Topic – The Pony Express

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The Pony Express

In the mid-1800s, there was no rapid way to get news across the United States. Ships carrying mail had to sail from the east coast of the country, down around the tip of South America, then up the west coast—and that trip could take six months.

Stagecoaches carried mail and news across the country, but it still took almost a month for them to go from one coast to the other. People began to wonder if there was a quicker way.

The First Ride

On April 3, 1860, a horseback rider galloped out of San Francisco, California. Over his saddle, Pony Express rider James Randall carried a mochila (you say it like this: moe-CHEE-la). In Spanish, the word means “backpack.” It held the first mail that the Pony Express would carry across the country. The leather mochila could be slung on and off the saddle quickly. At each corner, the mochila had a locked pouch to carry the mail safely.

Randall had to find his way through heavy rains and slippery trails. About every 20 kilometres he stopped at a Pony Express station, where he leaped off his horse, flung the mochila onto the saddle of a new horse, hopped on, and continued riding. Each Pony Express rider switched horses on average five times before handing off the mochila to the next rider.

This relay system of horses and riders helped the mail move quickly across mountains, deserts, and swamps between San Francisco, California, in the west and St. Louis, Missouri, in the east. And while some riders were heading east on the Pony Express trails, other riders were heading west. The mail could travel 3164 kilometres in just 10 days.

Danger Ahead!

The first Pony Express trip almost ended in disaster. One of the riders was swept away by a rain-swollen river. He managed to scramble off his horse at the last minute—after grabbing the mail-filled mochila, of course. The horse was rescued and, with a fresh horse, the rider was soon on his way.

Raging rivers were just one of the problems Pony Express riders faced. Wild animals sometimes chased the horses, and riders had to watch out for poisonous snakes. Riders galloped through territory that Native Americans felt belonged to them, so they sometimes made the ride tough. Outlaws tried to steal the mochila. Sometimes riders had to detour long distances around damaged bridges or blocked trails.

End of the Trail

The Pony Express operated for only 18 months. By October 1861, telegraph lines had been strung across the continent. Suddenly news could travel in seconds, rather than days. But people have never forgotten the brave Pony Express riders and their horses.

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