Today, the California State Quarter Coin remembers when the first Pony Express rider arrived at Sacramento on April 13, 1860.
Excerpt from The Pony Express by J. M. Guinn printed in the Annual Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California and Pioneer Register Los Angeles 1901:
“It was five days prior to the running of the great race for the $200,000 wager that the first Pony Express left St. Joseph for the west.
At 7:15 p. m. on Tuesday, April 3, 1860, a rider received at the United States Express office in St. Joseph his light burden of dispatches, and amid the cheers and huzzas of the vast throng assembled to witness the event darted off across the plains of Kansas and on into the distant west.
This event created so much excitement in St. Joseph that the little pony was almost robbed of his tail, the crowds of people assembled at the starting point being desirous of preserving a memento of the flying messenger.”
The rider at the western end of the route, who reached Sacramento April 13, 1860, was accorded even a more enthusiastic reception, although no bet was pending on the time of his arrival.
The news of his coming was heralded with great enthusiasm, and both houses of the Legislature adjourned to welcome him.
He came in time for the regular afternoon steamboat, and the horse and the rider, with the mail bag, just as they had come into Sacramento, took passage on the boat and arrived at the wharf in San Francisco at 1 o’clock on the morning of April 14th, with the mail, just 10.5 days from St. Joe.
They were met by an enthusiastic crowd with a band and torches.
A procession was formed; and with music and continuous cheers they were escorted to the post office.
The quickest time ever made between San Francisco and New York by overland mail via the Butterfield route was 20 days.
The Pony Express shortened this time to 10 days.
The Pony Express was a semi-weekly service.
Fifteen pounds was the limit of the weight of the waterproof mail bag and its contents that twice a week, from each end started on its long journey.
The postage or charge was $5.00 a letter of half an ounce.
The line never paid. In fact, its owners operated it throughout its existence at a loss.
The high charges necessitated by the cost of keeping up relays of men and horses prevented it from being extensively patronized.
It seldom carried over 200 letters, and sometimes not more than 20.
It reduced the time for letters from New York to San Francisco to 13 days, and telegraphic dispatches to 9 days, at first; and later on to 8 days.
Messages were sent to Fort Kearny, the extreme western station, and taken up by the rider as he came along.
The messages were re-dispatched from Carson City, which was connected by telegraph with San Francisco.
Letters and messages were written on a tough page of tissue paper, very thin and light, which was specially prepared for the express company.
The stamp, now very rare, was embellished with a picture of a man on horseback spurring at a gallop across the plains.
During the exciting times at the breaking out of the Civil War in 1861, the pony express was the sole reliance of the whole Pacific Coast for the quickest news.
The Indians on the western end, and the Confederates on its eastern end had destroyed the Butterfield stage line.
It was to the Pony Express that everyone looked for the latest intelligence.
Although the enterprise failed to pay expenses, to the praise of Russell and Majors, be it recorded, they kept it up until the overland telegraph was completed, in November, 1861.
The Pony Express required to do its work nearly 500 horses, about 190 stations, 200 station keepers and 80 riders.
Each rider usually rode the horses on about 75 miles, though sometimes much greater distances were made.
One rider — Robert H. Haslam — or Pony Bob, as he was usually called — on one occasion made a continuous ride of 380 miles within a few hours of schedule time.
Another — Wm. F. Cody, now famous as Buffalo Bill — rode in one continuous trip 384 miles without stopping, except for meals and to change horses.
The greatest feat performed by the Pony Express was in carrying President Lincoln’s inaugural message, in March, 1861.
The time on that trip from the Missouri river to Sacramento was 7 days and 17 hours, which is perhaps the quickest time, considering the distance, ever made on horseback.
Majors, the originator of the Pony Express, a veteran of 70 years’ pioneering on the frontiers, died a few weeks ago.
He was a man who had done much for his fellow men.
He was a public benefactor.
Yet a few lines in an obscure corner of the daily newspapers told the story of his life — at least, it told all the reporter or editor of the paper knew of it; and hundreds who read it had no idea what the Pony Express was.
Most of the riders who forty years ago braved the perils of mountain and desert and savage beast and more savage men, in lonesome rides of the Pony Express have crossed the divide between time and eternity.
The California State Quarter Coin shows with an image of the Pony Express statue made by sculptor Thomas Holland in Old Sacramento.
Statue image credit: The Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division