Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wednesday Western- Downfall of the Pony Express

Many believe it was the completion of a transcontinental telegraph that put the Pony Express out of business.
Photo from Smithsonian

The first transatlantic telegraph was completed in August of 1858. People could now send messages from New York or Chicago to London in a few minutes rather than waiting for a ship to cross the Atlantic. However, it still took a month to get a message from New York or Chicago to San Francisco. Either by ship around the cape Horn or by stage coach.

In 1860 the Pony Express was started to send messages in ten days from St. Joesph, Missouri to Sacramento, California. The cost was $5 per half-ounce.

The transatlantic telegraph failed after three months but there were entrepreneurs who saw the business opportunity of the telegraph. This men began connecting short lines of telegraph communication around the country. Omaha was as far west as messages could be sent up until 1855 when lines from there were connected to St. Joesph and Fort Smith , Arkansas.

The smaller telegraph companies in the west began consolidating. And in 1860 the Western Union sent a man to survey a route for a transcontinental telegraph. The surveyor found a path from Omaha through Salt Lake City, Fort Kearney, Fort Laramie, South pass, Julesburg, Carson City, past the Sierra Nevadas and into Sacramento and eventually San Francisco.

The plan was to fund the construction with private investors, but in June of 1860 Congress appropriated a 10-year, $400,000 subsidy to the Pacific Telegraph Company and the Overland Telegraph company.  The Overland Telegraph Co. started in California and worked their way toward Salt Lake City and the Pacific Telegraph Co. started in Omaha and headed to Salt Lake City.

An agreement also had to be made with the Shoshone Indians to keep peace along the telegraph route.
In July of 1861 the project of linking the telegraph between Omaha and California began. The first contingent of men traveled ahead staking out the line. The hole-diggers, pole-setters and wire party came behind them. They covered three to eight miles a day.  To keep peace with the Shoshone the telegraph company paid Indians to tend the livestock and provide game for food.

The Pacific crew arrived in Salt Lake City seven day before the Overland crew, yet they finished the project in four months when President Lincoln believed it would take them ten years. The Western Union telegraph was fully operational November 15, 1861.

Two days after the coast to coast telegraph was connected the Pony Express shut down.

Source: WildWest Magazine


Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

We have the Pony Express Trail as a road where we live. One day my daughter and I happened to pull out behind the rider. At that time they were re-enacting the ride. It was fun to follow the rider. He had on a 'sort of' costume and the rider had really nice looking saddle bags. I can't believe how short-lived the Pony Express riders existed.

Anonymous said...
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Paty Jager said...

Hi Paisley, That would be a fun experience to see them re-enacting the Pony Express.

Caroline Clemmons said...

We heard so much about the pony express that I was surprised when I learned how short a time it actually functioned.

Paty Jager said...

Caroline, I think it was because of the danger the pony express riders had to contend with and the excitement of the mail being delivered so fast that makes the pony express stand out in everyone's minds even though it was so short lived.