It’s early 1861 and the nation is falling apart. Seven states have seceded from the Union and their troops are seizing local military forts. The New Orleans Mint and Customhouse are commandeered along with $350,000 (equivalent to $18M today). There are widespread worries an attack on Washington D.C. is imminent – yet hope abounds an outright war can still be avoided.

Most Americans could stay reasonably abreast of the crisis without too much effort. There were an estimated 3,000 newspapers and trains, stagecoaches and the post office carried those papers far and wide. News also could also spread quickly via telegrams and letters. It was a wondrously efficient network – at least, as long as you lived east of the Mississippi River.

In the critical months leading up to the Civil War there was no transcontinental railroad or telegraph. Not even a tiny wisp of news from the East Coast could reach California or Oregon in less than three weeks, which was how long it took mail or a messenger to get here via stagecoach from Missouri. And that was only under ideal conditions with the best luck; a lot might go wrong during a 2,000 mile bumpy trip across deserts and mountains on rough trails.


This is not the place to dig into the workings of the Pony Express (there’s an excellent overview on Wikipedia) but know this: Everything you know about it is probably a lie.

The Pony Express is a favorite myth about the Wild West, right up there with straight-shootin’ heroic lawmen and unhinged sinister outlaws. Magazines and novels romanticized the riders as fearless daredevils on stallions racing like fierce winds; instead, the job was monotonous and a tiring plod. In at least one instance the rider fell asleep in the saddle, followed by his mule turning around and heading back to the stable.

The best overall book about the Pony Express is “Orphans Preferred” by Christopher Corbett and a big chunk of it is devoted to debunking falsehoods, some of which had roots in actual events but were exaggerated and then larded up further. After nine Indians attacked an Express station it grew to be a warparty of 500 in the retelling. It’s almost certain the most famous person who claimed to be involved, Buffalo Bill, was never a rider as he had just turned 14 when the Express began. Wild Bill Hickok wasn’t a rider either.

The book takes its title from a famous ad (shown below) that read “WANTED. YOUNG, SKINNY, WIRY FELLOWS. NOT OVER 18. MUST BE EXPERT RIDERS. WILLING TO RISK DEATH DAILY. ORPHANS PREFERRED.” Copies are still popular today, sold online and at souvenir shops, often on antiqued paper or vellum to appear authentic. But it’s a hoax – the text made its first appearance in a 1923 Oakland Tribune Sunday feature.


Thus it came to pass a freight company that supplied western military forts started the Pony Express in April 1860, with the promise that a relay of fast horsemen could deliver mail to California in 7-10 days. But as it turned out, the Pony was only slightly faster than the stagecoaches.

By coincidence, the Pony Express launched just as Sonoma County newspapers were starting to gain wider Bay Area circulation. During the mid-1850s there were two lackluster rural weeklies, the Sonoma County Journal in Petaluma and the Sonoma Democrat in Santa Rosa. In April 1860 the Democrat was bought by Thomas L. Thompson and in May Samuel Cassiday and a partner took over the nascent Petaluma Argus, which was only a few months old and thus far had been published in fits and starts. (MORE on the genealogy of these early newspapers)

There weren’t many places in the West during 1860 that could support three papers, but Sonoma County then had the most people on the coast after San Francisco. Also, the papers offered more than the usual market reports and items on local farmers drunkenly falling off barn roofs. Thompson’s Democrat was rabidly pro-secession, pro-slavery and anti-Lincoln. Cassiday was a “Black Republican” (meaning an abolitionist) and once the war started the Argus offered extensive coverage of Union troop movements along with battlefield reports. The Journal took a moderate stance and advocated for peace until the war began, then often wrote about it with a detached tone as if it were a conflict between two nations overseas.

The Pony Express updates were like catnip to their readers. Columns headlined “EASTERN NEWS – BY PONY EXPRESS” (or similar) were usually at the top of the front pages and it’s easy to understand the appeal; the news in those columns has an exciting immediacy even though the events happened weeks earlier. It reminds me of what it was like following breaking news on Twitter during its heyday: A frothy mixture of solid facts, opinionated guesswork and crazy bullshit.

Should you want to enjoy a vicarious thrill of experiencing the start of the Civil War, you could do worse than scanning for “Pony Express” references in those papers. A selection of excerpts can be read in the SOURCES section below, but here’s a teaser from the Argus, May 7 1861 concerning the infamous Baltimore riot:

The Massachusetts regiments in their attempt to pass through on their way to Washington, were attacked by a mob, who threw stones and discharged pistols at them.

The soldiers fired on the Mob, killing several.

Three soldiers were killed, and several were wounded. The mob increased.

The Mayor tried to stop the riot.

After several hours fighting the mob dispersed.

Military Law has been proclaimed.

The citizens of Baltimore and vicinity have destroyed the bridges and railroads.

The Evening Post learns that Jeff. Davis, at the head of the Confederated Army, was marching on Washington.

There is great activity in the North in consequence. More new companies were being raised.

Washington was filling up with soldiers.

There was surprisingly little overlap in the Pony Express items offered by the three Sonoma County papers. An obvious reason is bias; the pro-Confederate Democrat and pro-Union Argus were not likely to print something negative about their team but were inclined to use items reflecting badly on the other guys.

Their schedules were also a factor. Since the papers were weeklies, editors had to wait another seven days when news came in too close to deadline; by then the item could be considered no longer newsworthy.

A non-Civil War story showed an example of that. There was extremely high interest in a May 1860 prize fight between the British champ and a Californian nicknamed “Benicia Boy.” On the day when details were expected to arrive by Pony Express, “thousands rushed to the bulletin boards” in the windows of the San Francisco Bulletin according to the Sonoma Democrat’s column published on May 10th. Alas, the results were not yet known when the Santa Rosa paper went to press – yet the next day, Petaluma’s Sonoma County Journal was able to print a full account of the boxing match. The following editions of the Democrat never acknowledged who won the fight.

