History of the Pony Express for Kids

Bedtime History

Can you imagine living in a time when there were no cell phones, email, and other electronic devices to communicate with friends and family members living far away? For a very long time, this is how everyone lived. Instead of making phone calls or sending texts or emails, they wrote letters to each other. The letter would explain how they were doing and what was going on in their lives. The only problem was mail often took very long to move from one place to another. Imagine if you had something very important to tell someone, but they wouldn’t find out about it until weeks later! 

Our story takes place in the United States in the 1800s. This was a time when much of the country was still wilderness and pioneers were still settling the land. It was the time of cowboys and farmers who lived in distant places. Native Americans also still occupied the land between cities and towns. At this time, there lived a creative businessman named William Russell. William Russell saw how long it took for letters to travel across the country and wondered if there was a better way to do it. If people could get their mail faster, they’d be much happier. After thinking about it, William had a great idea. To send letters faster, he could use horses and riders who rode very fast from one stop to another. This would be much faster than stagecoaches and wagons which were slower and had to rest many times along the way. After finding some money for the business, William and his team got busy building 200 stations. These stations started in the state of Missouri and stretched all the way to California, thousands of miles across the United States. 

Once the stations were finished being built, riders and horses were prepared for the job of carrying the mail. Riders started in Missouri and raced on horseback to the next station at full speed. Once they reached the next station, they were very tired, but waiting for them was a new horse and rider, who grabbed the mail and rode as fast as they could to the next station. Instead of letters taking 20 days, these horses and riders delivered mail across the country in just 10 days. That was twice as fast!  William Russell decided to call his new company The Pony Express.

The Pony Express riders need to be very fast and very brave. The journey from Missouri to California was often very dangerous. They could be attacked by wild animals or bandits who wanted to take the mail. To find riders, posters were posted all over towns with the words: “Young, skinny, wiry fellows, not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”   Even though the job was dangerous, many brave, young riders volunteered to help.

Like the job posting said, Pony Express riders needed to be small and light so it was easier for the horse to carry them. Some of the riders were often as young as 14 years old. One man named “Bronco” Charlie Miller said he rode for the Pony Express when he was only 11 years old! Riders were paid $100 to 150 dollars per month, which was pretty good money at the time.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected President and gave his first speech, Pony Express riders carried a copy of the speech from Nebraska to California in just 7 days and 17 hours, which was the record for the fastest mail delivery in Pony Express history.

One of the most famous Pony Express riders was named Bob Haslam. Bob was born in England and came across the ocean to America when he was just a boy. His family moved to Salt Lake City and there he worked on a ranch and as a messenger. He was known for being brave and loyal and always getting the job done. Loyalty means others can trust you because you do what you say you are going to do. 

When Bob was 20 years old, he joined the Pony Express. During one ride he got to the station only to learn that Native Americans were in the area and he couldn’t stop. Even though he and his horse were very tired, Bob kept on riding. Bob persevered. Perseverance is when you keep doing something even though you want to give up. Bob continued riding until he reached the next station, only to find that it was under attack as well! Bob didn’t know what to do. He and his horse were tired and hungry! Bob knew he had to get the job done and deliver the mail, so he continued riding! Once he reached the next station he handed his mail off and rested for 9 hours. But after resting, Bob wasn’t done yet. He picked up the next bag of mail, hopped on his horse, and rode back in the other direction. His 380-mile trip was the longest Pony Express ride in history. From then on he was known as “Pony” Bob and will always be remembered for his amazing ride. 

Later, when Pony Bob grew old and passed away the newspaper printed “‘Pony Bob’ Haslam, Who Knew No Fear, Dies in Chicago — a man once famous throughout the United States for his courage, endurance, and skill.”

Although the Pony Express was a great idea, it ran into problems very early on. It cost a lot to build all of the stations and pay the riders and a war erupted between Native Americans and settlers in the area, making it difficult for riders to get from one station to the next. Also, within a few years, the telegraph was invented. The telegraph was a very long wire that stretched all the way across the country. The wire was used to send messages across it almost instantly. Because of the telegraph, the Pony Express was no longer needed. But the Pony Express and its riders like “Pony” Bob will go down in history for their strength, bravery, and perseverance.

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