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At A Nation's Crisis

The Pony Express was the first rapid transit and the first fast mail

line across the continent from the Missouri River to the Pacific Coast.

It was a system by means of which messages were carried swiftly on

horseback across the plains and deserts, and over the mountains of the

far West. It brought the Atlantic coast and the Pacific slope ten days

nearer to each other.

It had a brief existence of only six
een months and was supplanted by

the transcontinental telegraph. Yet it was of the greatest importance in

binding the East and West together at a time when overland travel was

slow and cumbersome, and when a great national crisis made the rapid

communication of news between these sections an imperative necessity.

The Pony Express marked the highest development in overland travel prior

to the coming of the Pacific railroad, which it preceded nine years. It,

in fact, proved the feasibility of a transcontinental road and

demonstrated that such a line could be built and operated continuously

the year around - a feat that had always been regarded as impossible.

The operation of the Pony Express was a supreme achievement of physical

endurance on the part of man and his ever faithful companion, the horse.

The history of this organization should be a lasting monument to the

physical sacrifice of man and beast in an effort to accomplish something

worth while. Its history should be an enduring tribute to American

courage and American organizing genius.

The fall of Fort Sumter in April, 1861, did not produce the Civil War

crisis. For many months, the gigantic struggle then imminent, had been

painfully discernible to far-seeing men. In 1858, Lincoln had forewarned

the country in his "House Divided" speech. As early as the beginning of

the year 1860 the Union had been plainly in jeopardy. Early in February

of that momentous year, Jefferson Davis, on behalf of the South, had

introduced his famous resolutions in the Senate of the United States.

This document was the ultimatum of the dissatisfied slave-holding

commonwealths. It demanded that Congress should protect slavery

throughout the domain of the United States. The territories, it

declared, were the common property of the states of the Union and hence

open to the citizens of all states with all their personal possessions.

The Northern states, furthermore, were no longer to interfere with the

working of the Fugitive Slave Act. They must repeal their Personal

Liberty laws and respect the Dred Scott Decision of the Federal Supreme

Court. Neither in their own legislatures nor in Congress should they

trespass upon the right of the South to regulate slavery as it best saw


These resolutions, demanding in effect that slavery be thus safeguarded

- almost to the extent of introducing it into the free states - really

foreshadowed the Democratic platform of 1860 which led to the great

split in that party, the victory of the Republicans under Lincoln, the

subsequent secession of the more radical southern states, and finally

the Civil War, for it was inevitable that the North, when once aroused,

would bitterly resent such pro-slavery demands.

And this great crisis was only the bursting into flame of many smaller

fires that had long been smoldering. For generations the two sections

had been drifting apart. Since the middle of the seventeenth century,

Mason and Dixon's line had been a line of real division separating two

inherently distinct portions of the country.

By 1860, then, war was inevitable. Naturally, the conflict would at once

present intricate military problems, and among them the retention of the

Pacific Coast was of the deepest concern to the Union. Situated at a

distance of nearly two thousand miles from the Missouri river which was

then the nation's western frontier, this intervening space comprised

trackless plains, almost impenetrable ranges of snow-capped mountains,

and parched alkali deserts. And besides these barriers of nature which

lay between the West coast and the settled eastern half of the country,

there were many fierce tribes of savages who were usually on the alert

to oppose the movements of the white race through their dominions.

California, even then, was the jewel of the Pacific. Having a

considerable population, great natural wealth, and unsurpassed climate

and fertility, she was jealously desired by both the North and the


To the South, the acquisition of California meant enhanced prestige -

involving, as it would, the occupation of a large area whose soils and

climate might encourage the perpetuation of slavery; it meant a rich

possession which would afford her a strategic base for waging war

against her northern foe; it meant a romantic field in which opportunity

might be given to organize an allied republic of the Pacific, a power

which would, perchance, forcibly absorb the entire Southwest and a large

section of Northern Mexico. By thus creating counter forces the South

would effectively block the Federal Government on the western half of

the continent.

The North also desired the prestige that would come from holding

California as well as the material strength inherent in the state's

valuable resources. Moreover to hold this region would give the North a

base of operations to check her opponent in any campaign of aggression

in the far West, should the South presume such an attempt. And the

possession of California would also offer to the North the very best

means of protecting the Western frontier, one of the Union's most

vulnerable points of attack.

It was with such vital conditions that the Pony Express was identified;

it was in retaining California for the Union, and in helping

incidentally to preserve the Union, that the Express became an important

factor in American history.

Not to mention the romance, the unsurpassed courage, the unflinching

endurance, and the wonderful exploits which the routine operations of

the Pony Express involved, its identity with problems of nation-wide and

world-wide importance make its story seem worth telling. And with its

romantic existence and its place in history the succeeding pages of this

book will briefly deal.