Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express

Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express

Christopher Corbett

Language: English

Pages: 288

ISBN: 0767906934

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


“WANTED. YOUNG, SKINNY, WIRY FELLOWS. NOT OVER 18. MUST BE EXPERT RIDERS. WILLING TO RISK DEATH DAILY. ORPHANS PREFERRED.”
—California newspaper help-wanted ad, 1860

The Pony Express is one of the most celebrated and enduring chapters in the history of the United States, a story of the all-American traits of bravery, bravado, and entrepreneurial risk that are part of the very fabric of the Old West. No image of the American West in the mid-1800s is more familiar, more beloved, and more powerful than that of the lone rider galloping the mail across hostile Indian territory. No image is more revered. And none is less understood. Orphans Preferred is both a revisionist history of this magnificent and ill-fated adventure and an entertaining look at the often larger-than-life individuals who created and perpetuated the myth of “the Pony,” as it is known along the Pony Express trail that runs from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California. The Pony Express is a story that exists in the annals of Americana where fact and fable collide, a story as heroic as the journey of Lewis and Clark, as complex and revealing as the legacy of Custer’s Last Stand, and as muddled and freighted with yarns as Paul Revere’s midnight ride. Orphans Preferred is a fresh and exuberant reexamination of this great American story.

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Majors were both present when the start was made and they would not have permitted ‘a big, overgrown' rider to start right under their noses.” So where do these orphans come from? Mary Pack, writing in the August 1923 edition of the Union Pacific Magazine, in a cover story titled “The Romance of the Pony Express,” makes no mention of any orphans. “Bolivar Roberts, local superintendent of the Western Division, hired upwards of 60 cool-headed, nervy men, hardened by years of experience in the

has a finer location. The river bank must be piled or docked, or in some way fortified against the boiling current which sets against the town-site with fearful power and effect. I believe this is further west than any other point reached by a railroad connecting eastward with the Atlantic ports. At all events, the travel and part of the trade of the vast wilderness watered by the Upper Missouri and its tributaries seem to center here . . . I may never see St. Joseph again, but she will long be

omitting the grim details and reasons for the Williams Station attack, notes that the Indians were not on the warpath but bent on specific revenge for something that had been done to them. Angel reports that the party of nine Indians passed at least one ranch without molesting the occupants and notes that years later Indians who participated in the attack were interviewed and indicated that they were not hostile to all whites. But the news that Williams Station had been destroyed—and the reason

grousing three months later in the Sierra Nevada as he entered California, carping that he had been cheated by tradesmen in rough-and-tumble Carson City. Burton complains with considerable humor and a sense of irony that would have appealed to H. L. Mencken, but he complains nevertheless. He loathed stagecoach travel. He loathed most of the people he met along the way. He loathed Indians. He loathed the food. Burton can hardly be accused of romanticizing the Pony Express, either. How much of this

film comedian W. C. Fields, favoring hats with broad brims and handlebar mustaches, the ends of which were twirled and waxed to sharp points. During one of his sojourns into vaudeville, he appeared onstage dressed as a matador. Looking Back, a history of the Pacific Northwest published almost a century after Visscher's era, recalled that he described himself when he described a character in one of his novels, Way Out Yonder. “The trousers were of a black and white, small-checked pattern, the

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