In 1860, the Pony Express made one trip from St. Joseph to Denver, 625 miles, in two days and twenty-one hours.
The Pony Express riders received from $120 to $125 a month. But few men can appreciate the danger and excitement to which those daring and plucky men were subjected; it can never be told in all its constant variety. They were men remarkable for their lightness of weight and energy. Their duty demanded the most consummate vigilance and agility. Many among their number were skillful guides, scouts, and couriers, and had passed eventful lives on the Great Plains and in the Rocky Mountains. They possessed strong wills and a determination that nothing in the ordinary course could balk. Their horses were generally half-breed California mustangs, as quick and full of endurance as their riders, and were as surefooted and fleet as a mountain goat; the facility and pace at which they traveled was a marvel. The Pony Express stations were scattered over a wild, desolate stretch of country two thousand miles long. The trail was infested with “road agents” and hostile savages who roamed in formidable bands, ready to murder and scalp with as little compunction as they would kill a buffalo.
Some portions of the dangerous route had to be covered at the astounding pace of twenty-five miles an hour, as the distance between stations was determined by the physical character of the region.
The Civil War began nine months after the Pony Express was started, and never has news been more anxiously awaited than on the Pacific Coast during the existence of this enterprise. The first tidings of the attack on Fort Sumter were sent by the Pony Express, and its connections, to San Francisco in eight days, fourteen hours. From that time on, a bonus was given by California businessmen and public officials to the Pony Express Company to be distributed among the riders for carrying war news as fast as possible. For bringing the news of the Battle of Antietam to Sacramento one day earlier than usual, in 1861, a purse of three hundred dollars extra was collected for the riders.
During the last few weeks preceding the termination of the Pony Express, by the opening of the transcontinental telegraph, the express riders brought an average of seven hundred letters per week from the Pacific Coast. In those last few weeks, after the telegraph had been completed to Fort Kearney, the “pony” rates were reduced to one dollar per half ounce, and each letter was enclosed in a ten-cent government-stamped envelope for each half ounce, and this was the only financial interest the government had, at any time, in the Pony Express enterprise, until the remnant of it was transferred by Russell, Majors & Waddell to the Wells-Fargo Company.
In all the trips across the continent, and the 650,000 miles ridden by the Pony Express riders of the Russell, Majors & Waddell Company, the record is that only one mail was lost, and that a comparatively small and unimportant one.
Canadian subscribers add $10; All other international subscribers add $40.