But while the Sonoma County newspapers offered readers exciting weekly updates from the East, here’s the angle that was never mentioned: None of those papers had any association with the Pony Express – the editors were only rewriting Pony material published by other California journals days earlier. Look at the examples transcribed below and note all three Petaluma and Santa Rosa papers deceptively implied the pony riders were swaggering in to their own offices carrying the latest dispatches. Phrases such as, “The Pony Express furnishes us…” and “The Pony has arrived with…” and “The following is a summary of news received by Pony Express…” are found in nearly every column.

In truth, the terminus for the Pony Express was Sacramento, after the Pony rider had passed through Carson City more than a day earlier. That town had a telegraph line to San Francisco, so urgent news – such as the election of Lincoln – could reach the Bay Area ASAP. From Sacramento the letters were sent by boat to the company’s agent in San Francisco, the Alta Telegraph Office. The Daily Alta California would print the news summaries sent by their East Coast agents, often stretching the items out over a few days. (Why sell just one edition when you can sell four?)

Like regular mail intended for Sonoma County sent by stagecoach, the Alta and other newspapers arrived from San Francisco via the Petaluma paddlewheel steamboat, then copies intended for the Democrat in Santa Rosa were forwarded on “up-country” via the local stage. Yes, this last leg of delivery delayed receipt of the Pony Express news for an additional day or two, but it gave our local papers the chance to incorporate news from other West Coast newspapers that had correspondents sending items via the Pony, particularly the San Francisco Bulletin and Sacramento Union. Looking back, aggregating Pony Express material from several sources was what made those columns in the Sonoma County papers such a great source of the latest news. (Well, the latest news from about a month before.)

Those out-of-town papers were also sold to the public in Sonoma County, of course, making the popular Pony Express items available days before the local papers could collect and reprint them. To stay competitive, in the summer of 1861 the Journal and Democrat each began printing a weekly broadside “Extra” of Pony news immediately after it was published in the San Francisco newspapers. That was accomplished by having the items telegraphed from San Francisco to Napa, followed by a speedy rider carrying the text to Petaluma. From there a copy was rushed to Santa Rosa, presumably by another horseman. The collaboration between the Journal and Democrat was surprising, given that the two papers were feuding and name-calling just a couple of years before.

Sonoma County Journal extra of Pony Express news from June 16, 1861
Sonoma County Journal extra of Pony Express news from June 16, 1861

The arrangement only lasted a few weeks. There was no explanation in the Journal why it was cancelled, but the Democrat editor Thompson complained too few were willing to pay 50¢ for a single sheet of paper printed on one side. Many “sponge” readers were passing around the same copy or hearing it read aloud on the street, so he cancelled the service in mid-July. Producing the extras was costing him about $30/week, he wrote, which “was too heavy to be borne, in view of the meagre patronage the enterprise received.”

Even had they been a success, the extras wouldn’t have lasted much longer. In October 1861 the Pony Express was shut down two days after the transcontinental telegraph was completed. It existed less than nineteen months.

Both the Journal and Democrat reported West Coast congressmen wanted to revive it as a federal service, but it’s difficult to understand why. It shaved only a very few days off delivery time, was absurdly expensive, and could only carry a tiny amount of mail (20 lb. was the max, compared to the 2,700 lb. carried by the stagecoach that brought Mark Twain out west).

In later years the Democrat waxed nostalgic about the Pony at every opportunity. It reprinted in 1883 a very interesting history about its origins from the Chicago Times, which is also transcribed below. Bitterness about the failure of the Pony Express extras was mentioned in the history of the newspaper found in the 1892 promotional issue, which deserves every historian’s close attention for myriad other reasons.

But even during its short lifespan, newspaper editors nationwide were painting the Pony Express as if it were a milestone in American – nay, human! – achievement. Near the midpoint of its existence, the Democrat printed a nice homage from the St. Louis Republican:

…His journey lies two thousand miles across a great continent, and beyond the rivers, plains and mountains that must be passed; a little world of civilization is waiting for the contents of his wallet. He and his successors must hurry on through every danger and difficulty, and bring the Atlantic and Pacific shores within a week of each other. No stop, no stay, no turning aside for rest, shelter or safety, but right forward. By sunlight, and moonlight, and starlight, and through the darkness of the midnight storms, he must still fly on and on toward the distant goal. Now skimming along over the emerald sea, now laboring through the sandy track, now plunging headlong into the swollen flood, now wending his way through the dark canyon, or climbing the rocky stoop, and now picking his way through or around an ambuscade of murderous savages. No danger nor difficulty must check his speed or change his route, for the world is waiting for the news he shall fetch and carry. It is a noble enterprise, and as the Express hurries down the street and across the river, and I think of the toil and peril of the way, my heart says, “God speed to the boy and the pony!”

Of such stuff legends are made, and in the 20th century Sonoma County joined the rest of America, reading dime novels and watching western movies about its death-defying riders. Local rodeos would include a mail pouch relay race after the style of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. But around here we have good reasons to remember it for something else: As the Civil War approached and tensions rose in our politically divided county, it was the single thing that brought together a flag-waving Union paper like the Argus and the Sonoma Democrat with its Confederacy cheerleading.

It’s doubtful news carried by the Pony Express materially affected the lives of a single person in Sonoma County, but it certainly made our ancestors feel less isolated from loved ones out East and the rest of the nation facing a time of tremendous crisis. Another commentary from the Democrat’s San Francisco correspondent summed it up well:

…All remember how far it seemed from home when we arrived in California, and how the Overland Mail appeared to shorten the distance — now that the Pony Express brings news from home in seven days, we almost cease to be homesick and, when the Pacific Telegraph is completed, we will have no further need to be even lonesome — because we are at home; when time is annihilated, distance is nothing.


