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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The "What Ever Happened To ... "Nor Heat Nor Gloom Of NIght: Part I - The Pony Express" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Snow was still falling and the roads were void of any traffic.  School has already been called off for the next day and ... what's that ... the TV ran a blurb across the bottom of the screen saying that there would be no mail delivery and the local post offices would be closed.  Holy cow!!  Now I'm really worried, since I just returned home from the hospital and could in no way shovel my wife and I out if necessary.  Went to bed wondering what to expect when I arose the next morning.  Well, the next day I looked out the window and the road in the front of the house was open to traffic.  Wasn't any traffic on it, but it was plowed.  Then I thought back to all the closings announced last evening and wondering if everyone was in panic mode when it wasn't necessary.  Heavens, when was the last time the U.S. Postal Service closed?  Don't they have a pledge or motto that says something like ... "nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their rounds ..."?  
The advent of the Pony Express with riders changing
horses and transferring their mail at stations on the route.
Just had to Google that and sure enough, there was the unofficial motto as I had imagined it.  Goes way back to when the Constitution established the postmaster-general position.  A system of mail delivery had been developed in the colonies using slaves, merchants and Native Americans to pass letters and parcels from person to person until it reached its destination.  Eventually that gave way to designated mail carriers who delivered by horse or stagecoach.  And, these guys took pride in getting the mail to its destination on time.  
A poster advertising for riders for the Pony Express.
It was at this time that a mail service began to officially operate which was known as the Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express Company.  The year was 1859 and it operated for 19 months before it was dissolved.  Officially known as The Pony Express.  I'm sure you have heard of them.  They were known to get a message or postal from the East coast to the West coast in about 10 days.  There were 184 stations along the route used by the Pony Express.  The stations were fashioned out of existing structures, military forts and built anew in remote areas where there were no postal offices before.  Alexander Majors, one of the founders of the Pony Express, bought 400 horses to begin the service.  The horses were fairly small in stature, thus the name "Pony."  Most riders were small, lightweight and generally teenage boys who ended up being the heroes of the American West.  
Mailbags used by the Pony Express.
The mail was carried in specially designed saddlebags made of leather and draped over the saddle.  They could hold up to 20 pounds of cargo.  At each station the rider would grab the bag and throw it over the next mount, thus allowing the riders to switch horses in about two minutes.  The riders usually changed mounts every ten to fifteen miles and gave way to another carrier after about 100 miles.  At first it would cost about $5 for every half-ounce of mail (about $130 today).  It later was reduced to about $1.  
Allegedly the first Eastbound letter delivered by the Pony Express.
Riders had to deal with extreme weather conditions, harsh terrain and the threat of attacks by bandits and Indians, but the keepers of the mail stations were under threat of more harm.  In exchange for their $100-$150 monthly salary, the riders had to swear to a loyalty oath that read: "I, ......, do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God, that during my engagement, and while I am an employee of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will drink no intoxicating liquors, that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers, so help me God."  
US Postal Service stamp honoring the Pony Express.
Eventually the transcontinental telegraph dealt the Pony Express its deathblow and on October 24, 1861 it stopped service after just 19 months.  Eventually the postal service department as we know it took up mail delivery service.  I wonder if during those 19 months of Pony Express service whether they every canceled service due to an impending snow storm, even before it arrived.  Betcha they didn't.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. 

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