the view was worth the climb, but it was good for stretching the legs and getting some fresh air.
These next photographs were taken on Tuesday, September 17, in the Nebraska town of Gothenburg, where an original Pony Express station is on display in a local park.

The plaque in front of the building says: "This old station once stood on the Upper 96 Ranch west of here and south of the Platte River, on the original Pony Express route. It was moved and restored by Gothenburg Post No. 64, American Legion."
The Pony Express was a private, non-governmental, mail service that carried mail from St. Joseph, Missouri, across the Great Plains, over the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, to Sacramento, California, by horseback, using a series of relay stations spaced every 10 to 12 miles. Horses were changed at every relay station. Riders changed about every 75-100 miles and rode day and night. In spite of the many hazards on the route, only one mail delivery was ever lost.

Founded by William H. Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors, the Pony Express operated for just under 19 months, from April 3, 1860, to October 24, 1861, when the completion of the Pacific Telegraph line ended the need for its existence. The Pony Express was never a financial success, but it has become part of the legend of the American West.
On display inside the Pony Express station in Gothenburg were some items of interest from the Pony Express days.


The mail was carried in a "mochila (pronounced mo-CHEE-lah)," a removable, lightweight, leather cover placed over a regular saddle. There were slits cut into the leather that allowed the saddle horn and cantle to protrude through. The mochila pictured above is an exact replica of those used by the Pony Express riders and is set on a Mexican saddle that is over 100 years old.

The mochila had four pockets, each of which could carry five pounds of mail. The price to send mail via the Pony Express started at $5.00 per half-ounce, although it had dropped to $1.00 per half-ounce by the end period of the Pony Express.
Above is a photograph of a painting depicting the change of horses at a relay station. You can see the bare saddle on the tired horse, the mochila having been quickly transferred to the saddle of a fresh horse.

Buffalo Hide Coat


The flyer advertising for Pony Express riders says: "WANTED...Young, Skinny, Wiry Fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. Wages $25 per week." It also states the goal of covering the distance from St. Joseph, Missouri to California (roughly 2,000 miles) in 10 days or less.

A flyer showing the Pony Express schedule

A map of the Pony Express route and locations of the relay stations


The Pony Express Rider Oath: "I, ........, do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God, that during my engagement, and while I am an employee of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will drink no intoxicating liquors, that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers, so help me God."

To read that oath is to be sadly reminded of how far America has fallen from those days when she honored and trusted in "the Great and Living God."


  1. Excellent post! I didn't realize the Pony Express only existed for 19 months.

  2. You have make beautiful photos, Linda!
    Greetings, RW & SK

  3. Linda, this is a really lovely post. I so enjoyed all the details. Thank you for taking the time to share them. When I was homeschooling our youngest we were living history presenters at the John Sevier Farmstead in Knoxville so you can see why I love this post. And I, too, was struck by the words of oath the riders took and agree - how far we have fallen.
    Have a great weekend.

  4. to me it sounds like an awesome job. i know probably dangerous & iffy at time but i think it should so fun!! think of all you would & could see. ( :
    great post. love all the info.

  5. Hi Linda that was a very interesting post and the pony express job would haMind you it wouldn't have lasted.

  6. Very nice share,hope you saw what I like the best

  7. wow. hadn't realized it was such a short-lived effort (the express business - not the riders, themselves, hopefully). quite an adventure for young men. scary as heck, too, i'd presume. the mochila is really cool!

    i like those rolling hills in iowa farm country, too.

  8. Linda, this is a beautiful and fascinating tour. Thank you so much for sharing it here!

  9. What a fascinating post. The pony express is now the stuff of legend, but it was good to see artifacts from the real time period. I totally agree that we wouldn't see an oath like the one the riders took in our country today. (Too bad!)

  10. Great pictures. I was recently surprised to learn that even though the Pony Express is burned into our collective consciousness, the company went bankrupt in less than two years.

  11. Yes we have come far in so many ways.Unfortunately some of the se ways have brought us farther down.I am happy that we now have the speed of internet and don't have to rely on a Pony Express. Guess we wouldn't be blogging if that was our option.LOL

  12. Great photos, Linda. I am "off" this week--but want to keep up with your trip posts. Interesting about the Pony Express being run privately... Too bad our mail delivery didn't remain private since the Govt. doesn't seem to be able to run anything accurately...


  13. What an interesting history! The amount of miles to cover in 10 days made me feel for the poor horses. I so agree that we've sadly fallen so far from God. We need another revival or something. Really enjoyed that first shot of the vista. Beautiful country!

  14. Beautiful photos. Looks like a nice trip.

  15. Wow, I didn't know that about the Pony Express... (I'm your newest GFC follower and RSS subscriber)...

  16. Quite interesting! Your pictures are GREAT and I loved reading all of the history of the Pony Express. I find it interesting that even though it was in existence for such a short time that it has had such an impact when it comes to the history of the West. Thanks so much for sharing!

  17. What an interesting read. Lovely shots to go with the story too!

    Mersad Donko Photography

  18. HI Linda! I am looking forward to all your travelogue. The photos of the pony express, and the Iowa farm were really fun. I love American history, so I would have liked to see that old post office too.

    You did a lot of driving! What a blessing that you can travel so well with your husband. That is a great gift in itself :)

  19. Hello, Linda, This post about the pony express was so informative and interesting. I truly enjoyed the pictures. It is how I like to travel and learn with such beauty/creativity in writing and pictures.

  20. I've enjoyed this post thoroughly, Linda, such an interesting topic. "I will, under no circumstances, use profane language..." I wouldn't expect Pony Express riders to take such an oath! :) And the advertisement for the riders... If you were willing to die fulfilling your job, you were the right applicant... Orphans preferred... So honest, wasn't it?

    PS I like the farm scene in Iowa, even with the wind turbines. :)

  21. What a fun post. Interesting and sad to read the want ad. And amazing that it was so short-lived despite its long-standing history and famous tales.

  22. This is a great post. The Pony Express was such a stroke of genius in its day.


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