The Story of the Pony Express
by Glenn D. Bradley
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One rider who was well known as "Little Yank" was a boy scarcely out of his teens and weighing barely one hundred pounds. He rode along the Platte River between Cottonwood Springs and old Julesburg and frequently made one hundred miles on a single trip.

Another man named Hogan, of whom little is known, rode northwesterly out of Julesburg across the Platte and to Mud Springs, eighty miles.

Jimmy Clark rode between various stations east of Fort Kearney, usually between Big Sandy and Hollenburg. Sometimes his run took him as far West as Liberty Farm on the Little Blue River.

James W. Brink, or "Dock" Brink as he was known to his associates, was one of the early riders, entering the employ of the Pony Express Company in April, 1860. While "Dock" made a good record as a courier, his chief fame was gained in a fight at Rock Creek station, in which Brink and Wild Bill[25] "cleaned out" the McCandless gang of outlaws, killing five of their number.

Charles Cliff had an eighty-mile pony run when only seventeen years of age, but, like Brink, young Cliff gained his greatest reputation as a fighter,—in his case fighting Indians. It seems that while Cliff was once freighting with a small train of nine wagons, it was attacked by a party of one hundred Sioux Indians and besieged for three days until a larger train approached and drove the redskins away. During the conflict, Cliff received three bullets in his body and twenty-seven in his clothing, but he soon recovered from his injuries, and was afterward none the less valuable to the Pony Express service.

J. G. Kelley, later a citizen of Denver, was a veteran pony man. He entered the employ of the company at the outset, and helped Superintendent Roberts to lay out the route across Nevada. Along the Carson River, tiresome stretches of corduroy road had to be built. Kelley relates that in constructing this highway willow trees were cut near the stream and the trunks cut into the desired lengths before being laid in place. The men often had to carry these timbers in their arms for three hundred yards, while the mosquitoes swarmed so thickly upon their faces and hands as to make their real color and identity hard to determine.

At the Sink of the Carson[26], a great depression of the river on its course through the desert, Kelley assisted in building a fort for protecting the line against Indians. Here there were no rocks nor timber, and so the structure had to be built of adobe mud. To get this mud to a proper consistency, the men tramped it all day with their bare feet. The soil was soaked with alkali, and as a result, according to Kelley's story, their feet were swollen so as to resemble "hams."

They next erected a fort at Sand Springs, twenty miles from Carson Lake, and another at Cold Springs, thirty-two miles east of Sand Springs. At Cold Springs, Kelley was appointed assistant station-keeper under Jim McNaughton. An outbreak of the Pah-Ute Indians was now in progress, and as the little station was in the midst of the disturbed area, there was plenty of excitement.

One night while Kelley was on guard his attention was attracted by the uneasiness of the horses. Gazing carefully through the dim light, he saw an Indian peering over the outer wall or stockade. The orders of the post were to shoot every Indian that came within range, so Kelley blazed away, but missed his man. In the morning, many tracks were found about the place. This wild shot had probably frightened the prowlers away, saving the station from attack, and certain destruction.

During this same morning, a Mexican pony rider came in, mortally wounded, having been shot by the savages from ambush while passing through a dense thicket in the vicinity known as Quaking Asp Bottom. Although given tender care, the poor fellow died within a few hours after his arrival. The mail was waiting and it must go. Kelley, who was the lightest man in in the place—he weighed but one hundred pounds—was now ordered by the boss to take the dead man's place, and go on with the dispatches. This he did, finishing the run without further incident. On his return trip he had to pass once more through the aspen thicket where his predecessor had received his death wound. This was one of the most dangerous points on the entire trail, for the road zigzagged through a jungle, following a passage-way that was only large enough to admit a horse and rider; for two miles a man could not see more than thirty or forty feet ahead. Kelley was expecting trouble, and went through like a whirlwind, at the same time holding a repeating rifle in readiness should trouble occur. On having cleared the thicket, he drew rein on the top of a hill, and, looking back over his course, saw the bushes moving in a suspicious manner. Knowing there was no live stock in that locality and that wild game rarely abounded there, he sent several shots in the direction of the moving underbrush. The motion soon ceased, and he galloped onward, unharmed.

A few days later, two United States soldiers, while traveling to join their command, were ambushed and murdered in the same thicket.

This was about the time when Major Ormsby's command was massacred by the Utes in the disaster at Pyramid Lake[27], and the Indians everywhere in Nevada were unusually aggressive and dangerous. There were seldom more than three or four men in the little station and it is remarkable that Kelley and his companions were not all killed.

One of Kelley's worst rides, in addition to the episode just related, was the stretch between Cold Springs and Sand Springs for thirty-seven miles without a drop of water along the way.

Once, while dashing past a wagon train of immigrants, a whole fusillade of bullets was fired at Kelley who narrowly escaped with his life. Of course he could not stop the mail to see why he had been shot at, but on his return trip he met the same crowd, and in unprintable language told them what he thought of their lawless and irresponsible conduct. The only satisfaction he could get from them in reply was the repeated assertion, "We thought you was an Indian!"[28] Nor was Kelley the only pony rider who took narrow chances from the guns of excited immigrants. Traveling rapidly and unencumbered, the rider, sunburned and blackened by exposure, must have borne on first glance no little resemblance to an Indian; and especially would the mistake be natural to excited wagon-men who were always in fear of dashing attacks from mounted Indians—attacks in which a single rider would often be deployed to ride past the white men at utmost speed in order to draw their fire. Then when their guns were empty a hidden band of savages would make a furious onslaught. It was the established rule of the West in those days, in case of suspected danger, to shoot first, and make explanations afterward; to do to the other fellow as he would do to you, and do it first!

