By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
It’s the stuff of great western movies — the lone horse and rider, racing at breakneck speed across the plains, carrying the mail from stage stop to stage stop.
And while the Pony Express only operated for a total of 18 months in 1860 and 1861, the adventurous spirit it embodied lives on in the Pony Express Re-Ride that has taken place nearly every year since 1980.
The annual Re-Ride will pass through Wyoming beginning Thursday, June 9, employing more than 150 riders in a horseback relay transporting a “machila” satchel filled with over 1,000 pieces of mail from Missouri to California.
“We stick to the same 10 day schedule that they originally had back in 1860-61,” said Les Bennington, president of the Wyoming division of the National Pony Express Association. “And once it starts it goes nonstop, 24 hours a day.”
The Pony Express played a significant part in America’s history, as it sped up the time messages could travel between the east and west coasts. Prior to the completion of the first transcontinental telegraph in October of 1861, the Pony Express was the fastest means of cross-country communication.
And since 1980, modern-day riders have kept the spirit of the Pony Express alive.
500 Miles Through Wyoming
Bennington told Cowboy State Daily this year’s ride began in St. Joseph, Missouri on Monday, June 6, and will travel through 8 states before the machila reaches its final destination in Sacramento, California on the 16th. If the riders stick to the schedule, the Machila will be handed off to a Wyoming rider around 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 9.
“We have to average 10 miles an hour to make roughly 2000 miles in 10 days,” said Bennington of the multi-state effort. “We’ve got about 56 hours to get across Wyoming, which is a little over 500 miles on horseback.”
Bennington explained that each state names “ride captains,” who organize the relay in their section of the route. He said there are 7 ride captains for the 150 or so riders in Wyoming, broken up into segments of 40-80 miles.
“A rider, once he gets the machila, he’ll take off – or she’ll take off – and they’ll go about two miles and then transfer to another horse and rider,” Bennington said.
Bennington himself has been an integral part of the annual event since the beginning, serving as president of the National Pony Express Association from 2007-2010.
“I was national president when we had the 150th celebration of the original Pony Express,” the Glenrock resident said. “And that trip we took 20 days to get across, because we (had) celebrations along the trail.”
Follows Same Route
Bennington said that the Re-Ride roughly follows the route taken by Pony Express riders 160 years ago, although most of the original switching stations have long since disappeared.
“The original stations were 10 to 15 miles apart,” he said. “And the original riders back in 1860, they would ride from station to station, then switch horses, and keep going. They might end up riding 75-80, maybe even 100 miles with a bunch of different horses.”
The Re-Ride isn’t just for show, Bennington pointed out. Riders are carrying actual mail in the machila, sanctioned by the U.S. Postal Service.
“We swear our riders in each year,” he said. “Once (the mail) gets to Sacramento, the postmaster from there or his or her representative will come and pick the letters up and put them in the regular U.S. mail.”
Thanks to a GPS device in the machila, Bennington said anyone interested can track the ride in real time on the National Pony Express Association’s website, and follow the riders on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/expressrider/