This Week's Story

Pony Express action: Sam changed horses eight times and climbed about 4000 feet into the Sierra Nevadas

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

Mail Gauntlet, part two

“Give me the facts!”

“Every fancy source has a different set of figures. Let’s just say the Pony Express may have eighty riders, four hundred fast horses, and eighty relay stations. There is no question that the United States mail is crossing the West repeatedly by horse and rider almost 2,000 miles in 10 days. Anything else you want?”

“I want to hear about Pony Express action.”

“You’ll get it, when you hear about Sam Hamilton!”

Sam was mountain born. Like the mustang he rode, Sam was half wild. As he headed towards the high Sierra Nevada Mountains with the first east-bound Pony Express mail, it was the night of April 3, 1860, a year before the Civil War began. Rain was falling; the ground was muddy; and in the mountains ahead a blizzard was blowing ferociously.

His job was to ride 60 miles to meet Boston, the next rider. “If I reach Sportman’s Hall by dawn, maybe Boston can see a bit through the blowing snow. Otherwise he won’t live to get the mail up and over the crest of the Sierras.”

In 59 minutes Sam rode 20 miles through rain, mud, and darkness. Already he had galloped three mustangs hard through the mud. Now the hills were steep with hogbacks. It would be a stretch where he and his horse would have to move by feel. Three times his horse went down and Sam jumped clear and his horse was not hurt. This lap was 27 miles.

In the next lap he had to ride 13 miles to climb 2,000 feet to Sportman’s Hall. The rain was sleet as the temperatures continued to drop. Rocks on the ground were slick and the wind was brutal.

Part-way in the steep climb Sam was to get a fresh mustang. Before he reached the relay man, his mustang slipped and could not get up. As Sam jumped from the saddle, he fell hard onto the ground and ripped his cheek against a large rock. Immediately he stood, snatched the mail bag, and blew his horn to alert the relay man. It was now light enough to see the trail. The relay man heard the blasts and hurried with a fresh mustang to meet Sam.

Soon Sam was riding the new mustang as fast as possible. He must get to Boston quickly, who needed all the daylight hours. Sam completed his 60-mile trip to Sportsman’s Hall in four hours and three minutes. He had changed horses eight times and climbed about 4,000 feet into the Sierra Nevadas.

Sam swung the mail pouch over Boston’s saddle. Words were few.

“Rough trip, Sam?”

“Not half bad.”

Boston and his horse whirled away and Sam called, “Vaya con Dios, Boston.”

For five miles Boston rode his horse at a pounding trot. Soon he would be on a dangerously steep mountainside for six miles. From there he must get through the storm to the summit of the mountains by 3:00 P.M.

Fitting words for him were in the Bible he carried. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me.”

This is Barbara Steiner with a true story from past frontier days. We now have new frontiers with difficult challenges.

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