Added to the perils of the wilderness deserts, blizzards, and wild Indians—the pony riders, then, had at times to beware of their white friends under such circumstances as have been narrated. And that added to the tragical romance of their daily lives. Yet they courted danger and were seldom disappointed, for danger was always near them.

[23] Root and Connelley.

[24] Pony riders often alternated "runs" with each other over their respective divisions in the same manner as do railroad train crews at the present time.

[25] "Wild Bill" Hickock was one of the most noted gun fighters that the West ever produced. As marshal of Abilene, Kansas, and other wild frontier towns he became a terror to bad men and compelled them to respect law and order when under his jurisdiction. Probably no man has ever equaled him in the use of the six shooter. Numerous magazine articles describing his career can be found.

[26] Inman & Cody, Salt Lake Trail.

[27] Bancroft.

[28] Indians would sometimes gaze in open-mouthed wonder at the on-rushing ponies. To some of them, the "pony outfit" was "bad medicine" and not to be molested. There was a certain air of mystery about the wonderful system and untiring energy with which the riders followed their course. Unfortunately, a majority of the red men were not always content to watch the Express in simple wonder. They were too frequently bent upon committing deviltry to refrain from doing harm whenever they had a chance.

Chapter VII

Anecdotes of the Trail and Honor Roll

No detailed account of the Pony Express would be complete without mentioning the adventures of Robert Haslam, in those days called "Pony Bob," and William F. Cody, who is known to fame and posterity as "Buffalo Bill."

Haslam's banner performance came about in a matter-of-fact way, as is generally the case with deeds of heroism. On a certain trip during the Ute raids mentioned in the last chapter, he stopped at Reed's Station on the Carson River in Nevada, and found no change of horses, since all the animals had been appropriated by the white men of the vicinity for a campaign against the Indians. Haslam therefore fed the horse he was riding, and after a short rest started for Bucklands[29], the next station which was fifteen miles down the river. He had already ridden seventy-five miles and was due to lay off at the latter place. But on arriving, his successor, a man named Johnson Richardson, was unable or indisposed to go on with the mail[30]. It happened that Division Superintendent W. C. Marley was at Bucklands when Haslam arrived, and, since Richardson would not go on duty, Marley offered "Pony Bob" fifty dollars bonus if he would take up the route. Haslam promptly accepted the proposal, and within ten minutes was off, armed with a revolver and carbine, on his new journey. He at first had a lonesome ride of thirty-five miles to the Sink of the Carson. Reaching the place without mishap, he changed mounts and hurried on for thirty-seven miles over the alkali wastes and through the sand until he came to Cold Springs. Here he again changed horses and once more dashed on, this time for thirty miles without stopping, till Smith's Creek was reached where he was relieved by J. G. Kelley. "Bob" had thus ridden one hundred and eighty-five miles without stopping except to change mounts. At Smith's Creek he slept nine hours and then started back with the return mail. On reaching Cold Springs once more, he found himself in the midst of tragedy. The Indians had been there. The horses had been stolen. All was in ruins. Nearby lay the corpse of the faithful station-keeper. Small cheer for a tired horse and rider! Haslam watered his steed and pounded ahead without rest or refreshment. Before he had covered half the distance to the next station, darkness was falling. The journey was enshrouded with danger. On every side were huge clumps of sage-bush which would offer excellent chances for savages to lie in ambush. The howling of wolves added to the dolefulness of the trip. And haunting him continuously was the thought of the ruined little station and the stiffened corpse behind him. But pony riders were men of courage and nerve, and Bob was no exception. He arrived at Sand Springs safely; but here there was to be no rest nor delay. After reporting the outrage he had just seen, he advised the station man of his danger, and, after changing horses, induced the latter to accompany him on to the Sink of the Carson, which move doubtless saved the latter's life. Reaching the Carson, they found a badly frightened lot of men who had been attacked by the Indians only a few hours previously. A party of fifteen with plenty of arms and ammunition had gathered in the adobe station, which was large enough also to accommodate as, many horses. Nearby was a cool spring of water, and, thus fortified, they were to remain, in a state of siege, if necessary, until the marauders withdrew from that vicinity. Of course they implored Haslam to remain with them and not risk his life venturing away with the mail. But the mail must go; and the schedule, hard as it was, must be maintained. "Bob" had no conception of fear, and so he galloped away, after an hour's rest. And back into Bucklands he came unharmed, after having suffered only three and a half hours of delay. Superintendent Marley, who was still present when the daring rider returned, at once raised his bonus from fifty to one hundred dollars.

Nor was this all of Haslam's great achievement. The west-bound mail would soon arrive, and there was nobody to take his regular run. So after resting an hour and a half, he resumed the saddle and hurried back along his old trail, over the Sierras to Friday's Station. Then "Bob" rested after having ridden three hundred and eighty miles with scarcely eleven hours of lay-off, and within a very few hours of regular schedule time all the way. In speaking of this performance afterwards, Haslam[31] modestly admitted that he was "rather tired," but that "the excitement of the trip had braced him up to stand the journey."

