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West Like Lightning, The Pony Express

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by ajayhawkfan, Sep 21, 2020.

  1. ajayhawkfan

    ajayhawkfan Rock Chalk

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    [​IMG]

    I did it! I rode the entire route! The first half with friends, the second half alone. I'm on a BMW 1250 GSA, the 3 were on BMW 1200 GSAs.

    I left St. Joseph, Missouri with Chris Smith (@ozarksrider) on Sept. 6 2020 and arrived in Sacramento, California on Sept. 14 2020 (9 days later, 8 days of riding). The trip was about 2200 miles.

    I did a lot of reading about The Pony Express. The best book I found was called
    West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express, By Jim DeFelice. If anyone is interested in The Pony I highly recommend reading this excellent book. It is well written and very entertaining. I also read @cannonshots excellent review of the eastern half of the Pony Express https://advrider.com/f/threads/big-bike-solo-on-the-pony-express-trail-mo-ks-ne-co-wy.382552/

    I can't compete with West Like Lightning nor cannonshots history so not going to try. I hope this RR does a fair job describes the riding, scenery as well as a little of the history I saw on the way.

    The pony express statue in St. Joseph Missouri. The start of the ride.

    [​IMG]

    I have posted the tracks here: https://advrider.com/f/forums/gps-tracks-central-texas-gulf-states.39/create-thread
    #1
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  2. ajayhawkfan

    ajayhawkfan Rock Chalk

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    The Pony started in St. Joseph, MO about 45 mile north of my home. I visited the Pony Express Museum as well as the Patee House Museum a number of times. Both are worth visiting. The painting (first picture above) is in the Pony Express Museum and was painted for the bar in the Robidoux Hotel. At the time of the Pony the Patee House was said to be the finest hotel west of the Mississippi.

    The first thing I did was to map all know locations of "home" and "swing" stations of the pony express. "Swing" Stations were 5 to 20 miles apart, depending on the terrain and there is where a rider would "swing" from a tired horse to a fresh one. A "home" station, about 75 miles apart is where a rider would give up the mail to the next rider and then wait for mail going back the way he came.

    There were about 190 stations. I was able to locate with a high degree of accuracy over 100 of the stations. I plotted them as waypoints on Basecamp. I found online a pony express bicycle tracks. I put the tracks in the same Basecamp map. I discovered the bike tracks were close in most cases but not everywhere. I then created my own route by connecting the different stations, trying to stay off blacktop if possible. However, my goal was to ride as close to the actual route as possible and if that was blacktop (except interstate highways), so be it.

    Untitled.jpg

    The cabins are stations. There are lot of other waypoints as well. They can be associated with the Pony but also the Oregon/California/Mormon Trail. I planned on doing this trip last year and had the scouted only the Pony however, life got in the way and had to put the ride off.

    In the past year, I read a lot about the other trails that the Pony followed. Oregon Trail late 1830's to '69 was used by as many as 400,000 people. The greatest migration in North America. The eastern half was also used the Mormons in 1847. The California Trail starting in mid 1840s (with a flood of people going to gold fields in '49) and used the eastern portion as well. The Pony started April 3, 1860 and lasted only 18 months. It followed the trails as well.

    P1010152.JPG

    The Pony Express Stables, house the Pony Express Museum.

    Russel, Majors and Waddell were partners and started Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company. The Company ran The Pony Express. Johnny Fry, the first Pony Express Rider (maybe) didn't leave from the stables. He most likely left from The Patee House's stables on April 3, 1860. Because, the Patee House, is where the Express Company had an office and were the rider would have gotten the last telegram to carry west.

    The next day, April 4, 1860 the first rider left Sacramento heading East.

    Final comment before moving on from St. Joe. I picked the week starting Sept. 6th hoping it would not be too hot in the plains and high desert and to early for snow. I was wrong on all accounts. We rode in all the elements as pony rider did with the exception of below 0 temperatures. We got high heat and humidity, rain, freezing rain, snow, mud, more mud, sand, pea gravel and more heat.
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  3. gagnaou

    gagnaou Long timer

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    Subscribed! :deal

    This should be good, looking forward to it!


