With breezy efficiency, DeFelice (American Sniper) traces the life and death of the Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company, commonly known as the Pony Express, or the Pony. The legendary cross-country mail service, the creation of businessmen William Russell, William Waddell, and Alexander Majors, was established in April 1860 and lasted for a mere 18 months. DeFelice argues that the Pony “existed on the cusp of great change, partook of that change, and both affected and was consumed by it.” The sheer force of the narrative, however, overshadows the argument, and it’s a pretty wild ride. DeFelice frames his story with the six-day November 1860 trip that brought news of Abraham Lincoln’s presidential victory from St. Joseph, Mo., to Sacramento, Calif., the Pony’s main route. The ride, including employees’ encounters with feuding settlers in Kansas, bison stampedes, and hostile Native Americans, is rendered in fine, thrilling detail. DeFelice debunks oft-told stories about the Pony, especially the involvement of “Wild Bill” Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody. He peppers the narrative with details about the cost of the service (initially $5 for a letter weighing up to half an ounce), the procedure for changing horses, specifications of the riders’ mail pouches (called mochilas) and guns, even the kinds of food the riders ate. Fans of the Old West will find many delightful nuggets in this fast-moving story. Illus. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/19/2018 Release date: 05/01/2018 Genre: Nonfiction
During the Covid-19 crisis, Publishers Weekly is providing free digital access to our magazine, archive, and website. To receive the access to the latest issue delivered to your inbox free each week, enter your email below.