Podcast Episodes

10 Days, 1,800 Miles

For 18 short months, a group of riders carried letters from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, and they did it in just 10 days. Crossing 1800 miles of rough western terrain, at breakneck speeds, the Ponny Express tied the east to the west in ways that would become pivotal in the years to come.

I’m Abigail Trabue, filling in for a very sick Jason Epperson, and on this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, the Pony Express National Historic Trail and the riders who have become synonymous with the American West.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

https://www.nps.gov/poex/learn/historyculture/index.htm

National Pony Express Association


For 18 short months, a group of riders carried letters from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, and they did it in just 10 days. Crossing 1800 miles of rough western terrain, at breakneck speeds, the Ponny Express tied the east to the west in ways that would become pivotal in the years to come.

I’m Abigail Trabue, filling in for a very sick Jason Epperson, and on this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, the Pony Express National Historic Trail and the riders who have become synonymous with the American West.

Thanks to the Gold Rush of 1849, the 1847 Mormon exodus to Utah and the thousands who had moved west on the Oregon Trail, the need for fast mail service beyond the Rocky Mountains had become vital.

Originally the need was filled by outfits such as the Butterfield Overland Mail Service and private carriers, but then postmaster general Joseph Holt scaled back service to California and the central region of the country in 1858, and an even greater need arose.

Enter in the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express Company created by William H. Russell, Alexander Majors and William B. Waddell. It would later be known as the Pony Express.

In January 1860, with only two months to make the Pony Express a reality, the team had their hands full. Over 100 stations, 400-500 horses and enough riders were needed – at an estimated cost of $70,000.

In March 1860, an ad was placed in the Sacramento Union that read,

“Men Wanted”

The undersigned wishes to hire ten or a dozen men, familiar with the management of horses, as hostlers, or riders on the Overland Express Route via Salt Lake City. Wages $50 per month and found.

On April 3, 1860, the first official delivery of the Pony Express took off in St. Joseph, Missouri. Surrounded by great fanfare, a mail pouch containing 49 letters, five telegrams, and miscellaneous papers was handed to a rider at 7:15 p.m. A cannon was fired, and the rider bolted off to a waiting ferry boat.

Because of the pace at which the riders took to the route, The Pony Express was set up to provide a fresh horse every 10-15 miles and a fresh rider every 75-100 miles. With an average speed of 10 miles per hour, it took 75 horses to make the one-way trip.

On April 9 at 6:45 p.m., the first rider from the east reached Salt Lake City. On April 12 at 2:30 p.m., the mail pouch reached Carson City.

From there the riders flew over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, down through Placerville, California and on to Sacramento. On April 14, the first mail pouch delivered by the Pony Express arrived in San Francisco at midnight.

The New York Times wrote, “citizens paraded the streets with bands of music, fireworks were set off….the best feeling was manifested by everybody.” 

Despite the success and approval of the public, problems abound – weather, supply difficulties, rider fatigue, and war.

Fueled by white mineral seekers encroaching on traditional Indian lands, The Pyramid Lake War, crippled the operation of the Pony Express for months, an operation that was also guilty of encroaching on Indian territory, building relay stations at critical water sources that the native Paiute people depended on. As Prospectors continued to claim resources and land that wasn’t theirs to claim, conflict between whites and the Paiutes became inevitable.

On May 7, 1860, an old Paiute man and a younger Pauite woman went to a house owned by white man J.O. Williams. Inside four white men tied up the man and attacked the woman. They were later set free, but the Pauite man returned with friends who forced the four white men into the house and burned it to the ground.

As the conflict raged, Indian raids became more common at remote Pony Express stations in western Nevada, and in May of 1860 Simpson Park Station was burned to the ground, and the station keeper was killed.

By June the Pony Express had canceled operations between Carson City and Salt Lake City, which meant cash flow wasn’t coming in.

By July, with the help of federal troops and stepped-up security measures, the Pony Express resumed mail delivery to California, but delays had cost the company almost $75,000.

But the final blow to the Pony Express would come not from war, or delays, but from the advancement of communication. Fueled by the need to keep the west a part of the union as war loomed on the horizon, In June 1860, almost ten weeks after the first successfully delivered pouch, Congress authorized a bill instructing the Secretary of the Treasury to build a transcontinental telegraph line connecting the Missouri River and the Pacific Coast. On October 26, 1861, San Francisco made direct contact with New York City and the Pony Express, was officially no more.

In June of every year, the National Pony Express Association takes to the trail in a re-ride covering 1,966 miles in ten days. The 750 volunteers ride for 24 hours straight in an attempt to faithfully deliver the over 1,000 letters received every year. You can follow the action 24 hours a day on an online feed provided by the Association. We’ll link to it in the show notes.

Today, most of the original trail has either been erased by time or human activities. However, short pristine segments can still be seen in Utah and California., There are also 120 historic sites, including 50 existing Pony Express stations or station ruins that may eventually be available to the public.

For those who want to take to the open road, the National Park Service offers a state by state Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide featuring an overview of local trail history and driving directions to suggested sites and points of interest. The National Park Service stresses that this is a work-in-progress.

Scroll Up