PONY EXPRESS TRAIL, 1860–61

"Here he comes!" "Every neck is stretched further, and every eye strained wider. Away across the endless dead level of the prairie a black speck appears against the sky, and it is plain that it moves. Well, I should think so! In a second or two it becomes a horse and rider, rising nearer -- growing more and more defined -- nearer and nearer, and the flutter of hoofs comes faintly to the ear -- another instant a whoop and a hurrah from our own upper deck, a wave of the rider's hand, but no reply, and a man and horse burst past our excited faces and go winging away like a belated fragment of a storm!"

-- Mark Twain, Roughing It.

In spite of its brief life (April 1860-October 1861) the Pony Express enjoys lasting fame in American cultural heritage.

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The Pony Express Trail passes through northern White Pine County. You can learn more about the Pony Express and stand on the Pony Express Trail at an interpretive site across the highway from the historic Schellbourne Station. In the vast open space of northern Steptoe Valley, you can begin to imagine the hardships the brave Pony Express Riders faced as they raced a total of 1,900 miles from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California.

Each rider was issued a Bible to sustain their courage and hardiness to make the ride through potentially dangerous Indians, bandits, deadly blizzards and murderous heat -- all of which they had to face alone. Only once in the 18 months the Pony Express was in operation did the mail fail to make it through -- a horse and rider were both killed.

Robert Haslam, known as "Pony Bob," was the best known Pony Express rider in Nevada. He rode 380 miles roundtrip in 36 hours -- billed as one of the longest and fasted runs in the Pony Express history.

It happened in May 1860 when Bob was only 19 years old and western Nevada was in the middle of the Pyramid Lake Indian War.

Pony Bob's regular run was from Friday's Station in the Sierras to Buckland's Station near the present-day Lahontan Reservoir. He first ran into trouble at Reed's Change Station. The citizens' militia had confiscated all animals for the war and Bob was forced to ride into Buckland's on a nearly-exhausted horse.

At Buckland's he was to have been relieved by a rider named Johnson Richardson but, because of the Indian trouble, Richardson refused to ride. The stationmaster, W.C. Marley, promised Bob a $50 bonus if he'd ride to the next station. So Bob went through three more relief stations to Smith Creek Station, a distance of 190 miles.

After a short sleep, Bob turned around and retraced his route. His first stop was in Cold Springs.

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"When I arrived at Cold Springs, to my horror, I found the station had been attacked by Indians, the keeper killed, and all the horses taken away. I decided in a moment what course to pursue -- I would go on." At the next station, he told the stationmaster of the danger and advised him to go on to the next station. Bob says, "He took my advice and so probably saved his life, for the following morning Smith Creek was attacked."

The rest of the trip was tiring for Pony Bob, but reasonably uneventful. He had traveled 380 miles within a few hours of scheduled time -- surrounded by perils on every hand.

In July 1860, U.S. troops, traveling from Ft. Ruby to Schell Creek, came upon an Indian attack of the Egan Canyon Pony Express Station and barely saved the lives of the two stationmasters.

Indian survivors of that skirmish took revenge on the next Pony Express stop at Schell Creek Station, killing the stationmaster, two assistants, and running off all the livestock.

Before the Pony Express, it took eight weeks for the mail to get from the east coast to the west coast via ship to Panama, across Panama by mule and by ship again to San Francisco. The Pony Express reduced this time to eight days. But then the telegraph came through and reduced the time to four hours.

So the Pony Express was terminated in October 1861, but it had served an important purpose -- helping to hold California, with all its wealth, firmly in the Union during the Civil War.

Source: Pony Express Interpretive Site.

Nearest town: 
McGill, Nevada.

Location: 
North of McGill on paved Highway 93

For more information:
PonyExpressNevada.com