Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pony Express Service Connects Salt Lake City with Bannock City

The Oregonian for August 11, 1863 reported that “Messrs. Davis, Patterson & Co. … are now engaged in carrying a weekly pony express between Salt Lake and Bannock City.”

This venture was probably a follow-on to the one described in the Deseret News for July 8. That earlier express, which took about two weeks to cover the distance, had been operated by “D. C. Patterson & Co.”

People tend to think of The Pony Express as only the romantic fast mail that ran between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California, in 1860-1861. But that venture lasted just eighteen months before the telegraph made it obsolete … and the operators lost money.

In reality, express mail businesses sprang up in many parts of the West not served by telegraphs lines. One of the early ones into Idaho started in Brigham City, Utah, crossed the border south of today’s Burley, and followed a route to Rock Creek. From there, riders galloped to the Three Islands Crossing of the Snake, and then headed for Boise City or directly to various mining camps.
Pony Express Passing Telegraph Builders. Library of Congress.

Yet, despite the romance, the riders were not superhuman, and good horses were costly. Thus, although operators charged all the traffic would bear, they seldom came out ahead in the long run. But newcomers kept trying.

The Oregonian
article explained the continued attraction: “They brought to the Boise mines the news of the capture of Vicksburg and the battle at Gettysburg seven days earlier than it reached there from Portland.”

Of course, even with a war on, the news seldom included such dramatic and important events. Thus, one may infer that, once the novelty wore off, express services failed to generate enough traffic to turn a profit.

Still, Davis, Patterson & Co. were hopeful. The article concluded, “They propose to continue to bring in the Atlantic news (which is telegraphed to Salt Lake) in five to seven days less time than it can be obtained from below.” (In this context, “below” meant telegraph stations in Sacramento and San Francisco.)

References: [B&W], [Brit]
“Pony Express,” The Oregonian, Portland (August 11, 1863).

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