(Title image: Detail from “The Coming and Going of the Pony Express” Frederic Remington, 1901. Courtesy Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa )



OVERLAND EXPRESS. – The National [Daily National Democrat] has positive information from Washington, that a “Courier,” or “Pony Express,” will be started on the 3d day of April next, between St. Joseph, Mo., and Placerville, California, to run weekly each way. The route will be via Salt Lake City, Camp Floyd and Carson City, and the trip is to be made inside of ten days.

Between the present extreme eastern and western telegraph stations, St. Joseph and Carson City, the time will be reduced to less than eight days, and parties in San Francisco and New York may communicate by telegraph and express within that interval.

– Sonoma County Journal, March 2 1860



The Pony Express arrived at Carson, Thursday, in less than nine days from St. Joseph’s, bringing news from the East to the 3d inst.


– Sonoma Democrat, April 19 1860


CHARGES FOR TELEGRAPHING.- It will be seen by the following, from a Washington dispatch, dated March 29th, that the price of dispatches across the continent is quite an item:

“The managers of the principal telegraphic lines, in connection with the Pony Express, have agreed upon the following price for private dispatches to and from California: For ten words from any Atlantic city, or any other telegraph station, or vice versa, two dollars and forty-five cents; for a similar number of words from the first station on the California telegraph line to any part of California, and vice versa, two dollars; while the charge for expressing the message without regard to length, will be $2.45 each, making the sum total from any station in the Atlantic States, to any station in California, $6.90 for ten words. The charge for each additional word above that number will be 20 cts. for the entire distance.”

– Sonoma County Journal, April 20 1860


Arrival of the Pony Express.

The following is a summary of news received by Pony Express, which arrived in San Francisco on the 29th April: There is every probability of the passage of the Pacific Telegraph bill, by the present session of Congress. — The first Pony Express from San Francisco arrived at St. Joseph in ten days. — The South Carolina State Democratic Convention met at Columbia on the 10th ult. The resolutions reaffirmed the platforms of Baltimore and Cincinnati, and adopted the Dred Scott decision. — The Attorney General justifies the seizure of the Mexican steamers. — The Marshal of Ohio reports that the residents of Ashtabula county are ready to take up arms to resist the taking of John Brown, Jr. before the Harper’s Ferry Committee.


– Sonoma Democrat, May 3 1860


Our San Francisco Correspondence.

…Speaking of telegraphs — how near we would be if we but had a line from San Francisco to Santa Rosa. All remember how far it seemed from home when we arrived in California, and how the Overland Mail appeared to shorten the distance — now that the Pony Express brings news from home in seven days, we almost cease to be homesick and, when the Pacific Telegraph is completed, we will have no further need to be even lonesome — because we are at home; when time is annihilated, distance is nothing…The Pony Express arrived yesterday, bringing dates to the 28th April. When it was first telegraphed from Carson Valley, thousands rushed to the bulletin boards, to see who were the victors in the two great fights; but as the information was exclusive, the Bulletin gave notice that the dispatches would be published in the regular edition of that paper, thus magnanimously keeping everybody in suspense, from 10 a. m. to 3 p. m. in the meantime, various were the rumors that were spread [Editor: This was the Heenan-Sayers prize fight – see article.]…The general impression is, that Douglas has been nominated, and cords of money is offered on that result, with no takers…

– Sonoma Democrat, May 10 1860


The Democratic National Convention.

Since our last publication, we have, by the arrival of the Pony Express, of the 5th May, at San Francisco, received more in detail the proceedings ot this body; but the accounts are still so imperfect, that it is almost impossible to form any definite conclusion as to its action…By telegraph to San Francisco, on Monday last, we have the news, brought by the Pony Express, to the 12th of May. This intelligence throws but little additional light on the subject. But from it we gather that the action of the seceding members in leaving the Convention has by no means received a general approval by their constituents, and is decidedly condemned by the great mass of the Southern Democracy. From the demonstrations of public opinion in the South, we have but little doubt that the seceding members will be compelled to reunite with the Convention when it assembles at Baltimore, or their places will be filled by other men better disposed for harmonizing the party, and that a nomination will be made upon such a basis as will enable us to present an undivided front to the enemy in the coming conflict.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 24 1860


THE PONY EXPRESS. — Much anxiety is felt for the safety of the Pony Express, which is now over due. We learn from the Bulletin that the rider who brought in the last express was compelled, through fear of the Indians, to lie by some thirty-six hours, at Smith’s Creek Station. Although it is asserted that seventy-five well armed men, properly stationed, would afford ample protection, yet it is feared that the express will be stopped until the Indian difficulties are suppressed for the want of means to afford protection to the men at the different stations in the Indian country — some of whom, we learn from the Standard, are already sending in for permission from the Agent to leave. It is to be hoped that the force which has been organized in Carson Valley, will bo able to afford the necessary protection, and that the express which has now become a necessity to California, may not, under any circumstances, be discontinued.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 31 1860


ANOTHER PONY EXPRESS.— The Butterfield Overland Mail Company, it is said, will start a Pony Express as soon as a telegraph is completed to Los Angeles. By that time, it is supposed the line will have been stretched to Fort Smith, and the intervening distance will be traveled in five days.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 14 1860


THE PONY EXPRESS — Dispatches from Carson City under date of June 8th, state that a company of twenty picked men, well armed and mounted, had left with the Pony Express and Salt Lake mail. They will proceed until they meet the express or mail coming this way – re-establishing the route by having men and animals at the stations destroyed, as they go along. It is thought they will not have to go farther than Ruby Valley. If necessary, however, they will go to Camp Floyd.

