As a boy growing up in rural northwest Missouri, St. Joseph was the nearest big city and a place of fascination to me. As a schoolboy I no doubt learned that the Pony Express started in St. Joseph, which we usually called St. Joe. For some reason, however, I grew up not knowing much about the Pony Express.
Learning about the Pony Express
Not long after moving to Liberty in 2005, June and I visited the Pony Express Museum in St. Joe and learned a lot about it then. That is a certainly a place worth visiting, and you can check it out online here.
|Ms. Kathy Ridge (May 2016)|
I learned the most about the Pony Express, though, from hearing Ms. Kathy Ridge give a talk about it on May 29 this year at the Memorial Day gathering at my father’s (long-closed) home church in rural Worth County, Mo.
Ms. Ridge, a retired elementary school teacher who works as a volunteer at the Pony Express Museum, told not only interesting details about those who rode for the Pony Express but also shared something of its historical significance.
The Pony Express began operation on April 3, 1860, and was a response to the need for faster communication with people who lived in California. After the discovery of gold there in 1848, the population of Calif. grew rapidly and it became a state in 1850.
The Pony Express was made obsolete, though, with the completion of the transcontinental telegraph on October 24, 1861, and it ceased operation two days after. (The transcontinental railroad was then completed in May 1869, only 7½ years later.)
The Pony Express and the Civil War
Because of the Pony Express, people in California received news of the beginning of the Civil War just 12 days after it began, rather than weeks later as would have been the case earlier. The Pony Express helped keep California aligned with the North in spite of many Confederate sympathizers living in the state.
In addition, partly because of the Pony Express, California’s gold was secured for funding the Union forces rather than the soldiers of the South.
The Civil War threatened the operation of the Pony Express in several ways.
For example, the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, the first railroad to cross Missouri, was completed in February 1859, making St. Joe the westernmost point in the U.S. accessible by rail. It is said to have carried the first letter to the Pony Express on April 3, 1860. During the Civil War, the first assignment of Col. Ulysses S. Grant was protecting that railroad and Pony Express mail.
Grant was re-assigned in August 1861, and the Platte Bridge Railroad Tragedy occurred shortly thereafter, on Sept. 3. The bushwhackers caused the bridge over the Platte River a few miles east of St. Joe to collapse, and the train from Hannibal, which included a mail car, plunged into the river, killing about 20 people and injuring 100.
The St. Joseph newspaper
The St. Joseph News-Press, the main newspaper of northwest Missouri, traces its roots to the St. Joseph Gazette, which was first published in 1845 shortly after St. Joe was founded just two years earlier. The Gazette was the only newspaper to be sent west on the first ride of the Pony Express.
Earlier this month the News-Press became only the second newspaper in the country to endorse Donald Trump for President.
That is not too surprising, though, as most of its readers across rural northwest Missouri are strong Republicans and will most likely vote for Trump anyway—even though for a great many of them that would be against their own best self-interest.
“The Story of the Pony Express” (1992) by Nancy Pope, accessible online here.
The Story of the Pony Express (1960), edited by Waddell F. Smith, grandson of William B. Waddell, one of the founders of the Pony Express