The Boys of the Pony
J ULESBURG was located on the South Platte River about four hundred and fifty miles west of Leavenworth. It was a little settlement of about a dozen buildings, but it was one of the largest stations on the Overland Route used by the pony express riders.
Julesburg was the "home station" for the express riders and stagecoach drivers of this section. The surrounding country was a treeless, barren plain.
The station and stables were long one-story buildings made of cedar logs. The logs had been hauled in by ox teams from a forest a hundred miles farther west. The blacksmith shop and the hay and grain barns were made of adobe, while the little store and other buildings were made of sod.
At one time, robbers and outlaws •had overrun the trails near Julesburg. They had held up the stagecoaches carrying gold and money. A number of stagecoach drivers had been killed in the holdups while defending their coaches and passengers.
However, the reckless courage of one man soon made the trails safe. That man, a former stagecoach driver, was Alf Slade. He was a soft-spoken, mild-mannered man with cold, black eyes and the strength of a lion. He was a crack shot and quick on the draw. He was made section boss after he had cleared out the robbers. He was feared by the men who worked for him almost as much as by the outlaws and bandits.
Alf Slade was Bill Cody's new boss.
Simpson's wagon train reached Julesburg late in March. Bill, who had come with Simpson, reported at once to Slade.
"I am Bill Cody," he said. "I am to be one of your pony express riders."
"You?" questioned Slade. "You—a pony express rider? How old are you?"
"I am fourteen years old, sir, but my age has nothing to do with my job."
"It does on my section," said Slade. "I don't intend to spend my time training boys to carry the mail. I am determined that my riders shall make the best records on the two-thousand-mile trail."
"Then you will need good riders," broke in Bill. "I was hired by Mr. Majors because I am a good rider. He ordered me to report to you."
For a minute Slade hesitated, then he said, "Very well. If Majors hired you, I'll have to give you a chance."
Bill held himself erect. "I'm not asking for a chance to prove to you that I can ride the pony express," he said. "I'm telling you that I can do it, and I don't expect any favors from you because Mr. Majors hired me. I can depend upon my own ability."
Slade threw back his head and laughed. "You seem very sure of yourself. By the way, you are wearing a fine brace of revolvers. Are you a good shot?"
Bill nodded. "I am," he answered. "Old Chief Rain-in-the-Face stole my first brace of revolvers, but Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Simpson gave me this pair as a present when Mr. Majors told them that he had hired me as a pony express rider."
"Do you mean Frank McCarthy and Lew Simpson, the wagon bosses?"
"Yes, sir, I worked for both of them on their wagon trains."
"That's enough for me, Bill. I know McCarthy and Simpson and I know that anyone who works for them must be good. You may ride with the first mail that reaches my section."
"Thank you, sir."
"Bill," continued Slade, "the pony express will start Tuesday, April third. A rider will leave St. Joseph, Missouri, headed west, and on the same day and hour a rider will leave Sacramento, California, headed east. All along the trail other riders are ready to carry the mail through their sections.
"The rider from the east will be the first to reach Julesburg. He is due here Thursday morning. Be
ready with your horse to take the mail from him and ride on west with it. You will deliver the mail to the rider who will be waiting for you at the other end of this section."
"I'll be ready," answered Bill.
Bill was up early Thursday morning. He ate breakfast with Slade and the station agent and then hurried to the stable to saddle Prince.
"Good morning, Bill," called Simpson entering the stable. "This is your big day. Good luck to you."
"Thank you," smiled Bill. "How do you like the new saddle and bridle I have for Prince? All the riders have been given special saddles and bridles. They were made very light so as to keep down the weight that our horses must carry."
"They are light in weight," agreed Simpson, "but they are well made. Doesn't each rider have a mochila to carry the mail?"
"No," answered Bill. "Only one mochila is used on a trip. At each stop it is transferred from horse to horse."
Simpson followed as Bill led Prince to the trail in front of the station. Slade, who had been standing with a group of men, came forward.
"Bill," he said, "you have your orders. Ride! And ride as fast as you can. Let nothing delay you. Do you understand? Nothing!"
"I understand," answered Bill.
"Have you checked your revolvers to see that they are loaded?"
"They are loaded."
"Good, then you are ready?"
"I am ready, sir."
The men laughed and talked as they waited for the rider from the east. Now and then, Slade called to the agent who was standing on the roof of the station, "Do you see anything on the trail?"
"No," the agent would answer, "nothing yet."
Slowly an hour passed. The men became more restless as time dragged on. Bill, however, waited quietly. Slade, watching him, said to himself, "Bill is all right. He will make it."
