The Pony Express
Advertisement for the Pony Express:
“Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”
Oath sworn to by all Pony Express Riders:
While I am the employ of A. Majors, I agree not to use profane language, not to get drunk, not to gamble, not to treat animals cruelly and not to do anything else that is incompatible with the conduct of a gentleman. And I agree, if I violate any of the above conditions, to accept my discharge without any pay for my services.
Surprisingly, though, the 183 riders, aged 11 through the mid-40s, despite the ad, survived pretty well. Only one was killed by Indians, but even his mail was delivered to the next station, when his horse arrived rider less at the next station. It took 10 days for the mail to be delivered from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California.
Because of the extreme weather and the fact that a great deal of the trail involved riding through the desert alone, a danger which was further amplified by the threat of marauding desperadoes and wronged Indians, and that fact that help could be as far as 10 miles or a couple of hours away(the distance between way stations) the riders were paid $100-150 a month, equivalent to about $2,000.00 in today’s money.
The Pony Express was a mail service delivering messages and mail from St. Joseph, Missouri across the Great Plains, over the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada to Sacramento, California by horseback, using a series of relay stations. During its 18 months of operation, it reduced the time for messages to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to about ten days. From April 3, 1860 to October 1861, it became the West's most direct means of east–west communication before the telegraph was established and was vital for tying the new state of California with the rest of the country. Wikipedia
With the expansion of train service through the west and completion of the last major telegraph line from Omaha, Nebraska to Salt Lake City, Utah on October 18, 1861 the need for the Pony Express evaporated. The Pony Express could not compete with these much less expensive alternatives. So after only 18 months of operation, The Pony Express went out of business.
Frank E. Webner, Pony Express Rider, 1861(Wikipedia)
Pony Express Riders, Wells Fargo Archive, http://www.turbulenciayomelet.com/2012/10/el-pony-express.html
There is some debate whether the first rider of the Pony Express was Billy Richardson(back row, left) or Johnny Fry(next to him). Johnny Fry has another claim to fame. His girlfriend worked at one of the stations on his route. To give him food which he could eat along his route, she took fried bread, which had been very popular in America since Colonial days, and made a hole in it so he could grab it and hold on to it as he rode, effectively inventing the doughnut/donut as we now know it.
Billy Tate was a 14-year-old Pony Express rider who rode the post trail in Utah and Nevada through the Ruby Valley. During the Paiute uprising of 1860, he was chased by a band of Paiute Warriors on horseback. At some point Billy was forced to retreat into the hills behind some rocks. Somehow this fourteen-year-old boy was able to hold out against the war party, even taking down seven of his assailants before being killed himself. His body was found riddled with arrows, but he was not scalped, which was a sign that the Paiutes honored their enemy.
Billy's route was from Egan Canyon Station in Utah to Dry Creek, Nevada and covered about 75 miles through Paiute Indian Territory, which he rode alone. Because of the Paiute Uprising(May-June 1860), Billy was given this particular route because he was considered among the fastest of the Pony Express Riders. Billy was riding his route when he was intercepted by 12 Paiute Braves and chased through the Ruby Valley in Nevada. No one realized anything was wrong until Billy's horse showed up at the next station with the mail, but without Billy. Not even the search party could determine exactly what happened to the boy until they saw a flock of circling birds of prey a few days into their search. When they found Billy, his body was riddled with arrows. Littered around Billy's body were the signs of a horrendous battle. Out of the 12 Braves who attacked Billy(from Paiute Sources), seven lay dead and there was evidence that some of those who escaped were wounded as well. Billy's empty gun was found still clutched in his hand, with spent shells littering the ground around him. Most amazing, Billy carried only one gun, most probably the .36 caliber Model 1851 Colt Navy pistol, which held six bullets and he would have carried an extra cylinder with six more shots. Billy obviously made every shot count. If Billy didn't have his own gun, he would have been issued one by his employer at a cost of $40.00.
