Hoof-beats ring out in the night as the trail-hardened Pony Express rider approaches the lonely Nevada waystation. In one fluid movement he leaps off his tired mount, grabs the mail pouch stuffed with urgent letters from points east, vaults aboard his fresh horse and is off again at a gallop before the cloud of dust he’s stirred up even has a chance to settle.
In the 150 years since the first horse and rider left St. Joseph, Missouri on April 3, 1860, the Central Overland & Pike’s Peak Express Company—better known as the Pony Express—has become an undeniable legend of the Old West. What few people realize, however, is that each year a dedicated group of volunteers gives horse lovers and history buffs a chance to saddle up for a firsthand horseback experience of what this incredible 10-day journey from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California was really like.
- PONY EXPRESS—BY THE NUMBERS
- 24: Hours per day the original mail pouch was kept moving.
- 12-15: The number of miles the average horse was ridden at a full-on gallop before being swapped for a fresh mount.
- 75-100: Number of miles each rider covered in one shift, though one rider covering two back-to-back stages was not unheard of.
- 20: Number of pounds each mail pouch weighed; also the weight of the rider’s other equipment including a water sack, bible, and two pistols.
- 125: Maximum weight of the rider in pounds.
- 18: Number of months the Pony Express service actually ran before being made obsolete by the telegraph.
As it turns out, there are actually several ways to participate in the National Pony Express Association annual re-ride of the entire 1,966-mile route. Anyone can pay $5 to send a commemorative letter along in the ail pouch—a relative bargain, considering it’s the same price the original Pony Express charged 150 years ago—or attend some of the dozens of events along the eight-state route. To be one of the 500 or so riders who annually recreate the ride of the Pony Express, however, you’ll need to become a member of the organization.
To learn more about this unique but short-lived chapter of American history, check out the National Park Service’s Pony Express National Historic Trail website, which has lots of info on the route and its history, including details on historic outposts that can be visited by car, 4WD, horseback, and hiking.
MORE EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES: