For protection Pony Express riders carried only a sheath knife and a pair of Colt revolvers, although it was the rule of the company never to fight unless required by necessity. Their greatest protection was in the speed of their handpicked horses which proved time and again to be speedier than the Indian ponies.

The horses averaged about 14 hands high and weighed about 900 pounds. Saddle hardened youngsters weighing between 125 and 135 pounds galloped their mounts through rugged mountains, swamps, snow-locked passes, and deserts to carry the mail from station to station.

Although the valuable mail often made Pony Express riders the targets of thieving white men, the Indians had no interest in the mail. Rather, they considered the fleet-footed mounts of the riders as valuable prizes to be taken.

At the time of their employment the Pony Express riders were required to take the following oath of fidelity:

“I,______________, do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God, that during my engagement, and while I am an employee of Russell, Majors and Waddell, I will under no circumstances use profane language; that I will drink no intoxicating liquors; that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect, I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers. So Help Me, God.”

The manner in which the station-keepers and assistants and the mounted riders fulfilled their oaths completely justified the hopes of their employer in setting schedules and maintaining regular service. During the 19 months the Pony Express was in operation the riders, aided by faithful station keepers, traveled over one-half million miles over the treacherous, rough terrain in one of the most unique mail-carrying operations of all time.

Due to the relative high cost of postage, patronage of the Pony Express was limited mainly to the government, business, and newspaper men. At first it cost $5 to send a one-half ounce letter, but later on the Post Office Department reduced the cost to $1 per half-ounce.

The thinnest tissue paper obtainable was used for letters which were rolled in pencil rolls to save space, and in transit they were carefully covered by an oil skin wrapping prior to insertion in the compartments of the mail pouch. This precaution was invaluable in the protection of the mail when a rider was caught in torrential storms or had to cross a swollen stream.

Heisersaddle
A Heiser saddle, now a division of Keystone Bros., which helped make history is this handsomely decorated one with the mochila which was used by William Cates to carry President Lincoln’s first inaugural message from the Mississippi River to Sacramento, California. The saddle is now owned and displayed by the Denver B.P.O.E. Photo by Masamori.

The world’s record for dispatch by means of men and horses across the continent was set by Pony Express riders in March of 1861, carrying Lincoln’s Inaugural Address to Sacramento in the amazing time of seven days and 11 hours–a feat of major importance during those critical times for the nation.

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