Russell’s Character

A contemporary of the Settles’, Ray Allen Billington, a prominent historian of the American West at Northwestern University, had a different view of William H. Russell. Writing at the same time, Billington noted: “Profits from freighting encouraged the exuberant William H. Russell, the irrepressible plunger of the combination, to involve his partners in two fantastic ventures that vastly benefitted the West but led inevitably to the company’s downfall.” An exuberant and irrepressible plunger sounds like a sporting man, a man who might make a little wager. Billington’s assessment of the end of the Pony Express also considers an aspect of Russell’s character that many of his admirers and other historians of the venture avoid or neglect. It spoils the story. Russell was dishonest.