The most widely known of all the pony riders is William F. Cody—usually called "Bill," who in early life resided in Kansas and was raised amid the exciting scenes of frontier life. Cody had an unusually dangerous route between Red Buttes and Three Crossings. The latter place was on the Sweetwater River, and derived its name from the fact that the stream which followed the bed of a rocky canon, had to be crossed three times within a space of sixty yards. The water coming down from the mountains, was always icy cold and the current swift, deep, and treacherous. The whole bottom of the canon was often submerged, and in attempting to follow its course along the channel of the stream, both horse and rider were liable to plunge at any time into some abysmal whirlpool. Besides the excitement which the Three Crossings and an Indian country furnished, Cody's trail ran through a region that was often frequented by desperadoes. Furthermore, he had to ford the North Platte at a point where the stream was half a mile in width and in places twelve feet deep. Though the current was at times slow, dangers from quicksand were always to be feared on these prairie rivers. Cody, then but a youth, had to surmount these obstacles and cover his trip at an average of fifteen miles an hour.

Cody entered the Pony Express service just after the line had been organized. At Julesburg he met George Chrisman, an old friend who was head wagon-master for Russell, Majors, and Waddell's freighting department. Chrisman was at the time acting as an agent for the express line, and, out of deference to the youth, he hired him temporarily to ride the division then held by a pony man named Trotter. It was a short route, one of the shortest on the system, aggregating only forty-five miles, and with three relays of horses each way. Cody, who had been accustomed to the saddle all his young life, had no trouble in following the schedule, but after keeping the run several weeks, the lad was relieved by the regular incumbent, and then went east, to Leavenworth, where he fell in with another old friend, Lewis Simpson, then acting as wagon boss and fitting up at Atchison a wagon train of supplies for the old stage line at Fort Laramie and points beyond. Acting through Simpson, Cody obtained a letter of recommendation from Mr. Russell, the head of the firm, addressed to Jack Slade, Superintendent of the division between Julesburg and Rocky Ridge, with headquarters at Horseshoe Station, thirty-six miles west of Fort Laramie, in what is now Wyoming. Armed with this letter, young Cody accompanied Simpson's wagon-train to Laramie, and soon found Superintendent Slade. The superintendent, observing the lad's tender years and frail stature, was skeptical of his ability to serve as a pony rider; but on learning that Cody was the boy who had already given satisfactory service as a substitute some months before, at once engaged him and assigned him to the perilous run of seventy-six miles between Red Buttes and Three Crossings. For some weeks all went well. Then, one day when he reached his terminal at Three Crossings, Cody found that his successor who was to have taken the mail out, had been killed the night before. As there was no extra rider available, it fell to young Cody to fill the dead courier's place until a successor could be procured. The lad was undaunted and anxious for the added responsibility. Within a moment he was off on a fresh horse for Rocky Ridge, eighty-five miles away. Notwithstanding the dangers and great fatigue of the trip, Cody rode safely from Three Crossings to his terminal and returned with the eastbound mail, going back over his own division and into Red Buttes without delay or mishap—an aggregate run of three hundred and twenty-two miles. This was probably the longest continuous performance without formal rest period in the history of this or any other courier service.

Not long afterward, Cody was chased by a band of Sioux Indians while making one of his regular trips. The savages were armed with revolvers, and for a few minutes made it lively for the young messenger. But the superior speed and endurance of his steed soon told; lying flat on the animal's neck, he quickly distanced his assailants and thundered into Sweetwater, the next station, ahead of schedule. Here he found—as so often happened in the history of the express service—that the place had been raided, the keeper slain, and the horses driven off. There was nothing to do but drive his tired pony twelve miles further to Ploutz Station, where he got a fresh horse, briefly reported what he had observed, and completed his run without mishap.

On another occasion[32] it became mysteriously rumored that a certain Pony Express pouch would carry a large sum of currency. Knowing that there was great likelihood of some bandits or "road agents" as they were commonly called getting wind of the consignment and attempting a holdup, Cody hit upon a little emergency ruse. He provided himself with an extra mochila which he stuffed with waste papers and placed over the saddle in the regular position. The pouch containing the currency was hidden under a special saddle blanket. With his customary revolver loaded and ready, Cody then started. His suspicions were soon confirmed, for on reaching a particularly secluded spot, two highwaymen stepped from concealment, and with leveled rifles compelled the boy to stop, at the same time demanding the letter pouch. Holding up his hands as ordered, Cody began to remonstrate with the thugs for robbing the express, at the same time declaring to them that they would hang for their meanness if they carried out their plans. In reply to this they told Cody that they would take their own chances. They knew what he carried and they wanted it. They had no particular desire to harm him, but unless he handed over the pouch without delay they would shoot him full of holes, and take it anyhow. Knowing that to resist meant certain death Cody began slowly to unfasten the dummy pouch, still protesting with much indignation. Finally, after having loosed it, he raised the pouch and hurled it at the head off the nearest outlaw, who dodged, half amused at the young fellow's spirit. Both men were thus taken slightly off their guard, and that instant the rider acted like a flash. Whipping out his revolver, he disabled the farther villain; and before the other, who had stooped to recover the supposed mail sack, could straighten up or use a weapon, Cody dug the spurs into his horse, knocked him down, rode over him and was gone. Before the half-stunned robber could recover himself to shoot, horse and rider were out of range and running like mad for the next station, where they arrived ahead of schedule.