– Sonoma County Journal, June 15 1860


Our San Francisco Correspondence.
San Francisco, June 19, 1860.

Editor Sonoma County Democrat: The stoppage of the Pony Express at this important political time, is greatly to be regretted; the agent, Mr. Finney, has announced that it will start again next Friday; this, however, does not provide for news coming from the East before the middle of July or first of August — and, until that time, we must resignedly wait the comparatively slow coaches.

POLITICAL. Yesterday, the Baltimore Convention met, and the result of their deliberations will not reach us before the 10th of July — such a delay, how provoking. The Republicans claim to have elected Logan by some 150 or 200 votes; this shows rather an anti-Lane, than a Black Republican victory… [The Southern Democratic Party would nominate pro-slavery Sen. Joseph Lane (D-Oregon) as Breckinridge’s VP candidate. -Ed.]

– Sonoma Democrat, June 21 1860


Another Richmond. – The Democratic National Convention assembled at Baltimore last Monday, and have without doubt ere this decided upon their man for the Presidential race. Who that choice is, we cannot with a certainty, predict, but “rather guess” it is none other than the “Little Giant” of the West, who has once before successfully stood face to face with the “Fence Rail Splitter.” The race now naturally lies between Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, and we believe it is to be made by them.

– Sonoma County Journal, June 22 1860


Arrival of the Pony.

By Pony Express, dates are furnished to July 6th, from St. Louis. We glean the following:

The Democratic State Central Committee of Pennsylvania, by a vote of 19 to 43, refused to adopt a resolution declaring Douglas the nominee. A Breckinridge ratification meeting held at Philadelphia reaffirmed the Charleston platform… Forney’s Press is opposed bitterly to the action of the State Central Committee, and “favors the union of the Douglas, Bell, and Lincoln men, in order to keep the election out of Congress, where Lane would be successful.” The State National Committee of New York issued a call for a convention to nominate Electors. It pledged the State vote for Breckinridge and Lane, who are recognized as the regular nominees…A Douglas ratification meeting at Washington is reported as a decided and mortifying failure…

– Sonoma Democrat, July 26 1860


TO BE DISCONTINUED. – The St. Louis correspondent of the Sacramento Union writes that there is a strong probability the Pony Express will be discontinued after the week ending July 21st. It was pretty well settled that Russell & Co. would get no mail contract, and as the Pony Express was now a total loss, almost to them, there was no inducement to continue it. He adds that the people of California may thank Postmaster General Holt and Senator Gwin for it.

– Sonoma County Journal, August 10 1860


MORE INDIAN TROUBLE. – Intelligence from Carson Valley announces the renewal of Indian hostilities on the route between Carson City and Salt Lake. Two or more of the Pony Express stations had been attacked, and some of the stock run off. Several Indians had been killed by the U. S. Troops, they fortunately arriving at the point of attack just at the right time. Otherwise it is probable the result would have been very different.

– Sonoma County Journal, August 24 1860


…The St. Louis Fair is now being held, and the city is immensely crowded. The Prince of Wales was expected to be present…

POLITICAL NEWS. At Albany, N. Y., on the 25th inst., James T. Brady, candidate for Governor on the Breckinridge ticket, made a speech. He proclaimed war to the knife against the Douglas Democracy, declaring that if Lincoln was elected Seward would be his Secretary of State, and that after this contest Douglas would not be heard of again. This speech is regarded as a final blow to a union of the Democracy in that State…

– Sonoma Democrat, October 11 1860


Our San Francisco Correspondence.
San Francisco, Nov. 12th, 1860.

Editors Sonoma County Democrat: The great battle is over, and although it has resulted in partial defeat, let not Democrats be disheartened, but rather let them organize and prepare themselves better for the next struggle, when the now prevailing party will have been “played out,” as were their immediate successors. Although six days have passed since the election, little is yet known of the result. According to latest accounts Lincoln is about 1100 ahead, but this seems doubtful, as it is strongly suspected that the despatches [sic] are not much to be relied on, having been gotten up more for betting purposes than for the diffusion of reliable statistical information. The news from the East will be sent with the greatest despatch by the Pony, and will be received here the fore part of next week, The telegraphing facilities of the Eastern States will be tested to their utmost, but it is generally expected that the general result will be known by that time. How annoying it is that the knowledge of a great event must be kept from us for days when a few hundred miles of telegraphic wire would put us in immediate possession of the all-desired information…

– Sonoma Democrat, November 15 1860



The Pony Express arrived yesterday from St. Louis, (Mo.) with Eastern news to the 17th inst., from which we clip the following items: In New York city the fusion has twenty eight thousand. The State goes about fifty thousand majority for Lincoln. All six Union Congressmen are elected in the city. The following States have large increased majorities for Lincoln, viz: Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. In Pensylvania Lincoln’s plurality is between fifty and seventy thousand…

– Sonoma Democrat, November 15 1860


The Pony Express.— The Sacramento Union learns that Russell, Major & Co. had given orders to the Pony riders on the route that the Pony Express that left St. Joseph Nov. 8th, with the news of the Presidential election, must make the trip over the continent in seven days.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 29 1860



The “Pony Express” has become an “institution.” Very few, however, stop to think of its importance and character. It is nothing much to see a man or boy start off on horseback, but when we go to the extreme western border of civilization, and see a man striking off alone to form a line of communication through an unbroken wilderness of more than two thousand miles in extent, it amounts to the sublime — and this to be traversed in one week ! and surrounded with constant danger. But a curious fact is presented in this, which is, that the Pony Express is a quicker mode of carrying the mails than by steam. It takes from three to four days for the mail to go from Boston to St. Louis, by railroad about 1000 miles, with all the advantages of our admirable system of mailing, and all the aids of the highest civilization. These thoughts have been created by the following spicy extract from the correspondence of The St. Louis Republican, describing the journey of the pony:

“Bang, goes the signal gun, and away flies the express pony, with news for all nations lumbering at his back. But whither flies this furious rider on his nimble steed? It is no holiday scamper or gallop that this young Jehu is bent upon. His journey lies two thousand miles across a great continent, and beyond the rivers, plains and mountains that must be passed; a little world of civilization is waiting for the contents of his wallet. He and his successors must hurry on through every danger and difficulty, and bring the Atlantic and Pacific shores within a week of each other. No stop, no stay, no turning aside for rest, shelter or safety, but right forward. By sunlight, and moonlight, and starlight, and through the darkness of the midnight storms, he must still fly on and on toward the distant goal. Now skimming along over the emerald sea, now laboring through the sandy track, now plunging headlong into the swollen flood, now wending his way through the dark canon, or climbing the rocky stoop, and now picking his way through or around an ambuscade of murderous savages. No danger nor difficulty must check his speed or change his route, for the world is waiting for the news he shall fetch and carry. It is a noble enterprise, and as the Express hurries down the street and across the river, and I think of the toil and peril of the way, my heart says, ‘God speed to the boy and the pony!’”

– Sonoma Democrat, December 6 1860


The Pony Express arrived at Fort Churchill on the 10th, bringing St. Louis news to the 29th ult. We coliate the following, the most important items, from the Alta dispatch:

The papers are filled with rumors abouf the President’s message. All agree that it will take strong grounds against secession, both as a matter of right and propriety…

…Disunion is alarmingly on the increase. Many of the Northern Republican Journals urge the greatest concessions in order to allay the storm.

At a meeting, held at New Orleans on the 22d, an Association was organized to promote concert among the Southern States, and organize military companies throughout Louisiana, with a view to secession…

…A citizen’s meeting of all parties was held on the 26th, in Louisville. It passed resolutions to insist on the execution of the Fugitive Slave law and stay in the Union.

Several candidates for the South Carolina Convention repudiate the idea that any free State can join the Southern confederacy…

…It is said the Kansas troubles give the President much perplexity, and they will probably, still further increase the animosity of the Cotton States against the North…

– Sonoma County Journal, December 14 1860



With this number of the Democrat, our readers will find a supplement, containing that all-important paper, the Annual Message of the President of the United States…The Message was telegraphed from St. Louis to Fort Kearny, where it overtook the Pony Express. Its transmittal to the press of the State was effected in the short time of twelve days…

– Sonoma Democrat, December 27 1860


…The personal friends of the President say it is absolutely decided not to reinforce Fort Sumter, because sending more troops there would tend to produce irritation, and reinforcements are unnecessary…

– Sonoma Democrat, February 7 1861


The Pony Express, with St. Louis dates to February 2d, arrived at Fort Churchill Feb. 15th.

St. Louis, Feb. 2d.
…The condition of compromise is still under discussion in both branches of Congress, but no action has yet been had indicating the probable result, through [sic] chances of compromise are materially strengthened.

On Thursday Seward made another great speech, inculcating the idea of the Union being paramount to party and all other considerations, and denouncing at once secession or revolution, coercion or defiance, and speaking of war as the last resort and one to be deplored. He expressed the opinion that all the difficulties would be amicably settled, in which opinion Douglas concurred.

Mason insisted that Seward’s speech was one of battle, blood and destruction, which was replied to by Seward. Great interest is now attached to the Convention which is to assemble at Washington on Monday next, as most likely to afford a solution of the present embroglio.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 21 1861


The Pony Express furnishes us with St Louis dates to the 5th inst. Notwithstanding the “rumors” relative to the doings of the Secessionists, are strongly tinctured with “sensation,” we yet have a strong and abiding faith in the perpetuity of the Union, and will not abandon the hope that the difficulty will be brought to a close without resort to arms…

…The Mint and Customhouse at New Orleans, and the revenue-cutter Lewis Cass, at Mobile, have been seized by the State authorities without resistance. The matter was made the subject of a special meeting of the Cabinet. There was $350,000 in the Mint.

There are flying rumors, as yet unconfirmed, that there has been fighting at Pensacola; and that Fort Sumter had been reinforced, and attacked by the State forces of South Carolina…

…The Select Committee to-day examined John Forney, Clerk in the Interior Court at Baltimore, touching secret organizations in Maryland for the seizure of the Capital. He denied all knowledge, but asserted that if military companies from the North attempted to pass through Maryland to Washington, to attend the inauguration of Lincoln, they would be stopped…

– Sonoma County Journal, February 22 1861


THE LATEST. – The Pony has arrived with dates From Washington to the 23d of February. Lincoln had arrived safe in Washington. It was rumored, though not generally believed, that a plot was on foot to assassinate him in Baltimore; of which he was informed by Gen. Scott, who advised him to take a special train and pass through that city incog,–which he did, and arrived in Washington unannounced. This spoiled the reception which had been prepared…

…The Senate passed the bill suspending the mail service in the seceding States. Nothing has transpired in the South, since last dates.

– Petaluma Argus, March 12 1861



…The Southern Commissioners have addressed a communication to Seward, and the latter has asked time for consideration. The matter will probably be referred to the Senate; meanwhile everything at the South is quiet.

No important movements are reported…

..The Texas Legislature [?] has passed a resolution authorizing the transfer of State military to a Provisional Government.

The Georgia Convention has made a similar transfer of forts, arsenals, and arms….

…The Southern Congress has adopted a permanent Constitution. The President is to be elected for six years. The officers in the Cabinet during good behavior. Cabinet officers to be eligible to seats in Congress.

