Pony Express debuts On this day in 1860, the first Pony Express mail, traveling by horse and rider relay teams, simultaneously leaves St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. Ten days later, on April 13, the westbound rider and mail packet completed the approximately 1,800-mile journey and arrived in Sacramento, beating the eastbound packet’s arrival in St. Joseph by two days and setting a new standard for speedy mail delivery. Although ultimately short-lived and unprofitable, the Pony Express captivated America’s imagination and helped win federal aid for a more economical overland postal system. It also contributed to the economy of the towns on its route and served the mail-service needs of the American West in the days before the telegraph or an efficient transcontinental railroad. The Pony Express debuted at a time before radios and telephones, when California, which achieved statehood in 1850, was still largely cut off from the eastern part of the country. Letters sent from New York to the West Coast traveled by ship, which typically took at least a month, or by stagecoach on the recently established Butterfield Express overland route, which could take from three weeks to many months to arrive. Compared to the snail’s pace of the existing delivery methods, the Pony Express’ average delivery time of 10 days seemed like lightning speed. The Pony Express Company, the brainchild of William H. Russell, William Bradford Waddell and Alexander Majors, owners of a freight business, was set up over 150 relay stations along a pioneer trail across the present-day states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. Riders, who were paid approximately $25 per week and carried loads estimated at up to 20 pounds of mail, were changed every 75 to 100 miles, with horses switched out every 10 to 15 miles. Among the riders was the legendary frontiersman and showman William “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846-1917), who reportedly signed on with the Pony Express at age 14. The company’s riders set their fastest time with Lincoln’s inaugural address, which was delivered in just less than eight days. The initial cost of Pony Express delivery was $5 for every half-ounce of mail. The company began as a private enterprise and its owners hoped to gain a profitable delivery contract from the U.S. government, but that never happened. With the advent of the first transcontinental telegraph line in October 1861, the Pony Express ceased operations. However, the legend of the lone Pony Express rider galloping across the Old West frontier to deliver the mail lives on today. 1882 Jesse James shot in the back Jesse James, one of America’s most notorious outlaws, is shot to death by Robert Ford, a member of his gang who hoped to collect the bounty on Jesse’s head. Jesse James, born in Clay County, Missouri, in 1847, joined a Confederate guerrilla band led by William Quantrill at the age of 15. Quantrill’s guerrillas, which included several future members of the James Gang, terrorized Kansasand Missouri during the Civil War and in August 1863 massacred civilians during a brutal raid on Lawrence, Kansas, an abolitionist town. After the war’s end in 1865, Jesse, his brother Frank, and brothers Cole, James, and Robert Younger decided to team up and use their military raiding skills for armed robbery. In February 1866, 18-year-old Jesse planned their first target: a bank in Liberty, Missouri. On February 13, Frank James led a group of about a dozen men, including Cole Younger and other former Confederate guerrillas, in the first recorded daylight bank robbery in the United States. They left the bank with $60,000 in gold and silver coins, paper money, and government securities. Jesse did not participate in the actual robbery, but he later became the leader of the James Gang, which was eventually reduced to the core unit of James, his brother, and the three Younger brothers. During the next 16 years, the James Gang became America’s most notorious outlaws, robbing banks, trains, stagecoaches, stores, and individuals of a total of about $300,000. The beginning of their downfall came in 1876, when, after killing two people and failing to secure any money in an attempted bank robbery at Northfield, Minnesota, the Younger brothers and several other key members of their gang were captured. The James brothers escaped and did not rob another train until 1880, the same year that Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden offered a reward for the capture of the James brothers, dead or alive. James Gang member Robert Ford chose the former, and on April 3, 1882, he shot Jesse James dead. Frank James subsequently surrendered and in trials was twice acquitted, eventually dying of old age on his farm near Excelsior Springs, Missouri. 1817 Texas Ranger “Big Foot” Wallace born The legendary Texas Ranger and frontiersman “Big Foot” Wallace is born in Lexington, Kentucky. In 1836, 19-year-old William Alexander Anderson Wallace received news that one of his brothers had been killed in the Battle of Goliad, an early confrontation in the Texan war of independence with Mexico. Pledging to “take pay of the Mexicans” for his brother’s death, Wallace left Lexington and headed for Texas. By the time he arrived, the war was over, but Wallace found he liked the spirited independence of the new Republic of Texas and decided to stay. Over six feet tall and weighing around 240 pounds, Wallace’s physique made him an intimidating man, and his unusually large feet won him the nickname “Big Foot.” In 1842, he finally had a chance to fight Mexicans and joined with other Texans to repulse an invasion by the Mexican General Adrian Woll. During another skirmish with Mexicans, Wallace was captured and endured two years of hard time in the notoriously brutal Perote Prison in Vera Cruz before finally being released in 1844. After returning to Texas, Wallace decided to abandon the formal Texan military force for the less rigid organization of the Texas Rangers. Part law-enforcement officers and part soldiers, the Texas Rangers fought both bandits and Indians in the vast, sparsely populated reaches of the Texan frontier. Williams served under Ranger John Coffee Hays until the start of the Civil Warin 1861. Opposed to secession but unwilling to fight against his own people, Williams spent most of the war defending Texas against Indian attacks along the frontier. During his many years in the wilds of Texas, Wallace had hundreds of adventures. Once, Indians attacked Wallace while he was working as a stage driver on the hazardous San Antonio-El Paso route. He escaped with his life but the Indians stole his mules, leaving him stranded in the Texas desert. Forced to walk to El Paso, Wallace later claimed he ate 27 eggs at the first house he encountered after his long journey, then he went into town to have a “real meal.” In his later years, Wallace decided he had enough of life as a fighter and adventurer. In exchange for his loyal service, the state of Texas granted him land along the Medina River and in Frio County in the southern part of the state. Always happy to regale listeners with highly embellished tales of his frontier days, Wallace became a contemporary folk hero to the people of Texas. As one of his admirers concluded, Wallace was the perfect symbol of “old-timey free days, free ways, and free land.” Wallace died in 1899 and is buried in the Texas State Cemetery.