English Audio Books

Story of the Pony Express, The


Chapter VII

Anecdotes of the Trail and Honor Roll

No detailed account of the Pony Express would be complete without mentioning the adventures of Robert Haslam, in those days called "Pony Bob," and William F. Cody, who is known to fame and posterity as "Buffalo Bill."

Haslam's banner performance came about in a matter-of-fact way, as is generally the case with deeds of heroism. On a certain trip during the Ute raids mentioned in the last chapter, he stopped at Reed's Station on the Carson River in Nevada, and found no change of horses, since all the animals had been appropriated by the white men of the vicinity for a campaign against the Indians. Haslam therefore fed the horse he was riding, and after a short rest started for Bucklands[29], the next station which was fifteen miles down the river. He had already ridden seventy-five miles and was due to lay off at the latter place. But on arriving, his successor, a man named Johnson Richardson, was unable or indisposed to go on with the mail[30]. It happened that Division Superintendent W. C. Marley was at Bucklands when Haslam arrived, and, since Richardson would not go on duty, Marley offered "Pony Bob" fifty dollars bonus if he would take up the route. Haslam promptly accepted the proposal, and within ten minutes was off, armed with a revolver and carbine, on his new journey. He at first had a lonesome ride of thirty-five miles to the Sink of the Carson. Reaching the place without mishap, he changed mounts and hurried on for thirty-seven miles over the alkali wastes and through the sand until he came to Cold Springs. Here he again changed horses and once more dashed on, this time for thirty miles without stopping, till Smith's Creek was reached where he was relieved by J. G. Kelley. "Bob" had thus ridden one hundred and eighty-five miles without stopping except to change mounts. At Smith's Creek he slept nine hours and then started back with the return mail. On reaching Cold Springs once more, he found himself in the midst of tragedy. The Indians had been there. The horses had been stolen. All was in ruins. Nearby lay the corpse of the faithful station-keeper. Small cheer for a tired horse and rider! Haslam watered his steed and pounded ahead without rest or refreshment. Before he had covered half the distance to the next station, darkness was falling. The journey was enshrouded with danger. On every side were huge clumps of sage-bush which would offer excellent chances for savages to lie in ambush. The howling of wolves added to the dolefulness of the trip. And haunting him continuously was the thought of the ruined little station and the stiffened corpse behind him. But pony riders were men of courage and nerve, and Bob was no exception. He arrived at Sand Springs safely; but here there was to be no rest nor delay. After reporting the outrage he had just seen, he advised the station man of his danger, and, after changing horses, induced the latter to accompany him on to the Sink of the Carson, which move doubtless saved the latter's life. Reaching the Carson, they found a badly frightened lot of men who had been attacked by the Indians only a few hours previously. A party of fifteen with plenty of arms and ammunition had gathered in the adobe station, which was large enough also to accommodate as, many horses. Nearby was a cool spring of water, and, thus fortified, they were to remain, in a state of siege, if necessary, until the marauders withdrew from that vicinity. Of course they implored Haslam to remain with them and not risk his life venturing away with the mail. But the mail must go; and the schedule, hard as it was, must be maintained. "Bob" had no conception of fear, and so he galloped away, after an hour's rest. And back into Bucklands he came unharmed, after having suffered only three and a half hours of delay. Superintendent Marley, who was still present when the daring rider returned, at once raised his bonus from fifty to one hundred dollars.

Nor was this all of Haslam's great achievement. The west-bound mail would soon arrive, and there was nobody to take his regular run. So after resting an hour and a half, he resumed the saddle and hurried back along his old trail, over the Sierras to Friday's Station. Then "Bob" rested after having ridden three hundred and eighty miles with scarcely eleven hours of lay-off, and within a very few hours of regular schedule time all the way. In speaking of this performance afterwards, Haslam[31] modestly admitted that he was "rather tired," but that "the excitement of the trip had braced him up to stand the journey."

