Historian has reason for saddle soreness
Joe Nardone has dedicated 15 years to putting together missing pieces of the Pony Express Trail. “No one had ever thought about looking for it,” said Nardone, the national executive director and historian of the nonprofit Pony Express Association.
Nearly 75 people crammed into the South Lake Tahoe’s branch library Thursday to listen to Nardone’s lecture on what he called, “My Pony Express.”
Nardone outfitted himself in true pony express fashion. He was outfitted in traditional buckskins, a wide-brimmed hat and boots with spurs. He wore a holster containing an 1851 Navy Colt gun and carried a Bowie knife he said was called a toothpick in Arkansas.
Nardone may be considered an expert on the pony express, since he has retraced the original route from St. Joseph, Mo., to San Francisco to show all the various ways it could have been done. He hiked, rode horses, bicycled, flew in an airplane, rode a dual-sport motorcycle and drove a four-wheel-drive vehicle. His travels over the years exceeded 634,000 miles.
It has been assumed that the part of the route came down Pioneer Trail and proceeded to the area where Harrah’s Lake Tahoe now stands. The Tahoe Basin routes varied.
During the presentation, Nardone dispelled myths that riders rode like bats out of hell with their hat rims bent back for the duration of the journey. Trips were slow and riders changed every 12 miles at stations.
“A lot of “fake-lore” has been created,” Nardone spoke about the length of time the true pony express lasted, and what the trail was really like for its male riders who were an average of 22 years old. There are no records of women riders.
The problem of tracing the history has been the grandchildren who claim their grandfathers rode for the pony express. “Everybody who carried mail called themselves pony express riders,” Nardone said.
The pony express lasted 19 short months before ownership changed hands. It started April 3, 1860 and ended Nov. 20, 1861. The average trail trip lasted 12 days. “It was hazardous,” Nardone said. “It was 24 hours a day in all types of weather.
In February 1861 a rider crossed Echo Summit on foot because the snow was too deep for a horse to trudge through. “He walked with the mail to Strawberry,” Nardone said.
Riders were typically paid $50 per month and received free room and board. Nardone said that in his search of old stations he and his staff have found numerous liquor bottles surrounding the area. The riders had a loophole in their employment rules. They were instructed not to become intoxicated, but that didn’t mean they weren’t allowed to drink, Nardone said.
It cost nearly $85 in today’s dollars to send a letter that would usually arrive at its destination within two weeks. Nardone has taken mail with him on his journeys, “I haven’t changed my rates in 104 years,” he said.
Historically, most of the mail that was sent was for business purposes. “There weren’t too many valentines,” Nardone said.
Nardone has spent 36,500 hours researching journals of stagecoach riders who followed the route and newspapers that covered the route.
The Pony Express Association plans to erect official pony express granite monuments in front of Friday’s Station and where the old Meyers station used to be located.
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