From Pony Express to Email: The Times they are a’changing
By Joe Olvera ©, 2011
From the Pony Express in 1860 to today’s modern version of mail delivery – electronic mail – the changes have been tremendous and tremulous. No one who today utilizes email can envision having to wait up to eleven days for mail delivery. Although the Pony Express presents a romantic version of mail delivery, the truth is that it wouldn’t even begin to exist in the world as it is known today.
Picture this: The cost to send a ½ ounce letter was $5.00 – a costly sum in those days, especially when compared to what is known as “snail mail,” which may take a day or two to arrive and costs only 44 cents. The high cost of mail delivery during the Pony Express days dropped to $1 per ½ ounce a letter, but, even that was beyond the reach of the general public. That $1 folks would be $24 in today’s dollars.
Notwithstanding email – which means delivery in seconds – if today’s snail mail service must contend with weather, or dark of night, the Pony Express meant an even more dangerous situation. Riders had to be expert horsemen who did not fear death or Indians. The Paiute Tribe of Nevada was the main nemesis for the riders, especially when the Indian Wars started in 1860. So pervasive were the Indian raids and so dangerous the trek to deliver correspondence that an advertisement ran like this:
“Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.” Not only were they required to face death fearlessly, but, they had to live up to a code of conduct that required them to affirm: “While I am in the employ of A. Majors, I agree not to use profane language, not to get drunk, not to gamble, not to treat animals cruelly and not to do anything else that is incompatible with the conduct of a gentleman. And I agree, if I violate any of the above conditions, to accept my discharge without any pay for my services.”
As dangerous as the job proved, still, many men took the plunge and became legends in their own time. One of the most famous was a fellow by the name of William Cody, who because of his exploits became famous as Buffalo Bill Cody. The Pony Express was a fast mail service crossing the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the High Sierra from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California from April 3, 1860 to October 1861. It became the west’s most direct means of east-west communication before the telegraph and was vital for tying California closer to the Union just before the American Civil War. The firm was founded by William H. Russell, Alexander Majors, and William B. Waddell.
As all new things must end, so did the Pony Express reach its exodus when it was faced with more modern technology, such as the telegraph. Even in today’s modern era, the U.S. Postal Service, which utilized more modern means of communication, is facing its own demise. Financially strapped because people are using the Internet to pay their bills, and email to send letters instantaneously, the Post Office is on its last legs. Already, out of 32,741 post offices across America, more than 3,200 are being phased out. The Postal Service acknowledges that it’s losing about $7 billion a year. Even in El Paso, the Socorro Post Office, which hasn’t been around that long, faces shut down. This postal service, which also serves Horizon City, is slated for the chopping block. To keep up with changing times, the Postal Service has already cut 150,000 jobs, with an additional 120,000 cuts being considered. Other drastic cuts are also being considered, such as breaking labor agreements. So, do people revert to the Pony Express to have their mail delivered? Not when the Internet is around, not when Email is so pervasive.