Missouri, the Heart of the Nation

By William E. Parrish; Charles T. Jones Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

ELEVEN
A Maturing Economy, 1860–1890

Pony Express

The Pony Express marked the end of one era and the beginning of another in Missouri. Horsepower made its last and ultimate effort, but lost to the telegraph, just as the stagecoach gave way to the railroad.

Although it is not certain, the idea of a Pony Express apparently came from William Russell, a partner in the famous Missouri freight company of Russell, Majors & Waddell. Russell hoped that besides providing rapid mail service between Missouri and California the Pony Express would demonstrate the practicality of a central overland route and win a federal mail contract for his firm. The entrepreneur believed that a successful express would unseat the Butterfield Company, which held the government mail contract and traveled the longer southern route to California. Russell proposed to employ lightweight riders who would ride swift horses in relays. He predicted that these riders would get mail and messages to California in half the time that it took Butterfield's stagecoaches to get them there via the southern route.

Russell's company bought 500 horses, built 190 stations at 25mile intervals, and hired 200 station attendants and 80 riders who weighed no more than 125 pounds. On April 3, 1860, the first rider left St. Joseph carrying mail brought from the east over the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. When the mail packet reached Sacramento, California, it had traveled 1,982 miles. An average trip took ten days. A rider usually traveled seventy-five miles before passing the fifteenpound mail packet to a colleague. Although the Pony Express delivered letters as fast as Russell had predicted and never lost a mail sack, it failed to win the United States mail contract from the Butterfield

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