Letter stolen during Paiute War(1860), eventually recovered and delivered in early 1862(Wikipedia)
Billy's story is sadder than just about any other pioneer tale. A fellow rider, Bronco(Broncho) Charlie Miller(1850-1955), who began riding as a volunteer fill-in at 11-years-old, himself, wrote about his friend Billy in his history of the Pony Express. Billy traveled with his Mother and Father as a part of the Baker-Fancher Wagon Train originating in Carroll County Arkansas. The wagon train was ambushed in southern Utah on September 10, 1857. Around 120 pioneers, including women and children, were killed in the massacre, which became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The investigation which followed determined that the massacre had been disguised as an Indian attack, but it was actually planned by settlers in that corner of Utah, who didn't want outsiders passing through or, more importantly, settling in the area. The Leader of the massacre, John D. Lee, was prosecuted and executed on the site of the massacre.
Mountain Meadows today.
It is unclear whether Billy was the only survivor among his family, but he was only 10 when the massacre occurred. The few children who survived the massacre were taken in by settlers in the area and put to work as farm hands. The Territorial Governor ordered that the children be retrieved and sent back to Arkansas to relatives. Billy chose to run away and live on his own, eventually going to work for the Pony Express.
Bronco said that Billy may have been a boy, but "he died the death of a brave man..."
Erskine, Gladys Shaw "Broncho Charlie Miller: A Saga of the Saddle" New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1934
"William Miller did not die at Mountain Meadows. He remained in Utah against his will by a family named Tate. He was 9 years old at the time of the killing. He was injured, however, with a deep cut below his right eye. He remained with the Tates for 3 years until up around late December of 1859. At the age of thirteen, William Miller, who by now went by the name of Billy Tate, joined the Pony Express in December of 1859. He told everyone that he would someday get revenge on the Mormons by killing the same amount of the "saints" that they killed at the meadows in 1857. His ambitions were cut short however, as in 1861(actually 1860) while delivering a saddle bag full of mail from Carson City to Camp Ruby, Nevada he was ambushed by a war party of Pah Ute Indians. His horse was struck from behind by a few arrows and could no longer take Billy any further. Billy jumped off his horse and took refuge behind a huge boulder and prepared to sell his life at a high price. Amazingly, his horse delivered its mail to the next relay station on its own. Alerted by the riderless mustang, station tenders took off in search of Billy Tate (William Miller). His body was discovered with several arrows in it. However, seven dead Indians were also laying around. He was not scalped, for the Indians that survived Billy's defense respected courage, even in the eyes of a foe. Billy Tate (William Miller) is buried somewhere in the Nevada desert between Carson City and the old historic Pony Express relay station that was called Camp Ruby."
Jeff Trimm on an Ancestry Website in reference to descendants of victims of the Massacre.
If you've ever read Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story, "A Study In Scarlet", then you know that it was this massacre which prompted the murder of Enoch Drebber of Cleveland, Ohio at an empty house located in Lauriston Gardens, London. The only clue was a mysterious message, "RACHE", left at the scene of the crime. Rache is German for revenge, as Inspector Lestrade soon learned.
Billy's story was an exception. Officials of the Pony Express bragged that only one rider was killed in the line of duty. In fact, the riders main weapon of self-defense was their horse, which were bred for speed and toughness. And maintaining your employment with the Pony Express depended on your speed along your route. Otherwise, you would have been let go. Considering the times and the danger, very few riders faced danger and almost always their horse allowed them to get away.
Billy couldn't get away from the War Party that he ran into in the Ruby Valley
Billy's death was truly extraordinary. It was the result of a ferocious firefight. The Paiute Braves were truly shocked when they found that their relentless, courageous opponent was only a boy of 14. The warriors chose not to scalp, mutilate or castrate Billy out of respect for a fellow brave. Out of respect for his courage they sent him to the Happy Hunting Ground as he died on the field of battle. Normally mutilation was done out of fear that a dead warrior would come back as a ghost warrior and be invincible.