The following is a partial list, so far as is known[33], of the men who rode the Pony Express and contributed to the lasting fame of the enterprise:

Baughn, Melville Beatley, Jim "Boston" Boulton, William Brink, James W. Burnett, John Bucklin, Jimmy Carr, William Carrigan, William Cates, Bill Clark, Jimmy Cliff, Charles Cody, William F. Egan, Major Ellis, J. K. Faust, H. J. Fisher, John Frey, Johnnie Gentry, Jim Gilson, Jim Hamilton, Sam Haslam, Robert Hogan (first name missing) Huntington, Let "Irish Tom" James, William Jenkins, Will D. Kelley, Jay G. Keetley, Jack "Little Yank" Martin, Bob McCall, J. G. McDonald, James McNaughton, Jim Moore, Jim Perkins, Josh Rand, Theodore Richardson, Johnson Riles, Bart Rising, Don C. Roff, Harry Spurr, George Thacher, George Towne, George Wallace, Henry Westcott, Dan Zowgaltz, Jose.

Many of these men were rough and unlettered. Many died deaths of violence. The bones of many lie in unknown graves. Some doubtless lie unburied somewhere in the great West, in the winning of which their lives were lost. Yet be it always remembered, that in the history of the American nation they played an important part. They were bold-hearted citizen knights to whom is due the honors of uncrowned kings.

[29] Afterwards named Fort Churchill. This ride took place in the summer of 1860.

[30] Some reports say that Richardson was stricken with fear. That he was probably suffering from overwrought nerves, resulting from excessive risks which his run had involved, is a more correct inference. This is the only case on record of a pony messenger failing to respond to duty, unless killed or disabled.

[31] After the California Pony Express was abandoned, Bob rode for Wells Fargo & Co., between Friday's Station and Virginia City, Nevada, a distance of one hundred miles. He seems to have enjoyed horseback riding, for he made this roundtrip journey in twenty-four hours. When the Central Pacific R. R. was built, and this pony line abandoned, Haslam rode for six months a twenty-three mile division between Virginia City and Reno, traveling the distance in less than one hour. To accomplish this feat, he used a relay of fifteen horses. He was afterwards transfered to Idaho where he continued in a similar capacity on a one hundred mile run before quitting the service for a less exciting vocation.

[32] Inman & Cody, Salt Lake Trail.

[33] Root and Connelley's Overland Stage to California.

Chapter VIII

Early Overland Mail Routes

In the history of overland transportation in America, the Pony Express is but one in a series of many enterprises. As emphasized at the beginning of this book, its importance lay in its opportuneness; in the fact that it appeared at the psychological moment, and fitted into the course of events at a critical period, prior to the completion of the telegraph; and when some form of rapid transit between the Missouri River and the Pacific Coast was absolutely needed. To give adequate setting to this story, a brief account of the leading overland routes, of which the Pony Express was but one, seems proper.

Before the middle of the nineteenth century, three great thoroughfares had been established from the Missouri, westward across the continent. These were the Santa Fe, the Salt Lake, and the Oregon trails. All had important branches and lesser stems, and all are today followed by important railroads—a splendid testimonial to the ability of the pioneer pathfinders in selecting the best routes.

Of these trails, that leading to Santa Fe was the oldest, having been fully established before 1824. The Salt Lake and Oregon routes date some twenty years later, coming into existence in the decade between 1840 and 1850. It is incidentally with the Salt Lake trail that the story of the Pony Express mainly deals.

The Mormon settlement of Utah in 1847-48, followed almost immediately by the discovery of gold in California, led to the first mail route[34] across the country, west of the Missouri. This was known as the "Great Salt Lake Mail," and the first contract for transporting it was let July 1, 1850, to Samuel H. Woodson of Independence, Missouri. By terms of this agreement, Woodson was to haul the mail monthly from Independence on the Missouri River to Salt Lake City, twelve hundred miles, and return. Woodson later arranged with some Utah citizens to carry a mail between Salt Lake City and Fort Laramie, the service connecting with the Independence mail at the former place. This supplementary line was put into operation August 1, 1851.

In the early fifties, while the California gold craze was still on, a monthly route was laid out between Sacramento and Salt Lake City[35]. This service was irregular and unreliable; and since the growing population of California demanded a direct overland route, a four year monthly contract was granted to W. F. McGraw, a resident of Maryland. His subsidy from Congress was $13,500.00 a year. In those days it often took a month to get mail from Independence to Salt Lake City, and about six weeks for the entire trip. Although McGraw charged $180.00 fare for each passenger to Salt Lake City, and $300.00 to California, he failed, in 1856. The unexpired contract was then let to the Mormon firm of Kimball & Co., and they kept the route in operation until the Mormon troubles of 1857 when the Government abrogated the agreement.

In the summer of 1857, General Albert Sidney Johnston, later of Civil War fame, was sent out with a Federal army of five thousand men to invade Utah. After a rather fruitless campaign, Johnston wintered at Fort Bridger, in what is southwestern Wyoming, not far from the Utah line. During this interval, army supplies were hauled from Fort Leavenworth with only a few way stations for changing teams. This improvised line, carrying mail occasionally, which went over the old Mormon trail via South Pass, and Forts Kearney, Laramie, and Bridger, was for many months the only service available for this entire region.

