Pony Express

Thomas Jefferson Preston, at the age of 24, is missing from the 1860 census.   He is not living with his parents and cannot be found in any census across the country.  Family lore states that he was a pony express rider, and this is certainly consistent with his absence in 1860.  The Pony Express began in April 1860, founded by the Leavenworth and Pike’s Peak Express Company, after the Postmaster General decided to cut back on overland mail service to the new state of California.  Families who had gone west were anxious for news of the Civil War brewing in the east and the Company hoped, that by setting a new standard for mail delivery, they could gain a government contract for mail delivery.   While no official list of riders has ever been found, it is certainly believable that young TJ whose father had gone west, perhaps on the California Trail, for gold in 1850 and been gone for at least 6 years, wanted to see the trail and perhaps be part of a solution to help families in the east communicate with relatives in California.

The Pony Express route stretched from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California.  It was different from other mail services in that it did not use a stagecoach, but instead relied on fast riders, switching horses at designated stations, who delivered mail across the dangerous expanse of the West in about 10 days.  The riders were required to weigh under 125 lbs.  Together with the “mochilla” saddle bag, designed to carry water and weaponry as well as the mail – the horses were only to carry 165 lbs.  The owners of the company stressed to their riders that no matter what happened to the rider or horse on the journey, the mochilla must be saved at all costs.   Riders rode about 75 – 100 miles per day, switching horses every 5-25 miles.  All told there were 184 stations in the network.  The trail stretched west from Missouri along the California and Oregon Trails, the California Trail being the same one used by 49’ers a decade earlier as they moved west into California to look for gold.  The riders of the Pony Express rode fast and hard for 19 months, getting mail to California faster than ever before.  During the 19 months they were in operation, only one delivery was lost.  But then, in October of 1861, the telegraph reached California.  The founders of the Pony Express went bankrupt and the riders found other work.

For TJ Preston, this meant settling in Missouri with his wife, Mary Elizabeth Truax, formerly of Iowa.

 

SOURCES

Pony Express – Wikipedia Article on the Pony Express

History – Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, MO website

Pony Express National Historic Trail – National Parks Service website detailing history and current options to visit Pony Express related sites today

Pony Express Riders – List compiled by the Pony Express Home Station

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