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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > Christmas 2015 > Great Adventures: Pony Bob

Great Adventures: Pony Bob

Pat Kinsella tells the story of ‘Pony Bob’, the fearless Pony Express rider who galloped across America, facing harsh desert terrain and deadly attacks from native warriors, all in the name of making his deliveries on time…

PONY BOB: RIDER OF THE WILD FRONTIER

HAZARDS OF THE JOB Hostile Paiute warriors chase a Pony Express rider
GETTY X1, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS X1

History’s most famous delivery service, the Pony Express, was in operation for just 18 months, but the extraordinary escapades of its fleet-footed riders became the stuff of Wild West folklore. The stories around them continued to grow long after the company had bitten the dust.

From 1860-61, the Express transported mail across the continent of North America, between the Atlantic and the Pacific, at breakneck speed using an innovative method and supremely talented and fearless riders. The best known of them was William Cody, whose celebrity status was to be forged in later life, once he became known as the showman Bu alo Bill.

The real hero of the day was Robert ‘Pony Bob’ Haslam. He completed some of history’s toughest horse rides in the service of the Express – galloping gigantic distances across brutal terrain, with era-defining packages in his mail pouch, arrow wounds in his body and Paiute warriors hot on his tail.

MAXIMUM HORSEPOWER

The brainchild of three businessmen – William Russell, Alexander Majors and William Waddell – the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express (aka the Pony Express) was launched on 3 April 1860, based on a promise that its riders could transport letters and parcels between Sacramento in California and St Joseph in Missouri in just ten days. The shortest route was 1,900 miles, and it involved crossing the Great Plains and wending through mountain passes in the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada.

To cover this epic distance, 157 stations were built across the continent, typically ten to 12 miles apart, as this was deemed to be the furthest distance a horse could travel at full speed. Riders would gallop from one station to the next, exchange their steed for a fresh one and set off again. Each man covered a patch 75-to 100-miles long, and they were expected to ride day and night, in all conditions.

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