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Pony Express: Facts & Fiction

Pony Express: Facts & Fiction




● The Pony Express operated from April 3, 1860, to October 26, 1861; the last run was completed Nov. 21, 1861.

● Pony Express motto: “The mail must go through.”

● The 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.”

● Trail length: 1,966 miles, with riders covering about 60-120 miles each.

fig12● At peak, there were 190 stations (65 in the UtahTerritory, which took in Utah, Nevada and western Colorado), 80 riders and 420 horses.

● Average speed: 7 miles per hour.

* Average delivery: 10 days. Riders set a record delivering Lincoln’s inaugural address to California, in seven days and 17 hours.

● Mail cost: $5/half-ounce — about $85/letter in today’s money.

● Longest ride: Bob Haslam rode 380 miles when his relief rider refused to go on because of Indian threats. Haslam found the station keeper killed at another stop.



● Pony Express ads recruiting riders said “orphans preferred.”

“It sounds good in print, but the advertisement didn’t come into existence until 1923 for a magazine cover,” said Pat Hearty of South Jordan, Utah Division president for the National Pony Express Association.

pony express - 13● Buffalo Bill Cody was a Pony Express rider.

“His case is not very good for having been a Pony Express rider,” said Hearty, noting that Cody would have been 14 years old. “He worked for the company, and probably was a messenger for the company as a very young boy. To give him credit, he probably had more to do with keeping the memory of the Pony Express alive than anyone. … He had it as part of his Wild West show.”

● Wild Bill Hickok rode for the Pony Express. Nope, but he was an assistant station tender at Rock Creek Station, Neb.

● Frank T. Hopkins, about whom Disney made the movie “Hidalgo,” rode for the Pony Express.

● Doughnuts were invented because girls wanted to give rider Johnny Fry a treat that’s easy to hold on horseback. This is part of doughnut lore, but it may also be that pastries cook better with the center gone.

Sources: National Pony Express Association,; “Pony Express Trail National Back Country Byway,” brochure about the Utah trail from the Bureau of Land Management; Pony Express National Historic Trail brochure from the National Park Service, BLM and U.S. Forest Service.


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