Pony Express
Historic Resource Study
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Chapter Nine:


The Pony Express was officially discontinued on October 26, 1861, with the completion of the overland telegraph line. During the eighteen months of operation, it made 308 rides each way, covering a distance of 616,000 miles, and carrying approximately 35,000 pieces of mail, with a good percentage of the mail (67 percent) going east from San Francisco and Sacramento; [1]

In the end, the Central Overland California & Pike's Peak Express Company did not enjoy a favorable reputation. With $400,000 of debt, its equipment in poor shape, and most of its stations displaced by the completion of the transcontinental telegraph, employees of the C.O.C. & P. .P. . Express Co. derided the company, calling it the "Clean Out of Cash and Poor Pay" Express Company. Because Russell, Majors, and Waddell had borrowed extensively from Ben Holladay, a promoter and investor, during the months of May-July, 1861, to keep the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. afloat, Holladay secured a chattel mortgage on the entire line and its equipment as security for his investment. When the company went under, the firm executed a deed of trust to Holladay for the company. However complications arose and Ben Holladay was obliged to purchase the company in a foreclosure auction in order to protect his investment. On March 21, 1862, his offer of $100,000 was the highest bid among those submitted. Though Holladay purchased the stagecoach line and made it prosperous and him famous as a transportation entrepreneur, he had no intentions of resurrecting the Pony Express. [2]


After its demise, people did not forget about the Pony Express, but its heroic history was resurrected from the annals of history as a significant page in transportation and communication history. Though William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody demonstrated the Pony Express in his Wild West shows in the 1880s, recognition of the significance of the Pony Express came at the turn of the century after the publication of Frederick Jackson Turner's famous essay "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" in 1893. Thereafter, fearing the consequences of the frontier closing on our American character, we as a nation, drew strength from our frontier heritage and rise of the American West. In this quest for a usable past, the Pony Express became a usable American Western icon, symbolizing America's strength, work ethic, entrepreneurship, and individual heroism.

American companies soon capitalized on the Pony Express to make correlations between it and their products. For example, one nationwide credit card company offered its customers the opportunity to purchase a collection of United States historic coins, one coin displaying a Pony Express rider. [3] Another nationwide automotive store advertised its tires by stating that they were tough enough to withstand a drive at high speeds over the Pony Express trail. [4] In another instance, Harrah's, a famous Lake Tahoe hotel and resort, erected a statue of a Pony Express rider to promote tourism to the area. [5] These forms of advertising, and many others, confirmed both the fact that the Pony Express was regarded as a widely known and important historical event, and that Americans held it in high regard as an important symbol of our American heritage.

Since the turn of the century, Pony Express celebration events have allowed Americans to become familiar with the activities of the Pony Express. The historical significance of the Pony Express was first highly publicized in 1912, when the Daughters of the American Republic erected a monument in St. Joseph, Missouri, to commemorate the starting point of the Pony Express. [6] In honor of the event, Colonel W.F. Cody and Charles Cliff, former Pony Express riders, attended the dedication. [7]

Almost ten years later, in 1923, the first re-ride of the Pony Express was organized. Sixty riders traversed eight states in a celebration commemorating the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. that was formed sixty-three years earlier. Authenticity of the original days of the Pony Express was provided by the dress of the riders, as well as the route of the re-ride. In an attempt to confirm facts regarding the Pony Express, the Pony Express Celebration Committee conducted research regarding who was actually the first rider on the trail out of St. Joseph. They discovered that Johnson William Richardson to be the first rider and not Johnny Fry as supposed. During the 1923 celebration, Richardson was acknowledged as the first rider. [8]

In 1935, the Diamond Jubilee of the Pony Express, a second re-ride of the route was made, sponsored by the Oregon Trail Memorial Association. On April 3, the date that the Pony Express began, celebration activities began across the nation. In August, approximately 300 Boy Scouts participated in the re-ride of the Pony Express historic trail. All events ended in late October, which signified the start of the transcontinental telegraph and the end of the Pony Express. [9] At the time of the Diamond Jubilee, the Oregon Trail Memorial Association gathered information in an effort to mark the graves of former Pony Express riders. Furthermore, the association also urged that the old Pony Express stable in St. Joseph be preserved. [10] In the 1950s, the Pony Express stables were partially restored, and by 1959 they were opened as a museum dedicated to the Pony Express. [11]

In 1960, the centennial celebration of the Pony Express received larger national attention than previous celebrations. Organizations from each state along the trail of the Pony Express worked closely with the National Pony Express Centennial Committee and other groups to ensure a banner celebration. Several state legislatures even appropriated money to finance work within their states. To raise enthusiasm for the event, the Department of Treasury and the United States Postal Service produced Pony Express commemorative coins and stamps. [12] Riders in the celebration departed from Saint Joseph on April 3 and arrived in San Francisco on April 15. [13] Sixteen years later, in the spirit of the American Bicentennial, Congress authorized the Bureau of Land Management to mark the Pony Express Trail in Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. [14]

On a regional level, state legislatures and trail committees have worked diligently to promote the historical significance of the Pony Express. [15] For example, in 1919, Kansas endorsed a program to place historical markers along its highways where the Pony Express route passed. [16] Or, for instance, in June 1952, Governor J. Bracken Lee of Utah supported the Pony Express Mid-Century Memorial Commission of Utah, which sought funding to erect a statue entitled "The Pony Express Memorial" in Washington, D.C.—an effort that failed to accomplish its vision. [17] Additional regional efforts were made in California. By the late 1950s, the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the Central Overland Pony Express Trail Association erected Pony Express markers for the stations along the route in that state. [18] During the 1960s, the National Pony Express Centennial Association erected markers in the eight states traversed by route of the Pony Express. [19]

In 1966, the National Pony Express Association (NPEA) was founded. This organization, with 700 current members, incorporated in 1978. Outside the United States, members also come from Germany, England, and the Czech Republic.

In the past, NPEA's chief involvement with the trail was their national reride, with the first occurring in 1980. The organization has become much more active in recent years, most notably with their efforts to have the trail authorized as the Pony Express National Historic Trail under P.L. 102-328 (August 3, 1992). This organization also worked very closely with the National Park Service to prepare the Eligibility / Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment for the California and Pony Express Trails (1986). [20]

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Last Updated: 17-Jan-2008