Mark Twain’s Observations about Pony Express Riders


Pony Express Riders delivered mail from 1860 – 1861. Mark Twain traveled west by stagecoach during this time and longed to see one of the riders.

Twain and his fellow travelers hoped to spot one of the “pony-riders” on their way from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California. It took a remarkable eight days for letters to travel 1,900 miles, an unheard-of speed.

Before seeing a pony-rider, Twain already had an idea what to expect. Small men filled with spirit and endurance rode fifty miles by day or night.

Splendid horses “fed and lodged like a gentleman” raced at top speeds for ten miles or so until reaching the next relay station. The rider crashed up to two men holding a fresh steed. He mounted the new horse and transferred the precious mailbag “in the twinkling of an eye” and was off again in a cloud of dust.

Riders wore thin, close-fitting clothing and a skull-cap. His pantaloons were tucked into his boots “like a race-rider.” He carried no weapons.

Horses traveled lightly, too. A small racing saddle hid a blanket if one existed.

A child’s primer would fill one of the two mail pockets. Mostly business or newspaper letters filled these mail bags; postage alone was five dollars per letter.

Forty pony-riders rode west toward California at the same time as forty traveled east toward Missouri all day and night, in spite of bad weather.

Stagecoaches traveled between 100 and 125 miles in twenty-four hours; pony-riders managed about 250 miles.

-Sandra Merville Hart


“Pony Express,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2016/06/03

Twain, Mark. Roughing It, Penguin Books, 1985.