Above: A stamp issued on the 100th anniversary of the launching of the Pony Express.
ON THIS DATE in 1860, the first Pony Express riders traversed the 1,966-mile route that extended from Missouri to California. No job for sissies, the task was ideal for tough-as-cactus teenagers. Check out this advertisement that appeared in an 1860 California newspaper:
WANTED. Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.
Many young men took the Pony Express challenge, including a fourteen-year-old Buffalo Bill Cody — maybe. There is some question as to whether the famed Western showman actually delivered mail on the dangerous route, or just said he did, but either way Buffalo Bill did more to promote the mythology of the hard-riding mail carriers than anyone by featuring a Pony Express act in his Wild West shows, which he sponsored from 1883 to 1913.
One fourteen-year-old, Billy Tate, did ride for the Pony Express and has the distinction of being the only rider killed in the 18 months of the horseback mail service. Ambushed by Paiute Indians in Utah, Tate fought hard for his life — some sources say as many as seven Paiute warriors died during the shootout with the Pony Express rider.
The Pony Express perished after the telegraph linked the East and West coasts in October of 1861, providing an easier and faster way to send messages.