Northeast News
April 19, 2017
“Beginning April 3, 1860, from St. Joseph, Mo., and continuing through Oct. 24, 1861, the Pony Express carried the mail to Sacramento Calif., a distance of 2,000 miles in 11 days.”
So reads the description on the back of this photo postcard produced by the Prompt Printing Company of St. Joseph. The massive bronze sculpture of a Pony Express rider stands atop a gray granite pedestal at 10th Street and Frederick Avenue in downtown St. Joseph. The statue cost $16,000 and was created by Hermon A. MacNeil, a famous sculptor whose work includes frescoes of many state capitals as well as sculptures at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
Tipping the scales at a little over 4,000 pounds, the statue was the result of a $63,000 Civic Center bond issue passed Aug. 5, 1938, and the Works Progress Administration. The statue was officially dedicated on April 20, 1940, at an 80th anniversary celebration of the Pony Express.
The Pony Express was the brainchild of three prominent Kansas City businessmen who already had ties to westward-bound express companies. William Russell, Alexander Majors and William Waddell were principals in the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company. The Pony Express, however, relied on shorter routes and used mounted riders rather than stagecoaches, thus cutting the time it took mail to get to the west coast to a little more than 10 days.
Young, single riders with no family ties were often recruited to ride the mail through what was then dangerous Indian territory. The first rider to set out from the stables on Penn street was a young, gangly local horse racer, Johnny Fry, of Rushville. Fry’s portion of the Pony Express ran from St. Joseph westward to Seneca, Kan., some 80 miles. Fry covered that distance at roughly 12.5 miles per hour, including stops.
The handwriting was on the wall for the Pony Express as telegraph wires were already being strung throughout the eastern states. On Oct. 26, 1861, two days after the transcontinental telegraph reached Salt Lake City, owners Russell, Majors and Waddell announced that the Pony Express had carried its last mail pouch.
In 2015 the St. Joseph Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsored a 155th anniversary celebration of the Pony Express that featured a variety of re-enactors and activities in and around the original stable building still located at 10th and Penn streets downtown.