The Paiute let Billy's horse go free to go to the next station. Normally, horses were too precious a commodity to pass up, but out of respect for Billy and his courage, his horse was set free and continued on to the next way station, which alerted the company and friends of his fate. The Paiute Warriors wanted Billy to be buried by his compatriots. Following the arrival of his horse, a search party was organized and began looking for him.
Now gone, this is the Ruby Camp Station to which Billy was riding when he was ambushed. It was managed by Charles C. Hawley http://theusgenweb.org/nv/whitepine/ponyexpress/pony_exp.htm
The Paiute were angry about settlers encroaching on their territory, which was aggravated by a much colder than normal winter, several incredibly severe blizzards and a subsequent crop failure. The specific event which ignited the war was the rape of two Paiute Indian girls by the Proprietors of the Williams Station.
Williams Station was a combination saloon, general store and stagecoach station located along the Carson River at the modern-day Lahontan Reservoir. On May 6, 1860 Williams Station was raided by the Paiutes. Three Americans were killed and the station was burned. One victim managed to escape to Virginia City, and his story caused a general panic in the region. A militia was quickly formed from volunteers from Virginia City, Silver City, Carson City and Genoa with the purpose of apprehending the perpetrators. This force consisted of about 105 men and was under the overall command of Major William Ormsby.
This Militia engaged the Paiute Indians at Pyramid Lake along the Truckee River and were defeated on May 12, 1860. As the war progressed it consisted mostly of raids and revenge attacks, with a great deal of indiscriminate killing, especially centering on isolated Pony Express Way Stations.
Four regiments of Federal Cavalry were called in and joined the remnants of militia and defeated the Paiute at the Second Battle of Pyramid Lake on June 2, 1860. About 50 Militia, Soldiers and Settlers(including Pony Express Employees) were killed in the war, while the Paiute(and some Bannock Indians) suffered 150 dead. After the battle, soldiers began construction of Fort Churchill.
The remnants of Fort Churchill today(passim, Wikipedia)
Buffalo Bill Cody
Buffalo Bill at 19
Buffalo Bill at the height of his fame
World famous because of his Wild West Show, he lies in a magnificent grave overlooking the Great Plains, from Wikipedia:
Cody died of kidney failure on January 10, 1917, surrounded by family and friends at his sister's house in Denver. Cody was baptized into the Catholic Church the day before his death by Father Christopher Walsh of the Denver Cathedral. He received a full masonic funeral. Upon the news of Cody's death, tributes were made by King George V of the United Kingdom, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Imperial Germany, and President Woodrow Wilson. His funeral was in Denver at the Elks Lodge Hall. The Wyoming governor John B. Kendrick, a friend of Cody's, led the funeral procession.
One of the most famous stories about Wild Bill Cody's Wild West Show: Before World War I, Wild Bill took his Wild West Show to Germany in 1891. Annie Oakley was one of it stars(memorialized in "Annie Get Your Gun"), perhaps the greatest female shooter of all time. Kaiser Wilhelm requested that Annie shoot the ashes off his cigarette as he smoked it(though there is some debate whether he was holding in his hands or his mouth) at a 100 paces. During World War I:
"Some uncharitable people later ventured that if Annie had shot Wilhelm and not his cigarette, she could have prevented World War I." After the outbreak of World War I, however, Oakley did send a letter to the Kaiser, requesting a second shot. The Kaiser did not respond.
Wild Bill Hickok, Pony Express Rider, Bear Fighter, Gambler and Marksman
The other most famous Pony Express member was lawman, marksman and gambler Wild Bill Hickok. Buffalo Bill met Wild Bill when he was 18 and Buffalo Bill was 12. They remained friends the rest of their lives. Both served as scouts for the Anti-Slavery Jayhawkers of Kansas. During his service in the Pony Express Company, Wild Bill was attacked by a Bear. He was severely injured, but somehow was able wrestle his hand free from the bear which allowed him to get his gun and shoot the bear to death. For which he became a legend among his fellow Riders. He also had a well earned reputation as perhaps one of the finest shots in the West. Wild Bill is also famous for the way he died. A phenomenal card player, he always sat with his back to the wall at every Casino or Saloon at which he gambled. As he got older his sight started to fail him and he needed extreme vigilance to enhance his speed and accuracy. While gambling in Deadwood, South Dakota, he arrived late and forced to sit with his back to the door of the saloon. One of the Gamblers, who he had cleaned out earlier, came into the saloon and seeing an opportunity shot and killed Wild Bill on August 2, 1876. Wild Bill was holding a hand of Aces over Eights, all black, which forever after became known as the "Dead Man's Hand".
