Pony Express Service Ends

U.S. #113 – This Pictorial was widely criticized as it appeared to show the horse leaping rather than galloping.

Pony Express Service Ends

After just 18 months, the Pony Express ceased operations on October 26, 1861.

In 1860, mail contractor Ben Holladay joined forces with the Russell, Majors, and Waddell freight company to create a mail-carrying operation that would be faster and more efficient than the stagecoaches of the Butterfield Overland Mail. Holladay established 200 stations 25 miles apart along a 1,900-mile trail from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California.

U.S. #894 – When it was revealed that a horse could not run as pictured on this stamp, collectors expected it to be claimed an error and reissued, but it never was.

Holladay then put a call out for small, brave young men that could ride a horse well. He bought 500 of the fastest horses he could find and hired 80 daring riders. The first ride left St. Joseph, Missouri on April 3, 1860, and arrived in Sacramento, California just ten days later. In the mochilla, or saddlebag, was a message of congratulations from President Buchanan to the Governor of California, which had been telegraphed from Washington to St. Joseph.

U.S. #143L3 – This $1 stamp was used to cover the fee for a ½ ounce letter and was used from July 1861 until October 1861.

The rides were dangerous, but the pay was good – $25 a week, or the equivalent of over $4,600 in wages today. These were the Pony Express riders. The men, usually younger than 18 years old, were expected to cover 75 miles a day in spite of inclement weather and Indian attacks. Picking up a rested horse at each stop, they rode non-stop, day and night, rain or shine. Buffalo Bill Cody, who became famous for his Wild West Show, was hired to ride for the Pony Express when he was just 15 years old. His route was through Wyoming. He told of one time when he rode 322 miles round trip because his relief rider had been killed in a brawl. Buffalo Bill was the kind of dedicated man that characterized the Pony Express riders.

U.S. #924 – The completion of the Transcontinental Telegraph marked the end of the Pony Express.

Their route could be completed in eight days, which was 12 to 14 days faster than the Overland Mail. The fastest trip was seven days, when riders delivered the news of Abraham Lincoln’s presidential election in November of that year. Initially, it cost $5 to send a letter between San Francisco and St. Joseph, Missouri, but that charge was later reduced to $1. An estimated 35,000 letters were carried by the Pony Express.

This adventurous service came to an end just 18 months after that first ride. On October 24, 1861, the Western Union Telegraph Company completed the first transcontinental telegraph line in Salt Lake City. This accomplishment ushered in a new age of communications in the U.S. It also marked the end of the Pony Express two days later, on October 26.

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21 responses to "Pony Express Service Ends"

21 thoughts on “Pony Express Service Ends”

  1. Amazing how far we’ve come in 154 years! Interesting to see how brave they were to take risks in the wild west to deliver mail. Today, with the “electronic risks”, we may go back to paper mail, and save stamp collecting. Keep up the good work. We learn more in these lessons than we did in school. Thanks

  2. It’s a great story. But according to the Pony Express exhibit in the Smithsonian Postal Museum in Washington, DC,, the stations were not 25 but 10 miles apart – the limit for a galloping horse. Horses were changed every 10 miles and riders changed every 100 miles.

    • And a lot of people think that .49 cents for postage is too much. All-in all, another great article about the History of our nation in postage stamps!!!

  3. In all of those 18 months the Pony Express lost only 1 bag of mail. Incredible since they had to pass through some hostile country.

  4. There were other famous Pony Express riders besides Buffalo Bill. The most famous (to me, at least) was Johnny Frye, the first westbound rider out of St. Joe in April, 1860. At the same time, another rider began the trip eastward out of Sacramento–his name was Harry something-or-other–I can’t remember his last name. Another famous name was Pony Bob Haslam, who was chased by Indians through several relay stations in Nevada, including one which is now South Lake Tahoe–there is a statue of him just outside Harrah’s casino.

    However, none can compare with Johnny, who rode for about a ;year until the Civil War Started, then joined the Union Army. He was bushwacked by Southern renegades in 1863–he was just 23 years old.

    Johnny Frye was my great-great-uncle. My maternal grandfather, John Frye (1859-1913), was his namesake.

  5. Your history lessons are good for any history buff, whether a stamp collector or not, and the comments from those who leave them give even more credence to this history, for example, those about Mr. Johnny Freye. As a stamp collector and a history buff….I thank-you.

  6. Yes, the Western Union seemed to stop the Pony Express, but mail still needed to be delivered. Did it revert back to stagecoach delivery only?


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