Pony Express Role in the Central Route

“Some historians have spuriously argued that the Pony Express established the feasibility of the central route across the continent and hastened the building of the Union and Central Pacific Railroads. Alexander Majors in his autobiography stated that he and his partners undertook the enterprise solely to prove that the route could be made a permanent thoroughfare for travel at all seasons. He and his partners felt successful in this purpose.

“However, the facts do not bear out Major’s statement. Though the founders claimed to have shown that the central route across the continent was feasible for a railroad, but the company made no effort in that direction. As Roy S. Bloss aptly stated in his monograph The Pony Express-The Great Gamble, “the belching giant of steam and smoke was wooed by western expansionists long before the equine mail was even a dream, and its wheels were set a-rolling not by the pretentious Pony but by talented promoters and an all-Northern Congress.” Though the Central Pacific Railroad Company was incorporated during the Pony Express era (June 28, 1861) for the purpose of constructing a transcontinental railroad, there seems to be no connection between its visionaries (Theodore D. Judah, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and Collis P. Huntington) and the freighting firm of Russell, Majors, and Waddell.

“Even though the Pony Express did not directly or indirectly contribute to implementation of a central transcontinental railroad route, the very presence of the Pony Express operation ensured the enterprise’s place in history and for a variety of reasons. First, the establishment by the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. of the route across the Trans-Missouri West and the construction of stations along this route aided in the development of many western communities and fixed the permanency of many these localities. Future local and county histories will no doubt point out the extent of the Pony Express’ role in these communities. Additionally, riders passing through communities on the route gathered and spread news regarding Indian movements, and other regional tidbits about these communities to the rest of the country.

“Second, the Pony Express provided a critical communication service to and from the Pacific Coast. According to Hubert Howe Bancroft, “it was the pony to which every one looked for intelligence; men prayed for the safety of the little beast, and trembled lest the service should be discontinued.” Many important business and personal letters as well as private dispatches were entrusted to the Pony Express, including valuable international documents, such as war reports from the English squadron in China, which cost $135 to send. This service became invaluable as the Civil War approached.”