The Fastest Mail Across The West
April 15, 2007 5:10 PM   Subscribe

"WANTED: Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily." The Pony Express Home Station, The Pony Express Museum and The St. Joseph Museum all have interesting histories of America's short-lived, but legendary, "fastest mail service across the west." For more extensive reading, there's the National Park Service's Pony Express: Historic Resource Study. (Second link via The Presurfer)
posted by amyms (21 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Cool! I loved trying to find pony express history stuff when I was a kid. It seemed like such a cool gig. That infatuation eventually lead me to try motorcycle-courier work. That job was fun but very physically demanding. And not nearly as hard as their work.

Thanks for the post!
posted by YoBananaBoy at 5:50 PM on April 15, 2007

YoBananaBoy, if you're ever in Kansas, the Hollenberg Pony Express Station has tours (there's a little write-up and some pics online) and it's rumored to be haunted... But, then again, what Old West site isn't haunted?
posted by amyms at 5:55 PM on April 15, 2007

Better than email!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:40 PM on April 15, 2007

A+++ Old West post. Thanks, amyms!
posted by Miko at 6:40 PM on April 15, 2007

WANTED: Young, skinny, wiry fellows.

what're the hours?
posted by jonmc at 7:13 PM on April 15, 2007

Boy, cain'tchew read? Sign sez "young".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:17 PM on April 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

A couple of years ago an ultrarunner from Utah set out to run the Utah portion of the trail. I read his reports at the time on a running list, and I remember them being quite good. Filled with history and running. Part 1, part 2, part 3.
posted by OmieWise at 7:19 PM on April 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thanks again, amyms. However, Kansas is not currently on the radar. But duly noted.

and although I can't help the painfully underpaid part, your contributions are very appreciated here!
posted by YoBananaBoy at 7:19 PM on April 15, 2007

How weird. I just spent this weekend camping on part of the old Pony Express Trail near Vernon, Utah. Then I come back here, and what's the first post I see?

Creepy. The CIA satellites are still watching, aren't they?

*lines cowboy hat with tin foil*
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:46 PM on April 15, 2007

Flapjax said to jonmc: Boy, cain'tchew read? Sign sez "young".

Good thing it didn't say "long-haired freaky people need not apply"... /kidding! (I have no idea whether jonmc is long-haired OR freaky)

OmieWise, those are great links, thanks for adding them to the thread!

mr_crash_davis, yes, it IS strange... The voices that speak to me through the fillings in my teeth were telling me to post some Pony Express links... Now I know why... *shivers*
posted by amyms at 8:00 PM on April 15, 2007

And, aww thanks, YoBananaBoy :)
posted by amyms at 8:02 PM on April 15, 2007

(I have no idea whether jonmc is long-haired OR freaky)

I reckon jonmc'll be reporting in for an answer to that in 4, 3, 2, 1...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:06 PM on April 15, 2007

When I got a new job a few months back near Union Station in Washington, DC, I noticed that next to Union Station was the U.S. Postal Museum. So I figured, "what the hell, let's actually see just how lame the friggin' postal museum is."

Sure enough, in the gift store, on those faux-parchment sheets like the ones they used for the replica Constitutions you get at all the other DC monuments, were exact replicas of the "Orphans Preferred" poster.

So after three years living in DC, I finally succumbed and ended up buying something from one of the tourist gift shops... of all places, the freaking U.S. Postal Museum.

It's framed on my wall and I love it so damn much.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:53 PM on April 15, 2007

I have always imagined what it must have been like to be one of the riders for the Pony Express. The adventure aspect of it are fascinating, and findig out it was also used to great political effect, keeping California within the Union, makes it all the more interesting. Civilzation was coming, the country would become a bona-fide Nation, and the Wild West ways would soon be on their way out. It gives me a brand new appreciation for Kevin Costner's movie The Postman.
posted by RayOrama at 9:15 PM on April 15, 2007

So I was talking to a friend of mine one day, she's a historical archaeologist, and she was very excited because she got her Master's thesis proposal approved. I took a look at the maps, and there smack dab in the middle of her study area was a homestead claim staked by my great-great grandfather, whereupon I got pretty excited. And it didn't take long before the words 'field trip' came into the conversation, and I ran home to e-mail my mom and see what she could tell me about the great-great- in question.

