“Wanted: Young skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.” This is the wording of the posters advertising the job of Pony Express rider in 1860. They were recruiting young riders to carry the U.S. mail by horseback on the 1,800 mile Pony Express Trail between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California.
Why were young skinny orphans preferred?
The trip took ten days, or half the time the stagecoach took for the same distance. The Pony Express riders rode over two thousand miles on the fastest horses available. Skinny wiry fellows were preferred, because the horses could only carry so much weight, and extra weight on the rider meant less mail could be carried in the pouch saddle called a mochila.
It was a dangerous job, so those without families to mourn them were preferred. The Pony Express riders were armed with light pistols, instead of heavier rifles, as protection from Native Americans, robbers, and troublemakers along the route. This was not a job for a settled family man. They needed courageous young men and boys who were looking for adventure and were not afraid to ride like the wind through wild territory.
How did they travel so quickly?
The Pony Express riders rode in a relay. Each rider would cover the distance to a relay station, and pass the mochila to the next rider who would take off immediately. The first rider and horse would rest until the next young man arrived. Then the horse and rider would take the arriving mail and set out on the next leg of the journey. This way the mail was always moving at top speed.
The year 2010 is the 150th anniversary of the Pony Express, which began in April 1860 and operated until October 1861, when train and telegraph expansion made it unnecessary to carry mail on horseback. The program operated for a very short time, but the idea of such brave young men, risking life and limb to deliver the mail at top speed is still a romantic one. They have been idolized in movies and television, and have had books written about them.
The country is commemorating the years these young brave boys served their country. In Nevada a stretch of the wild country these riders faced has been designated as the Pony Express Territory, comprising 17 million acres. There are ghost towns, old mines, rock art sites and nature preserves to explore. This would be a good year to ride along part of the Pony Express route and remember these brave young men who carried the mail so many years ago.
Source: Website of the Pony Express Nevada Territory.