HORSE TALES: 1001 Stall Stories
By Molly McMule
Shuffle, shuffle, ouch! "Move over, Jesse, and let me get closer to the hay rack. I just want to eat and then go to sleep."
"What's the matter with you, Deke? You're crabby and acting like you just ran a 20 lap race," said Jesse.
"Well, I feel like I did. My rider and I just came back from a 10 mile trail ride and we galloped most of the way."
"Ten miles - is that all? I can remember hearing my grandfather talking about the men and horses that were part of the Pony Express mail service back in 1860. Those horses and riders carried mail in all kinds of weather between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California, almost 2,000 miles and it only took them about 10 days," said Jesse.
"I'd like to see you do that," scoffed Deke.
"Of course, they did this in relays, changing horses about every 10 to 15 miles, and the riders changed about every 60 miles or so. They rode just as fast as those ponies could carry them and averaged about 10 miles an hour, making deliveries twice a week."
"They must have been in good shape," said Deke with a groan.
'The horses and mustangs were the best in the west, I'm proud to say, and the riders were young, about 18 years old, skinny and daring. After all, there were outlaws and Indians waiting to ambush them," said Jesse. "Each rider carried a rifle, two revolvers and a Bible. Fine young gentlemen they were; had to take an oath not to swear or get drunk, and also promise they would never mistreat their horses."
"Like running them top speed for 15 miles isn't cruel." mumbled Deke, flopping down in the straw.
"Each way station had plenty of good oats, hay and groomers to gently care for the horses and to make sure they had good soft bedding to rest up for the next trip," explained Jesse.
"So, Jesse" said Deke, "maybe I don't have it as bad as those horses did, but my muscles still ache. I wonder what the speed record of the day was."
"I heard that a man they called 'Pony Bob' Haslam set the record for the fastest run in March of 1861, by carrying the mail 120 miles from Smith's Creek to Fort Churchill, Nevada, in eight hours and 10 minutes. But what made it really special was that he actually rode 380 miles because his relay partner had been killed, and Pony Bob had a bullet wound in his arm, and his jaw was broken by an arrow. That's really showing courage and stamina."
"Wow - but somehow I still don't feel any better," yawned Deke.
"The Pony Express only lasted about two years because it was so expensive to operate and there were many losses of riders and horses. But even after the railroad started and the telegraph came into use, horses were still used to collect and deliver mail at the railroad stations. So you can see how important we were to keeping communications open during the opening of the west. Deke?"
Deke was fast asleep.
Molly says if you would like to know more about the Pony Express you could visit the Pony Express History Sites on the Internet. The National Park Service established a Pony Express National Historic Trail in 1992. This might be a good vacation adventure. You can find out more about this at www.nps.gov/poex. Or visit your library for lots more stories and books on this subject.