The most widely known of all the pony riders is William F. Cody--usually called "Bill," who in early life resided in Kansas and was raised amid the exciting scenes of frontier life. Cody had an unusually dangerous route between Red Buttes and Three Crossings. The latter place was on the Sweetwater River, and derived its name from the fact that the stream which followed the bed of a rocky ca�on, had to be crossed three times within a space of sixty yards. The water coming down from the mountains, was always icy cold and the current swift, deep, and treacherous. The whole bottom of the ca�on was often submerged, and in attempting to follow its course along the channel of the stream, both horse and rider were liable to plunge at any time into some abysmal whirlpool. Besides the excitement which the Three Crossings and an Indian country furnished, Cody's trail ran through a region that was often frequented by desperadoes. Furthermore, he had to ford the North Platte at a point where the stream was half a mile in width and in places twelve feet deep. Though the current was at times slow, dangers from quicksand were always to be feared on these prairie rivers. Cody, then but a youth, had to surmount these obstacles and cover his trip at an average of fifteen miles an hour.

Cody entered the Pony Express service just after the line had been organized. At Julesburg he met George Chrisman, an old friend who was head wagon-master for Russell, Majors, and Waddell's freighting department. Chrisman was at the time acting as an agent for the express line, and, out of deference to the youth, he hired him temporarily to ride the division then held by a pony man named Trotter. It was a short route, one of the shortest on the system, aggregating only forty-five miles, and with three relays of horses each way. Cody, who had been accustomed to the saddle all his young life, had no trouble in following the schedule, but after keeping the run several weeks, the lad was relieved by the regular incumbent, and then went east, to Leavenworth, where he fell in with another old friend, Lewis Simpson, then acting as wagon boss and fitting up at Atchison a wagon train of supplies for the old stage line at Fort Laramie and points beyond. Acting through Simpson, Cody obtained a letter of recommendation from Mr. Russell, the head of the firm, addressed to Jack Slade, Superintendent of the division between Julesburg and Rocky Ridge, with headquarters at Horseshoe Station, thirty-six miles west of Fort Laramie, in what is now Wyoming. Armed with this letter, young Cody accompanied Simpson's wagon-train to Laramie, and soon found Superintendent Slade. The superintendent, observing the lad's tender years and frail stature, was skeptical of his ability to serve as a pony rider; but on learning that Cody was the boy who had already given satisfactory service as a substitute some months before, at once engaged him and assigned him to the perilous run of seventy-six miles between Red Buttes and Three Crossings. For some weeks all went well. Then, one day when he reached his terminal at Three Crossings, Cody found that his successor who was to have taken the mail out, had been killed the night before. As there was no extra rider available, it fell to young Cody to fill the dead courier's place until a successor could be procured. The lad was undaunted and anxious for the added responsibility. Within a moment he was off on a fresh horse for Rocky Ridge, eighty-five miles away. Notwithstanding the dangers and great fatigue of the trip, Cody rode safely from Three Crossings to his terminal and returned with the eastbound mail, going back over his own division and into Red Buttes without delay or mishap--an aggregate run of three hundred and twenty-two miles. This was probably the longest continuous performance without formal rest period in the history of this or any other courier service.

Not long afterward, Cody was chased by a band of Sioux Indians while making one of his regular trips. The savages were armed with revolvers, and for a few minutes made it lively for the young messenger. But the superior speed and endurance of his steed soon told; lying flat on the animal's neck, he quickly distanced his assailants and thundered into Sweetwater, the next station, ahead of schedule. Here he found--as so often happened in the history of the express service--that the place had been raided, the keeper slain, and the horses driven off. There was nothing to do but drive his tired pony twelve miles further to Ploutz Station, where he got a fresh horse, briefly reported what he had observed, and completed his run without mishap.