    Luc
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  4. Ladybug

    Ladybug Bug Sister Supporter

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  5. black 8

    black 8 motographer

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  6. haystack

    haystack Just ride

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    :y0! I'm in!
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  7. docwyte

    docwyte Long timer

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  8. LewisNClark

    LewisNClark Long timer Supporter

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    Also in, bring it on.....

    LewisNClark
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  9. ajayhawkfan

    ajayhawkfan Rock Chalk

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    Johnny Fry, (maybe) the first rider to leave St. Joseph with the first mochila full of mail was the first rider to leave St. Joe with information of Lincoln's election. Arguably, the most important information transferred on the Pony. He was killed by Quantrill's Raiders in the Battle of Baxter Springs, KS on Oct. 6, 1863.

    @ozarksrider and I have ridden NE Kansas so when we left St. Joseph we chose to stay on black top while traveling through the state. We rode though Seneca, KS. Seneca was the first "home" station. It is about 70 miles from St. Joe and the place Johnny Fry would have turn over the mochila to the next rider and wait for a rider coming from the west.

    Our next stop is Marysville, KS and their Pony Express Stable and Museum. https://www.visitmarysvilleks.org/attraction/pony-express-home-station-no-1/ Marysville states they were "home" station #1. I'm don't know if number 1 was Seneca or Marysville. I do know the museum is worth visiting.

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    We rode into town standing on our pegs and we did a u-turn in front of the Stable. A man pulled in front of us and started asking question. Our initial though was this was an off duty officer questioning us. I mentioned I have ear plugs on and wanted to take off my helmet hear him better. As he was questioning I interrupted him and asked if he was a Muraski from KC. He was and I went to school with his younger brother. He was asking question because he was on the Pony Express Museum board, a writer for the news paper and his wife is the editor of the paper. He asked us to pull up on the sidewalk to take pictures for the paper.

    If anyone follows this route in the future please stop at the museum an say "hi". I means a lot to the people of the town.

    We jumped on gravel roads after Marysville.

    Next stop, still in KS was Hollenberg (or Cottonwood) Pony Express Station.

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    It is the most intact surviving station of the in the United States. It was built by Gerat H. Hollenberg in 1858, to serve travelers on the Oregon and California Trails, and was used by the Pony Express when it was established in 1860. It has 6 rooms, 4 used by the family, one room was a shop, another a tavern. The loft was as sleeping area for riders and guest.

    From this point on, I had not seen any of these locations before.

    Next, Rock Creek Station in Nebraska. I have 100's of waypoints. Some, like this one, were places I knew I wanted to stop because of the history associated with the Station.

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    Rock Creek was established in 1857 as a supply center and campground for emigrants.

    In 1861 David McCanles the west side of the creek to the Pony Express for cash and installments. They continued to own the east side. Inside the home on the west side if creek.

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    In July 1860 David McCanles went to the west side to ask about overdue payments. An argument ensued and James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok shot and killed David McCanles.

    David McCanles' grandson was Commodore Byron McCandless, USN, recipient of the Navy Cross in World War I.
    His great great grandson was Captain Bruce McCandless II, USN, the NASA astronaut who made the first untethered spacewalk

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    Site of the Oak Grove Station (Ranch) Massacre:


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    The monument:

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    The building was a Pony Express Station. The massacre happened after The Pony ceased to exist.

    On August 9, 1864, a suspiciously friendly party of some 20 Cheyenne warriors dropped in for a visit at the Oak Grove Station. While visiting casually with nervous ranch workers, the Cheyenne suddenly struck, killing two men and wounding two more. Eleven ranch workers fled into the ranch house and another escaped into a grove of trees. The warriors abruptly rode off as an ox train approached. The next day, the survivors fled and the warriors returned, setting fire to the original buildings.

    The building is a replica.

    We spent the night in Kearney, Nebraska. St. Joe to Kearney is about 300 miles. The route is approximately 50% was on gravel. Some very loose and deep pea gravel. The temperature reached close to 100 degrees with very strong winds from the south during our ride.
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  10. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

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    Great stuff! :clap
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  11. ajayhawkfan

    ajayhawkfan Rock Chalk

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    As you may recall, I did your fantastic route two years ago. When I got home I started looking for my next history trip and decided on The Pony Express. Already have a few ideas for next year. I'm considering the Butterfield Stage, Goodnight-Loving Cattle Trail (Texas to Wyoming), El Camino Real de los Tejas and Old Spanish Trail.
    #11
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  12. liv2day

    liv2day Life is about how you handle Plan B Supporter

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    Already hooked and definitely enjoying what you've started @ajayhawkfan! Appreciate you taking the time to include the historical perspective, adds such a wonderful element to the report. I remember learning about the Pony Express in grade school (many, many years ago now), makes me wonder if my boys will or have learned about it (need to ask 'em).

