For an 18-month span from 1860 to 1861, one of many quickest and most dependable methods to ship mail throughout the US was through the Pony Categorical. With a roughly 2,000-mile route stretching from Sacramento, California, to Saint Joseph, Missouri, the mail service employed relays of riders who would make the ten-day journey, rain or shine, on horseback via the Rocky Mountains and throughout the Nice Plains, all within the identify of delivering the mail.
Earlier than the founding of the Pony Categorical on April 3, 1861, it wasn’t unusual for items of mail to take weeks and even months to journey throughout the nation. Nonetheless, the brand new supply service, which was operated by the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Categorical Firm, a stagecoach line, lower supply instances considerably, making it notably interesting to newspaper publishers as a way to unfold the information like wildfire. Riders would carry the mail in a mochila (a leather-based knapsack) earlier than passing it alongside to the following rider at one of many 190 designated stations alongside the route. On common, a rider would journey for as much as 100 miles at a time, altering horses they had been using at full gallop each 10 to fifteen minutes.
“For the service to work, data needed to get there quicker than common mail,” says Lynn Heidelbaugh, a curator for the Smithsonian’s Nationwide Postal Museum. “Weight was a problem, and it was essential to maintain it down so it will be much less of a burden on the horses. That’s why the mail itself was on slips of paper that had been tissue skinny and printed with indelible ink, so it wouldn’t bleed if it bought moist. Individuals would use shorthand and codes, the naked minimal to maintain information stories shifting. In any other case, the sender would incur extra bills by weight.”
Costing $5/per ounce (equal to roughly $164 at present after inflation), the excessive price ticket explains why the Pony Categorical service was predominately utilized by companies and newspapers that might afford the hefty sum. The quickest supply was 5 days, and the letter contained an announcement that Abraham Lincoln gained the presidency.
The regular gig was common amongst cowboys, reminiscent of William “Buffalo Invoice” Cody, who supposedly rode his first stint at 14 years of age. Sadly, the service shortly proved to be unsustainable, remaining within the crimson all through its brief run. On October 26, 1861, simply two days after the debut of the transcontinental telegraph system, the Pony Categorical was shuttered for good.
Regardless of being short-lived, the Pony Categorical has been memorialized in quite a few methods, from being celebrated on postage stamps to being the topic of common motion pictures, together with the 1953 western Pony Categorical starring Charlton Heston. Museums throughout the nation have artifacts from the service’s heyday of their holdings, together with the Nationwide Postal Museum, which has an authentic stamped envelope and a reproduction mochila. Even 160 years later, the Nationwide Park Service operates the Pony Categorical Nationwide Historic Path, which gives an interactive map with particulars on former stations and different essential websites. And the Nationwide Pony Categorical Affiliation holds an annual re-ride every summer time, the place groups of riders replicate the route and ship actual mail.
“I like commemorating this piece of historical past,” says Patrick Hearty, who has been taking part within the re-ride for many years together with his household. “There’s one thing in regards to the romance of the Pony Categorical that attracts folks in.”
To expertise the Pony Categorical for your self, listed here are a half-dozen websites to go to alongside the Pony Categorical Nationwide Historic Path.
B. F. Hastings Financial institution Constructing, Sacramento, California
Because the capital of California, Sacramento served because the westernmost terminus of the Pony Categorical. It was there within the metropolis’s bustling downtown that riders would mount their horses earlier than beginning their journey eastward. One website of explicit significance is the B. F. Hastings Constructing, a two-story brick construction in-built 1853 that housed the places of work of Wells Fargo & Firm, one of many supply service’s contractors. Situated on the nook of J and Second streets, the historic landmark is just a few blocks from the Sacramento River, the place mail would arrive through ferry from San Francisco earlier than being distributed by horseback.
