20 November 2012
The Developing Mail System
The 1860 innovation the Pony Express was a business venture for founders William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell. The growing Western United States was unable to communicate with the already established Eastern United States; making the Pony Express an essential need for Americans. Though communication links were already established from the East Coast as far as Missouri, anything from Kansas or further westward was a dilemma. The dilemma of communication links between the East and West was the key aspect for the evolvement of the Pony Express and the treacherous but courageous career of heroes on horseback. The Pony Express eventually ended when telegraph lines were extended to the coast providing dots and dashes of instantaneous communication (Chiaventone 28). According to Fred Reinfeld’s “Pony Express,” in 1860 half a million Americans lived West of the Rocky Mountains; of those Americans 300,000 lived in California (Reinfeld 9). Two thousand miles of mountains, plains, and desserts separated these Americans from the rest of the United States. To link California to the Missouri frontier, adventurous businessmen, William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell created the Pony Express (Reinfeld 21). The encounters that a Pony Express rider endured were treacherous; in the summer they encountered the possibility of heat exhaustion and dehydration and in the winter barricades of snow made it barely possible to cross mountain passes. In addition to the uncontrolled climate misfortunes, there was the possible threat of Indian attacks (Reinfeld 9).
In 1839, a Swiss adventurer, John Sutter, arrived in Monterey California, which at that time was under Mexican rule. Sutter accepted Mexican citizenship and in turn Alvarado, the Mexican governor, granted him land near present day San Francisco (Reinfeld 9). Though Alvarado questioned Sutter’s mere presence, he was able to convince Alvarado that if he attained the fort at Bodega Bay, he could control the Indians and the outlaws (Reinfeld 10). Sutter deemed his vast area of land Fort Sutter and built himself an elaborate house, barracks for his men, and a storage house for the products that were raised on this vast area of land (Reinfeld 10). Fort Sutter was the headquarters for Americans who came to California for “lush land and flourishing herds” (Reinfeld 10). Sutter’s “empire” became so widespread, that it enclosed “about a quarter of the handful of Americans then living in California” (Reinfeld 10). The Mexicans dreaded that, like Texas, California would become independent from Mexican rule and often imprisoned American newcomers and held them for ransom (Reinfeld 11). In 1846 war commenced between the United States and Mexico shifting California into American soil (Reinfeld 11). After the Mexican War veterans returned and assisted Sutter on the building of his flour mill and sawmill. In February 1848, James Marshall, head of the sawmill construction, discovered gold (Reinfeld 11). Though Sutter and Marshall attempted to keep the discovery of gold undisclosed, the word spread like “wild fire.” Once the news spread, workers, farmers, and sailors all instituted a new profession in panning for gold (Reinfeld 12). Eventually, the notion that gold was discovered in California had spread to the East by September 1848. The vast desserts, plains, and mountains were all valid reasons for such a delay in the delivery of news to the East, and when President Polk announced in December 1848, in his message to Congress, that the discovery of gold in California was in fact accurate, it then became official news to the East (Reinfeld 13). Yet it was not until the summer of 1849 that the Forty-Niners launched their expedition to California in search of gold. Many set sail in inadequate ships and others raised money to buy a ship and repair it. Some even sold their homes and businesses all...
Cited: Corbett, Christopher. “The Pony Rides Again (and Again).” American Heritage. 60.1 (2010): 38. History Reference Center. Web. 24 Oct. 2012.
---. “Riders of Destiny the Pony Express.” Wild West. 18.6 (2006): 44-52.
History Reference Center. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.
Chiaventone, Frederick J. “Taking Stock of the Pony Express.” Wild West 22.6 (2010): 28-35. History Reference Center. Web. 24 Oct. 2012.
Di Certo, Joseph J. The Saga of the Pony Express. Montana: Mountain, 2002. Print.
Reinfeld, Fred. Pony Express. London: U of Nebraska, 1966. Print.
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