No difficulty is said to exist in obtaining the fifteen million loan…

– Petaluma Argus, April 2 1861



The following is a summary of news by Pony Express, to the 23d ult.:

Orders for the evacuation of Ft. Sumter, says the N. Y. Herald, were issued on the 16th March. — No California appointments have been made. — The announcement at Charleston, that Sumter was to be evacuated, produced the most intense excitement, and work was for a time suspended. — A report was in circulation that Baltimore sympathizes with ihe secession movement, and will be the first to offer resistance to the new federal authorities. It is determined to oppose to the last the appointment of Republicans to office at Baltimore. — Business has revived under the prospects of a settlement of the political disturbances. — It is feared that the tariff of the Southern Confederacy will considerably impair the importing and jobbing business of the North. — The President has refused to recognize the Southern Confederacy. — The N. Y. Tribune says that the War Department has received dispatches from Maj. Anderson, endorsed by all the officers of Fort Sumter, saying that the fort cannot be reinforced without 20,000 men…

– Sonoma Democrat, April 11 1861


…The Pony Express Company, have appointed Wells, Fargo & Co. their agents, and reduced the postage on letters to $2 per half ounce; $380 worth went off on Saturday. This arrangement will continue until July; but if these low rates heap many more letters on the poor ponies they will be disposed to say neigh to any further reduction.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 18 1861



St. Louis, April 22.

…The war feeling in Canada is aroused. Six hundred men from Quebec and Montreal are coming to Boston to enlist in the U. S. service.

Lieut. Jones, Commandant at Harper’s Ferry, hearing that 1500 Virginia troops were marching against him, set fire to the arsenal building and burned it all up.

At Richmond, several Northern men were threatened, and had a narrow escape from hanging.

Commodore Pauldin says that the Gosport Navy Yard can be held against ten thousand men.

There has been a great riot at Baltimore.

The Massachusetts regiments in their attempt to pass through on their way to Washington, were attacked by a mob, who threw stones and discharged pistols at them.

The soldiers fired on the Mob, killing several.

Three soldiers were killed, and several were wounded. The mob increased.

The Mayor tried to stop the riot.

After several hours fighting the mob dispersed.

Military Law has been proclaimed.

The citizens of Baltimore and vicinity have destroyed the bridges and railroads.

The Evening Post learns that Jeff. Davis, at the head of the Confederated Army, was marching on Washington.

There is great activity in the North in consequence. More new companies were being raised.

Washington was filling up with soldiers….

– Petaluma Argus, May 7 1861


…The Southern Congress is still in session. The news is unimportant…

…Dispatches from Charleston say that butter is selling at 75 cents per pound, no ham or bacon in the market, and cattle suffering for hay.

It is said that Southern troops are better provided with knives, dirks and revolvers than are the Northern troops, and feel confident of success.

Troops at Richmond have not been paid off, and flour ten dollars per barrel and pork fifty dollars per barrel.

Virginia and Carolina bonds are worth twenty cents on the dollar.

The other day at Lodi, Illinois, a woman cut off the two fore-fingers of her husband while he was asleep, to keep him from enlisting. This disables him by law.

Jeff. Davis, in his late message, confesses that only $8,000,000 of the $15,000,000 loan were subscribed…

– Sonoma County Journal, May 31 1861


New York, May 28.

…Three more prizes, laden with tobacco, arrived here yesterday.

Alexandria is strongly fortified by Unionists.

New York banks hold $10,000,000 in specie belonging to Southern capitalists.

No further invasion of Virginia will take place at present.

Since the blockade of Southern ports, business in the North has greatly revived.

Prospects of a speedy peace are good.

Gen. Butler has Declared negroes belonging to Secessionists, to be contraband of war. Slaves belonging to Union men, if escaped, will be returned…

– Petaluma Argus, June 18 1861


IMPORTANT. — The publisher of the Democrat takes pleasure in announcing, that he will soon have arrangements perfected for the receiving of Eastern news, which will enable him to publish it in an extra Democrat from twenty-four to forty-eight hours in advance of the San Francisco papers. The news will be telegraphed from San Francisco to Napa, and from thence brought to us at Santa Rosa, via Petaluma, by Pony Express. As may be supposed it will be a heavy expense to us. Consequently we shall not be able to furnish the extra to the subscribers of the Democrat gratis. They will be forwarded to our agents in the principal towns, of whom they can be obtained at a fair price, and whose names will be announced in due time.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 20 1861



THE JOURNAL EXTRAS. – At a few minutes after 7 o’clock last Sunday morning, our citizens were aroused from their lethargy by the appearance of the news boys in the streets, crying “‘Ere’s the Journal Extra! Arrival of the Pony! Death of Senator Douglas!” etc. At first a few appeared to question the genuineness of the reported news, from the fact that heretofore the earliest hour of the news by Saturday’s Pony reaching Petaluma had been Sunday evening, – that being the regular time for the appearance of the extras which have been published in this city for a few weeks past. These doubts, however, were quickly dispelled when it became known that the news had been telegraphed from San Francisco (immediately upon its publication there,) to Napa, expressly for the Journal, and thence dispatched by a Pony Express to Petaluma. By this arrangement we succeeded in placing the Pony news before the public from eight to ten hours earlier than would otherwise have been the case, and from thirty-five to thirty-six hours ahead of the San Francisco papers…

– Sonoma County Journal, June 21 1861



[Special dispatch to the Democrat by Telegraph from San Francisco to Napa, and thence, via Petaluma to Santa Rosa by Pony Express.]

The following is the news from the East to the 13th: Government is in possession of many letters from Northern men to Southerners, showing there are yet many traitors in the North.

Marshal Beauford says there are 40,000 Secessionists in Baltimore waiting for a favorable opportunity to rise. The Tribune’s dispatch says Gov. Hicks has warned the Government of the peril menacing their Capital from his State, and requesting that a force be sent to Frederick City, and the reinforcement of the regiments at Baltimore.

