These stables were built in 1858 in St Joseph, Missouri, and purchased two years later to be the eastern terminus of the Pony Express. Wagon trains had been headed west from St Joe from the mid 1840’s, and during the “Gold Rush” from ’49 – ’51 more wagon trains started their trek here than any other Missouri River “Jumping-off” point. The train tracks and telegraph lines from the east ended here.
By 1860, there were really only a few methods of communicating between the east and west coasts. Ships could deliver mail (and goods) from the east coast, down South America and around Cape Horn, and up the western coast all the way to California. The fastest ships could make the trip in about three months.
Another option was to have the ship dock in Panama, have the mail sent by land across to the Pacific coast, then shipped up to San Francisco. This could be accomplished in about four weeks.
Or you could choose a stagecoach… Running between St Louis to San Francisco via El Paso only took 21- 23 days.
So the time was ripe for a private venture to drastically improve the communication possibilities… And the Pony Express was created. The hope was to get governmental mail contracts and get paid very well.
A course was laid out over 2,000 miles, with relay stations every 10 – 15 miles along the way. The rider had two minutes at a relay station to get a drink, relieve himself, and move the Mochila, or mail bag, to a fresh horse. The home stations were about 100 miles apart, and usually larger and somewhat more comfortable. Here the rider would hand off the Mochila to a fresh rider, and wait for the rider coming back the other way. He would then reverse over the same route he’d taken first, so each rider would have “his” route to repeat.
The mattresses were filled with grass, hay, straw or horsehair (bugs included), and the bed frame was made of rope. Every night the ropes would need tightening. Legend has it this is the origin of “Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!”
As the riders raced through towns, ladies would offer baked goods with holes in the middle so the riders could grab them (the food, not the ladies) and eat easily on the fly. Another legend has it that this is the origin of the doughnut… but that is patently false as doughnuts with holes in the middle had been around in Europe for a long time by then. But it’s a cool story.
The Mochila had four compartments, or Cantinas; three were locked shut, with the only two keys at the opposite ends of the trail. The fourth Cantina was open, to add mail at other stops if needed. The total weight of the mail was limited to 20 pounds, so letters were written on onion skin paper.
The Pony Express riders were young, and the pay was pretty good, if you didn’t mind long hours, very difficult terrain, and occasionally hostile Indians. (Only one Pony Express rider was killed by Indians.) The youngest rider was only 11!
Only young men of sterling character were accepted in the Pony Express. One of the business creators was a very religious man. He gave each rider a special edition Bible, and required they sign the following oath. I’m thinking it would be hard to enforce today…
The route went from St Joseph Missouri through what are now Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and on to Sacramento. From there the mail went on by boat on the Sacramento River to San Francisco.
The first riders left from each end of the route on April 3, 1860, with each Mochila making the first trip in about 10 days. The mail was usually delivered at that speed, with service once per week at first, and later going to twice weekly.
The fastest Pony Express run was to carry presidential election news: the 1860 election results were telegraphed to Fort Kearny in Nebraska Territory (then the end of the telegraph line), then the Pony Express carried the news to Fort Churchill, Nevada Territory, where it was telegraphed on to California. “California’s newspapers received word of Lincoln’s election only seven days and 17 hours after the East Coast papers, an unrivaled feat at the time.”
The Pony Express only ran for about 19 months. During that time, only one Mochila was lost; it was headed east and ran into some Indian wars on the route. (The mail bag finally showed up in New York 2 years later.)
When transcontinental telegraph lines were completed, the need for the Pony Express melted away. It was an amazing accomplishment!
Across the park from the Pony Express stable is this huge locomotive. While not as big as some I’ve reported on lately, it is still immense. Built in 1937 for about $100,000, it weighed 576,000 pounds. It ran for 20 years before being retired… I personally don’t weigh anywhere near that amount, and worked for way longer than that before retiring. Just saying…
We stayed for a few days in a Peculiar Park… Peculiar Park Place, to be exact. In the town of Peculiar, Missouri. It is really a nice RV park, with the only really peculiar thing being the way our GPS pronounced it… “Peck You Liar”… Very funny.