Suddenly the station agent shouted as he jumped to the ground, "Here he comes! Get ready, Bill!"
In the distance the outline of a galloping horse and its rider came into view. Then came the sound of the horse's hoofbeats pounding over the trail. A few minutes later, the rider pulled his horse to a stop in front of the station and leaped from the saddle.
The station agent was ready. He jerked the mochila off the panting horse and threw it over the saddle on Prince. Instantly, Bill was in the saddle. He leaned low over his horse's neck and whispered, "Come on, Prince, let's go."
Prince raced like a flash of lightning over the trail. The men at the station watched as the wind swept Bill's long golden hair back over his shoulders. Then horse and rider disappeared over the top of a small rolling hill.
Slade turned to the men, "That boy can ride!" He grinned, "And I almost didn't take him." Prince was a fast horse and Bill did not need to urge him to keep up the swift, steady pace. On and on they sped over the trail. At the first relay station Bill reined in Prince and dismounted. The station agent quickly took the mochila from Prince's saddle and tossed it over the saddle of the fresh horse that stood waiting. As Bill sprung into the saddle of his new mount, Prince whinnied.
"Good-by, old boy," laughed Bill. "I'll get you on my way back. Take good care of my horse," he called to the station agent.
Bill's fresh horse was a sturdy mustang. Like most mustangs he was a wild, spirited animal. He began to buck and prance about, trying to unseat his rider. Bill dug his heels into the mustang's sides and pulled sharply on the reins. "That will be enough of your tricks," he said as the horse broke into a swift gallop. Once again, Bill was on his way.
Bill rode the fifty-mile stretch of his section of the trail in record time. He met stagecoaches on their way to Julesburg, and the drivers and passengers cheered as he raced by. He passed Indian camps and plunged through rushing streams. He waved to a frontier family as he galloped by their lonely cabin. It was the only settler's cabin on his trail.
On his return trip to Julesburg, he carried the mail that had come from California. When he reached the relay station where he had left Prince he found his horse ready. And as Bill jumped into the saddle he felt Prince tremble beneath him.
"Prince, you old rascal," he laughed as they raced away, "I believe you are as excited about carrying the mail as I am."
In less than an hour Bill was in Julesburg and a fresh rider was racing eastward with the mail from California. A few days later, the first through trips between Sacramento and St. Joseph had been completed. The pony express was hailed as a great success.
The newspapers of the East carried long exciting articles about the daring riders,—how they had crossed the plains and mountains "without danger" from either Indians or outlaws,—how they rode the trail both day and night,—and how they had brought the mail through, not in ten days, but in nine! "It is History," read the headline of one great Eastern newspaper, "The Pony Express is the Fastest Mail System in the World."
These articles also praised Russell, Majors, & Waddell for their part in the great undertaking. This praise was justified because the firm had spared no expense in its preparations. Alec Majors insisted that if the first trips could be made without accident or trouble the undertaking would be a success. For this reason, plans for the opening runs were kept secret to prevent Indians or outlaws from attacking riders or stations along the trail.
But how did the West feel about the pony express?
The riders were the new heroes of the day. They were affectionately called, "The Boys of the Pony."
Old plainsmen who had long known the dangers, the hardships, and the loneliness of the unsettled country were their most devoted friends. They considered it an honor to help in any way "The Boys of the Pony." And woe to the man who tried to make trouble for them!
The old plainsmen laughed when told that the newspapers of the East had said the trips were "without danger." No dangers? What about the Indians? What would they do when they learned about the pony express? Wouldn't they wait in ambush to kill the lonely rider? Wouldn't they try to stop "The Pony?" Certainly they would.
What about outlaws? Wouldn't they soon begin to hold up "The Boys of the Pony?"
What about the other dangers of the long, weary miles over wind-swept prairies,—the icy mountain trails, and the blazing hot deserts? What about the sudden blizzards, the freezing cold of winter with its sleet and snow? What about the summer heat which parches the earth and dries up the rivers?
No dangers? No hardships?
And very soon, just as the old plainsmen had said, the riders of the pony express began to meet the dangers of the trails. Outlaws waylaid them. Indians lurked in ambush along the trail.
But the mail came through! And Bill Cody was one of "The Boys of the Pony" who helped keep it coming through.
1. Who was Bill's new boss and how did he treat Bill at first?
2. What made Slade change his mind about letting Bill ride the Pony Express?
3. Tell about Bill's first ride on the Pony.
4. Why had Majors kept the Pony Express a secret?
5. What did the plainsmen think of the Pony Boys?
The flag of the Postmaster General of the United States bears a design of the pony express rider. It is a fitting tribute to the courage, endurance, and honor of "The Boys of the Pony."