By Gregory R.C. Hasman, Rocket-Miner
Rock Springs, WY (AP) – On the outskirts of the Civil War, young men from across the country carried mail, newspapers, telegrams and other forms of correspondence on horseback from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, along the Pony Express. They traveled hundreds of miles into the unknown with nothing but their horses, mochilas, Bibles and sense of adventure.
The job did not last long, the Rocket-Miner reported (http://bit.ly/1Ur8PQr).
The Pony Express died in its infancy after racing from April 3, 1860, to Oct. 24, 1861. Its cause of death was attributed to the completion of the transcontinental telegraph line, but despite its premature demise, its spirit remains.
The National Pony Express Association continues to preserve the mail carriers’ legacy through an annual Pony Express re-ride. The 37th edition will run to June 25. Volunteers will head east this year as they retrace the route on horseback as they will take mail from Old Sacramento, California, and bring it to St. Joseph. At which point the mail will be dispersed to local post offices that will deliver the items to the destinations.
About 600 riders from California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri will take the Pony Express oath and receive a Bible, just like the riders did, prior to participating. The event is a 10-day ode to the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company, founded by Missouri freighting firm Russell, Majors and Waddell.
In Wyoming, about 160 riders will travel from 10 miles south of Evanston to Torrington. Les Bennington, president of the National Pony Express Association Wyoming chapter, said due to the horses not being conditioned enough to ride in long spurts, riders will travel in 1- to 4-mile intervals before another rider takes over.
Bennington, who has participated in the event since its genesis, said he is helping preserve a piece of American history.
“It’s a love of history, trying to keep the spirit alive in what it took to make this country,’’ he said.
Stagger it out
In southwest Wyoming the route begins in Uinta County at Needle Rock before heading to Bear River Road, Hanging Rock, Quaking Ash Springs, Muddy Creek, Fort Bridger, Millersville, Church Butte, Granger and Rock Ridge. It enters Sweetwater County in Hams Fork, where it traverses the Green River crossing before going northeast to Big, Little and Dry Sandy, outside Farson, before preceding to South Pass and Atlantic City in Fremont County.
Howard Schultz, ride captain for the Sweetwater County Division, said the group will have 46 riders and will meet at the Sweetwater County Library to swear participants in and stamp their Bibles.
“We will have a meeting and choose rides,’’ he said. “Everyone gets a 2-mile ride, and we will stagger it out.’’
After a 2-mile stretch, other riders will relay the mail across the state.
“It’s pretty exciting. If you can just imagine how they were riding back then. We got some backcountry areas that’s on the original trail so there isn’t any highways, it’s all two-track road,’’ Schultz said. “As you’re participating thinking about what they were back then and some of the things they encountered, it gives you a good feeling.’’
After leaving St. Joseph with mail and telegrams, riders rode on until they reached two stations. They stopped at relay stations, every 10 to 15 miles to change horses, and home stations, every 75 to 100 miles, where a fresh rider would continue the route. They rode on horses which traveled an average of 10 mph, though some galloped as fast as 25 mph.
Each rider carried the mail and telegrams inside a lightweight leather cover with four pockets known as mochilas, which was thrown over the saddle. At the home station, the rider would change the mochila from one saddle to another before away they went. There was a two-minute limit to change horses.
Due to the high costs to fund the system, Pony Express rates were around $500 per half ounce of mail, which is why major newspapers, the military, U.S. government and large businesses were the main users of the service. Profits eventually decreased and with the advent of the transcontinental telegraph the service was no longer deemed necessary. The outbreak of the Civil War marked the final blow.
Once a year Pony Express enthusiasts will be able to get a taste of what the riders went through more than 150 years ago.
At 2:30 a.m. June 19, riders stopped outside Evanston and meet with Unita County riders. Sweetwater County residents traveled to the Granger Stage Station in Granger between 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. June 20 to catch the Sweetwater County division, or they could catch up with them around noon that day at Farson Mercantile. The end of the line for Wyoming riders is by Torrington before Nebraska riders take over.
Photo: A Pony Express re-rider from years past