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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Patee House (hotel) served as headquarters for the Pony Express in 1860
Patee House, a hotel in 1960, when it served as headquarters for the Pony Express. Photo: courtesy Patee House Museum

Pony Express

With the expansion of the far western United States in 1860, a viable and efficient means of communication became vital to the success of the United States and its western pioneers. In 1854, for example, it took six months for a message from the President of the United States to go from Washington, D.C. to California. As he initiated the Pony Express in April 1860, Missouri's Major Jeff Thompson proclaimed: "For the first time in the history of America, mail will go by an overland route from east to West .... three cheers for the first overland passage of the United States Mail!"

Seventy five young men were hired -- "Orphans preferred" -- and one hundred horses purchased in order to carry mail from Pony Express headquarters in the Patee House hotel, St. Joseph, Missouri, to California. Men who weighed no more than 110 pounds were selected for employment and their mounts were chosen for speed and endurance. Relay stations were established along the trail to give the rider some relief and to have a horse ready for exchange when a rider would appear on the horizon. The cost of having the Pony Express carry one letter from Missouri to California was five dollars, and the time involved was ten days.

Soon the nation saw the development of a railroad system, and although it would not immediately serve as a coast-to-coast connector, it would enable letters and other business mail to traverse the country in a far more efficient manner. The Patee House is now a museum dedicated to the history of the Pony Express; the building is now a National Historic Landmark.

Originally submitted by: Pat Danner, Representative (6th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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