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Pony Express Rider

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I, ________, do hereby swear, before the great and living God, that during my engagement, and while I am an employee of Russell, Majors and Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will drink no intoxicating liquors, that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts, as to win the confidence of my employers. So help me God.
— Oath sworn by Pony Express Riders.

A rider for the Pony Express, a fast mail-delivery service between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California. The service only operated from April 1860 to October 1861, when the first transcontinental telegraph line made it obsolete, and never received the federal mail contract that would have made the service profitable. Yet it became legendary out of all proportion to its duration, as an example of American individuality, ruggedness and "can-do" spirit. The idea of fast mounted couriers riding in relays between staging posts is Older Than Feudalism, going back at least to the Persian Empire (ca. 550330 BC). But the previous versions had been exclusively for government communications, rather than anyone who could pay the fees, and of the courage and toughness of the couriers and station-men there is no doubt.

In order to reduce mail delivery time to ten days, from the twenty-five days achieved by the fastest stagecoach, the founders of the Pony Express built stations every ten miles stocked with fresh horses. The riders recruited were little more than boys, usually weighing less than 125 pounds, and the hazards of the job were such that their employers declared "Orphans Preferred". They rode at a gallop from one station to the next, switching to fresh horses, and galloping on to the next station. Everything was designed to reduce weight and increase speed, and when carrying the text of Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural speech in March 1861, the service achieved a best time of seven days and seventeen hours. Unfortunately, this kind of premium rush delivery had the postal charge to match it, which was another reason that the telegraph network put it out of business.

Naturally, there have been books and films about the Pony Express, and sometimes a Pony Express rider will appear in a story that isn't set in the correct time period, just because they're cool. Note the bit on the poster about "skinny, wiry, not over eighteen" - the Pony Express rider should look like a dustier version of a high school hipster, not John Wayne in his prime.

Compare Western Union Man.


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    Comic Books 
  • Focus of the Lucky Luke book "Pony Express", the twist being that Luke ends up having to ride all the way himself, as a competitor tries to sabotage the mail delivery. At the end of the book, we get a glimpse of the future, how the telegram replaces the pony express. In "The Singing Wire", the telegraph connection construction is approved and one of the responsible engineers hires Luke (still working for the now-doomed Pony Express at the time) to help them build it.
    • Even more odd: In the Pony Express album, Wild Bill Hickock is a 15-year-old boy. When he cameos in another story, he's a grown-up man. While Lucky looks the same all the time.
      • The comic occasionally makes Lampshades like "heroes are immortal."

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Dave Barry Slept Here claims that Pony Express riders traveled on telegraph wires, and their horses "would often get as far as thirty feet before they would fall off the wires and splat courageously onto the ground."
  • Shows up in Discworld's Going Postal, where the protagonist wagers he can get a letter to a city on the other side of the continent faster than a telegram equivalent. Of course, he's an ex-con artist, so the whole thing is full of psychological warfare, underhanded tactics and unfair demands, all the while making his opposition look like a whining child.
  • One of George MacDonald Fraser's notes to Flashman and the Redskins talks about the true story of "old Bronco Charlie Miller driving past filling-stations and movie theatres where once he had ridden for the Pony Express" to emphasize just how ephemeral the frontier was.
  • In The Orphan Train Adventures book "A Family Apart", the orphan train riders are asked to get out of the way to allow a Pony Express rider to go through; a Pony Express ad is tacked nearby.
  • A Pony Express rider makes a very brief appearance in Mark Twain's Roughing It, flashing past the author's stagecoach.

    Live Action TV 
  • In the Kit Carson episode "Baron of Black Springs", criminals ambush a Pony Express rider to steal evidence he's carrying enroute to the War Department.
  • The series The Young Riders revolved around a group of pony express riders that included a girl pretending to be a boy, along with a young Wild Bill Hickock, Bill Cody, and Jesse James. (The series actually lasted longer than the real thing).

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the world of The Dark Eye, the local equivalent are the Riders of Beilunk, notable for delivering "anywhere on the continent, no matter where." There are instances where it is mentioned that 'the rider just brushed off the arrows stuck in his black leather clothes, and rode off again' when delivering to people travelling through the Orcland - they find the addressees even though they are on the move!
  • The Pony Express survives much longer in the world of Deadlands than it did in the real world as the weirdness unleashed by the Reckoning makes the telegraph far less reliable.
  • In Traveller, the Imperium drew inspiration from the Pony Express for the logo of the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service X-Boat Service, which operates the similar Express Boat network. But the (in-universe) Vilani designer of the logo thought "pony" referred to "poni", a Vilani animal. Thus, the logo features a rider on an eight-legged dinosaur.

  • In The Girl of the Golden West, a Pony Express rider delivers news about Ramerrez to the Polka. The operatic version explicitly calls for an onstage pony.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • Gumby: The episode "Pokey Express" has Gumby and his pony pal Pokey volunteer for the Pony Express to deliver letters to Santa Claus and evade the pesky teepee-shaped Indians. Not surprisingly, Gumby rides on Pokey for this job.
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle: In the Peabody's Improbable History episode "The Pony Express", Mr. Peabody and Sherman have to help the Pony Express deliver a message which has been written on a large boulder.
  • In the "Kamp Krusty" episode of The Simpsons, Lisa bribes a Pony Express Rider with a bottle of liquor to deliver her letter to Marge and Homer.
  • Time Squad: The guys have to help Buffalo Bill create the Pony Express. Problem is that Bill is completely crazy and wants to spend his time writing conspiracy theories. Otto then tricks him into thinking that the whole nation should know the truth he speaks and that he should get on his horse and send his newspapers and along with a satchel of Kansas City mail to the recipients.

And if only the Old English "eoh"oe  had survived into Modern English, the "ee-mail" jokes would write themselves.

Alternative Title(s): Pony Express