    Great start, look forward to what comes next!
    #12
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  13. JayElDee

    JayElDee not saying what I mean Supporter

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    how often did the "ponies" run? Daily? weekly? and what was the transit time from St Joe to Sacramento?
    we stayed in Kearney for the recent solar eclipse, and earlier had to change a tire there on a Montana ride.
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  14. LewisNClark

    LewisNClark Long timer Supporter

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    Certainly remember..looking forward to your RR...did most of the PE trail 10 yrs ago and plan a more detail ride next Spring...your RR certainly created more motivation.
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  15. chudzikb

    chudzikb Long timer Supporter

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    IN, ride reports with history are always fantastic!
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  16. ajayhawkfan

    ajayhawkfan Rock Chalk

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    Thanks. Positive comments make writing a RR easier for someone that does not like writing.
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  17. ajayhawkfan

    ajayhawkfan Rock Chalk

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    Good questions.

    The route started off as a weekly ride each way and then twice weekly. The "ADVERTISED" time to go from one end to the other was 10 days. That did make the run in 10 days but with snow and Indian troubles the time could exceed 15 days. Because of The Paiute War in May 1860 (one month after start of The Pony) the Express was suspended for a about a month. US Troops put an end to the uprising. The 4 missed mail shipments made it to Sacramento on June 25, 1860. On July 21, 1860, during the height of the war, mail left Sacramento. The mail was captured by the Indians, rediscovered and reached St. Joseph 2 years later.

    The Butterfield Stage, going through Texas took about 25 days to get mail from Missouri to California. Having a faster route and one that didn't go through the Confederacy was important in keeping California and its gold in the Union.
    #17
  18. ibebp

    ibebp n00b Supporter

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    Great stuff Jayhawk, following
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  19. ajayhawkfan

    ajayhawkfan Rock Chalk

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    Went through Chaco (Canyon) Culture National Historic Park on my way home. It is a place I have read about for 30 years and have wanted to see for that long as well. It did not disappoint.
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  20. ajayhawkfan

    ajayhawkfan Rock Chalk

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    Day 2.

    @ozarksrider and I leave Kearney, Nebraska on a warm morning. We cross to the south side of the Platte River and head west. We are on the route of the Oregon/California Trail as well as The Pony. North of the Platte River is the Mormon Trail. The two groups didn't do well together so they stayed apart to keep the trouble to a minimum. The traveling on the north side of the Platte River was tougher going at this time.

    Our first stop was the Plum Creek Massacre site.

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    It happened on Aug. 8, 1864 when 12 fright wagons bound for Denver were attached. 11 men were killed a woman and a 9 year old boy were captured and later ransomed for supplies.

    The Plum Creek Massacre was the first of many coordinated attaches by Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux over two days across about 200 miles of Nebraska’s Platte and Little Blue River valleys. Over the 2 days about 40 teamsters and settelers were killed and the overland trails were shut down. The attacks were the first significant flashpoint of the Plains Indian War of 1864 the didn't end until Wounded Knee in 1890.

    In the morning we made pretty good time because the Lincoln Highway followed the Overland Trails and the Pony Closely. The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental road for the auto. In this area is was paved, further west I come across it again as a gravel road and even further as a wagon road.

    One of the best parts of traveling unknown area are discovering unexpected history. Along the our route we stumble across this statue.

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    The statue is place in the center of the old parade ground of Fort McPhearson. The fort was build between Fort Kearney and Colorado to keep peace with the Native Americans and protect the Oregon Trail. It was completed in 1863 and abandoned in 1880.

    About 3 miles for the statue is the Fort McPherson National Cemetery.

    [​IMG]

    I have been to many National Cemeteries and seen 1000s and 1000s of graves marked "unknown" from Civil War battles. It surprised me that there were so many "unknown" in this cemetery because the battles had limited causalities where I would think people would have know the soldiers killed. It is still an active cemetery with over 10,000 interments.

