2,000 miles on the Pony Express? Riders to take mail on horseback from Sacramento to Missouri

This week, mail enthusiasts, horseback riders and onlookers will celebrate the Pony Express’ 163rd anniversary with a nearly 2,000-mile trek from Old Sacramento to St. Joseph, Missouri.

The National Pony Express Association, along with the United State Postal Service, will host the annual ride in which 1,500 postal costumers will have their mail delivered to the Midwest in 10 days, through the same system used for 18 months in 1860 and 1861.

“It’s a big-rooted event in time,” said Gina M. Segura, a USPS spokeswoman. “It’s just a great way to keep the history of Sacramento intertwined with the postal service.”

When is the Pony Express anniversary event?

The event is set to begin at the official Pony Express statue in Old Sacramento at Second and J streets at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and will be conducted over a 10-day period, 24-hours a day with riders switching off every 10 miles — just like the Old West riders would do.

The riders will depart Sacramento at 2 p.m., according to the association’s website. A rider will arrive in St. Joseph around 7:30 p.m. CDT on June 17.

What is the Pony Express?

According to the National Park Service, the Pony Express was a method of connecting the East to the West. Due to thousands moving west on the Oregon Trail as a result of the Gold Rush, people needed a faster way to deliver mail across the Rocky Mountains. The Pony Express soon became the quickest way to deliver a letter than ever before.

The Pony Express filled this need pre-Civil War, predating western railroad expansion and the coast-to-coast telegraph, according to an article published on the Smithsonian National Postal Museum website.

Who is riding the Pony Express?

Six hundred riders will take part in the event carrying the traditional mochila, which was used in the 1800s.

To begin, riders from the NPEA’s state divisions will meet to take the traditional Pony Express Oath before beginning their course to Missouri.

“There’s an oath that the rider must take prior to their journey, and we’ll be sending off our letters. Only 1,500 lucky customers can get their letters on the horse to make its journey across the states,” Segura, with USPS, said.

Sacramento Postmaster Douglas Smith swears in Steve Pool, who rode the first leg of Pony Express re-ride from Old Sacramento on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. The express ride returns after taking a year off during COVID.
Sacramento Postmaster Douglas Smith swears in Steve Pool, who rode the first leg of Pony Express re-ride from Old Sacramento on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. The express ride returns after taking a year off during COVID.

Sacramento Postmaster Tanya Toedt-Fitzharris will do the swear-in for this year’s riders.

Why do we still commemorate the Pony Express?

Although the original Pony Express was a small event in American history, the NPEA, USPS, and history buffs commemorate the event every year to keep its tradition and significance alive.

“The postal service got involved, because the Sacramento postmaster started sending letters of sisterhood to Missouri,” Segura said. “We thought it would be a fun, unique way to get that across.”

Segura said the Sacramento Postal Customer Council began writing these letters of sisterhood three years ago and sending them on the pony. Missouri hopped on board and started sending letters back in fellowship.

California State NPEA President Rich Tatman said that although the Pony Express was a short chapter in history, it is important to keep its story alive.

“So many things are dying out from our historical standpoint,” said Tatman. “This is something that a lot of our founding members thought would be a good thing.”

While the Pony Express is something that Tatman said is very important to history, the NPEA is losing its members and interest from others, because it is harder to get younger people involved.

How to track the horses

The NPEA started keeping a real-time GPS location on the riders as they travel across the states. You can sign up for alerts or check the website for updates.

How can I get involved?

For those who are interested in getting involved in the event, Tatman said anyone can become a member by visiting the NPEA’s website. Members are allowed to ride on the trail and deliver official mail. Customers can also take part in the event by sending a letter on the pony through the website and filling out an application form. The 2023 submission process ended in May.

“A lot of people want to do something really historical,” said Tatman. “I’m a history buff. I’ve been doing it for 26 years.”

Tatman himself has an Olympic torch from his ride in 1996, he said. He said his son has admitted to wanting to take the torch when he passes away.

“Riding in the Pony Express is meaningful. People can tell their grandkids that they rode in the Pony Express,” said Tatman. “When you tell a child that, it’s amazing how big their eyes get.”

What do you want to know about life in Sacramento? Ask our service journalism team your top-of-mind questions in the module below or email servicejournalists@sacbee.com.