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Pony Express riders had to deal with extreme weather conditions, harsh terrain and the threat of attacks by bandits and Indians, but life may have been even more dangerous for the stock keepers who manned the relief stations.

2. It was a financial flop.

Their outposts were usually crude, dirt floor hovels equipped with little more than sleeping quarters and corrals for the horses. Many were located in remote sections of the frontier, making them extremely vulnerable to ambush.


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Accounts differ, but Indians reportedly attacked or burned several relay stations during the Pyramid Lake War in the summer of , killing as many as 16 stock hands. By contrast, only a handful of riders—six, according to the National Park Service —died in the line of duty during the entire history of the Pony Express. He even alleged that he once rode a record miles in a single run.

The company had spent its brief history bridging the gap between the Eastern and Western telegraph lines, but it was finally rendered obsolete on October 24, , when Western Union completed the transcontinental telegraph line at Salt Lake City. The Pony Express ceased service just two days later. Despite operating for only 19 months, its riders had successfully delivered some 35, pieces of mail and traveled more than half a million miles across the American frontier.

We strive for accuracy and fairness. Our efforts are a resource and point of reference for research and wider investigation by historians throughout the United States and the world. Volume 1, Issue 2 April—June The Pony Express is one of the most colorful episodes in American history, one which can be used to measure not only the growth of the nation, but the pioneering spirit of our predecessors. The name "Pony Express" evokes images of courageous young men crossing long stretches of country, frequently under harsh conditions, facing the constant threat of death.

And, like so many legendary events of the "Old West," there have been wild exaggerations of the facts.


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  • Despite the braggadocio, these young horsemen faced numerous dangers, such as thieves, deserts, or blizzards. Riders continued even at night when the only illumination came from the moon or flashes of lightening. After gold was discovered in in Sutter's Mill in California, prospectors joined with homesteaders flocking westward. Under the terms of the contract, the mail was carried by ship from New York to Panama, where it was taken across the Isthmus of Panama by horseback or rail, and then put aboard ships bound for San Francisco. Under the best of conditions, a letter could be carried to the West Coast in three or four weeks.

    "Spirit of the Pony Express" : 20 Minute Sundace Extended Cut

    But, that schedule was optimistic. As the tensions of the approaching Civil War grew, the division between northern and southern states widened, exacerbating the problems of mail service to the western states. Both the North and the South desired California's vast resources.

    Those people were determined to have the delivery time of their mail improved. The completion of a coast-to-coast railroad was years away. At that time, the railroads extended only as far west as the Mississippi River.

    10 Things You May Not Know About the Pony Express

    The completion of a telegraph linking both coasts was close to becoming a reality, but it would still be more than a year before it could be completed. Some mail also was hauled by stagecoach across country, beginning on September 15, , when the Post Office Department issued a contract to the Overland Mail Company, operated by John Butterfield. Although the advertised traveling time was 24 days, as a practical matter cross-country stagecoach mail service was often delayed for months. Such delays were keenly felt by Californians.

    Pony Express | HistoryNet

    The citizens of Los Angeles, for example, learned that California had been admitted to the Union fully six weeks after the fact. Short pristine segments, believed to be traces of the original trail, can be seen only in Utah and California.

    Pony Express Facts

    However, approximately historic sites may eventually be available to the public, including 50 existing Pony Express stations or station ruins. Read stories about the Pony Express National Historic Trail and browse the exhibits you can visit along the route.

    Pony Express Articles

    If you want to know even more, find books to read in our bibliography. Follow the trail with auto tours that closely parallel the historic route s. The tour for each state includes a map image and driving directions that provide opportunities for discovering the remnants and significant resources of the trail. Info Alerts Maps Calendar. Alerts In Effect Dismiss. A Brief History More than 1, miles in 10 days!