Vanguards of the Frontier: A Social History of the Northern Plains and Rocky Mountains from the Earliest White Contacts to the Coming of the Homemaker

By Everett Dick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
SWIFT COURIERS OF THE PLAINS

FAST COMMUNICATION has always been sought by man. From the epoch when swift runners bore the news throughout Greece, through the time when couriers carried messages across the far-flung Roman Empire, until the radio began magically to annihilate space, man has been willing to pay the price for speed in communication. The last of the agencies depending solely on flesh and blood for a vast stretch over the never-ending Plains, in speedy transcontinental communication in the United States was the famous Pony Express.

Naturally the people of California, isolated three thousand miles from the nation's capital by a vast territory, much of which was uninhabited, wanted closer contacts with the East. Senator W. M. Gwin of that state on one occasion in the fifties rode to Washington on horseback accompanied part of the way by B. F. Ficklin, superintendent of the Russell, Majors & Waddell freighting company. The two men talked at some length about the famous ride of Francis Xavier Aubry, who rode the eight hundred miles from Santa Fe to Independence in five days and thirteen hours in 1853. Thus during the tedious hours of an overland trip were the first seeds of the Pony Express sown. Senator Gwin later interested William H. Russell of Leavenworth, one of the partners in the freighting firm, in the project, and they brought it to fruition. Russell kept the plans for the express secret, and when all arrangements had been made, it was announced in the New York Herald and the Missouri Republican that the service would begin on April 3, 1860, when at 5 P.M. the first courier would leave St. Joseph, Missouri. On the same day at almost the same

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