First Mention of a Pony Express

“[The Butterfield Route] failed to address the question of how to provide mail service to Utah, not to mention the political question of how to maintain the North’s influence in California. . . .

[I]n January 1858 . . . Hockaday left Camp Scott and returned to Washington, where by March he was lobbying for an overland mail contract, possibly in a personal interview with President Buchanan.

Russell, meanwhile, was also headed for Washington, where in a February meeting with Secretary of War Floyd he broached for the first time the idea of a relay network of pony express mail couriers between the Missouri River and California.

In this battle of dreamers, Hockaday offered the more pragmatic vision. While in Washington he met wth George Chorpenning, who was then in the capital to renew his contract between Salt Lake and California. Between them Hockaday and Chorpenning agreed to submit their bids in tandem, in effect creating a mail service over a central route all the way to the Pacific. Hockaday wold carry the mail from St. Joseph, Missouri—soon to become the western terminus of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad—to Salt Lake City, a distance of 1,140 miles. Chorpenning wold carry the mail from there to Placerville, California, eventually shortening his route from 1,000 miles to 660. . . .

In effect the government, which had previously provided only $66,000 for mail on the central overland route between Independence and California, now committed itself to $320,000 a year, a serious investment that would allow Hockaday and Chorpenning to build a network of stations along the route. But the new outlays still paled beside the $600,000 awarded to Butterfield’s “ox bow route through the southwest.”