Pony Express rides through Stateline on Wednesday
June 13, 2007
Eight miles may not seem like a great distance to a motorist or bicyclist, but to pooped-out horses who raced daily over the rugged Sierra carrying bags of mail, subtracting that distance meant extra fuel-up time at the trough and nips of whiskey for the riders.
The opening of a Kingsbury Grade trail over Daggett Pass in 1860 allowed a perfect segue for Pony Express riders looking to trim time off their deadlines as they rushed mail by horseback 24-7 from San Francisco to St. Joseph, Mo., in as little as 13 days.
On Wednesday history will repeat itself as the Pony Express will once again ride through Stateline and make the proverbial horse exchange at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. Just like modern-day card cowboys, Stateline was the place where horses and riders on their way west to San Francisco or east to Missouri fueled up and relaxed for a few minutes before taking the shortcut over Daggett Pass.
The route was first used by the Pony Express exactly 147 years ago.
This year there are 550 stops between Missouri and Sacramento. The ride began on Monday and will end on Thursday, June 21, in Old Sacramento, with a stop Wednesday in Stateline.
The Pony Express began as a private venture on April 3, 1860, operating roughly 2,000 miles between San Francisco and St. Joseph going both east and west. In its 19-month existence, it employed 700 people, about 10 percent being actual riders.
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The riders were paid $50 a month plus room and board to load up horses with mail and travel 75 miles in a day, switching horses every 15 miles at numerous stations between California and Missouri. At the end of one 12-hour day for a rider, another rider would meet him, exchange horses and the tired rider would bed down for the night with a hot meal and libations.
One of three Pony Express station sites in the Lake Tahoe Basin, the Stateline building at the northwest corner of Lake Parkway and Highway 50 still stands and is now owned by the Park family. It’s significant because it served as a bypass to Luther Pass, a longer and more rugged route.
Originally, the Pony Express route from Echo Summit went Southeast over Luther Pass, through Hope Valley, on to Woodfords and then to Genoa. “It was a heck of a haul because of the snow,” said Rich Tatman, division ride captain for the Pony Express.
On May 14, 1860 that all changed when David Kingsbury and John McDonald opened up a toll road that went up Kingsbury Grade down into Genoa and then on to the Comstock town of Virginia City. Instead of going over Luther Pass, the Pony Express went over Daggett, saving 8.3 miles of horse time. A granite monument was dedicated last year near Lira’s Market in Meyers, marking the station site near Echo Summit.
In need of a horse and employee switch station, the Pony Express company contracted Martin K. “Friday” Burke and John Washington Small to use their building site for the Stateline station. The original log station building and the new larger, white framed building still stand at the Park Cattle Company ranch site.
The government held onto the Pony Express for about five months while it built telegraph lines across the country, thus making express transcontinental mail delivery by horseback obsolete.
What: Pony Express stop at Stateline
When, Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. in front of Harrah’s Lake Tahoe
Why: Since 1978, the National Pony Express Association has re-enacted mail delivery service that went daily for 19 months beginning in 1860.