The next contract for getting mail into Utah was let in 1858 to John M. Hockaday of Missouri. Johnston's army was then advancing from winter quarters at Bridger toward the valley of Great Salt Lake, and the Government wanted mail oftener then once a month. In consideration of $190,000.00 annually which was to be paid in monthly installments, Hockaday agreed to put on a weekly mail. This route, which ran from St. Joseph to Salt Lake City, was later combined with a line that had been running from Salt Lake to Sacramento, thus making a continuous weekly route to and from California. For the combined route the Government paid $320,000.00 annually. Its actual yearly receipts were $5,142.03.

The discovery of gold in the vicinity of Denver in the summer of 1858 caused another wild excitement and a great rush which led to the establishment in the summer of 1859 of the Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express, from the Missouri to Denver. As then traveled, this route was six hundred and eighty-seven miles in length. The line as operated by Russell, Majors, and Waddell, and that same year they took over Hockaday's business. As has already been stated, the new firm of Pony Express fame—called the Central Overland California and Pike's Peak Express Co.—consolidated the old California line, which had been run in two sections, East and West, with the Denver line. In addition to the Pony Express it carried on a big passenger and freighting business to and from Denver and California.

Turning now to the lines that were placed in commission farther South. The first overland stage between Santa Fe and Independence was started in May, 1849. This was also a monthly service, and by 1850 it was fully equipped with the famous Concord coaches, which vehicles were soon to be used on every overland route in the West. Within five years, this route, which was eight hundred fifty miles in length and followed the Santa Fe trail, now the route of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad, had attained great importance. The Government finally awarded it a yearly subsidy of $10,990.00, but as the trail had little or no military protection except at Fort Union, New Mexico, and for hundreds of miles was exposed to the attacks of prairie Indians, the contractors complained because of heavy losses and sought relief of the Post Office and War Departments. Finally they were released from their old contract and granted a new one paying $25,000.00 annually, but even then they fell behind $5,000.00 per year.

By special act passed August 3, 1854, Congress laid out a monthly mail route from Neosho, Missouri, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with an annual subsidy of $17,000.00. Since the Mexican War this region had come to be of great commercial and military importance. A little later, in March 1855, the route was changed by the Government to run monthly from Independence and Kansas City, Missouri, to Stockton, California, via Albuquerque, and the contractors were awarded a yearly bonus of $80,000.00 This line was also a financial failure.

The early overland routes were granted large subsidies and the privilege of charging high rates for passengers and freight. To the casual observer it may seem strange that practically all these lines operated at a disastrous loss. It should be noted however, that they covered an immense territory, many portions of which were occupied by hostile Indians. It is no easy task to move military forces and supplies thousands of miles through a wilderness. Furthermore, the Indians were elusive and hard to find when sought by a considerable force. They usually managed to attack when and where they were least expected. Consequently, if protection were secured at all, it usually fell to the lot of the stage companies to police their own lines, which was expensive business. Often they waged, single-handed, Indian campaigns of considerable importance, and the frontiersmen whom they could assemble for such duty were sometimes more effective than the soldiers who were unfamiliar with the problems of Indian warfare.

Added to these difficulties were those incident to severe weather, deep snow, and dangerous streams, since regular highways and bridges were almost unknown in the regions traversed. Not to mention the handicap and expense which all these natural obstacles entailed, business on many lines was light, and revenues low.

News from Washington about the creation of the new territory of Utah—in September 1850—was not received in Salt Lake City until January 1851. The report reached Utah by messenger from California, having come around the continent by way of the Isthmus of Panama. The winters of 1851-52, and 1852-53 were frightfully severe and such expensive delays were not uncommon. The November mail of 1856 was compelled to winter in the mountains.

In the winter of 1856-57 no steady service could be maintained between Salt Lake City and Missouri on account of bad weather. Finally, after a long delay, the postmaster at Salt Lake City contracted with the local firm of Little, Hanks, and Co., to get a special mail to and from Independence. This was accomplished, but the ordeal required seventy-eight days, during which men and animals suffered terribly from cold and hunger. The firm received $1,500.00 for its trouble. The Salt Lake route returned to the Government a yearly income of only $5,000.00.

The route from Independence to Stockton, which cost Uncle Sam $80,000.00 a year, collected in nine months only $1,255.00 in postal revenues, whereupon it was abolished July 1st, 1859.

By the close of 1859 there were at least six different mail routes across the continent from the Missouri to the Pacific Coast. They were costing the Government a total of $2,184,696.00 and returning $339,747.34. The most expensive of these lines was the New York and New Orleans Steamship Company route, which ran semi-monthly from New York to San Francisco via Panama. This service cost $738,250.00 annually and brought in $229,979.69. While the steamship people did not have the frontier dangers to confront them, they were operating over a roundabout course, several thousand miles in extent, and the volume of their postal business was simply inadequate to meet the expense of maintaining their business[36].

The steamer schedule was about four weeks in either direction, and the rapidly increasing population of California soon demanded, in the early fifties, a faster and more frequent service. Agitation to that end was thus started, and during the last days of Pierce's administration, in March 1857, the "Overland Mail" bill was passed by Congress and signed by the President. This act provided that the Postmaster-General should advertise for bids until June 30 following: "for the conveyance of the entire letter mail from such point on the Mississippi River as the contractors may select to San Francisco, Cal., for six years, at a cost not exceeding $300,000 per annum for semi-monthly, $450,000 for weekly, or $600,000 for semi-weekly service to be performed semi-monthly, weekly, or semi-weekly at the option of the Postmaster-General." The specifications also stipulated a twenty-five day schedule, good coaches, and four-horse teams.

