Students take a lesson on Pony Express

Can you imagine living in a time when there were no cell phones, email and other electronic devices to communicate with friends and family living far away? And, the only method of communication was to write each other a letter and send it via the Pony Express on horseback?

McGill Elementary School students learned all about the Pony Express trail last Thursday.

The Pony Express originated in the United States in the 1800s. This was a time when much of the country was still wild and pioneers were still settling the land. It was the time of cowboys and farmers who lived in remote places. Native Americans also still occupied the lands between towns and villages. A creative businessman named 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.

William had a brilliant idea, to send letters faster, he could use horses and riders that rode very fast from one stop to another. William and his team took care of building 200 stations. These stations started in the state of Missouri and spread all the way to California, thousands of miles across the United States.

The Pony Express pilots had 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. Although the work was dangerous, many brave young riders volunteered to help.

A man named “Bronco” Charlie Miller says he rode the Pony Express when he was just 11! Runners were paid between $100 and $150 a month, which was quite expensive at the time.

Tony Zamora with the Schellbourne Pony Express Re-Riders explained to students how riders covered miles with a Mochila, a Spanish term for backpack.

“They were leather, with four pockets, or cantinas, the Pony Express mochilas were used to hold the mail. The riders sat on the mochila-covered saddle,” Zamora said.

Openings cut into the leather allowed it to fit over the saddle horn and cantle. Businesses, governments and news organizations were the service’s best customers. Newspaper publishers in New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco used the service to transmit news from correspondents to the paper.

Students were tasked with writing letters for students entering the upper class so that they could share their experience with each other.

Each student took the oath and received a sticker to take the oath. Zamora shared more history and stories about current riders who travel over rough terrain riding 2-3 miles before switching horses for a new horse. Several locals have ridden for several years, but are always looking for more riders to help with the section of the trail that crosses Nevada.

Students were able to experience a smaller version of the mail exchange firsthand as the Pony Express Riders performed a mail exchange. The students’ eyes lit up and some cheered as they saw the horse galloping away and returning with the mail. The rider removed the mochila from her horse and placed it on the other. The students were then able to walk to the mochila and collect their letters.

Zamora answered several questions. A girl asked how many horses did it take to complete the ride? “We like to keep our horses fresh, so we use about 25 horses and only run them 3 miles at a time,” Zamora replied. “We have our own section here which crosses the Schellbourne Pass. “We’re pretty lucky to have a section that goes through White Pine County,” he said.

If you are interested in becoming a Pony Express Rider, contact Zamora at 775-289-5540.

Clyde P. Johnson