Back before airplanes and drones, sending snail mail was more of an involved process. Folks who lived in the Wild West had a difficult time communicating with people who lived in the East. After all, stretches of land were between them.
Enter the Pony Express — then, the West’s most reliable form of communication. It was operational from February 1860 to October 1861.
During the late 1840s and the 1850s, large groups of people began moving out West. Latter-day Saints were fleeing religious persecution and many others were trying to strike gold in California. There wasn’t a telegraph in the West, per National Pony Express, so the Pony Express was established.
Before the Pony Express was established, it took a while to carry mail back and forth. With the onset of the Civil War, it became more important to have consistent communication, according to Utah.com. By around February 1860, the Pony Express stretched from Missouri to California with stops in major cities like Salt Lake City.
William Hepburn Russell bought 500 horses and placed them at stations 10 or so miles apart. He then hired riders, per History Today, offering them $25 each week (adjusted for inflation, that’s around $900 in today’s dollars).
Riders would carry the mail on horses and go from station to station to have the mail travel across to Missouri. At each station, riders would switch horses, so that the horses wouldn’t get too tired. The East and the West used the route to send mail to each other.
Even though the Pony Express was successful in its day, it was shortly upstaged by the transcontinental telegraph in October 1861.
Even though the Pony Express’s history was short, it has had an outsized impact on American history.
How to visit the Pony Express
While many of the Pony Express sites are in ruins, there are six sites that you can still visit. Smithsonian Magazine listed them in one of its articles.
- B. F. Hastings Bank Building, Sacramento, California.
- Pony Express National Museum, Saint Joseph, Missouri.
- Hollenberg Pony Express Station, Hanover, Kansas.
- Fort Kearney State Historical Park, Kearney, Nebraska.
- Fort Laramie National Historical Site, Fort Laramie, Wyoming.
- Pony Express Statue, Salt Lake City, Utah.