THE GREAT RACE AGAINST TIME: BIRTH OF THE PONY EXPRESS (continued)
"GREAT RACE AGAINST TIME," FIRST RUN: APRIL 3,1860
The Pony Express' first ride on April 3, 1860, and the fanfare of the cheering throngs in St. Joseph and Sacramento has been described so many times with flourishing detail  that this study will provide only the highlights of the dramatic event. These depictions do not always agree on the details of the event, so the following description is a composite of those views.
St. Joseph to Sacramento Ride
The basic description of the first run from St. Joseph centers around three elements: the arrival of the mail from the East, the staging of the first ride, and the identity of the first pony rider.
Despite careful planning, when the day of the big event arrived, the initial run did not occur without some difficulties. First, the Hannibal and St. Joseph train arrived late. Scheduled to arrive in St. Joseph in the late afternoon (5:00 p.m.), it did not arrive until nightfall. Apparently, the letters from Washington, D.C., and New York were delayed in Detroit, where the mail pouch had missed its connection by two hours. Hearing of the delay, J.T.K. Haywood, Superintendent of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad ordered a special locomotive with one coach to carry the pouch directly to St. Joseph. Notwithstanding this effort and after apparently setting company speed records, it still arrived two hours late. From the train station at Olive and Seventh and Eighth Streets, the pouch containing "49 letters, 5 private telegrams, and some papers for San Francisco and intermediate points" was then delivered to the starting point. This point was at one of several locations, most likely either the Pony Express stables on Penn Street, or the Pattee House on Twelfth and Penn Streets, the location of the Central Overland California & Pike's Peak Express Company office. 
Before the mail pouch was delivered to the first rider, time was taken out for ceremonies and several speeches. First, Mayor M. Jeff Thompson gave a brief speech on the significance of the event for St. Joseph. Then William H. Russell and Alexander Majors addressed the gala crowd about how the Pony Express was just a "precursor" to the construction of a transcontinental railroad. At the conclusion of all the speeches, approximately 7:15 p.m., Russell turned the mail pouch over to the first rider. A cannon fired, the large assembled crowd cheered, and the rider dashed to the landing at the "foot of Jules Street where the ferry boat Denver, alerted by the signal cannon, waited to carry the horse and rider across the Missouri River to Elwood, Kansas Territory. The identity of the first rider still remains a puzzle. Most sources agree that the rider was Johnson William "Billy" Richardson rather than Johnny Frye of Wathena, Kansas, as some believed. However, in his reminiscences, Richardson denied this honor. 
The first rider from the East reached Salt Lake City at 6:45 p.m. on April 9, 1860. ">The Deseret News commented upon his arrival that much credit was "due the enterprising and persevering originators of this enterprise and, although a telegraph is very desirable, we feel well satisfied with this achievement for the present." 
The mail pouch reached Carson City about 2:30 p.m. on April 12th.  From Carson City it traveled over the Sierra Nevadas to Placerville, California, where crowds gathered, guns fired, and speeches were made. From here, the pony sped on to Sacramento, where, according to one newspaper account:
At about midnight or 1:00 a.m., on April 14, 1860, the Pony Express from St. Joseph reached San Francisco via Sacramento and the steamboat Antelope. Prior to its arrival, at "every man's dinner table, men, women and children talked pony," the crowds getting out their watches to calculate and speculate the Pony Express' rate per mile.  Upon its arrival in San Francisco, the pony rider was escorted from the steamer to the heart of the city where "a great throng roared an enthusiastic welcome, the band played 'See the Conquering Hero Comes,' bonfires were lighted, speechmakers 'studied their points,' and a riotous celebration continued until nearly morning." 
San Francisco and Sacramento to St Joseph Ride
The sending of the first rider eastward from San Francisco and Sacramento was celebrated with as much gaiety as the festivities held in St. Joseph, Missouri. In San Francisco, on the appointed day, a substantial crowd gathered outside the Alta Telegraph office, where the firm's agent was located. According to one historian, San Francisco was decked out in flags and bunting for the occasion.
At 4:00 p.m. "a clean-limbed, hardy little nankeen-colored pony" sped away with the mail pouch, which read "Overland Pony Express" to the steamer Antelope that waited to carry the express mail up river to Sacramento. After a ten-hour ride, the steamer reached Sacramento in a hard rainstorm at approximately 2:00 a.m. Because of the lateness and the weather, no "reception committee" greeted it, except the express agent and the first rider eastward. The pouch was given to Harry Roff, who sped off into the night. 
In his memoir, Alexander Majors narrated the following description of the ride along the Pony Express route east of Sacramento:
Smith's Creek was one of the last stations belonging to the western-most division of the Pony Express. Majors' account was largely accurate, except that Fort Churchill was founded August 7, 1860, during the Pyramid Lake War, four months after the inauguration of the Pony Express. 
The second western-most division of the Pony Express ran from Smith's Creek to Salt Lake City. According to Alexander Majors, the rider:
The first pony rider from the west reached Salt Lake City on April 7, 1860.  From Salt Lake City, the first pony rider from California reached St. Joseph on May 14, 1860, and was "awarded an enthusiastic welcome." The local paper described the event as follows:
Eastern newspapers also noted the celebrations and rejoicings at the success of the first Pony Express run. For instance, the New York Times stated that St. Joseph was "illuminated," and that the "citizens paraded the streets with bands of music, fireworks were set off, speeches were made appropriate to the occasion, and the best feeling was manifested by everybody." 
It took seventy-five ponies to make the first trip from Missouri to California. The riders of these ponies had "shoved a continent behind their hooves," and many people recognized this important fact. The crowds cheered "Long live the Pony!" till their throats were sore. When the speeches ended, the bonfires were extinguished, the bells stopped ringing, and the last waltzes were danced, it remained to be seen whether the Pony Express would be a triumph or a failure.
Last Updated: 17-Jan-2008