On April 3, 1860, the "Pony Express" left St. Joseph, Mo., and San Francisco simultaneously, and carried the mail through in ten days. The second trip consumed fourteen days; the third, nine days; the fourth, ten days; the fifth, nine days; and the sixth, nine; and this came to be about the average time consumed in conveying, the mail overland -- a valuable saving, of time to business men. The actual distance from St. Joseph to San Francisco, by the Pony Express route, was one thousand nine hundred and ninety-six miles.
The best of horses and the bravest of men were required for this service. For the breakneck speed required was too much for the stuff ordinary animals were made of, and the attacks of Indians and robbers demanded carriers who would fight or die. The sacrifice of horse flesh and human lives was large. Tales of hardships and perils, stranger than fiction, could be written of this "Pony Express" enterprise. All weathers, through storm and sunshine, summer's heat and winter's cold, whether peace reigned or savages were on the war-path, by day and by night, over prairie and mountain, up hill and down, the mail-carrier must pursue his perilous way alone. A horse bridled and saddled awaited his coming at each station, and a fresh rider at stated intervals. No time should be lost. The mail must keep moving. As soon as one rider dashed up to his last station for rest, another, already mounted upon his fresh steed, seized the mail, and putting spurs to his horse, was soon out of sight.
The Pony Express was a genuine Yankee invention; and its remarkable success, in spite of the tremendous difficulties, caused the United States government to establish an over-land mail route. This fact, together with the construction of the telegraph line, in 1862, caused the discontinuance of the Pony Express, -- one of the most novel and exciting methods of doing business the world has ever known. Nor should it be forgotten that scarcely twenty-five years have elapsed since our national government attempted to carry the mail overland to California, and telegraphic connection between the extremes of the East and West was established.
The cut on p. 264 is an exact illustration of the first express line of Fargo and Wells over the Rocky Mountains. It was thought to be a remarkable triumph over difficulties at that time, and no one expected that the method would ever be superseded by anything better. Yet a decade had scarcely passed away before the comfortable rail-car was rushing through these mountains on its way to the Pacific coast.
The growth of business, from the discovery of gold in Colorado, was surprising, even before the completion of the railroad to California. Mr. Crofutt furnishes figures from the books of freighting firms in Atchison, Kan., and he says: "In 1865 this place was the principal point on the Missouri River, from which freight was forwarded to the Great West, including Colorado, Utah, Montana, etc. There were loaded at this place 4,480 wagons, drawn by 7,310 mules, and 29,720 oxen. To control and drive these trains, an army of 5,610 men was employed. The freight taken by these trains amounted to 27,000 tons. Add to these authenticated accounts, the estimated business of the other shipping points, and the amount is somewhat astounding. Competent authority estimated the amount of freights shipped during that season from Kansas City, Leavenworth, St. Joe, Omaha, and Plattsmouth, as being fully equal, if not more than was shipped from Atchison, with a corresponding number of men, wagons, mules, and oxen. Assuming these estimates to be correct, we have this result: During 1865, there were employed in this business 8,960 wagons, 14,620 mules, 59,440 cattle, and 11,220 men, who moved to its destination 54,000 tons of freight. To accomplish this, the enormous sum of $7,289,300 was invested in teams and wagons alone."
Along the south bank of the Platte River, emigrant trains, with their white-covered wagons, together with immense freight-trains, rolled in almost one unbroken line. Sometimes these trains extended without a break as far as the eye could see, presenting a very novel and inspiring scene.
Many of the teams were a novel spectacle, on account of their length and the great loads carried. Mining tools and machinery and agricultural implements were all conveyed in this manner over the plains, before the railroad was constructed. We think, however, that no team was ever seen along the Platte so long and so heavily freighted as a mule team which carried boilers and machinery weighing fifty-four thousand pounds, from Elko to White Pine, in 1869. The illustration (p. 265) furnishes a good view of its magnitude.
Long since the emigrant trains disappeared from the south bank of the Platte, and the mule was exchanged for the iron horse. The railroad runs along the north bank of the river instead of the south, which is essentially forsaken.