Tag Archives: Pony Express


The Frontierado holiday, on August 5th this year, is hurtling toward us. Balladeer’s Blog will squeeze in a few more seasonal posts for this year’s celebrations. Frontierado is about the myth of the old west, not the grinding reality.

pony bobPONY BOB – Robert Haslam, better known as Pony Bob, holds multiple records set in the Pony Express during its year and a half history, including the longest individual round-trip ride – 380 miles – when one of his relay riders was put out of action during the Paiute War in 1860.

Pony Bob was born in England in January, 1840 and in his teens moved to the United States. For a few years Haslam worked around Salt Lake City, Utah, doing ranch work and serving as a mounted government messenger before joining in the construction work on the Pony Express stations. When the Express launched in April of 1860, he was among the earliest Expressmen, the official title of the Pony Express riders.

Haslam’s route in Nevada was from Friday’s Station to Buckland Station near Fort Churchill. Among Pony Bob’s experiences during the Paiute War –
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Filed under FRONTIERADO, Neglected History


Balladeer’s Blog takes another look at a Pony Express Rider for a seasonal post now that the Frontierado Holiday is fast approaching. (It falls on August 5th this year.) Frontierado is about the myth of the old west, not the grinding reality.

another pony express pictureBOSTON – Warren Fremont Upson, better known by his one-word nickname, was one of the Pony Express Riders aka Expressmen to ride with the service for its entire existence from April 3rd, 1860 to October 26th, 1861. His real name was so seldom used in the old west that in some sources on Pony Express history he was listed only as “Boston.”

Warren was born in 1841 in Marion, AL and moved with his family to Sacramento, CA in 1851 when his father Lauren Upson became the editor of the Sacramento Union newspaper. Though the elder Upson spent his career in the publishing field, Warren was too rambunctious and preferred the great outdoors.

Already experienced at hunting and camping, W.F. Upson learned polished horsemanship skills from the local vaqueros. Legend has it that these Sacramento vaqueros nicknamed him “Boston” because it was the eastern city they were most familiar with, and they had not yet met anyone else who had Warren’s southeastern accent. So, Boston it was, despite the geographical inaccuracy.

pony changeOur hero spent most of his time riding and exploring in the Sierra Nevadas, hunting and cooking his own food and acquiring a familiarity with the mountain range’s often-treacherous curves and turns and sudden drops. That familiarity would pay dividends later in life when Boston was assigned to the most geographically dangerous route of the Pony Express. 

In February of 1860, Upson responded to one of the Express’ famous job advertisements asking for unattached men who would not leave behind a wife and children if they were killed while carrying out their duties. (“Orphans Preferred” was just one of the variations on that theme.)

Not only was Boston hired, but the young man’s already celebrated mountain man skills and marksmanship got him the perilous route from Sportsman’s Hall in what is now Pollock Pines, CA to Genoa, UT and/ or Friday’s Station near Lake Tahoe. Continue reading


Filed under FRONTIERADO, Neglected History


crossed pistolsAs promised, Balladeer’s Blog returns to some brief looks at assorted Pony Express Riders as seasonal posts now that the Frontierado Holiday is fast approaching. (It falls on August 5th this year.) Frontierado is about the myth of the old west, not the grinding reality.

expressmanIRISH TOMMY – Thomas J. Ranahan was better known as Irish Tommy during his days as an Expressman (the official title of Pony Express riders). Ranahan was born in Ireland on August 28th, 1839 and his family moved to America in 1841, settling in Vermont.

The Ranahans moved on to Kansas in 1855 and a few years later Irish Tommy alternated between being a stagecoach driver for the parent company of the Pony Express and filling in for Expressmen who fell to illness, horse thieves, bandits, hostile Native Americans or the elements. Continue reading

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pony express stationIt’s less than two months until the major holiday Frontierado, so here’s a third blog post about Pony Express Riders – April 3rd, 1860 to October 26th, 1861. A few weeks ago came Balladeer’s Blog’s look at the first Pony Express riders.

As always, Frontierado celebrations are about the myth of the old west, not the grinding reality.


charlie cliffCHARLIE CLIFF – The younger of the two Cliff brothers to ride for the Pony Express was born in 1844 in St. Louis County, MO. Sometime in 1852 the family moved to St. Joseph, MO and by May of 1860 Charlie and his older brother Gus were Expressmen, the official title of Pony Express Riders.

Charlie’s rout passed through Kickapoo Indian territory but the tribe was peaceful and the young man never experienced difficulties with them. However, in 1861 he encountered a small company of nine covered wagons headed west and shared their plight of being besieged by over one hundred Sioux warriors. The siege lasted three days with periodic gunplay before a larger wagon train approached and the Sioux, realizing they were outnumbered, rode off. Continue reading


Filed under FRONTIERADO, Neglected History


The major holiday Frontierado is just over two months away, so as a followup to last week’s look at the first Pony Express riders Balladeer’s Blog explores the one-man stand and death of 14-year-old Expressman Billy Tate.

pony express ridersBILLY TATE – Born in 1846, Billy Tate traveled west with his family in 1857 as part of the Baker-Fancher Wagon Train from Arkansas. In September of that year, Billy’s family were among the pioneers slaughtered at the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah. The massacre was perpetrated by Mormons disguised as Native Americans.

Billy and possibly other child survivors (accounts vary) were taken in by Mormon farmers and worked on their farms. By some accounts Billy’s original last name was Miller but it was changed to Tate to match the family who took him in.

In 1859 the government ruled that any child survivors of the Mountain Meadows Massacre should be returned to relatives back in Arkansas. Billy, not wanting to be sent back east, ran away, ultimately signing on as a bullwhacker with the parent company of the Pony Express in December of that year. By the April 3rd 1860 launch of the Express Billy Tate was serving as a rider. Continue reading


Filed under FRONTIERADO, Neglected History


pony expressBalladeer’s Blog always marks the holiday called Frontierado, which is observed every year on the firstrichardson, fry, cliff brothers charlie and gus Friday in August. This year that will be August 5th. Frontierado is about the myth of the old west, not the grinding reality.

A topic I haven’t covered in the past is the legendary Pony Express, which operated from April 3rd, 1860 to October 26th, 1861. Prior to the spread of telegraph wires all the way across the continent, the Pony Express was the fastest way of getting messages – and mail – from Missouri to California and vice versa.

Their riders, officially titled Expressmen, faced perils from nature, bandits and hostile Native Americans depending on circumstances at any given moment. Everything boiled down to speed, so to save on weight on the horses Expressmen were only permitted to carry one pistol after a few riders were caught carrying two pistols and a rifle or more.

richardson and fryI will cover many of the other riders as we get closer to the actual date of Frontierado, but for today here is a brief look at the first Pony Express riders to depart from Saint Joseph, MO headed west and from Sacramento, CA headed east. There is still some dispute about which men officially count as the first riders, with two men put forth for both routes.

WEST FROM ST. JOSEPH – The first potential riders from St. Joseph, MO were, alphabetically, Johnny Fry and “Sailor Billy” Richardson. After ceremonial speeches by politicians and businessmen, a cannon shot inaugurated the first ride westward around 7:15PM on April 3rd, 1860. 

johnny fryJOHNNY FRY was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky in 1840 (exact date unknown) and in 1857 his family moved to Missouri. After the firing of the cannon, whoever the first rider was, Fry or Richardson, they galloped to the ferry Denver waiting at the landing on Jules Street. The Denver carried the rider across the Missouri River to Elwood, KS where that first ride resumed. Continue reading