OVERTON — A lone rider gallops away on a fresh horse, saddle bags securely fitted as both set off toward the west. It could just as easily be a scene from 1860, but in 2019, it was the scene of the Pony Express Re-Ride passing through Dawson and the surrounding counties as they commemorate those who rode in 1860.
The Pony Express was a private mail service which used horse mounted riders to transport messages, newspapers and mail in a dramatic attempt to capture a federal mail contract, according to the National Pony Express Association, NPEA.
Operated by the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company, the Pony Express was in service from April 1860 to October 1861. Riders relayed messaged between St. Joseph, Mo. and Sacramento, Calif.
While it was operating the Pony Express managed to reduce the travel time from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast in about 10 days and was considered the most direct means of east-west communication for a time.
This was accomplished by 40 riders in the saddle at a time in each direction, 190 stations located along the route were maintained by 400 station keepers.
Riders were paid $25 a week, no small sum of money in 1860. They rode 10 to 15 miles before changing horses and 75 miles before being relieved, according to the NPEA.
Ironically, for all the fame surrounding the Pony Express, the mail service only lasted 18 months, with the introduction of the transcontinental telegraph, the need for the service dried up almost immediately.
Despite this the Pony Express has endured as a lasting symbol of the American West and has become romanticized over the years.
Famous advertisements allegedly read, “Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over 18. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred,” have added to the luster surrounding this short lived mail service.
What seems to be the most enduring aspect of the Pony Express is its symbolism of rugged American individualism during Frontier times what the lengths people would go to find a solution to a problem.
Today there is a group dedicated to keeping this spirit alive, the NPEA is an all-volunteer historical organization whose purpose is to identify, re-establish and mark the original Pony Express trail from St. Joseph Missouri through, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and into California.
In the mid-1960s a group of California horse and trail enthusiasts came together to do re-enactments of the Pony Express, in 1977 the NPEA was founded. Each year they did rides which extended farther east and by 1980, they were riding and carrying mail the entire 2,000 miles of the trail.
The annual re-ride takes place each June, on even numbered years, they travel east, and on odd numbered years they go west. The re-ride this year is a 10 day event, which started on June 10, in St. Joseph, Mo., and will end on June 20, in Sacramento, Calif.
Over 750 riders participate in the event and carry the mail day and night, 24 hours a day, until the mail reaches the destination, according to the NPEA.
Mitch Ziebell, trail captain for the ride from Plum Creek to Cozad, said there were 13 riders who carried the mail through this section of the trail. He said the re-ride would be in Nebraska for three days, before entering Colorado.
The re-ride stopped at the Plum Creek Massacre Cemetery in northwestern Phelps County to switch horses and riders. One of the riders came up on a horse named Blackjack before passing the mail off to Ryann Kloepping as she mounted her horse Dreamer and set off down Road 748 to cover the next mile.
The re-ride passed through Gosper County and stopped in Cozad for lunch before heading off to Gothenburg and stopped at 96 Ranch.