By Jim Rees
Readers of a certain vintage, especially male readers, will probably remember galloping home from the Sunday afternoon cinema, smacking their right cheeks (not the facial one) as they tried to outride a gang of bandits or whooping Indians.
With equestrian dexterity, we’d weave in and out of ‘varmint’ pedestrians who blocked the trail as we faced death just to ensure the safe delivery of the mail. For we were Pony Express riders, the bravest, fastest, and most reliable icons of the Wild West.
We were An Post with attitude.
Few images can conjure up the pioneering days of the American west as romantically as a slightly built youngster whipping his long reins back and forth to urge his pony to greater speed.
In many ways, it is a true image. Being a pony express rider did take great skill and courage. The system of relay stations did get the mail across vast expanses of land in a remarkably fast time.
However, it will probably surprise you to learn that the Pony Express lasted a mere nineteen months before being consigned to history – and Hollywood.
Prior to 1860 getting letters, newspapers and small packages across America was a logistical nightmare. The safest route was by ship, but these were pre-Panama Canal days, so the ships had to go all the way south past Florida, into the Caribbean, down the full length of South America, round Cape Horn and then face into the several thousand mile journey up to California.
As the eastern states became more developed, however, it was relatively easy to get mail to St. Joseph, Missouri. That still left the Great Plains and two major mountain ranges to negotiate – the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada.
In 1859, three businessmen established the Pike’s Peak Express Company to bridge that gap. The following year it changed its name to the cumbersome Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company. No wonder people simply referred to it as the Pony Express.