Bids were opened July 1, 1857. Nine were submitted, and most of them proposed starting from St. Louis, thence going overland in a southwesterly direction usually via Albuquerque. Only one bid proposed the more northerly Central route via Independence, Fort Laramie, and Salt Lake. The Postoffice Department was opposed to this trail, and its attitude had been confirmed by the troubles of winter travel in the past. In fact this route had been a failure for six consecutive winters, due to the deep snows of the high mountains which it crossed.

On July 2, 1857, the Postmaster General announced the acceptance of bid No. "12,587" which stipulated a forked route from St. Louis, Missouri and from Memphis, Tennessee, the lines converging at Little Rock, Arkansas. Thence the course was by way of Preston, Texas; or as nearly as might be found advisable, to the best point in crossing the Rio Grande above El Paso, and not far from Fort Filmore; thence along the new road then being opened and constructed by the Secretary of the Interior to Fort Yuma, California; thence through the best passes and along the best valleys for safe and expeditious staging to San Francisco. On September is following, a six year contract was let for this route. The successful firm at once became known as the "Butterfield Overland Mail Company." Among the firm members were John Butterfield, Wm. B. Dinsmore, D. N. Barney, Wm. G. Fargo and Hamilton Spencer. The extreme length of the route agreed upon from St. Louis to San Francisco was two thousand seven hundred and twenty-nine miles; the most southern point was six hundred miles south of South Pass on the old Salt Lake route. Because of the out-of-the-way southern course followed, two and one half days more than necessary were nominally-required in making the journey. Yet the postal authorities believed that this would be more than offset by the southerly course being to a great extent free from winter snows.

On September 15, 1858, after elaborate preparations, the overland mails started from San Francisco and St. Louis on the twenty-five day schedule—which was three days less than that of the water route. The postage rate was ten cents for each half ounce; the passenger fare was one hundred dollars in gold. The first trip was made in twenty-four days, and in each of the terminal cities big celebrations were held in honor of the event. And yet today, four splendid lines of railway cover this distance in about three days!

These stages—to use the west-bound route as an illustration—traveled in an elliptical course through Springfield, Missouri, and Fayetteville, Arkansas, to Van Buren, Arkansas, where the Memphis mail was received. Continuing in a southwesterly course, they passed through Indian Territory and the Choctaw Indian reserve—now Oklahoma—crossed the Red River at Calvert's Ferry, then on through Sherman, Fort Chadbourne and Fort Belknap, Texas, through Guadaloupe Pass to El Paso; thence up the Rio Grande River through the Mesilla Valley, and into western New Mexico—now Arizona to Tucson. Then the journey led up the Gila River to Arizona City, across the Mojave desert in Southern California and finally through the San Joaquin Valley to San Francisco.

Today a traveler could cover nearly the same route, leaving St. Louis over the Frisco Railroad, transferring to the Texas Pacific at Fort Worth, and taking the Southern Pacific at El Paso for the remainder of the trip.

As has been shown, the outbreak of the Civil War in the spring of 1861 made it necessary for the Federal Government to transfer this big and important route further north to get it beyond the latitude of the Confederacy. Hence the Southern route was formally abandoned[37] on March 12, 1861, and the equipment removed to the Central or Salt Lake trail where a daily service was inaugurated. About three months was necessary to move all the outfits and in July 1861, the first daily overland mail—running six times a week—was started between St. Joseph and Placerville, California, 1,920 miles by the way of Forts Kearney, Bridger, and Salt Lake City.

The Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad had been built into St. Joseph and was doing business by February 1859. For some time that city enjoyed the honor of being the eastern stage terminal; but within a year the railroad was extended to Atchison, about twenty miles down the stream. The latter place is situated on a bend of the river fourteen miles west of St. Joseph, and so the terminal honors soon passed to Atchison since its westerly location shortened the haul.

In transferring the Butterfield line from the Southern to the Central route, it was merged with the Central Overland California and Pike's Peak Express Company which already included the Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express Company, under the leadership of General Bela M. Hughes. This line was known to the Government as the Central Overland California Route. As soon as the transfer was completed, through California stages were started on an eighteen day schedule a full week less time than had been required by the Butterfield route, and ten days less than that of the Panama steamers. This was the most famous of all the stage routes, and except for three interruptions, due to Indian outbreaks in 1862, 1864, and 1865, it did business continuously for several years.

Within a few months came another change of proprietorship, the route passing on a mortgage foreclosure into the hands of Benjamin Holladay, a famous stage line promoter, late in 1861. Early the following year Holladay reorganized the management under the name of the Overland Stage Line. This seems to have been what today is technically known as a holding company; for until the expiration of the old Butterfield contract in 1863[38], he allowed the business east of Salt Lake City to be carried on by the old C. O. C. & P. P. Co.; west of Salt Lake, the new Overland Line allowed, or sublet the through traffic to a vigorous subsidiary, the Pioneer Stage Line[39].

Holladay was fortunate in securing a new mail contract for the Central route which he now controlled. For supplying a six day letter mail service from the Missouri to Placerville together with a way mail to and from Denver and Salt Lake City, he was paid $1,000,000 a year for the three years beginning July 1, 1861. At the expiration of this period he was to get $840,000.