So three days later, we were making our way toward the geometric center of nowhere, Tooele County, Utah, and I'm trying to correlate great-grandma's recollections (typed up and emailed by my good mother) to the topography. 'That over there must be the pass she said the Pony Express road went over,' says I, and my friend replies:

"Yeah, actually this is the Pony Express road."


And all I can really say is, boy is it empty out there. That is, once you get away from the bustling metropolis of Vernon, population 236. If you've ever wondered what the West looked like ere it was Won, you could do worse than Tooele County.
posted by eritain at 10:00 PM on April 15, 2007

Screw these guys.

We await silent Tristero's empire.
posted by sparkletone at 10:01 PM on April 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

You forgot the best part of that want-ad: "orphans preferred." You gotta love the honesty behind a want-ad like that.
posted by snwod at 11:04 PM on April 15, 2007

(I have no idea whether jonmc is long-haired OR freaky)

I reckon jonmc'll be reporting in for an answer to that in 4, 3, 2, 1...

Not longhaired currently, though my locks have flown past my shoulders in the past. I am somewhat freaky-looking, I've been told. (you asked)
posted by jonmc at 6:39 AM on April 16, 2007

That "orphans preferred" story is apocryphal, one of the nuggets I gleaned from Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express, a great recent book on the subject.

The most interesting thing about it is how the whole enterprise was a big failure, losing money hand-over-fist before being quickly overtaken by the telegraph. But it was such a romantic (or well marketed) failure that it's become a solid part of our national mythos.

That and Buffalo Bill's questionable involvement, his springboard to becoming one of the first real international superstars.
posted by gottabefunky at 7:31 AM on April 16, 2007

That book was really good, gottabefunky (The Colonel and Little Missie, that is. Haven't read the others).

McMurtry's thesis in that book, and one of the most interesting aspects about this era in the American West, was the way in which it, more than anything, actually created what we now know as American pop culture. There had been heroes and legends before, both at sea and in wartime, but the exotic nature and toughness required by life out West, the colorful place names, the Indian battles, the renegade misfit characters -- all were incredibly romantic in a way nothing in the U.S. had ever been before. Hardly did white people even have time to get out there before their exploits were being relayed back East via the mass media, through newspapers, dime novels, and eventually travelling road shows and circuses like Bill Cody's. For the first time, transnational networks and communications technology allowed stories about what once would have been fuzzily obscure individuals to be printed and re-printed, and a newly industrialized middle class had the leisure time to read about them and go to their shows.

One of the very most bizarre things about some of the Old West folks - the Indian fighters, the Pony Express riders, the Cavalry soldiers, the gold prospectors - was the way in which they really were what they pretended to be. Unlike the later actors in Western movies, these folks really did spend six months or a year out on the Plains, partaking in truly dangerous and rugged exploits for real in the undeveloped West, and then turn around and spend six months touring the great cities of the East Coast and Europe and performing for well-heeled, urban folk. It's a strange, bifurcated existence they led, but there's an interesting degree of authenticity to it when compared to stardom these days, which is based on nothing but the ability to create an image that need not be based in real experience.
posted by Miko at 9:26 AM on April 16, 2007

Thanks for the Pony Express museum links, amyms. If anyone should ever be in St. Joseph (or Joe, as my Missouri grandmother called it) and you need another museum to waste time in, go to the Glore Psychiatric Museum. Not exactly the funnest museum I've ever been to, but it is interesting.
posted by sleepy pete at 9:53 AM on April 16, 2007

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