Re-Riding the Pony Express National Historic Trail

By Patrick Hearty

Each year in June, The National Pony Express Association conducts a Pony Express re-ride on the Pony Express National Historic Trail. More than five hundred riders, men, women and children 14 years and older, across the eight Pony Express Trail states organize to carry a mail pouch filled with commemorative letters over the trail between St. Joseph, MO, and Sacramento, CA They ride in relays, day and night for ten days, as it was done in 1860. Love of horses, history, and the land makes this a major event of the year for members of the association. Most are involved with their families, and I have three sons and a daughter, plus a son- and daughter-in-law who participate.

 Matt Hearty carrying the mail into the sunset. Photo by Richard Gwin, used with the permission of the National Pony Express Association.

Matt Hearty carrying the mail into the sunset. Photo by Richard Gwin, used with the permission of the National Pony Express Association.

The following event took place a few year ago during the annual re-ride. We were carrying the mail westbound, in the area of Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge in western Utah. It was about 2:00 A.M. on a moonless night, and my son, Matt, was riding his Quarterhorse gelding, Snap. He was traveling at a good gallop, riding in the headlights of the truck following close behind. But when Snap threw a front shoe on the gravelly road, he veered to the roadside to get out of the rocks. Suddenly, horse and rider disappeared in a cloud of dust in a big wash alongside the road. A couple of seconds later, we could see Snap scrambling up the far side, and Matt right behind, clawing to get back into the saddle. He made it, and finished his leg of the ride.

 Pat Hearty on a re-ride in western Utah. Photo by Richard Gwin, used with the permission of the National Pony Express Association.

Pat Hearty on a re-ride in western Utah. Photo by Richard Gwin, used with the permission of the National Pony Express Association.

There, we all stopped to get horse and rider into the headlights to check for damage. As I was the next rider up, I threw the mochila (mail pouch) over my saddle and swung up onto my big Quarterhorse, Fred. Freddie was a veteran of several re-rides, and knew what that mochila meant, so I didn't need spurs to get him rolling. Soon we were out of sight of the trucks. It was just me and that fine horse, and the ribbon of road ahead. Fish Springs Mountains black to the west, and the spectacular starry sky above. No lights, no man-made structure in sight.

The chills began to course up and down my spine. IT MUST HAVE BEEN JUST LIKE THIS. 150 Years ago when those intrepid young riders carried the mail across two thousand western miles, to tie the nation together, this is what they saw. This must be what that rider felt on a lonely desert night, with a horse between his knees and a job to do. In this very place, under these same stars, just like this. Now I look back as a veteran of almost 40 years of re-rides. I have many wonderful memories of times with family and friends. But none so intense as that one, none that has taken me back to 1860 when I rode with those young men of the Historic Pony Express.