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I, ________, do hereby swear, before the great and living God, that during my engagement, and while I am an employee of Russell, Majors and Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will drink no intoxicating liquors, that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts, as to win the confidence of my employers. So help me God.
—Oath sworn by Pony Express Riders.

A rider for the Pony Express, a fast mail-delivery service between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California. The service only operated from April 1860 to October 1861, when the first transcontinental telegraph line made it obsolete, but it became legendary out of all proportion to its duration, as an example of American individuality, ruggedness and "can-do" spirit. The idea of fast mounted couriers riding in relays between staging posts is Older Than Feudalism, going back at least to the Persian Empire (ca. 550–330 BC). But the previous versions had been exclusively for government communications, rather than anyone who could pay the fees, and of the courage and toughness of the couriers and station-men there is no doubt.

In order to reduce mail delivery time to ten days, from the twenty-five days achieved by the fastest stagecoach, the founders of the Pony Express built stations every ten miles stocked with fresh horses. The riders recruited were little more than boys, usually weighing less than 125 pounds, and the hazards of the job were such that their employers declared "Orphans Preferred". They rode at a gallop from one station to the next, switching to fresh horses, and galloping on to the next station. Everything was designed to reduce weight and increase speed, and when carrying the text of Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural speech in March 1861, the service achieved a best time of seven days and seventeen hours.

Naturally, there have been books and films about the Pony Express, and sometimes a Pony Express rider will appear in a story that isn't set in the correct time period, just because they're cool. Usually they're not portrayed as scrawny kids either.

Examples of Pony Express Rider include:


Comic Books

  • Focus of the Lucky Luke book "Pony Express", the twist being that Luke ends up having to ride all the way himself, as a competitor tries to sabotage the mail delivery. At the end of the book, we get a glimpse of the future, how the telegram replaces the pony express. Oddly, in another story, Luke is helping the first telegraph company in building their trans-America connection.
    • Even more odd: In the Pony Express album, Wild Bill Hickock is a 15-year-old boy. When he cameos in another story, he's a grown-up man. While Lucky looks the same all the time.
      • The comic occasionally makes Lampshades like "heroes are immortal."

Film

  • Cody of the Pony Express, a 1950 serial from Columbia Pictures. It's loosely based on claims by William "Buffalo Bill" Cody to have been a Pony Express Rider.
  • Referred to in How the West Was Won.
  • Mentioned anachronistically in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.
  • The Gunslingers featured a Pony Express rider as a bearer of important news.
    • When this film was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, the 'bots were inspired to set up their own knockoff, with Crow as the rider and Gypsy as the horse. Tom Servo then uses the Gypsy Express to send completely unimportant messages to Joel, who's only standing a few feet away from him anyway.
  • The Postman is basically a really glorified, post-apocalyptic retelling of the "legend" of the Pony Express.

Literature

  • Shows up in Discworld's Going Postal, where the protagonist wagers he can get a letter to a city on the other side of the continent faster than a telegram equivalent. Of course, he's an ex-con artist, so the whole thing is full of psychological warfare, underhanded tactics and unfair demands, all the while making his opposition look like a whining child.
  • One of George MacDonald Fraser's notes to Flashman and the Redskins talks about the true story of "old Bronco Charlie Miller driving past filling-stations and movie theatres where once he had ridden for the Pony Express" to emphasize just how ephemeral the frontier was.
  • A Pony Express rider makes a very brief appearance in Mark Twain's Roughing It, flashing past the author's stagecoach.

Live Action TV

  • The series The Young Riders revolved around a group of pony express riders that included a girl pretending to be a boy, along with a young Wild Bill Hickock, Bill Cody, and Jesse James. (The series actually lasted longer than the real thing)

Tabletop Games

  • The science fiction Role Playing Game Traveller tried to use the Pony Express as the logo of the Imperial Intersteller Scout Service, which operates the similar Express Boat network. But the (in-universe) designers of the logo Did Not Do the Research and didn't realize a pony was a small horse, instead thinking it was a similarly-named creature from another world. Thus, the logo features a horseback rider on an eight-legged dinosaur.
  • The Pony Express survives much longer in the world of Deadlands than it did in the real world as the weirdness unleashed by the Reckoning makes the telgraph far less reliable.

Video Games

  • In the Wide Open Sandbox Western Gun the player can take side missions with The Pony Express. Bizarrely, many of the missions are more about running errands for shop keepers than delivering mail.
  • In Day of the Tentacle Hoagie has to send a letter via Pony Express so that Bernard can finish his part of the quest. This ignores the fact that Hoagie was in the late 18th century and the Pony Express only existed in the mid 19th century. Not so much a Did Not Do the Research moment as a Did Not Care About The Research moment, as the game has several other deliberate historical inaccuracies.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, the Mojave Express helps bring packages and other stuff to and from New Vegas, including Platinum Chips.

Western Animation

  • In the "Kamp Krusty" episode of The Simpsons, Lisa bribes a Pony Express Rider with a bottle of liquor to deliver her letter to Marge and Homer.
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