Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Pony Express in a Nutshell By Donna Schlachter -- with Giveaway

Poster advertising for riders
Most people know a little about the Pony Express, but few realize it only operated from April 1860 through to November 1861. The first ride left St. Joseph, Missouri heading west, and from Sacramento, California heading east, on April 3rd, 1860. 

The idea for a Pony Express was conceived in the minds of its owners because of the possibility of winning the contract for the overland US mail. Another company, Butterworth, was running a southern route that took up to three weeks to deliver to the west coast, and Majors and Waddell thought they could beat that time by taking the shorter northern route.

The irony of the matter is they never won the contract; instead, they merged with Butterworth to form the Overland Mail Company, and closed with the Pony Express over $200,000 in debt.

From idea to the first mail run took less than six months. First they identified the easiest and shortest route; then they contracted with stagecoach stops, mercantiles or other businesses in small towns and cities for the home stations, where a rider lived and worked, making his runs about a hundred miles east and west. For the relay stations, where horses were changed out, the Pony Express contracted with ranches, outfitters, and ordinary folks to stable three to six horses and have somebody on hand with a saddled horse for the incoming rider. These relay stations were fifteen to twenty miles apart, depending on the terrain. Sometimes they had to start from scratch and hire somebody to build a barn, corral, and cabin to be in the right place at the right time.

For a period of about six weeks in the Spring 1861, the mail run was halted due to unrest between settlers and the native peoples, and while records aren’t clear, it appears no rider or mail bag was lost during the eighteen months of its operation. However, there are stories that talk about a horse shot out from under its rider and the mail bag being stolen, only to be recovered a year later.

As with any great piece of history, there will be myths and stories told. Among the famous legends are that Buffalo Bill Cody rode for the Pony Express. Records and recollections vary and contradict each other, but it is possible he rode for them for a short time as a young boy. Another great story is that women disguised themselves as men in order to sign up, but again, records are not clear whether this is true or not. However, it is documented as fact that women did sign up as soldiers in the Civil War, so it could be true.

Riders were hired for their ability to ride, endure the elements, as well as perform other necessary tasks around the home stations. Posters that advertise for wiry orphans are not completely true, but no doubt orphans could have been preferred. The pay started at around $25 a month plus room and board, which was a lot of money in those days, particularly for a teenage boy. However, along with their horsemanship and ranch skills, they were also exhorted not to drink, not to cuss, and not to shoot people without cause. At their swearing-in, each took an oath to act like a gentleman, and were issued a handgun, a rifle, and a Bible. Most carried their rifle in a scabbard, but often left the pistol and Bible in their bunk to reduce weight.

The time period, 1860, fascinates me as there were so many changes happening in America. The train is a near dream; the cross-country telegraph is nearing completion; the country is brewing for civil war; women are campaigning for voting and civil rights. In just a few short years, cameras will photograph the first war ever; telephones will be installed in people’s homes; electricity will light our lives into the dark of night. Despite the changes, one thing is sure: the Pony Express lives on in our hearts and our folklore much longer than it actually ran.

In my story in the “Pony Express Romance Collection”, Echoes of the Heart, both characters are running from bad situations, which mirrors the thinking of the day: go West and start over.

Leave a comment, and I will draw a lucky winner of a print copy (US only) of “Pony Express Romance Collection”.

Donna writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, and CAN; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests.

Echoes of the Heart: http://amzn.to/2lBaqcW
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About Echoes of the Heart:

Catherine Malloy, an orphan girl running from a compromising situation in Boston, answers a personal ad in a magazine, on behalf of her illiterate friend. Through his letters, she finds herself falling in love with this stranger. Benjamin Troudt is crippled and illiterate, and knows nothing of this ad. His route supervisor, Warton, who was helping Benjamin with the paperwork, has been given only a short time to live, and knows Benjamin needs help, so he places the ad. Can Catherine overcome her belief that the God of her parents has abandoned her? And can Benjamin allow God to open his eyes and his heart to love?


  1. I LOVE western books and movies! I've seen several shows on the Pony Express, so I know I'd love this book. Thanks for the chance!
    Susan in NC

  2. Hi Susan, thanks for stopping by. Good luck in the random drawing!

  3. Thanks for your post! Interesting how much we've romanticized the Pony Express!

    1. Yes, how we have indeed. Good luck in the drawing.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I have always thought The Pony Express was interesting. As a teen I visited a museum in St Joseph which was about The Pony Express or that a large part of their collection was about The Pony Express. I can't remember the name now. martharf95(at)gmail(dot)com

  6. Hi Martha, yes, there is a Pony Express museum in St. Joe, because that's the most eastern point of the route. Good luck in the drawing.