Questions About the Pony Express

One of the first things the student of the Pony Express discovers is that numerous controversial—perhaps unanswerable—questions concerning it exist. Among these are how and with whom the idea originated, who the first riders out of both St. Joseph and San Francisco were, how much it cost the proprietors to inaugurate and operate it, what was their main purpose in so doing, the relation to it of the Overland Mail Company, Wells Fargo Express Company, and Benjamin Holladay, etc.

The source of these questions is five-fold: (1) insufficient newspaper coverage during its operation; (2) its brief existence of only eighteen months; (3) the destruction of nearly all of the records of Russell, Majors & Waddell and of the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company; (4) the dispersion of the personnel of both companies and the Pony Express employees in 1861-62; and, (5) an almost total lack of interest in it on the part of historians and writers for nearly half a century. During those years practically everyone who had anything to do with it, or knew anything about it, passed away.

The result of the scarcity of documentary evidence and creditable personal knowledge has been widespread misrepresentation of facts, the substitution of tradition for historical evidence, statements and conclusions based upon hasty and inadequate research, and in some instances the intentional ignoring or twisting of demonstrable facts by writers and motion picture producers for various unworthy ends.