Pony Categorical Nationwide Museum, Saint Joseph, Missouri
One of the essential websites alongside the route was in Saint Joseph, Missouri, the path’s japanese endpoint. It was there that riders and horses would relaxation earlier than embarking on their subsequent supply, the latter of which might keep on the Pony Categorical Secure (previously generally known as Pike’s Peak Secure). Whereas the secure’s authentic picket construction now not exists, the alternative brick constructing from 1888 nonetheless stands and is acknowledged on the Nationwide Register of Historic Locations. The stables are additionally a part of the Pony Categorical Nationwide Museum, with its assortment of artifacts, together with historic pictures, maps, saddles, harnesses and blacksmith instruments in addition to a reproduction of a relay station the place riders would shortly change steeds earlier than venturing on.
Hollenberg Pony Categorical Station, Hanover, Kansas
Lots of the Pony Categorical stations now not exist—or in the event that they do, they’re in ruins. The Hollenberg Pony Categorical Station in Hanover, Kansas, nonetheless, is without doubt one of the final standing. This one-story wooden construction dates again to 1857, and earlier than turning into a station level alongside the route (in addition to a cease alongside the Oregon and California migrant trails), it served as a grocery retailer, tavern and unofficial put up workplace. The constructing now homes a museum outfitted with interval furnishings, articles of clothes much like what vacationers would’ve worn greater than a century in the past and interpretive exhibitions in regards to the Pony Categorical. The location sits 15 miles west of the Pony Categorical Barn and Museum in Marysville, Kansas, consisting of an authentic barn from 1859 and 7 interval rooms that present the resting quarters the place riders would have stayed. There’s additionally a telegraph room, which hinted on the inevitable demise of the Pony Categorical.
Fort Kearney State Historic Park, Kearney, Nebraska
As an inflow of settlers traveled west seeking new beginnings, the U.S. Military started constructing forts within the mid-1840s alongside the routes as secure stopping factors for weary vacationers to relaxation. In 1860, Fort Kearney grew to become a Pony Categorical station. Whereas not one of the authentic adobe buildings have survived, the Nebraska Recreation and Parks Fee has rebuilt two buildings to offer guests a glimpse of what the realm might have seemed like. One other website situated ten miles to the north alongside Interstate 80 in south-central Nebraska is the The Archway, a formidable constructing at exit 275 that straddles the freeway and homes an intensive assortment of artifacts retelling 170 years of overland migration. One spotlight features a video reenactment of riders switching horses at a station.
Fort Laramie Nationwide Historic Website, Fort Laramie, Wyoming
One of the well-traveled passages taken by pioneers was via Fort Laramie Nationwide Historic Website, a former fur buying and selling fort established in 1834. It’s estimated that some 50,000 folks traveled via the realm previous to 1952. By the point the primary Pony Categorical riders barreled by on horseback, it had turn out to be a well known relaxation cease for wagon trains and served as a secure haven patrolled by U.S. troops on what was Native American land. Lots of the fort’s authentic buildings nonetheless stay, and ongoing restorations have introduced among the most derelict buildings again to their former magnificence, together with Officer’s Row, the place army officers resided, and the Put up Dealer’s Retailer, the place vacationers would top off on provides.
Pony Categorical Statue, Salt Lake Metropolis, Utah
Following the Mormon Path from Fort Bridger, Wyoming, riders would journey west via treacherous mountain passes to Salt Lake Metropolis earlier than heading to Carson Metropolis, Nevada. To commemorate Utah’s leg of the Pony Categorical, the late sculptor Avard Fairbanks created a monument that includes two riders on horseback within the midst of a mochila alternate. The sculpture, which is situated 5 miles east of downtown at This Is the Place Heritage Park, serves as a long-lasting reminder of the boys who traveled cross nation to ship the mail. The location sits 50 miles north of what’s now Camp Floyd State Park Museum, a former U.S. army garrison in Fairfield, Utah, that was a typical stopping level for vacationers, together with Pony Categorical riders, who would usually in a single day on the (nonetheless standing) two-story picket Stagecoach Inn, which is now on the Nationwide Register of Historic Locations.