In the meantime gold was discovered in Idaho and Montana, and Holladay, encouraged by his big subsidy from the Government, put stage lines into Virginia City, Montana, and Boise City, Idaho.

In 1866 the Butterfield Overland Despatch, an express and fast freight line, was started above the Smoky Hill route from Topeka and Leavenworth across Kansas to Denver. Within a short time this organization, mainly because of the heavy expense caused by Indian depredations, and was consolidated with the Holladay Company. Just prior to this transfer, Mr. Holladay received from the Colorado Territorial legislature a charter for the "Holladay Overland Mail and Express Company," which was the full and formal name of the new concern. This corporation now owned and controlled stage lines aggregating thirty-three hundred miles. It brought the service up to the highest point of efficiency and used only the best animals and vehicles it was possible to obtain.

In addition to his federal mail bonus, Holladay had the following rates for passenger traffic in force:

In 1863, from Atchison to Denver $75.00

In 1863, from Atchison to Salt Lake City $150.00

In 1863, from Atchison to Placerville $225.00

In 1865, on account of the rise of gold and the depreciation of currency, these rates were increased; the fare from the Missouri River to Denver was changed to $175.00; to Salt Lake $350.00. The California rate varied from $400.00 to $500.00. A year later the fare to Virginia City, Montana, was fixed at $350.00 and the rate to Salt Lake City reduced to $225.00.

These high rates and Indian dangers did not seem to check the desire on the part of the public to make the overland trip. Stages were almost always crowded, and it was usually necessary for one to apply for reservations several days in advance.

Late in the year 1866, Holladay's entire properties[40] were purchased by Wells Fargo and Co. This was a new concern, recently chartered by Colorado, which had been quietly gaining power. Within a short time it had exclusive control of practically all the stage, express, and freighting business in the West and this business it held.

Meanwhile the overland stage and freight lines were rapidly shortening on account of the building of the Pacific railroads, and the terminals of the through routes became merely the temporary ends of the fast growing railway lines. By the early autumn of 1866, the Kansas Pacific had reached Junction City, Kansas, and the Union Pacific was at Fort Kearney, Nebraska. The golden era of the overland stage business was from 1858 to 1866. After that, the old through routes were but fragments "between the tracks" of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific roads which were building East and West toward each other.

Wells Fargo & Co., however, clung to these fragments until the lines met on May 10th, 1869, and a continuous transcontinental railroad was completed. Then they turned their attention to organizing mountain stage and express lines in the railroadless regions of the West,—some of which still exist. And they also turned their energies to the railway express business, in which capacity this great firm, the last of the old stage companies, is now known the world over.

[34] Authority for Early Mail Routes is Root and Connelley's Overland Stage to California.

[35] The reader will keep in mind that during the early days of California history, practically all communication between that locality and the East was carried on by steamship from New York via Panama.

[36] In June, 1860, Congress got into trouble with this company over postal compensations. The steamship company, it appears, thought its remuneration too low and it further protested that the diversion of mail traffic, due to the daily Overland Stage Line and the Pony Express would reduce its revenues still further. Congress finally adjourned without effecting a settlement, and the mail, which was far too heavy for the overland facilities to handle at that time, was piling up by the ton awaiting shipment. Matters were getting serious when Cornelius Vanderbilt came to the Government's relief and agreed to furnish steamer service until Congress assembled in March, 1861, provided the Federal authorities would assure him "a fair and adequate compensation." This agreement was effected and the affair settled as agreed. At the expiration of the period, the war and the growing importance of the overland route made steamship service by way of the Isthmus quite obsolete.

[37] The contractors are said to have been awarded $50,000 by the Government for their trouble in haying the agreement broken.

[38] See page 153. Holladay secured possession of the outfits of the C. O. C. & P. P. Exp. Co., between the Missouri and Salt Lake City.

[39] The Pioneer Line which had recently come into power and prominence had gained possession of the equipment west of Salt Lake. This line was owned by Louis and Charles McLane. Louis McLane afterward became President of the Wells Fargo Express Co.

[40] Holladay is said to have received one million five hundred thousand dollars cash, and three hundred thousand dollars in express company stock for his interests. Besides these amounts which covered only the animals, rolling stock, stations, and incidental equipment, Wells Fargo and Co. had to pay full market value for all grain, hay and provisions along the line, amounting to nearly six hundred thousand dollars more.

Chapter IX

Passing of the Pony Express

When Edward Creighton completed the Pacific telegraph, and, on October 24, 1861, began sending messages; by wire from coast to coast, the California Pony Express formally went out of existence. For over three months since July 1, it had been paralleled by the daily overland stage; yet the great efficiency of the semi-weekly pony line in offering quick letter service won and retained its popularity to the very end of its career. And this was in spite of the fact that for several weeks before its discontinuance the pony men had ridden only between the ends of the fast building telegraph which was constructed in two divisions—from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Missouri River—at the same time, the lines meeting near the Great Salt Lake.

The people of the far West strongly protested against the elimination of the pony line service. Early in the winter of 1862 it became rumored—perhaps wildly—that the Committee on Finance in the House of Representatives had, for reasons of economy, stricken out the appropriation for the continuance of the daily stage. Whereupon the California legislature[41] addressed a set of joint resolutions to the state's delegation in Congress, imploring not only that the Daily Stage be retained, but that the Pony Express be reestablished. The stage was continued but the pony line was never restored.