Gen. Mansfield received information that the Michigan regiment was fired at in Baltimore. An officer has been sent there to investigate the affair…

…From the best reliable sources, it is believed that the entire secession forces in Virginia do not exceed 50,000 or 60,000 men. It is reported that serious hostilities are threatened at Kansas City, Mo. Both parties are calling forth large forces in that neighborhood…Every man in Virginia from 16 to 60 years old is obliged to be in the Confederate army.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 27 1861


Last Opportunity!

As the readers of the Democrat are aware, the publisher has been maturing arrangements of late, to inform the people of this portion of the county of the latest Eastern news in advance of the ordinary method, and has been so far successful, that it has been put forth to them in EXTRA DEMOCRATS, two days in advance thereof. To liquidate the heavy expense the plan involves he has depended principally upon the sale of copies to the few who were disposed to purchase. He has learned by experience, that their name is not legion, aa there are many who will not buy, but prefer to “sponge” — to use a common expression — off those who do. The enterprise cannot be sustained in this way. He therefore proposes to adopt the subscription system. Those living at Santa Rosa, who desire the EXTRA, can have it left at their residences or places of business for FIFTY CENTS PER WEEK, by leaving their names at the office of publication; those living elsewhere, on the same terms, through the agents announced last week, on leaving their names with them. To liquidate the expenses of the enterprise (all that we ask for,) at least sixty subscribers are necessary. Shall we have them at once, or shall we [be] compelled to abandon the enterprise? This is the first and last appeal. Those out of town who prefer to do so, (including Mendocino county,) can send their names to the office of publication, and the EXTRA will be forwarded by first conveyance.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 4 1861


NO MORE EXTRAS. — The last DEMOCRAT EXTRA, under the new arrangement, was issued on Sunday morning last. The expense that it involved – about thirty dollars per week — was too heavy to be borne, in view of the meagre patronage the enterprise received…

– Sonoma Democrat, July 18 1861


…Since the delivery of secession speeches in Congress, traitors are growing bolder, and treason is uttered on the streets openly…

– Petaluma Argus, July 30 1861



…A battle took place at the Cross Lanes near Summerville, on the 26th, which proves to have been a bloody affair. Col. Tyler’s 7th Ohio was attacked on both flank and in front, at the same time, while breakfasting. Our troops immediately formed and the battle was fought bravely. They saw little chance of success; the enemy was too powerful. Our forces scattered after they had cut their way through, but soon formed again, fired, and received no reply or pursuit. The rebel force was 3,000 infantry, 400 cavalry, and ten guns. Nine hundred of ours were engaged, 300 of whom are missing. Enemy’s colors and two prisoners were captured.

The Secretary of War has ordered the stoppage of all telegraphic dispatches to points south of Kentucky.

Mr. Adams, our Minister to England, writes that the independence of the rebels is fully admitted, as a military and political necessity; that their acknowledgement by England is but a question of time, prudence and courtesy. While England is impatient to get cotton from the South, in exchange for manufactured articles, she is anxious not to lose the Northern market, and is unwilling to part with the hope of breaking down the Morrill tariff; and that two or three more successes like Bull Run would entitle the Confederacy to immediate recognition.

The Washington Republican expresses belief that a battle across the Potomac cannot be avoided many days larger…

– Sonoma Democrat, September 12 1861


Washington, Sep. 7. The rebel out posts are now but 5 miles distant from the President’s house, and 3 miles from Arlington Heights.

At daylight this morning, a relief guard of federal troops was fired upon by a considerable body of the enemy, near Hunter’s Chapel, on the Virginia side of the Potomac.

At sunrise two companies of our troops were sent out to reconnoitre, and discovered that the rebels had taken position at Bailey’s Cross Roads, and had thrown forward two regiments during the night. These regiments are now posted along the little creek in a wood, near Hunter’s Chapel.

The enemy’s force on Munson’s Hill is busily engaged in drilling, and occasionally shots are fired from the hill at the Federal pickets…

– Petaluma Argus, September 24 1861


THE PONY EXPRESS. — The Pony Express has been discontinued.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 31 1861


Wells, Fargo & Co. have received orders from the East to stop the Pony Express.

– Sonoma County Journal, November 1 1861


PONY EXPRESS. — The representatives of this coast in Congress, it is said, will endeavor to restore the Pony Express, It is hoped that they will be successful.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 19 1861


The Alta learns that a united effort will be made by the whole of the Representatives from this coast in Congress, together with the Western members, for the re-establishment of the Pony Express.

– Sonoma County Journal, December 20 1861



How the Mails Were Carried Across the Continent a Few Years Ago.
A $80,000 Bet Staked on the Result of the First Trip Across the Desert.

Chicago Times.
Mr. A. B. Miller, the prime mover, the man who prepared the way and kept it in running order from the Missouri to the Pacific, is now a resident of this city, and his hair is only streaked with gray, so fast do things change in the west, In an early day the firm of Russell, Majors, Waddel & Co. were among the largest contractors in the United States, their business sometimes amount to $6,000,000 annually. Mr. Miller was the “Co,” the youngest member of the firm, and in a great measure the life of it. Mails were very irregular, the stage lines taking a weekly mail bag which was sometimes lost – in fact was extremely fortunate to get through. This was conducted at a tremendous cost. There was great rivalry between the stage and ocean lines, the latter struggling for contracts for taking the mails from New York by steamer to the Isthmus, across this, and again by steamer up the western coast. The mall which went overland went by the northern rout through New Mexico and Arizona. The contracting firm above mentioned had the control of the central route by Kearney, Julesburg, Fort Laramie, and Salt Lake. People insisted that this route was impracticable, and the idea of a daily mail over it was pooh-poohed most vigorously. Mr. Miller persuaded his more conservative partners that such a mail could be carried. From this idea grew the pony express, the fame of which was soon world wide. He was given two months, February and March, 1861, to equip the line with stock and stations, whloh he did at a cost of $80,000. It was thought that the line would support itaelf, so the proprietors expected not to be out more than the original investment. It could hardly be said that it did pay, but it demonstrated what could be done, and encouraged the railroad and the wire to follow in its wake. Previous to this time there bad been limited express lines of the kind, but nothing on so gigantic a scale Mr. Miller had been over the route enough to know what had been done. He said that Salt Lake could be reached from St. Joe in ten days and the coast in five days more.

