National Geographic Today
The Pony Express ran for less than two years, from April 1860 through October 1861. But for the past 20 years hundreds of riders have participated in an annual ten-day reenactment of delivering mail by horse along the original route from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California.
Each June, the National Pony Express Association organizes a reenactment of the famous ride. Volunteer riders from all over the United States gather for the ten-day event. They carry a mochila, a leather saddlebag designed to hold mail, riding day and night delivering commemorative letters along the route.
The modern ride traces the original Pony Express route, through eight states and over 1,966 miles (3,145 kilometers). This year, the ride began on June 3 in St. Joseph and, if all goes according to plan, will end today, June 13, in Sacramento.
While the original Pony Express had somewhere between 80 and 100 riders, now over 500 horses and riders participate in the reenactment each year. And where a rider may have traveled 75-100 miles (120-160 kilometers) before handing off the mochila, each leg in the reenacted ride is only two or three miles (three to five kilometers).
Still, that does not put an end to the potential hazards of the trail. Pat Hearty, the national trails chairman for the National Pony Express Association, said the annual reenactment has generated some interesting stories.
"We had a guy stuck out here on one side of a cattle guard and no way to cross. There wasn't a gate and finally someone came back and they loaded the horse into the truck, drove him across the cattle guard, and out again."
Even though the modern ride may not be entirely authentic, it is being so close to history that draws in many of the riders. "It's kind of like shaking hands across the years with history," Mike Robinson, a participant in this year's ride told National Geographic Today. "You think about Buffalo Bill Cody and all those young men that rode through these very valleys and plains. And it kind of gives you a connection with history."
For many small communities along the route, the ride is a big deal. When National Geographic Today went along for part of the ride in Utah, the town of Eagle Mountain was having a parade complete with a local band and flag team. Other towns sponsor picnic dinners or other events for the riders.
Still, it isn't these perks that bring the riders year after year, explained Hearty.
"What a great thrill it is to be here. To take part in this, to feel the sun on your back out here in this desert, to look out across these wide open expanses and to just love the feeling of the West and of history. It just tickles me, it just inspires me every time."
This story airs in the United States on National Geographic Today Wednesday, June 13, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
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