On the Trail of the Pony Express


At Fort Laramie, like Fort Kearny, the Pony Express station was not on the military reservation itself but nearby. Such way stations were usually located near a spring or water source. Built hurriedly, they often provided only primitive living conditions for the station keeper and the passing riders.

The company usually provided two men at each relay station, the station keeper and an assistant. Station keepers received a $50- to $75-a-month wage, and assistants, called"boys," averaged $25 to $50. Their primary duty centered on being ready for the next riders—two a day. Horses had to be constantly cared for and well shod. Life at a station was isolated, lonely, and actually more hazardous than the life of a rider.

Few reminders are left of these crude outposts that serviced the horsemen of the fast mail service as they followed the North Platte to present-day Casper, then made their way along the Sweetwater River to cross the Continental Divide with the emigrant caravans at South Pass. Although thirty-nine Pony Express stations were established across Wyoming, only a few faint traces of foundations are left today to punctuate the trail ruts of the Oregon, California, and Mormon Pioneer Trails. But motorists who catch sight of the wild horses and pronghorn antelopes that still roam the landscape will sense the loneliness that must have come over these long-distance riders speeding across the treeless terrain.

Fort Bridger, where the riders left the Oregon Trail to head for Great Salt Lake, was a better-than-average station. Visitors to this colorful fort in the southwestern corner of Wyoming will note that the Pony Express stable is incorporated into a complex of buildings operated at the fort by the sutler, or concessionaire, for the U.S. Army.

Following ownership of the trading post and fort by Jim Bridger and later by the Mormons, the Army took it over and in 1857 built a greatly enlarged frontier fort to protect the continuing stream of settlers heading westward. It granted to Judge William A. Carter the right to provide services to the soldiers and emigrants. Those who go to Fort Bridger State Historical Site today will view a neat, white-walled sutler's complex that includes the post trader's store, the first schoolhouse built in the state of Wyoming, a milk house, wash house, warehouse, mess hall, carriage house, icehouse, and Pony Express stable. During the 1860s the complex served as a station both for the Pony Express and for the Overland stagecoach line operated by Russell, Majors, and Waddell.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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