On another occasion[32] it became mysteriously rumored that a certain Pony Express pouch would carry a large sum of currency. Knowing that there was great likelihood of some bandits or "road agents" as they were commonly called getting wind of the consignment and attempting a holdup, Cody hit upon a little emergency ruse. He provided himself with an extra mochila which he stuffed with waste papers and placed over the saddle in the regular position. The pouch containing the currency was hidden under a special saddle blanket. With his customary revolver loaded and ready, Cody then started. His suspicions were soon confirmed, for on reaching a particularly secluded spot, two highwaymen stepped from concealment, and with leveled rifles compelled the boy to stop, at the same time demanding the letter pouch. Holding up his hands as ordered, Cody began to remonstrate with the thugs for robbing the express, at the same time declaring to them that they would hang for their meanness if they carried out their plans. In reply to this they told Cody that they would take their own chances. They knew what he carried and they wanted it. They had no particular desire to harm him, but unless he handed over the pouch without delay they would shoot him full of holes, and take it anyhow. Knowing that to resist meant certain death Cody began slowly to unfasten the dummy pouch, still protesting with much indignation. Finally, after having loosed it, he raised the pouch and hurled it at the head off the nearest outlaw, who dodged, half amused at the young fellow's spirit. Both men were thus taken slightly off their guard, and that instant the rider acted like a flash. Whipping out his revolver, he disabled the farther villain; and before the other, who had stooped to recover the supposed mail sack, could straighten up or use a weapon, Cody dug the spurs into his horse, knocked him down, rode over him and was gone. Before the half-stunned robber could recover himself to shoot, horse and rider were out of range and running like mad for the next station, where they arrived ahead of schedule.

The following is a partial list, so far as is known[33], of the men who rode the Pony Express and contributed to the lasting fame of the enterprise:

Baughn, Melville
Beatley, Jim
Boulton, William
Brink, James W.
Burnett, John
Bucklin, Jimmy
Carr, William
Carrigan, William
Cates, Bill
Clark, Jimmy
Cliff, Charles
Cody, William F.
Egan, Major
Ellis, J. K.
Faust, H. J.
Fisher, John
Frey, Johnnie
Gentry, Jim
Gilson, Jim
Hamilton, Sam
Haslam, Robert
Hogan (first name missing)
Huntington, Let
"Irish Tom"
James, William
Jenkins, Will D.
Kelley, Jay G.
Keetley, Jack
"Little Yank"
Martin, Bob
McCall, J. G.
McDonald, James
McNaughton, Jim
Moore, Jim
Perkins, Josh
Rand, Theodore
Richardson, Johnson
Riles, Bart
Rising, Don C.
Roff, Harry
Spurr, George
Thacher, George
Towne, George
Wallace, Henry
Westcott, Dan
Zowgaltz, Jose.

Many of these men were rough and unlettered. Many died deaths of violence. The bones of many lie in unknown graves. Some doubtless lie unburied somewhere in the great West, in the winning of which their lives were lost. Yet be it always remembered, that in the history of the American nation they played an important part. They were bold-hearted citizen knights to whom is due the honors of uncrowned kings.

[29] Afterwards named Fort Churchill. This ride took place in the summer of 1860.

[30] Some reports say that Richardson was stricken with fear. That he was probably suffering from overwrought nerves, resulting from excessive risks which his run had involved, is a more correct inference. This is the only case on record of a pony messenger failing to respond to duty, unless killed or disabled.

[31] After the California Pony Express was abandoned, Bob rode for Wells Fargo & Co., between Friday's Station and Virginia City, Nevada, a distance of one hundred miles. He seems to have enjoyed horseback riding, for he made this roundtrip journey in twenty-four hours. When the Central Pacific R. R. was built, and this pony line abandoned, Haslam rode for six months a twenty-three mile division between Virginia City and Reno, traveling the distance in less than one hour. To accomplish this feat, he used a relay of fifteen horses. He was afterwards transfered to Idaho where he continued in a similar capacity on a one hundred mile run before quitting the service for a less exciting vocation.

[32]Inman & Cody, Salt Lake Trail.

[33] Root and Connelley's Overland Stage to California.