    The Pony Route take you into the NE corner of Colorado. While in Colorado we were riding on top of the actual Pony Route. It is nice high speed gravel road with nice sweeping curves. The route goes to and through Julesburg, Colorado.

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    Julesburg Station has an interesting history. The station was started by a French Canadian named Jules Beni. There was a lot of problems of horses being stolen stages attached and livestock russled in this area of the route so The Pony replaced Jules with Jack Slade. Jack caught Jules with horses owned by The Pony Express and ran Jules out of the area. Jules head a grudge and ambushed Jack, shooting him in the back but not killing him. Jack recovered and hunted Jules. He tied him to a post overnight. The following morning he used him as target practice. After killing him he cut off his ears. He nailed on ear to a post and kept the other in his pocket.

    Mark Twain wrote about Jack Slade in Roughing It. He wrote, "There was such magic in that name, SLADE! Day or night, now, I stood always ready to drop any subject in hand, to listen to something new about Slade and his ghastly exploits. Even before we got to Overland City, we had begun to hear about Slade and his "division" (for he was a "division-agent") on the Overland; and from the hour we had left Overland City we had heard drivers and conductors talk about only three things -- "Californy," the Nevada silver mines, and this desperado Slade. And a deal the most of the talk was about Slade. We had gradually come to have a realizing sense of the fact that Slade was a man whose heart and hands and soul were steeped in the blood of offenders against his dignity; a man who awfully avenged all injuries, affront, insults or slights, of whatever kind -- on the spot if he could, years afterward if lack of earlier opportunity compelled it; a man whose hate tortured him day and night till vengeance appeased it -- and not an ordinary vengeance either, but his enemy's absolute death -- nothing less; a man whose face would light up with a terrible joy when he surprised a foe and had him at a disadvantage. A high and efficient servant of the Overland, an outlaw among outlaws and yet their relentless scourge, Slade was at once the most bloody, the most dangerous and the most valuable citizen that inhabited the savage fastnesses of the mountains."
    - Roughing It, Chapter 9"

    After leaving Colorado we are back in Nebraska on loose pea gravel/sand roads. We are looking for landmarks. The first is Courthouse Rock and JailHouse Rock. Courthouse is on the right.

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    The next landmark is Chimney Rock, now a National Monument.

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    Both of these landmarks and be seen for miles. Chimney Rock is the most noted landmark in journals of the pioneers traveling the trail.

    North East of Chimney Rock is this Cemetery.

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    The sign reads, "During the Westward Migration Through This Pass Many Died as They Looked for a Better Life."

    Our plans are to stop for the night in Gearing, NE (Scott's Bluff) but before we did Chris and I followed the the Overland Trail up Mitchel Pass and then back along Robidoux Pass.

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    Along Robidoux Pass is the Robidoux Trading Post.

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    East of the pass lies the site of a trading post established by a Frenchman, either Joseph or Antoine Robidoux, in the late 1840s. Robidoux sold a variety of goods and provided blacksmithing services for travelers.

    One emigrant described the post as a log shanty with a blacksmith’s forge on one end and a grog shop on the other. Other trading posts are known to have existed near the pass at that time, including one owned by the American Fur Company, but Robidoux’s is most often mentioned in diaries. The heaviest use of the pass was during the Oregon Migration and the California Gold Rush of the 1840s. Following the opening of Mitchell Pass in 1851, which provided a shorter trail, Robidoux Pass and the trading posts fell into disuse.

    From the top of Mitchel Pass:

    [​IMG]

    In the area are some emigrant graves (marked waypoint) and trail ruts. The loop over the passes should not be missed. Most of the road is hard packed dirt with some "break ups". The "break ups" can be anything for fine sand an inch or two deep to deep. I stepped into one "break up" and sank up to my ankle.

    Our two friends from Minnesota, @Get_Bent (Mike) and @dajuice (Brant) meet us in Gearing in the evening.

    Today's route we 381 miles. As mentioned there was blacktop at the beginning and a few other places but mostly non-black top. The temp got to the high 90s but that was to change fast. By 5:00 it dropped to about 60 and continued to drop though the night. We got back from dinner and drinks our bikes looked like this:

    [​IMG]

    A snowball fight did ensue.
    #20
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