Cannons boomed and American flags proudly flew in abundance when the barn doors of Pike’s Peak Livery Barn in St. Joseph, MO flew open and Billy Richardson flew down the street on his coal black horse at 5 pm on April 3, 1860. He was the first rider for a mail delivery system called the Pony Express started by three entrepreneurs (Russell, Majors and Waddell) as a way to tie a young nation together.
That first trip west took nine days and 23 hours. One of the stops on the Pony Express was Gothenburg, NE, which has maintained and preserved its Pony Express station which was moved from a neighboring ranch where it was used as a bunk house until 1931. We stopped in Gothenburg to visit this station along with a Sod House Museum.
The record time for the 1,996 mile route to Sacramento, CA was seven days and 7 hours to carry President Lincoln’s inaugural address to the western half of the country. Rates for service initially were $5 per half ounce, when $5 was often a month’s wage. As with most new technology, rates quickly declined, eventually reducing to only $1 per half ounce. Up to seven hundred letters per week were sent across the country, 308 runs were made each way (616,000 miles) and the world became a little smaller.
It would become even smaller when the continental telegraph line was strung across the country eighteen months later, making the Pony Express obsolete virtually overnight. The three entrepreneurs lost over $100,000 in the venture and fortunately the U. S. Congress didn’t try to save the jobs of the poor riders, letting the service close.
The early settlers in places like Gothenburg have always intrigued me, so a stop at the Sod House Museum was a must. These houses were constructed out of sod because there were virtually no trees in existence on the Great Plains in those days. I have been told that today the USA has more trees than when Columbus arrived in 1492. The early settlers came out west with a promise of 160 acres of land if they built a house and lasted five years. Only 1 in 3 made it one winter, with most quickly moving back east. Those that stayed were a hearty and entrepreneurial bunch.
If you’re travelling across the country, be sure to stop in Gothenburg.