Winter Delays for the Pony

“Facing its first real test of operating in the winter, the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. backed away from its normal operating schedule. The company informed the public that after the 1st of December and during the winter, New York news would be fifteen days in transit to San Francisco and eleven days between telegraph stations. Actually, Russell had hoped to convince Postmaster General Holt that the Pony Express could carry the mail through to California on a daily or a tri-weekly basis that winter. He even offered to bond the service, and if it were delayed or his company failed, he would forfeit these bonds. Holt remained unconvinced. Consequently, out of financial considerations, Russell, Majors, and Waddell reduced their Pony Express schedule during the winter of 1860- 1861.

It was fortunate that Holt had not accepted Russell’s offer. The first full winter for the Pony Express tested the system to the extreme. Significant delays occurred. During December, heavy snows hit the Sierra Nevada region. Fortunately, the roads through the passes of the Sierra Nevadas were made passable by the constant passage of teams to and from the Washoe mines. This constant traffic aided in keeping the route open for the Pony Express. Unfortunately, when these same storms extended to the mountainous portions of the route in the Great Basin, and the trackless desolate regions between Salt Lake City and Fort Laramie, they became unbreachable obstacles. Inevitably, as the snows piled up, they delayed the Pony Express. A single horseman could barely break passage through the unbroken winter snowfields. By mid-January, heavy snows covered nearly the entire route from California to Missouri, delaying the passage of the Pony Express by two days. By the end of January, additional bad storms in the mountains caused a four-day delay for the entire operation.

The winter storms proved that the Pony Express could not endure a harsh winter and still maintain a regular schedule. Without a line of stagecoaches daily breaking trail, the snows proved an insurmountable obstacle for the lone horseman.”