On the Trail of the Pony Express

Scotts Bluff
Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, was a natural navigation landmark for riders.

St. Joseph, the starting point, captures the spirit of the trail at its Pony Express National Memorial, a museum housed in the same brick stable where Johnny Fry mounted his horse for the first ride. Visitors come face-to-face with that moment as they step into the darkened interior of the restored structure. Behind the stable doors a spotlighted, lifelike"stablehand" holds the reins of a full-sized "horse" as the "rider" prepares to burst out to begin his run. Another "stablehand" prepares to swing wide the big doors to allow the rider to be on his way.

In other parts of the museum a series of dioramas dramatize the changing scenes faced by the Pony Express rider: crossing the Missouri River bottoms, the tall-grass prairie, the high plain, over the Continental Divide, into Great Salt Lake Valley, across the desert, over the snow-covered Sierra Nevada, and into California. Even the sense of smell is involved. Special devices reproduce for the onlooker the dry desert air, mountain cold, even the smell of hay in the stable.

Other exhibits at the museum include photographs of the original riders, a replica mochila, blacksmith and wheelwright shops, an original mail envelope carried by an express rider, and a display that challenges the visitor to select the best breed of horse to use on such a high-speed ride.

Three blocks away the restored Patee House contains the re-created St. Joseph's office of the Central Overland, California, and Pike's Peak Express Company as well as other memorabilia of the famous Pony Express. When it opened in 1858 the Patee House was regarded as one of the finest hotels west of the Mississippi.

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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