As a financial venture the Pony Express failed completely. To be sure, its receipts were sometimes heavy, often aggregating one thousand dollars in a single day. But the expenses, on the other hand, were enormous. Although the line was so great a factor in the California crisis, and in assisting the Federal Government to retain the Pacific Coast, it was the irony of fate that Congress should never give any direct relief or financial assistance to the pony service. So completely was this organization neglected by the government, in so far as extending financial aid was concerned, that its financial failure, as foreseen by Messrs. Waddell and Majors, was certain from the beginning. The War Department did issue army revolvers and cartridges to the riders; and the Federal troops when available, could always be relied upon to protect the line. Yet it was generally left to the initiative and resourcefulness of the company to defend itself as best it could when most seriously menaced by Indians. The apparent apathy regarding this valuable branch of the postal service can of course be partially excused from the fact that the Civil War was in 1861 absorbing all the energies which the Government could summon to its command. And the war, furthermore, was playing havoc with our national finances and piling up a tremendous national debt, which made the extension of pecuniary relief to quasi-private operations of this kind, no matter how useful they were, a remote possibility.

That the stage lines received the assistance they did, under such circumstances, is to be wondered at. Yet it must be borne in mind that at the outset much of the political support necessary to secure appropriations for overland mail routes was derived from southern congressmen who were anxious for routes of communication with the West coast, especially if such routes ran through the Southwest and linked the cotton-growing states with California.

At the very beginning, it cost about one hundred thousand dollars to equip the Pony Express line in those days a very considerable outlay of capital for a private corporation. Besides the purchase of more than four hundred high grade horses, it cost large sums of money to build and equip stations at intervals of every ten or twelve miles throughout the long route. The wages of eighty riders and about four hundred station men, not to mention a score of Division Superintendents was a large item.

Most of the grain used along the line between St. Joseph and Salt Lake City was purchased in Iowa and Missouri and shipped in wagons at a freight rate of from ten cents to twenty cents a pound. Grain and food stuffs for use between Salt Lake City and the Sierras were usually bought in Utah and hauled from two hundred to seven hundred miles to the respective stations. Hay, gathered wherever wild grasses could be found and cured, often had to be freighted hundreds of miles.

The operating expenses of the line aggregated about thirty thousand dollars a month, which would alone have insured a deficit as the monthly income never equaled that amount.

A conspicuous bill of expense which helped to bankrupt the enterprise was for protection against the savages. While this should have been furnished by the Government or the local state or territorial militia, it was the fate of the Company to bear the brunt of one of the worst Indian outbreaks of that decade.

Early in 1860, shortly after the Pony Express was started, the Pah-Utes, mention of whom has already been made, began hostilities under their renowned chieftain Old Winnemucca. The uprising spread; soon the Bannocks and Shoshones espoused the cause of the Utes, and the entire territory of Nevada, Eastern California and Oregon was aflame with Indian revolt. Besides devastating many white settlements wherever they found them, the Indians destroyed nearly every pony station between California and Salt Lake, murdered numbers of employes, and ran off scores of horses. For several weeks the service was paralyzed, and had it been in the hands of faint-hearted men it would have been ended then and there.

The climax came with the defeat and massacre of Major Ormsby's force of about fifty men by the Utes at the battle of Pyramid Lake in western Nevada. Help was finally sent in from a distance, and before the first of June, eight hundred men, including three hundred regulars and a large number of California and Nevada volunteers, had taken the field. This formidable campaign finally served the double purpose of protecting the Pony Express and stage line and in subduing the Indians in a primitive and effective manner. Order was restored and the express service resumed on June 19. Desultory outbreaks, of course, continued to menace the line and all forms of transportation for months afterwards.

During this campaign, the local officers and employes of the express gave valiant service. It was remarkable that they could restore the line so quickly as they did. The total expense of this war to the Company was $75,000, caused by ruined and stolen property and outlays for military supplies incidental to the equipment of volunteers.

This onslaught, coming so soon after the enterprise had begun, and when there was already so little encouragement that the line would ever pay out financially, must have disheartened less courageous men than Russell, Majors and Waddell and their associates. It is to their everlasting credit that this group of men possessed the perseverance and patriotic determination to continue the enterprise, even at a certain loss, and in spite of Federal neglect, until the telegraph made it possible to dispense with the fleet pony rider. Not only did they stick bravely to their task of supplying a wonderful mail service to the country, but they even improved their service, increasing it from a weekly to a semi-weekly route, immediately after the disastrous raids of June, 1860. Nor did they hesitate at the instigation of the Government a little later to reduce their postal rates from five dollars to one dollar a half ounce.

This condensed statement shows the approximate deficit which the business incurred:

To equip the line .....................................$100,000 Maintenance at $30,000 per month (for sixteen months)..$480,000 War with the Utes and allied tribes ................... $75,000 Sundry items .......................................... $45,000 ———— Total .................................................$700,000

The receipts are said to have been about $500,000 leaving a debit balance of $200,000. That the Company changed hands in 1861 is not surprising.

While the Pony Express failed in a financial way; it had served the country faithfully and well. It had aided an imperiled Government, helped to tranquilize and retain to the Union a giant commonwealth, and it had shown the practicability of building a transcontinental railroad, and keeping it open for traffic regardless of winter snows. All this Pony Express did and more. It marked the supreme triumph of American spirit, of God-fearing, man-defying American pluck and determination—qualities which have always characterized the winning of the West.

[41] Senate Documents.


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