On April 3 the ponies were started from each end of the line. By this time the confidence of Miller had proved infectious and Russell was just as confident. The New York Steamer company were confident, too, but not in the same way. So a bet was made. It was a pretty good-sized bet, being for $50,000 a side.

The race began and was watched with breathless interest. Station after station was passed. Yhe pony from the ocean and the pony from the valley panted toward each other with the hundreds of miles between them, melting away. At each station there was another horse saddled and rider ready spurred. The mall bag was tossed from one to the other and on sped like the wind the fresh horse and the rider. One boy on this first trip was lost in a canyon of snow. For four precious hours he wandered. Then he started on with desperate vigor. Another was lost in the Platte; the horse he rode was drowned. But the rider swam out with his mall and footed it to the next station. Here his relief was waiting, and the flight was taken up again. Would the rider and the horses with their daring and energy win? Would the accident and the strangeness of the trial make them lose? No one could tell. The days passed. The ponies neared each other, they passed, the riders gave a wild hurrah. On and on; whip and spur. Ten days are gone and the ponies have kept up to the mark. Fifteen. At 4 o’clock the westward bound must be in Sacramento. The noon has passed, and the minutes are being counted. Half-past 3. Will the brave rider be on hand? As yet there is no sign. With only thirty minutes to spare Russell want to double his bet. Then a cloud of dust is seen, it grows to a speck. The rider waves his hat. The people shout. The pony express has crossed the great American desert. Victory! There is still twenty minutes grace.

This speed was always kept up just as if there were $50,000 at stake daily. It was the same for months. Then the complications of the war turned everything upside down. The riders went to do battle, the stations were abandoned, contracts went to other hands, and grass grew over the trail. But soon the stage used it and the telegraph line was not far behind, while those who have rushed across the plains by steam know what followed these innovations.

The riders of the pony express were all young wiry fellows, whose very love of excitement and danger had brought them to the frontier. In this occupation they had their fill. The individual adventures would fill a volume. The life, with its exposure and hardship, was a wearing one. What has become of the riders now is a question. Many of them have followed the frontier and will stay on its fore until they died. Many are dead already. One, named Murray, recently died in Salt Lake. From the stripling of the ’60s he came to weigh 220 pounds. He made quite a reputation as a desperate character. As one who knew him said, “he got too big to ride a pony, but had a good build for holding up stages.” One of the most daring of the crowd rode into Salt Lake from eighty miles this side, through the wildest part of the route. It was a hard task, but the lad was equal to it, doing the work of about four men. He afterward joined the Confederate army, and died on a southern battle field.

These riders were of a class similar to the cowboys of the present day, ready for a fight or a frolic, and entering either with the determination to make the most of it. They were loyal to each other and their friends. There was only one mall lost by them, and that happened to be of little value. It was lost in Egan’s canyon, when the rider in charge was attacked by Indians, his horse killed, and he himself wounded. The company tried to get the government to punish the Indians for this, but there was another matter for Uncle Sam to attend to just then. So Miller took seventy-five men, went out and killed a few of the playful savages, and found that they kept out of the way very nicely forever after. The charges for carrying letters were $5 per ounce or fraction thereof. This was afterward reduced to half the amount, and then a sort of paper known as “Pony Express” was invented, its best point being that it weighed almost nothing. The contents of an eight-page paper could be written upon it and sent for $2.50.

The income of the concern while running averaged $500 par day. Some very valuable documents were carried, and in every case arrived in good order. England was at that time having a little argument with China. Reports from the English squadron in Chinese waters to the home government were carried by this route, it being the quickest and safest. One of these official papers weighed so much that the charges upon it were $135.

– Daily Democrat, September 10 1883

[Editor’s note: Most of this was reprinted without credit in the September 15 1890 Alta California]


  1. Something I wasn’t aware of, but recently came across while researching a family member: Politicians at the start of the Civil War began raising volunteer troops in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call to arms to force the return of the Confederate States of America to the Union. Owing to political divisions at the time of the Civil War and to the limited transportation facilities for moving troops great distances, the Lincoln administration did not request California troops for Eastern battlefields but instead called for volunteers to replace regular troops stationed at western garrisons. In the late summer of 1862, a small number of men in California who had been raised in the East decided to enlist in the army, but wanted to serve in the Eastern Theater. They contacted Governor John Andrew of Massachusetts in the late summer of 1862 and offered to raise a company of 100 cavalrymen to serve in a state regiment. Andrews agreed on the condition the Californians would provide their own uniforms and equipment and pay for their own passage to Boston.
    The so-called “California Hundred” was organized in San Francisco on December 10, 1862, and took a ship to the East Coast, arriving at Camp Meigs in Readville, Massachusetts, on January 4, 1863.They were designated as Company A, and soon were joined by seven companies of Massachusetts. The next year, 400 more men from California joined their ranks. The regiment lost during its service 8 officers and 82 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded, and 3 officers and 138 enlisted men by disease for a total of 231. Of the original California Hundred’s 3 officers and 101 enlisted men, 40 were present the day the company disbanded. Source: Wikipedia

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