Pony Express – 1860-61 St. Joseph, Missouri – Sacramento, California Also Overland Stage & Freight Route 1858-1868
Note: The above is a replica of the marker placed c. 1947. However, no records prior to 1862 show a station here. This includes the 1861 Pony Express schedule. In 1862, this new station was built by the Central Overland Stage & Freight and used by others.
This monument was constructed by enrollees, U. S. Grazing Division, C. C. C. Camp G-154, Company 2517 in 1941 and sponsored by the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association (#98 of their monuments) it was later adopted by the Sons of Utah Pioneers (#240 of their monuments) and rededicated in 2017.
Riverbed Station Pony Express – 1860-61 St. Joseph, Missouri – Sacramento, California Also Overland Stage & Freight Route 1858-1868
This monument constructed by enrollees, U. S. Grazing Division, C. C. C. Camp G-154, Company 2517 on August 23, 1940 and sponsored by the Oregon Trail Memorial Association and the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association (#88 of their monuments) it was later adopted by the Sons of Utah Pioneers.
Captain J. H. Simpson was a U. S. Military officer sent by the government to explore a western railroad route. Simpson’s route was later used for the Pony Express and Overland Stage. He camped at the springs October 23, 1853, and first named them Pleasant Springs because the water was excellent. The springs were later named to honor Captain J. H. Simpson, similar to the nearby Simpson Mountains which Simpson originally named after Captain Stephen Champlin.*
Alvin Anderson used stone from the abandoned Pony Express station when he built this cabin in 1893. It was intended for his wife, who died in childbirth before she could live in it.
In 1855, U.S. Senator William Gwin of California urged Congress to fund a faster, overland express mail system. Gwin had envisioned a system of horses and riders which, supported by periodic livery and supply stations, could bridge the gap between California and Missouri. Congress turned Gwin down.
The dream of a 10-day express relay system from Missouri to California was ultimately established by a private enterprise – the dominant military freight contractor of the American West – the partnership known as Russell, Majors & Waddell.
In hopes of winning a new government mail contract, RM&W quickly organized the Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company – the Pony Express. Organizing the company and setting it in motion necessitated the hiring of about 80 riders and 200 station keepers, contracting for the use of existing stage and mail relay stations, building new relay stations where needed, and purchasing supplies, equipment, and 500 fast running horses.
Meanwhile, technology was outpacing the ponies as other private companies were hastily building a telegraph line between Omaha and Sacramento. With the connection of the transcontinental telegraph wires in Salt Lake City on October 24, 1861, a new, less expensive, and faster communication system ended the need for the Pony Express – nearly 19 months after the first rider’s departure from St. Joseph, Missouri, on April 3, 1860.
Today, even the telegraph wires have been largely forgotten. However, the memory of solitary Pony Express riders – valiantly galloping across the prairie, through the sagebrush and mountain passes of these wild and open lands – still inspires people around the world.
Why Take the Risk
Following the end of Mexican Government control in 1848, California was admitted to the United States in September of 1850. A few months before the cessation, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill.
As the gold fever spread, in addition to pioneers seeking opportunities to begin a new life, tens of thousands of gold seekers, miners, and entrepreneurs began pouring into the new state.
The rapidly increasing population demanded swifter communication with the east, which prompted the United States Government to keep the new state aware of its political activities and updates about the Civil War before the news became stale.
Winning a government contract for shipping mail to and from California could potentially be very profitable, especially if it could be done more efficiently and competently than anybody else could.
The Crowds Cheered On…
In 1845, it took six months to get a message from the east coast of the United States to California. By the time it arrived, the news was old. In the late 1850s, a half million people had migrated west, and they wanted up-to-date news from home. Something had to be done to deliver mail faster and to improve communication in the expanding nation.
“The Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company,” a subsidiary of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, announced the formation of the Pony Express on January 27, 1860. They planned to carry letter mail between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California in only ten days. Although the Pony Express was a financially risky enterprise, the company hoped to attract a lucrative contract with the U.S. Postal Service.
Knowing that a healthy horse could run at a full gallop for only 10 to 12 miles, the Pony Express needed stations for its riders to change mounts. They utilized existing stage stations on the eastern end of the route, but needed to build many new station in remote areas across the Great Basin. Alexander Majors said that 400 to 500 mustang horses were purchased, 200 men were hired to manage the station, and 80 riders signed on to begin the run of the Pony Express.
Although the Pony Express captured the admiration, imagination, and hearts of people, it was a financial disaster for its founders. The Pony era, however, was not brought to an end by its financial failure, weather, or even problems with Indians – but by the completion of the Transcontinental Telegraph on October 26, 1861.
“Every neck is stretched, and every eye stained… Across the endless prairie a black spec appears… In a second or two it becomes a horse and rider, rising and falling, rising and falling – sweeping toward us – growing more and more distinct, and the flutter of hoofs comes faintly to the ear – another instant a whoop and a hurrah from our upper deck, a wave of the rider’s hand, but no reply, and man and horse burst past our excited faces, and go winging away like belated fragment of a storm.” – Mark Twain – Roughing It, 1872.
