Monday, August 13, 2018

The Pony Express & Overland Mail Service

By Miralee Ferrell

I really, really want to write a book featuring a Pony Express rider, as I love writing books set in the Old West. The Pony Express existed for such a short time in history. It was in operation from April, 1860, to October, 1861--only a short 18 months. It made an impact on our nation and is still depicted in books and movies today, and it's strongly associated with the Old West. In the era before any type of electronic communication, the Pony Express is what tied the East to the West. 

And here's something I didn't know prior to researching this subject...there were other's who came before the Pony Express--the Butterfield Overland Mail Service started deliveries in 1857 along with other private carriers in the following years. However, Butterfield did things a bit differently--he didn't send out riders who changed horses at each station, he sent the mail by stage. 

A Butterfield stage wagon on the trail, early October 1858, in Arizona by William Hayes Hilton. This drawing is a good representation showing the wild mules used to pull the stage wagons on the rougher sections of the trail. Some wild horses were also used. Credit for this photo goes to

Here's an interesting quote from a reporter who rode the stage/mail route on the very first trip. Had I not just come out over the route, I would be perfectly willing to go back, but I now know what Hell is like. I’ve just had 24 days of it.”

—Waterman Ormsby, special correspondent for the New York Herald, after having made the first westbound trip on the Butterfield Stage.
  From Wikipedia...
The Pony Express was set up on a different basis. William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell organized and put together the Pony Express in two months in the winter of 1860. The undertaking assembled 120 riders, 184 stations, 400 horses, and several hundred personnel during January and February 1861.[7]

Majors was a religious man and resolved "by the help of God" to overcome 
all difficulties. He presented each rider with a special edition Bible and required this oath,[8][9] which they were also required to sign.[10]

The actual name of the company wasn't Pony Express, it was the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company. And I love this oath--can you imagine anyone asking an employee to sign this today? From Wikipedia...

I, ..., do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God, that during my engagement, and while I am an employee of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will drink no intoxicating liquors, that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers, so help me God."
— Oath sworn by Pony Express Riders[11][12]

It's also hard to conceive that a man riding a selection of horses, trading off at each station for a fresh horse, and traveling on trails and dirt road and crossing eight states, could make it from Missouri to California, a trail cover 1966 miles, in 10 days! Buffalo Bill Cody was one of the most famous riders who worked for the Pony Express and made those wild rides from East to West. Riders encountered Indian attack, accidents, wild animals, and other dangerous situations on their ride across country, risking their lives to deliver the mail.

Pony Express stables in St. Joseph, Missouri. Photo by Wikipedia poster in August 2006
In 1860, there were about 186 Pony Express stations that were about 10 miles (16 km) apart along thePony Express route.[7] At each station stop the express rider would change to a fresh horse, taking only the mail pouch called a mochila (from the Spanish for pouch or backpack) with him. (Wikipedia)

So why did the Pony Express fade away after only 18 months? The first transcontinental telegraph was established October 24, 1861, where messages could be sent easily from one side of the country to the other.

The National Pony Express Association (NPEA) strives to keep the spirit and memory of the Pony Express alive. NPEA was established in 1978 to honor the memory and endeavors of the Pony Express riders of 1860-1861 and to identify, preserve, and mark the original Pony Express route through the eight states it crossed: Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. (From

In 1992, Congress added the trail to the National Trails System as a Historic Trail, administered by the National Park Service.

Miralee Ferrell is a best-selling, award-winning writer who lives in the Pacific NW with her husband, two dogs, two cats and seven chickens. Many of her books are set in the Old West, but she also has a few contemporary novels as well as a set of five middle-grade horse novels with a sixth in the works. She had the privilege of having one of her book, Runaway Romance, made into a movie. It aired on UP TV in January and is now available on Hallmark on Demand. You can find out more about Miralee HERE

 My featured book is Finding Love in Bridal Veil, Oregon, a historical romance set in 1904 in the Columbia River Gorge, where I live. It contains a number of historical facts woven into the story, and the book is going to be made into a TV movie as a contemporary, sometime in 2019. 


  1. Very interesting, Miralee. Thank you do much for sharing and I hope you have a great day.

    1. Thanks, Melanie! I appreciate you taking the time to read and reply.

  2. I love mail and reading about the history of mail services. Very interesting!

    1. Melissa, my son-in-law is a city mail carrier and loves his job, so this is also close to my family in a way. Thanks for reading and replying.

  3. I think the Pony Express was the Nascar of its day when it came to why it's so popular in history for such a short-lived phenomenon. Thousands of people on the Oregon Trail saw those riders go by and they seemed to brave, all alone out there in a "wilderness." Love the real history behind it. Hope you write about it!

    1. Hi Stephanie, I do agree with that assessment of 'why', and I hadn't thought about the thousands who would have seen them ride by and probably even put it in their journals or diaries. History is so fascinating to me~!

  4. Awesome post! Wouldn't it be a better world if people DID take that oath before joining a company??? Thanks for the information. I look forward to your book!