Western Expansion for Kids - Communication
For Kids: Before railroads were built across the US, there was no quick way to get mail from one coast to the other, or to other places in the west. It took about a month for mail delivered by stagecoach to get from the Mississippi River to California. Telegraph lines were being built across the country, but it would a while before the lines were operational. In preparation, people who wanted to be hired as telegraph operators began learning Morse Code so if and when the lines were finished, they would be ready.
While that was going on, someone came up with the idea of using ponies and riders, working in relays. The Pony Express was born. The first Pony Express rider left California, headed towards Missouri, in April, 1860.
The young men who were Pony Express riders were selected for bravery and weight. It was important for the riders to be light so the ponies could carry both a rider and heavy bags of mail, at a gallop, for many miles. The riders faced dangers from Indians, weather, accident, and bandits! Yet the Pony Express had no trouble finding riders. Riders carried the mail in pouches sewn to their saddles. Each saddle had four mailbags sewn to it, positioned so that one bag fell in front and in back of each rider's legs.
The saddle along with its bags of mail was switched from pony to pony on the mail's journey across the country. Ponies were changed out about every 10-15 miles, but riders continued for between 30 to 100 miles, before another rider took over. There were relief stations along the route. Some were little forts to protect the station masters from Indian and bandit attacks. The ponies knew the route as well as the riders. One time, a rider was killed, and fell from his pony, but the pony got away, galloped on without a rider, and delivered the mail to the next station.
One of the most important messages carried by the Pony Express was the news that Abraham Lincoln had been elected president. The Pony Express carried the news about 1800 miles, between the start and finish of the brand new telegram lines.
By October 1861, the telegraph lines were finally finished. They now reached from east to west. About 18 months after the first Pony Express rider left California, it was over. Ponies were fast, but the telegraph was faster. The days of the Pony Express came to an end.
Lesson Idea: Have students either create an ad to entice young men to sign up to be a Pony Express rider, or create an ad to entice men to prepare for the telegraph and learn Morse Code. their choice.