Can you imagine living in a time when there were no cell phones, email, and other electronic devices to communicate with friends and family members living far away? And, the only method of communication was by writing a letter to each other, and sending it via the Pony Express on horseback?

The students at McGill Elementary School learned all about the Pony Express Trail last Thursday.

The Pony Express began in the United States in the 1800s. It was a time when much of the country was still wilderness and pioneers were still settling the land. It was the time of cowboys and farmers who lived in distant places. Native Americans also still occupied the land between cities and towns. A creative businessman named William Russell saw how long it took for letters to travel across the country and wondered if there was a better way to do it.

William had a great idea, to send letters faster, he could use horses and riders who rode very fast from one stop to another. William and his team got busy building 200 stations. These stations started in the state of Missouri and stretched all the way to California, thousands of miles across the United States.

The Pony Express riders needed to be very fast and very brave. The journey from Missouri to California was often very dangerous. They could be attacked by wild animals or bandits who wanted to take the mail. Even though the job was dangerous, many brave, young riders volunteered to help.

One man named “Bronco” Charlie Miller said he rode for the Pony Express when he was only 11 years old! Riders were paid $100 to 150 dollars per month, which was pretty good money at the time.

Tony Zamora with the Schellbourne Pony Express Re-Riders explained to the students how the riders would ride for miles with a Mochila, a Spanish term for knapsack.

“They were made of leather, with four pockets, or cantinas, the Pony Express mochilas were used to hold mail. Riders sat on the mochila-covered saddle,” Zamora said.

Openings cut into the leather allowed it to fit over the saddle horn and cantle. Businesses, governments, and news organizations were the service’s best customers. Newspaper publishers in New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco used the service to ferry news from correspondents back to the newspaper.

The students were assigned to write letters for students coming into the next grade up so that they could share their experience with each other.

Each student took the oath and received a sticker for taking the oath. Zamora shared more history and stories about the current riders that travel over rough terrain traveling 2-3 miles before changing horses for a fresh horse. Several locals have rode for several years, but they are always looking for more riders to help with the stretch of the trail that travels through Nevada.

The students got to experience first hand a smaller version of the mail exchange as the Pony Express Riders performed a mail exchange. Students’ eyes lit up and some cheered on as they watched the horse gallop away and return with the mail. The rider took the mochila off her horse, and placed it on the other one. Students then got to walk up to the mochila and retrieve their letters.

Zamora took several questions. One girl asked how many horses it took to complete the ride? “We like to keep our horses fresh, so we use about 25 horses, and only ride them 3 miles at a time,” Zamora answered. “We have our own section here that travels through Schellbourne pass. “We are pretty blessed to have a section that passes right through White Pine County,” he said.

If you are interested in becoming a Pony Express Rider, contact Zamora at 775-289-5540.