weather icon Clear

‘Pony Bob’ among best of Pony Express riders

“Pony Bob” Haslam, we couldn’t forget you if we tried.

Given the romance that Americans have enjoyed with the Pony Express era, you’d be forgiven for thinking those courageous riders were in the saddle for decades instead of just 18 months from April 1860 to October 1861.

Amazon lists 3,895 results for books, movies and other media with “Pony Express” in the title. A Google search instantly retrieves 4.9 million results. American history text books have traditionally reserved generous space for the exploits of Pony Express riders, who braved weather and warring Indians in an effort to move the mail from St. Joseph, Mo., to Sacramento, in a route that cut across northern Nevada.

“While the name of the Pony Express is well known to Americans, its full story is not,” Joseph J. Di Certo wrote in “The Saga of the Pony Express.”

Of the many tales from the trail recounted in shelves of books, the amazing rides across Nevada by a wiry young Englishman named Robert Haslam remain among the most remarkable feats.

Born in January 1840 in London, Haslam was known as “Pony Bob.” As a teen-ager he accompanied his family to America. Although he’s often mentioned in Pony Express histories, what remains unclear is how he gained the horsemanship it took to join the army of young riders.

The arrival of the Pony Express in Nevada coincided with increasingly heated tensions between the Northern Paiute tribe and the endless wave of settlers from the East. When the Indian war broke out, Pony Bob found himself riding right into trouble.

Haslam’s route took him from Friday’s Station at the Nevada-California border to Buckland’s Station 75 miles away near Fort Churchill, which can be found on the map today near Silver Springs in Lyon County.

The route was riddled with incidents of violence. Paiute braves commonly attacked Pony Express stations, which were spaced approximately 15 miles apart and outfitted with fresh horses.

Although he made longer rides, he once traveled 120 miles on horseback in eight hours and completed his journey despite suffering a wound from a Paiute arrow. In his pouch, which the riders called a mochila, he carried a copy of President Lincoln’s inaugural address.

Not long after, a series of tragic events manifested in Haslam riding 380 miles in just under 40 hours in the saddle without a break. After one station burned by the warring Paiute, the horses were stolen from another, and another rider refused to point his pony into hostile country, Haslam took it upon himself to keep mail moving.

Years later, Haslam recalled the feat in an understated manner.

“I was rather tired,” he said, “but the excitement of the trip had braced me up to stand the journey.”

“Pony Bob’s matter-of-fact attitude was not mere bravado; it stemmed from his extraordinary riding ability and stamina,” Di Certo wrote. “He was the natural choice to deliver crucial messages in record time.”

Haslam helped deliver news of Abraham Lincoln’s election as President, riding into Fort Churchill with shouts of “Lincoln is elected! Lincoln is elected!”

The Pony Express, which delivered letters at a rate of $1 per half ounce, lost money from the start for the Russell, Majors &Waddell freighting company. But it also made history.

The completion of the transcontinental telegraph in October 1861 spelled the end of the Pony Express, whose owners announced they were ceasing operation on Oct. 26.

But Haslam wasn’t through on horseback. He went to work for Wells, Fargo &Co. as a rider and stage driver in California, Nevada, and Idaho. In Salt Lake City, he worked as a deputy U.S. Marshall and later scouted for the U.S. Army.

His adventurous trail eventually took him to Chicago, where he spent his final years as an employee of the Hotel Congress, where a variety of sources report him entertaining guests with his adventures as a Pony Express rider.

After suffering a stroke, Haslam died in obscurity on Feb. 29, 1912 in Chicago.

Another man would have been gone and forgotten, but not Pony Bob.

His name is spoken often when the short-lived but lively history of the Pony Express is mentioned.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-383-0295 or at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Jim Hartman: President Trump is a ‘Tariff Man’

The largest economic fear from President Donald Trump’s election was whether his trade obsession and protectionist impulses would overwhelm the benefits of tax reform and deregulation. His proclaiming himself a “Tariff Man” last December should heighten those concerns.

Randi Thompson: Single-payer health care will hurt rural Nevada

Congress is still considering a variety of health care overhauls that will impact the kind of medical care you will receive, and how much it will cost you.

Tim Burke: Reflecting on dads as Father’s Day nears

Being a father is a gift that not everyone gets to experience but for those of us who are lucky enough to be a dad, the role comes with a lot of responsibility in raising children. Moms rule the house and make everything work as a family unit, but dads play an important role in teaching their children how to become good adults.

Dennis Myers: Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak cast a veto against the founders

In his veto of Assembly Bill 186, Gov. Steve Sisolak argues that he is speaking for the founding fathers (they were all men) in their cutting and splicing of the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan at the constitutional convention when they were trying to placate not the small states but the slave states, most of which happened to be the small ones.

Tim Burke: Showing pride for newest graduates, reflecting on history

Life for this year’s Pahrump Valley High School graduating senior class will have quite a different immediate future in front of them than did those who were graduating during World War II.