Friday, September 23, 2011

The Pony Express and Haunted Hollenberg Station

The Pony Express was one of the most daring enterprises undertaken in the frontier west. It was in existence for only a short 18 months, but the story of the men who road in this fast relay race, across eight states reflects the true American spirit. 

In 1860, the railroad and telegraph didn’t extend further west than St. Joseph, Missouri. Mail leaving St. Joseph traveled laboriously by stagecoach and wagon—it would take upwards of three weeks to a month for a letter to reach California.

The Pony Express provided a unique solution to this problem. In April of 1860, an advertisement appeared in California requesting:

“Young, skinny, wiry, fellows not over the age of 18, Must be expert riders, will to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”

One hundred and eighty-three men were hired, none weighing over 125 pounds. They ranged in age from 11 years to 45 years old—most were in their early twenties. They were paid 25 dollars a week to ride 75 to 100 miles, at which point another rider would take over. 

Half headed west from Missouri the other half headed east from California. The company-- Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express-- that the riders worked for procured 400 horses. 

These horses were mostly mustangs, pintos, thoroughbreds, and Morgans. They were placed at over 100 stations along the Pony Express route. Lightweight saddles were used, but these horses carried 165 pounds, and traveled at an average speed of 10 miles per hour.

Two Riders: Bill Richardson and Johnny Frye

Each rider would receive a fresh horse every 10-15 miles. As the riders approached these stations, they would yell loudly to signal the station—so they could switch horses quickly. 

Every detail was carefully thought out--ferryboats were placed at the rivers so the riders could cross quickly. Once the riders reached Sacramento, the mail was placed on a steamer for the short trip downriver to San Francisco.

Each rider had a special saddlebag called a mochila. The mochila was thrown over the saddle, and the rider would sit on it to hold it in place. Each corner of the mochila had a padlocked cantina, or pocket, where the letters and packages were placed. It could carry 20 pounds. Also, these horses carried the weight of a water sack and the rider's revolver.

The Pony Express was, indeed “express.” The mail now could reach California within ten days. This feat was not done without danger. 

As these riders relayed 2,000 miles across Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California, they faced the threat of Indian attack, rough terrain and bad weather. 

By far, the most dangerous leg of the journey was through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The riders had to know the trails well, especially in winter, when the snowdrifts would pile up. Many of the Pony Express riders didn’t survive these hazards.

The Pony Express initially charged $5.00 per 1/2 ounce, but this rate later did decrease to $1.00 per 1/2 ounce. For the time, this was a lot of money. 

The most famous Pony Express rider was 15-year-old William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. 

The fastest Pony Express delivery took only 7 days and 17 hours when the riders carried President Abraham Lincoln’s Inaugural Address to California. In its short existence, these riders delivered around 35,000 pieces of mail over 65,000 miles and only lost one mochila of letters.

Several factors contributed to the demise of the Pony Express. 

First, the completion of the Pacific Telegraph Line allowed easterners to communicate with westerners within minutes. Next, the companies’ failure to secure an exclusive million dollar government mail contract forced them into bankruptcy. 

These two factors plus the outbreak of the Civil War all contributed to the end of the Pony Express in October of 1861.

After this most of the 100 plus Pony Express stations, fell into ruin. One station that did survive was the Hollenberg Station in Kansas. This is due to the efforts of the residents in Hanover, Kansas who raised the money to preserve it. 

In 1857, Gerat H. Hollenberg and his wife Sofia established a way station for travelers, on the Oregon and California Trails, from 1860 to 1861, they operated one of the larger Pony Express stations.

The Hollenberg Station now has a museum, and visitor center, and is a state park. Staff and visitors alike have reported seeing the ghosts of several Pony Express Riders during the summer months. 

One phenomenon that is experienced both day and night are witness reports of hearing thundering hooves approach the station, and then shouts are heard. Several witnesses have seen these riders, and report they wear old- fashioned clothes and chaps.

Within the station, cold spots are commonly reported. Strange sounds are heard, and one specific report is of an apparition of a young rider who still has arrows protruding from his back. He is seen in one of the station bedrooms lying on the floor bleeding and in apparent agony. 

Another spirit that haunts the station is the owner, Gerat Hollenberg. It is stated he likes to rearrange items. He also has been known to hide various items.

1 comment:

TLynnR52 said...

I am the great granddaughter of Ezra George Perkins. Mr. Perkins was the postmaster at the Hollenberg station during the time of the pony express. I found your article very interesting. I wonder if great grandpa's ghost is there!!!!!!