Historic Examples of Pony Express

The idea of a courier carrying messages on horseback over long distances was old when Columbus pointed the prows of his tiny vessels toward the Wes tern Hemisphere. In the 12th century Genghis Khan, Mongolian conquerer of Northern China and Central Asia, organized a vast, empire-wide network of military communication lines over which relays of fast riding horsemen sped messages to the capital. The idea was not new, even with him, for horses in the West and camels in the East had been employed in travel and communication since time immemorial.

Post roads were common is England and on the Continent long before the Pilgrims exiled themselves in Holland in 1608. At Scrooby, where the band of expatriates originated, William Brewster, like his father before him, was keeper of the inn, and supplied horses for both stage coaches and post riders on the London-York road. Postmen with relays of horses were known in America as early as 1692, when Thomas Neale was authorized to take charge of the colonial postal business. During the Revolution, military expresses rode continually between the various armies in the field and Congress in Philadelphia. As the frontier moved westward, postmen on horseback rode the wilderness trails farther and farther west.

In 1825, David Hale, a New York newspaper editor, used fast horsemen to carry news from various parts of the state, and five years later Richard Haughton, of the New York Journal of Commerce, used them to collect election returns. James Watson Webb, of the New York Courier and Enquirer, in 1832, established a pony express between Washington and New York.

During the War with Mexico, expresses regularly traveled the nine hun· dred miles along the Santa Fe Trail between Fort Leavenworth and Santa Fe, and Colonel Alexander W. Doniphan sent at least one back from Chi· huahua. He also sent another from that city to General Zachary Taylor at Monterey seven hundred miles to the south. In 1848 Francis X. Aubry made the first of his four famous rides from Santa Fe to Independence, Missouri. On the last of these he covered the distance in five days and sixteen hours, using relays of horses. Alexander Majors, who saw him on o.ne of these rides, said those long journeys greatly influenced him and his partners in founding the Pony Express. In 1853, when an important Presidential message reached San Francisco by steamer, the Adams and Wells Fargo Express Companies agreed to make a race of delivering it to Oregon by relays of fast riding horsemen. The Adams Company won the race.

During the Mormon War in Utah, express men carrying reports by General A. S. Johnston regularly rode the twelve hundred miles between Camp Scott and Camp Floyd, and Fort Leavenworth. As previously shown, Morehead and Rupe made the trip in midwinter of 1857-58, and Majors himself rode to Utah and back in the latter year, arriving at Nebraska early in January, 1859. Travel over the Central Route was so common there was not the slightest doubt in Russell’s mind or the minds of his partners that a pony express could be successfully operated the year round. Majors and Waddell never questioned the possibility of that. They did, however, doubt that it would be a money-making enterprise.

The experiment of carrying the mail from the Pacific Coast to Salt Lake City by muleback was made by George Chorpenning with his “Jackass Mail” in 1851-58. Throughout the venture he simply loaded the pouches onto the backs of mules and made the trips without relays. In 1858 he arranged for swift riders, perhaps also mounted upon mules, to carry President Buchanan’s annual message to Congress in as short a time as possible. This was done in midwinter, and the document was delivered in California in seventeen days, eight and one half hours. It should be observed that this feat, which at that time was regarded as amazing, was accomplished at about the time that Morehead and Rupe were bucking the snow on their way to Fort Leavenworth, and more than a year and a half before Colonel Bee went to Washington. Both Russell and his Salt Lake City associates no doubt heard about it.