Riders of the Pony Express

By Glenn D. Bradley in 1913 


Pony Express Monument, St. Joseph, Missouri by Kathy Weiser

Pony Express Monument, St. Joseph, Missouri by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

Bart Riles, the pony rider, died this morning from wounds received at Cold Springs, May 16.

The men at Dry Creek Station have all been killed and it is thought those at Robert’s Creek have met with the same fate.

Six Pike’s Peakers found the body of the station keeper horribly mutilated, the station burned, and all the stock missing from Simpson’s.

Eight horses were stolen from Smith’s Creek on last Monday, supposedly by road agents.


The above are random extracts from frontier newspapers, printed while the Pony Express was running. The Express could never have existed on its high plane of efficiency, without an abundance of coolheaded, hardened men; men who knew not fear and who were expert – though sometimes in vain – in all the wonderful arts of self-preservation practiced on the old frontier. That these employees could have performed even the simplest of their duties, without stirring and almost incredible adventures, it is needless to assert.

The faithful relation of even a considerable number of the thrilling experiences to which the “Pony” men were subjected would discount fiction. While history can pay the tribute of preserving some anecdotes and their collective achievements, it must be forever silent as to many of their personal acts of heroism.

First Ride of the Pony Express

First Ride of the Pony Express

While lasting praise is due the faithful station men who, in their isolation, so often bore the murderous attacks of Indians and bandits, it is, perhaps, to the riders that the seeker of romance is most likely to turn. It was the riders’ skill and fortitude that made the operation of the line possible. Both riders and hostlers shared the same privations, often being reduced to the necessity of eating wolf meat and drinking foul or brackish water.

While each rider was supposed to average 75 miles a trip, riding from three to seven horses, accidents were likely to occur, and it was not uncommon for a man to lose his way. Such delays meant serious trouble in keeping the schedule, keyed up, as it was, to the highest possible speed. It was confronting such emergencies, and in performing the duties of comrades who had been killed or disabled while awaiting their turns to ride, that the most exciting episodes took place.

Pony Express Advertisement

Pony Express Advertisement

Among the more famous riders was Jim Moore, who later became a ranchman in the South Platte Valley, Nebraska. Moore made his greatest ride on June 8, 1860. He happened to be at Midway Station, Nebraska, halfway between the Missouri River and Denver, Colorado when the west-bound messenger arrived with important Government dispatches to California. Moore “took up the run,” riding continuously 140 miles to old Julesburg, the end of his division. Here, he met the eastbound messenger, also with important missives, from the Coast to Washington. By all the rules of the game, Moore should have rested a few hours at this point, but his successor, who would have picked up the pouch and started eastward, had been killed the day before. The mail must go, and the schedule must be sustained. Without asking any favors of the man who had just arrived from the West, Moore resumed the saddle, after a delay of only ten minutes, without even stopping to eat, and was soon pounding eastward on his return trip. He made it, too, in spite of lurking Indians, hunger and fatigue, covering the round trip of 280 miles in 14 hours and 46 minutes, an average speed of over 18 miles an hour. Furthermore, his west-bound mail had gone through from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California on a record-making run of eight days and nine hours.

William James, always called “Bill” James, was a native of Virginia. He had crossed the plains with his parents in a wagon train when only five years old. At eighteen, he was one of the best Pony Express riders in the service. James’s route lay between Simpson’s Park and Cole Springs, Nevada, in the Smoky Valley range of mountains. He rode only sixty miles each way but covered his round trip of 120 miles in just 12 hours, including all stops. He always rode California mustangs, using five of these animals each way. His route crossed the summits of two mountain ridges, lay through the Shoshone Indian country, and was one of the loneliest and most dangerous divisions on the line. Yet, Bill never took time to think about danger, nor did he ever have any serious trouble.

Theodore Rand rode the Pony Express during the entire period of its organization. His run was from Box Elder to Julesburg, Colorado 110  miles and he made the entire distance both ways by night. His schedule, night run though it was, required a gait of ten miles an hour, but Rand often made it at an average of 12, thus saving time on the through schedule for some unfortunate rider who might have trouble and delay. Originally, Rand used only 4-5 horses each way, but this number, in keeping with the revised policy of the Company, was afterward doubled, an extra mount being furnished him every 12-15 miles.

Johnny Fry Pony Express Rider

Johnny Fry Pony Express Rider

Johnny Fry was the first rider out of St. Joseph, Missouri and was little more than a boy when he entered the pony service. He was a native Missourian, weighing less than 125 pounds. Though small in stature, he was every inch a man. Fry’s division ran from St. Joseph to Seneca, Kansas for 80 miles, which he covered at an average of 12.5 miles an hour, including all stops. When the war started, Fry enlisted in the Union army under General James Blunt. His short but worthy career was cut short in 1863 when he fell in a hand-to-hand fight with rebel bushwhackers in southeast Kansas. In this, his last fight, Fry is said to have killed five of his assailants before being struck down.

Jim Beatley, whose real name was Foote, was another Virginian, about 25 years of age. He rode on an eastern division, usually west out of Seneca, Kansas. On one occasion, he traveled from Seneca, Kansas to Big Sandy, Nebraska 50 miles and back, doubling his route twice in one week. Beatley was killed by a stagehand in a personal quarrel, the affair taking place on a ranch in Southern Nebraska in 1862.

William Boulton was one of the older riders in the service; his age at that time is given at about 35. Boulton rode for about three months with Jim Beatley. On one occasion, while running between Seneca and Guittards’ Station in Kansas, Boulton’s horse gave out when five miles from the latter station. Without a moment’s delay, he removed his letter pouch and hurried the mail in on foot, where a fresh horse was at once provided and the schedule resumed.

Melville Baughn, usually known as “Mel,” had a pony run between Fort Kearny, Nebraska and Thirty-two-mile Creek. Once while “laying off” between trips, a thief made off with his favorite horse. Scarcely had the miscreant gotten away when Baughn discovered the loss. Hastily saddling another steed, “Mel” gave pursuit, and though handicapped, because the outlaw had the pick of the stable, Baughn’s superior horsemanship, even on an inferior mount, soon told. After a chase of several miles, he forced the fellow so hard that he abandoned the stolen animal at a place called Loup Fork, and sneaked away. Recovering the horse, Baughn then returned to his station, found a mailbag awaiting him, and was off on his run without further delay. With him and his fellow employees, running down a horse thief was but a trifling incident and an annoyance merely because of the bother and delay which it necessitated. Baughn was afterward hanged for murder at Seneca, Kansas but his services to the Pony Express were above reproach.

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