Arago: Exhibits

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The Pony Express is a Rush!

Photograph of Mark Twain

Author Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain. Twain wrote "Roughing it" between 1870-1871.

The Pony's absense from our popular culture after its demise would be short-lived. By the 1870s, its transformation to a mainstay of our popular culture had begun. One of those who shined a spotlight on the service was author Samuel Clemens.

Clemens, better known to us as Mark Twain, published an account of his westward adventures in the book "Roughing it." This entertaining and colorful travel narrative charts Twain's experiences in the American west between 1861-1866.

Twain references the Pony Express in this book, reflecting upon, and inspiring a romantic, edge of your seat, tale of the service. In this recollection, Twain recalls the eagerness with which he and his fellow stagecoach passengers awaited a sighting of a Pony Express rider:

"In a little while all interest was taken up in stretching our necks and watching for the "pony-rider"—the fleet messenger who sped across the continent from St. Joe to Sacramento, carrying letters nineteen hundred miles in eight days! . . . We had had a consuming desire, from the beginning, to see a pony-rider, but somehow or other all that passed us and all that met us managed to streak by in the night, and so we heard only a whiz and a hail, and the swift phantom of the desert was gone before we could get our heads out of the windows. . . .

. . . Presently the driver exclaims: ‘HERE HE COMES!’ Every neck is stretched further, and every eye strained wider. Away across the endless dead level of the prairie a black speck appears against the sky, and it is plain that it moves. Well, I should think so!

In a second or two it becomes a horse and rider, rising and falling, rising and falling—sweeping toward us nearer and nearer—growing more and more distinct, more and more sharply defined—nearer and still nearer, and the flutter of the hoofs comes faintly to the ear—another instant a whoop and a hurrah from our upper deck, a wave of the rider's hand, but no reply, and man and horse burst past our excited faces, and go winging away like a belated fragment of a storm!

So sudden is it all, and so like a flash of unreal fancy, that but for the flake of white foam left quivering and perishing on a mail-sack after the vision had flashed by and disappeared, we might have doubted whether we had seen any actual horse and man at all, maybe."