Timeless Tuesday: History Related to My Novel

The Pony Express route was nearly 2,000 miles long overland. There were about 190 stations along the route, mostly in Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada. The route required about 10 days to cover. Never before in history had a letter been delivered over such a distance so quickly, though it was mainly newspapers and businesses that used the Pony Express delivery.

Each rider rode about 75 to 100 miles and changed horses every 10 to 15 miles.

The Pony Express rider, in my story, rides from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Seneca, Kansas, which was 70 miles west of St. Joseph.

Pumpkin Seed Creek Relay Station History Pony Express Cabin ...

The above photo is a photo of a relay station, and you can see at either end of the building, behind it is another building. That is the horse stable, which was usually only a few feet from the living quarters. A relay station only housed two men — a station keeper and a stock tender, otherwise known as a horse wrangler.

The stock tender, or horse wrangler, cared for six horses and had a horse ready, day or night, for the next rider. When the station attendant saw a big cloud of dust coming, he knew it was a Pony Express rider. The riders also adopted a shout, known as the “coyote call”, that they used to alert the station of their approach.

Relay stations were built every 10 to 15 miles apart, and as a rule, a Pony Express rider had just two minutes to get a drink, go the the bathroom, and change the mochila over to the fresh horse.

Rock Creek Station - Pony Express National Historic Trail (U.S. ...

The above photo is a photo of a home station. As you can see, the living quarters are a bit larger than the living quarters in the above photo of a relay station. That is because a home station housed the station keeper, stock tender, and a couple of riders who had come from either end of the route and handed off the mochila to a fresh rider with a fresh horse. Home stations were usually located at a ranch, hotel, or a town livery stable. (In my upcoming novel, my main character lives in a town with a town livery stable and a hotel, but chooses to live in a boarding house. When he rides his share of the route to Seneca, Kansas, he stays at a home station to rest and await the mochila that is coming from west to east.)

Both relay and home stations typically had dirt floors. Furniture often consisted of boxes, benches, barrels, or anything else the ingenuity of the occupants could contrive. Beds were pole bunks that were built against a wall. They had rope frames attached to poles, and the ropes had to be tightened every night. The thin mattresses were filled with grass, hay, or straw, any of which included bugs. Some were filled with horse hair.

 

Timeless Tuesday: History Related to My Novel


James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickock

The Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company a.k.a. The Pony Express employed some rowdy characters that did not live up to the pledge of obedience and abstinence they took when they were hired.

Here are brief descriptions of just a few:

Jack Slade, one of the Division Superintendents, ran wild when he was drunk, but he “kept the road cleared of robbers and horse thieves”.

Some say Assistant Station Tender, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickock, (pictured above), shot agent David McCanles and two others at Rock Creek Station in Nebraska.

Some people believe “Buffalo Bill” Cody rode for the Pony Express. However, the truth is “Buffalo Bill” Cody never rode for the Pony Express, but he used his Wild West Show to promote the Pony Express’s legend and romance.

Timeless Tuesday: History Related to My Novel

The above photo is from johnsigrid.blogspot.com. It is a photo of an actual Pony Express mochila that John and Sigrid saw at the Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri.

Before I explain the mochila, I want you to know that the Pony Express began it’s run in early April 1860, and the Pony Express plays a big part in my upcoming novel.

Mochila is the Spanish word for knapsack or pack, and this particular type of mochila was used by the Pony Express. It fit over the saddle, as you can see in the above photo, it had four pockets or cantinas–two on each side.

Mail would be placed in three of the pockets and they would then be locked. There were only two keys for the locks, and the two keys were at opposite ends of the trail–one in St. Joseph, Missouri and the other in Sacramento, California.

The fourth pocket of the mochila was left unlocked and empty in the event that the Pony Express rider would receive a military dispatch along the way.

Mail was written on onion skin paper and was wrapped in oil cloth to protect it from the weather.

The Pony Express charged $5 per half-ounce for mail, which is about $85 in today’s money. They later reduced it to $1.

Because they needed to take care of the horses they rode on the route, there were weight restrictions for horse, rider, mail, and equipment. The maximum weight of the horse was 165 pounds. A rider had to weigh less than 120 pounds because they carried twenty pounds of mail and twenty-five pounds of equipment.

Timeless Tuesday: History Related to My Novel

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Photo by Ben Turnbull on Unsplash

The Pony Express route was nearly 2,000 miles long overland, mostly in Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada.

The terrain the Pony Express traveled over was not inhabited by settlers. It consisted mostly of desolate areas of desert, mountains, and open plains.

The mountains and plains were cold and the deserts were hot and dry.

Timeless Tuesday: What was Happening in 1860?

The novel that I am working on is set in 1860. That is the year the Pony Express began. How did it begin?

William H. Russell, one of a trio of men who had a freighting company known as Russell, Majors, and Waddell created the Pony Express. They were business partners in Missouri. They had a lot of experience hauling cargo and passengers. They took an interest in government mail contracts as they already offered a stagecoach service that provided mail between the Missouri River and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Russell was convinced that a horse relay, a Pony Express would be a money-making endeavor. His partners, William, B. Waddell and Alexander Majors were not so sure. Without the approval of his partners, William Russell committed to opening the express mail service on the central overland route in April 1860.

So the three partners started a new company, the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company (C.O.C. & P.P.). This was the official name of the Pony Express. The company had just 67 days to hire riders, station keepers, and mail handlers, and to buy horses, food, and other supplies and distribute them to stations along the route. Some of the stations weren’t even built or located yet.

However, homes stations were established every 75 to 100 miles. These homes stations would house riders between runs. Smaller relay stations were established every 10 to 15 miles to provide riders with fresh horses.

Many of the stations were upgraded from existing stagecoach stations, while some had to be built from scratch. They began with 86 stations but expanded to 147 stations by mid-1861.

Alexander Majors organized the route into five divisions, numbered east to west. The first leg of the route ran from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Fort Kearny, Nebraska Territory on the Platte River.

This is the leg of the journey that my main male character has a part in.