William Lightfoot Visscher

Despite the demands of his extracurricular activities, Visscher was a prolific hack in the tradition of Ned Buntline and Colonel Prentiss Ingraham. He published A Thrilling and Truthful History of the Pony Express with other sketches and incidents of those stirring times forty-seven years after the last courier galloped in with the mail. Visscher’s slim book was the first history of the fast-mail service. It contains no bibliography, no footnotes, no table of contents. There are no acknowledgments of sources, although Visscher knew the various members of the Pony Express fraternity—many as drinking companions.

. . . borrowing heavily from the few published sources available. The first of those works was The Great Salt Lake Trail, by Colonel Henry Inman, the old cavalry veteran who looked like Mark Twain. It was published in 1898, a decade before Visscher’s book. Inman was ably assisted in his literary efforts by none other than Colonel William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill loved to offer editorial advice to a struggling author). The only other book published at the time that made any attempt to chronicle the Pony Express was a serious work—The Overland Stage to California, by Frank A. Root and William E. Connelley, published in 1901. Visscher stole from that book, too.

Visscher’s greatest service to the legend of the Pony Express was his enshrinement of Buffalo Bill as the king of the fast-mail couriers. Visscher claimed to be “a boy-hood chum” of Buffalo Bill’s, which was a preposterous fiction. In addition to Buffalo Bill’s legacy, Visscher greatly enriched the legend of Pony Bob Haslam in the saddle. These are cornerstones of the thrilling story.

Visscher’s account has the badman Joseph Slade hiring young Billy Cody to carry the mail-replete with stirring dialogue. Visscher also includes pages of Ned Buntline—like adventures for young Cody with “lnjuns” and road agents.