The Pony Express

The Pony Express route ran from St Joseph Missouri to Sacramento California and covered 1,996 miles. It took the riders on average ten days to make this long trek.

This mail service only lasted 18 months from April 3, 1860 to October 26, 1961. The telegraph wires which provided such quick means of communication meant the death for the Pony Express.

When it began in 1860 the charge for delivery was $5.00 per ounce. Later it was reduced to $1.00 per ounce. The riders carried up to 20 pounds of mail. Because speed was so important, most of the riders were small weighing between 100 and 125 pounds. Average age was 20.  

The city of Gothenburg, Nebraska has the original station that was used by the riders. This cabin was first built in 1854 on the Oregon Trail and used as a trading post. The Pony Espress used the cabin as a station from during the short time it was in operation. Used after that as a Overland Trail Stage Station and then a storage building, in 1931 the cabin was taken down and restored in Gothenburgh. Mrs. C.A Williams bought the cabin and donated it to the city.

We visited the cabin site on our road trip west.

The Pony Express was founded, owned and operated by the freighting firm of William H. Russell, Alexander Majors and William B. Waddell.  There is a plague at the site remembering the founders. The Gold Rush of 1849, The Mormon journey to Utah in 1849 and the pioneers who moved west on the Oregon Trail in the 1840s created a need for a fast mail service.

Shortly after the Pony Express began Congress authorized the building of a transcontinental telegraph line connecting California to the East. On October 26, 1861 San Francisco was in direct contact with New York City. The last Pony Express letters completed their journey to California in November 1861.

Although it was only in service for 18 months, the legend of the riders have become a part of our American culture. In 1960 the post office issued a stamp in honor of the riders.

As a history nut, it was a great feeling to know I had stepped inside the cabin where many of the Pony Express riders had also been. I closed my eyes and just imagined one of them walking up to me and saying “hi.”

History Written in Stone

Following the Oregon Trail we came upon a large rock made of limestone. The rock stood high above the Platte River Valley. The soft limestone rock made it easy for people to carve their names in.

Travelers heading for Oregon carved their names in the rock. More than 700 names are on the rock. At one time the names included dates as early as 1829 and one reportedly from 1797. Historic experts judged these names as authentic. If true, they would represent the earliest white people to pass by here. They would have been mountain men who were fur traders.

Soldiers from hereby Fort Laramie also carved their names here. As the state of Wyoming first became a territory and then a state, cowboys and ranchers added their signatures.

Of course many of the old names have been lost due to erosion of the rock. Also many tourists have added their names. But the oldest names are protected by a tall wire fence.

I wanted to get closer to the area where it appears the oldest names were, but my husband was not sure how safe that would be. You could see that the rock had been crumbling for a long time. Who knew when the next portion of the rock might come down.

While we enjoyed seeing the names and to us it was a wonderful history lesson of our westward expansion, I had to realize to the Native Americans this was not something to enjoy.

Native Americans also used this rock for writing their own pictographs and marks. Years ago these markings were visible. But, just like the land that was once their hunting grounds, these markings have been lost as the white men added their names and marked over the Indian markings.

As I looked again at these pictures and remembered our trip west, I was reminded once again that our history lessons in school have been one-sided. We have read of the bravery and courage of those who left the east and traveled mile after mile to the west to build new cities and create farms. Little is said of the Native Americans who were pushed off their lands and had treaty after treaty broken by our government.

Still, for one who is a history nut, it was awesome to stand there and think that I was standing where some young family had stood almost 200 years ago. I tried to imagine what their thoughts were. Excited, scared, unsure.

What really excited me was standing in the ruts the wagons made in the soft limestone. In TV programs and movies we always see the wagon trains being pulled by horses and moving at a reasonable fast pace. In reality, these wagons were pulled by teams of oxen, mules or heavy draft horses. The horses we see on TV could never have made it over the mountains pulling those heavy Conestoga wagons.

The Mormons who followed this trail actually used push carts and walked the entire distance.

Traveling through the open terrain where you could see for miles in our air-conditioned car with restrooms, restaurants and hotels easily available, I really could not imagine what those first brave families heading from comfort and home to the great unknown.