Washington-Caldwell students learn how mail was delivered in the ‘good old days’
Second-grade students in the Washington-Caldwell district recently took a break from the world of instant messaging to relive the good old days, when people had to travel in order to communicate long distance.
Shortly after reading Dale Ryder’s “Pony Express,” Cindy Hunt’s students wrote letters to their families, then sent them to Holbrook, Ariz., where the letters would travel 200 miles to Scottsdale by the Hashknife Pony Express – the nation’s oldest U.S. Postal Service-sanctioned Pony Express.
The Hashknife Pony Express makes its ride every January during the Parada del Sol festival, led by the Navajo County Hashknife Sheriff’s Posse, which was organized as a search-and-rescue group in 1955.
According to the reenactment group’s website, more than two dozen riders, sworn in as honorary mail messengers, don authentic cowboy clothing to carry the mail, relaying the bags along the route over a three- to five-day journey.
Last month, the Washington School students began receiving their letters marked “via the Pony Express,” letters which were among nearly 20,000 other first-class items to make the annual trek by horseback to the Scottsdale Post Office.
Hunt, who has included the project in her curriculum for seven years, said students have fun participating in the historical reenactment after learning all about the Pony Express’s short, but significant stint, which attracted the most daring riders who put themselves in danger, enduring bad weather conditions, rough terrain, and even American Indian ambushes that were a reality during westward expansion.
According to the seasoned educator, the lesson always sparks good classroom discussion about all the changes in communication.
After classroom discussion, students got busy drafting letters home that highlighted what they learned about the Pony Express.
“Every year the kids have been excited to think that their letter would be carried by a Pony Express rider,” Hunt said.
“There’s always a couple of students who think the Pony Express rider will bring the letter directly to their house, so I do need to remind them of the actual route and that their letter will arrive at their home via a delivery vehicle just as other mail does,” she added.
Hunt said that the only time former students have not received their letter is if they wrote their address incorrectly.
Since this project is not just about the Pony Express legend and the history lesson behind it, “we talk about the importance of writing the address correctly,” Hunt said, “but I do not check them before sending them … it’s all part of the learning process.”
About the Pony Express
The Pony Express was founded by William H. Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors. Plans for the Pony Express were spurred by the threat of the Civil War and the need for faster communication with the West. The Pony Express consisted of relays of men riding horses carrying saddlebags of mail across a 2000-mile trail. The service opened officially on April 3, 1860, when riders left simultaneously from St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California.
The first westbound trip was made in 9 days and 23 hours and the eastbound journey in 11 days and 12 hours. The pony riders covered 250 miles in a 24-hour day.
Eventually, the Pony Express had more than 100 stations, 80 riders and between 400 and 500 horses. The express route was extremely hazardous, but only one mail delivery was ever lost. The service lasted only 19 months until October 24, 1861, when the completion of the Pacific Telegraph line ended the need for its existence.
Although California relied upon news from the Pony Express during the early days of the Civil War, the horse line was never a financial success, leading its founders to bankruptcy. However, the romantic drama surrounding the Pony Express has made it a part of the legend of the American West. Source: Pony Express National Museum