Unfortunately at over 6 Feet Tall, Wild Bill Hickok was far too tall and weighed far too much to ride a route and was instead hired as a scout and drover. Technically, the Pony Express wanted boys 15 to 18-years-old, but the main qualification came down to the rider's weight, which had to be 125 pounds or less, and horsemanship. A few, like Broncho Charlie, were able to enter service at ages as young as 11. Originally, riders were provided with two 1851 Navy .36 caliber pistols and a rifle, but in the effort to lighten the load this was cut down to one pistol and extra ammunition. The main defense a rider had on the range was his ability to make a fast get-away.
Wild Bill Hickok's Grave in Deadwood in 1876
The grave today with a monument in Wild Bill's memory
Wild Bill Hickok, Texas Jack Omohundro, and Buffalo Bill Cody in 1873
If you had asked Buffalo Bill Cody or Wild Bill Hickok who the bravest Pony Express Rider was, they would have said Billy Tate.
Billy Tate once road for the Pony Express and now lies buried in an unmarked grave in the Ruby Valley of Nevada. At the time of his death, Billy had one weeks pay of $25 owed to him by his employers. According to sources, no one knows where his grave is and very few people know his story; there are no pictures of Billy. It is certainly a story which deserves to be known and Billy is someone who deserves to be remembered.
Extract from Bronco(Broncho) Charlie Miller's Memoirs:
A Magnificent website telling the complete history of the Pony Express, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Wikipedia is a great resource for general and specific aspects of the history of the Pony Express
An interesting footnote, Broncho Charlie apparently served with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which certainly should add to his Bona Fides. A discussion among his descendants and interested parties is located here, much of the information contained is new and fascinating:
Broncho Charlie Miller celebrating his 100th Birthday in New York City(off Tompkins Park, Lutheran Retirement Home 1950)
He was in the Buffalo Bill Wild West show, and appeared as a broncho buster there, and not sure if he hunted buffalo in his early days or not.
He did spend a bit of time in Glens Falls in his later years, and would put on demonstrations, so perhaps some of this stuff were indeed props that he used, maybe. His last years were spent in the Tompkins Square house in NYC, and he remained active, entertaining large audiences, and he always dressed in his western gear.
He sure was quite the showman."
L* Miller E*
Another fascinating reference:
A former rider and showman with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West (that part is true), Miller was the king of ‘the Last of the Pony Express riders.’ A charming rascal and shameless self-promoter who had Old West written all over his face and attire (and that played best in the East), Miller was a chain-smoking, hard-drinking admitted horse thief. But America forgave him. Pony Express purists and doubters regularly challenged the old boy, but they never laid a glove on him. He refused to even acknowledge that there were purists and doubters of his tales. America loved Broncho Charlie Miller, whether he was telling the truth or not. He was, in the words of The New York Times, ‘the incarnation of the Old West for thousands of delighted youngsters — and some folks not so young.’
When Miller was an old man — 82 if we believe his birth date — he rode an old horse named Polestar from New York City to San Francisco to remind America, lest it forget, that the Pony Express had once brought the mail. People stood in the streets and cheered to see the old man loping along. He took a crazy, circuitous route that did not follow the route of the Pony Express and rode hundreds of miles into the Southwest. Go figure.
Another boy who never got the recognition(or Justice that the deserved). Almost no one knows the true story of Billy the Kid(William H. McCarty/Bonney(his Mom's Maiden Name) http://briankeithohara.blogspot.com/2014/11/billy-kid-was-more-likely-to-kill-off.html