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Picturing history: The Pony Express and Mormon Pioneer National Historic trails

Monument to the Pony Express at This Is the Place Heritage Park, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Monument to the Pony Express at This Is the Place Heritage Park, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Kenneth Mays

In 1860, the freighting firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell established a system of carrying mail from Missouri and points east to California in the fastest possible time.

Known as the Pony Express, this system utilized riders on horseback to carry a pouch of mail successively from one station to another where they could change horses. After so many stations, the rider would be replaced by another, rest and then ride back the other direction with mail going from west to east. Beginning in St. Joseph, Missouri, the Pony Express route soon joined the Oregon Trail and reached the Platte River just east of Fort Kearny, Nebraska. It followed the Platte westward on the south side of the river (see “Pony Express” on NPS.gov).

The Mormon Pioneer Trail followed the Platte on the north side. With a few exceptions, the Pony Express riders shared the same route taken by pioneers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the duration of the journey to the Salt Lake Valley. The Pony Express enterprise lasted about 18 months. Essentially, it was replaced by the telegraph.

Presently, a number of sites along the Pony Express route commemorate its contribution to the United States and western territories. This includes extant structures such as the Stagecoach Inn at Fairfield, Utah County. There is also a monument with interpretation located at This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City.

Both the Pony Express National Historic Trail and the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail are included among the 19 National Historic Trails. Such a designation must come by an act of Congress.

Kenneth Mays is a board member of the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation and a retired instructor in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Department of Seminaries and Institutes.

Commemorative Pony Express plaque, Fort Bridger, Wyoming.
Commemorative Pony Express plaque, Fort Bridger, Wyoming.
Kenneth Mays