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The Legend & Truth of the Pony Express (1 Viewer)


Senior Member
Everyone has heard of the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company.Few events in the developing American West have equaled the grandeur of the legacy of the Pony Express and its famous riders. The embellished character of a lone man on horseback riding across the unsettled west to deliver the mail no matter the difficult conditions or the threat of natives has been popularized in American lore. Although the Pony only ran for eighteen months it represents both Yankee Ingenuity and Manifest Destiny. But how much of the legend is fact?

The Pony Express was the business venture of the Russell, Majors & Waddell Corporation. All three of these distinct entrepreneurs made their fortune either on the Frontier, or in businesses involving the Frontier. The idea of the Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company was simple, transport mail over the vast wilderness of the United States in fifteen days, a record time for mail travel. Before 1860, the year the Pony Express started, mail headed toward California and other remote locations either traveled in slow stagecoaches crossing America or in ships that sailed from the eastern seaboard around Cape Horn to San Francisco. Neither of these methods was time efficient. Also at the time people living in California had to pay an exuberant amount of money to receive mail. Sometimes normal men would take mail from the post office in a major city and bring it to small mining camps. It was not uncommon for a miner to pay one ounce of gold dust to receive his mail. In modern American money that is equivalent to over 300 dollars! The Pony Expresses’ rates were five dollar per letter under an ounce and an additional five dollars for each ounce over this quota. In one example emphasizing the difficulty of receiving mail before the Pony Express William Swain says in a letter to his wife “I find this voyaging life disagreeable, as it is here today and there tomorrow and prevents me from hearing from home regularly or writing regularly and gives me a disagreeable feeling about the folks at home”

The mail was transported in a light saddlebag with two pockets, called a mochilla. The light riders would use specially bread horses and stop at stations ten-fifteen miles apart depending on the territory. Here they would change horses and replenish themselves with food and water. In one case famed Robert H. Haslam, better known as Pony Bob Haslam reported that he rode 190 miles strait, only stopping to eat through Nevada because there was no one at multiple stations to relieve him. This statement was later made famous by Buffalo Bill Cody, a friend of Pony Bob. The rider would travel to the next station no matter what the conditions were. Richard Cleve claims that he rode 160 miles in a blizzard with white out conditions. He recounted that he could not find the trail and he had to repeatedly dismount and walk his horse.

From the business viewpoint, the Pony Express was a financial fiasco. Although there are no business records still in existence from the Pony Express it is estimated that the Russell, Majors & Waddell Corporation lost between $500,000 to $700,000.That’s over ten million dollars in today’s standards! The Pony Express lost this large of amount of money because it just wasn’t cost effective. The Pony Express’ rates of five dollars a letter eventually fell down to one dollar. With these rates it just was not possible to make a profit when it is estimated that to transport a letter from the end of the current railroad at St. Joseph to California it cost an average of sixteen dollars a letter. The maximum amount of letters a horse could carry was about forty-five. Even if every weekly and eventually bi-weekly mail shipment went out full, mathematically there is no profit to be made. In the end the transcontinental telegraph line marked the end of Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company in 1861. The Pony express had only run for eighteen months. There was simply no need for a fast mail service when telegraphs could cross America in minutes. In the 1930’s William Campbell, a Pony Express rider, remarked when he was ninety-four that to him the greatest invention of all time was the telegraph. In an interview with a reporter he said, “Greatest of all inventions to me, because it affected me directly, is the telegraph. In the two minutes we used to be allowed to change horses at a station, Western Union now sends a message to New York or even London. The telegraph today does in a second what it took eighty young men, and hundreds of horses eight days to do when I was a rider for the Pony Express.”

Although in the end the revolutionary fast mail service, The Pony Express, failed financially it accomplished so much more. The Pony Express linked The East and the West like never before. The pony express has become a symbol of the American West. Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show had hundreds of different performers and performances, but the one of the only few that was ever kept for all performances over four decades was Pony Express rider racing through the Frontier to deliver the mail.


Senior Member
This was pretty interesting, but I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed because you asked a question to engage me, and then didn't effectively answer it.

Although the Pony only ran for eighteen months it represents both Yankee Ingenuity and Manifest Destiny. But how much of the legend is fact?

I didn't feel you compared the legend of the pony express with the reality. You simply analysed the reality. I would have liked to see you talk about some of the mythology that surrounded the pony express, then compare it to that facts and real conditions.


Everyone has heard of the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company, better known as the Pony Express .Few events in the developing American West have equaled the grandeur of the legacy of the Pony Express and its famous riders.

I din't think you need the section I've placed in bold. The beginning of the essay was good, but you said 'Pony Express' too many times. Take it out here and you';ve drawn the reader into the essay quickly.

That's all though. It was well written, if a little dry at times. I didn't see anything else that jumped out at me for correction.


Senior Member
This is interesting, but I agree with the other comments. I'd really like to hear more about the legend and its contrast with the truth, too.


Senior Member
don't forget to fix the spelling and word choice goofs, as well... things like 'exuberant' for exhorbitant' and 'bread' for 'bred'...

am looking forward to the revised version... hope you include that missing contrast, as talia noted...