A Rare Pony Express Artifact

Photo: National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institute

Before FedEx, there was the Pony Express, an expedited mail delivery system with more than 180 stations across the North American continent from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California.

At each station, a rider would leap onto a fresh horse and gallop at full speed to the next.

Sometime in 1860, a Pony Express rider, whose name is long lost to history, vanished while crossing the wild lands of Nevada. Two years later, his mail pouch was found. Today, only a few artifacts remain from that pouch, including the envelope above. This envelope is only one of two known pieces of "interrupted mail" mail to exist from the Pony Express.

The rare 1860 envelope attests that hard riding was not the most daunting aspect of the job. Routes passed through deserted, often forbidding, territory. A note scrawled on the front of the artifact alludes to its tragic backstory: “Recovered from a [sic] mail stolen by the Indians in 1860.” The nameless victim is thought to have been the only Pony Express rider killed, though a few station agents died when Indians attacked their outposts.


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