Strength and Endurance
Descriptions of the variety and number of horses used by the Pony Express became distorted during the course of its history since November 1861. In general, the type of horse used for carrying the rider and mail depended greatly on the region. The more fleet-footed thoroughbred horses worked fine on the central prairies, but the strength and endurance of half-broken mustangs were needed to cross the arid deserts and rugged mountain ranges of the West. Alexander Majors, one of the three founders of the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company’s Pony Express, chose the California mustang for its strength and endurance, describing it “as alert and energetic as their riders.”
As each of the more than 100 stations spread along the route, relays of horses needed to be kept in sufficient numbers to meet the demands of the relay system. As the C.O.C.&P.P.E.C prepared for the “start-up” of the Pony Express, the company estimated that it would take approximately 75 horses to make the nearly 2,000 mile trip from Missouri to California.
A little more than two months before the first riders left from St. Joseph and Sacramento, the firm of Russell, Majors, and Waddell began purchasing 500 of the best horses available, paying as much as $200 a head for some stock. One ad, posted in the Kansas Leavenworth Daily Times, asked for “200 grey mares, from four to seven years old, not to exceed fifteen hands high, well broke to the saddle and warranted sound …”
So, just how far and how long can a horse run? A modern-day horse in good shape can travel at a full gallop on flat terrain for maybe five to eight miles. Over the mountainous terrain in the Sierra Nevada, a horse and rider may be able to cover five miles. Pony Express mustangs could travel at speeds of about 10 miles an hour, but at times could gallop at speeds up to 25 miles per hour. At a full gallop, the distance that the horse could travel before becoming exhausted depended on several variables—if it was a hot or cool day, state of health, and when the horse last had a drink of water.
A good Pony Express rider rode his horse at a steady spring and generally galloped the horse only to get out of harm’s way. None were easy to ride, but all agreed that in a race for life and mounted on a half-broken mustang, the express rider could leave danger far behind.
There were about eighty pony riders in the saddle all the time, night and day, stretching in a long, scattering procession from Missouri to California, forty flying eastward, and forty toward the west, and among them making four hundred gallant horses earn a stirring livelihood and see a deal of scenery every single day of the year.”—Mark Twin, Roughing It, 1872
“The worst imps of Satan in the business. The only way I could master them was to throw them and get a rope around each foot and stake them out, and have a man on the head and another on the body while I trimmed the feet and nailed the shoes on … It generally took half a day to shoe one of them.” —Pony Express Farrier and Station Keeper, Levi Hansel, in 1901 describing his experience shoeing half-wild California mustangs at Seneca, Kansas. Photograph—D.B. Young, wild mustangs near Simpson Springs Pony Express Station, January 2010.
One of the important desert stations on the Pony Express and Overland Stage route between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California. From this point, water was carried for for west-bound travelers and animals. The spring was discovered by Captain J. H. Simpson, U. S. Army, in 1858.
The first east-bound Pony Express courier, halted here about 5p.m. April 7, and west-bound about 2a.m. April 10, 1860. The last riders passed about October 22, 1861. The coming of the Overland Telegraph made it inadvisable to continue the Pony Express.
This monument constructed by enrollees, U. S. Grazing Division, C. C. C. Camp G-154, Company 2517 on August 23, 1940 and sponsored by the Oregon Trail Memorial Association and the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association (#87 of their monuments) it was later adopted by the Sons of Utah Pioneers.
Pony Express – 1860-61 St. Joseph, Missouri – Sacramento, California Also Overland Stage & Freight Route 1858-1868
This monument was constructed by enrollees, U. S. Grazing Division, C. C. C. Camp 116, Company 2529 on August 23, 1940 and sponsored by the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association (#91 of their monuments) it was later adopted by the Sons of Utah Pioneers (#237 of their monuments) and rededicated in 2017.
The development of a central overland mail service between California and the rest of the nation began soon after the gold rush. The settlement of Oregon, California, and Utah made rapid east-west communication essential to the nation. From April 1860 to October 1861, the Pony Express, using a horse and rider relay system to deliver the mail, became the nation’s most direct and fastest means of communication before the completion of the transcontinental telegraph.
“It is important that mail facilities, so indispensable for the diffusion of information… should be afforded to our citizens west of the Rock Mountains.” – U. S. President James K. Polk
Along the entire trail, from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California, “horse stations” were established every 40 to 80 miles, providing riders with meals, lodging, and fresh mounts. “Swing stations” were 8 to 12 miles apart, offering water and a change of horses.
Russell, Majors, and Waddell, owners of the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company, employed James E. Bromley to establish and operate Weber Station. The station was located about 5 miles to the southeast, at the mouth of Echo Canyon. Local residents James and William Hennefer or Charles and Louisa Richins would have seen young riders William Page and George Little gallop by on the way to and from “Bromley’s Station.”
Lookout Station Pony Express – 1860-61 St. Joseph, Missouri – Sacramento, California Also Overland Stage & Freight Route 1858-1868
This monument was constructed at Lookout Pass by enrollees, U. S. Grazing Division, C. C. C. Camp G-154, Company 2517 on August 23, 1940 and sponsored by the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association (#86 of their monuments) it was later adopted by the Sons of Utah Pioneers (#235 of their monuments) and rededicated in 2017.
St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California 1860-1861
This monument was constructed September 3, 1934 by citizens of Ibapah and by the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association (it is #47 of their monuments) it was later adopted by the Sons of Utah Pioneers and is located in Ibapah, Utah.