Monday, February 29, 2016

The Pony Express

"You will raise your arm to a level square and repeat after me. I... do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God, that during my engagement... I will, under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will drink no intoxicating liquors, that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers, so help me God."

With that oath, many rugged young men joined the Pony Expres during its short life from April, 1860 to October, 1861. Alexander Majors from Golden Square Lodge 107 in Westport, Missouri, founded the organization along with Brother William H. Russell (Lexington Lodge 149). Majors was the author of the oath, which, not surprisingly, had Masonic undertones. Although short-lived, it was an organization that quickly became part of the fabric, folklore and history of the United States.

In its day, the Pony Express offered the promise of untold adventure. To the general population its young riders were in many respects the equivalent of today's rock stars. Riders garnered fame, if not fortune as well as the favor of young girls. (One doubtful legend attributes the invention of the donut to a young girl who made pastries with a hole so a rider could scoop them up on a finger as he whizzed by).

It's understandable then how an energetic young man, even a kid, of that day would want to join the Pony Express. Given the burden on the horses, Russell and Majors were more concerned with weight than with age. Unfettered by today's child labor laws, they hired some very young riders, all anxious to join this elite group.

One of those young riders was a kid who would grow up to become famous in his own right. William Frederick Cody was born February 26, 1846 in Iowa territory. Only 14 years old when he became a Pony Express rider, William grew up to be known by a more familiar name, Buffalo Bill. Cody had worked as a courier for Russell and Majors from the time he was ten and parlayed that into a job as a rider when they started the Pony Express. His ride ran 116 miles from Red Buttes to the Three Crossings Station in Nebraska.

A born showman, Cody certainly did noting to subdue wild stories of his exploits as a rider. In later life as he wrote of his adventures, he claimed skirmishes with Native Americans, and other harrowing adventures, including an assertion that he held the record for the longest single-day ride ever. Historians estimate that ride at about 300 miles, an arduous day in the saddle for anyone.

Cody, a member of Platte Valley Lodge 32 in Nebraska, went on to serve as a general in the Nebraska national guard. He received the Medal of Honor for gallantry as a scout to the US army, served in the Nebraska legislature, fought at the Battle of Wounded Knee and was president of the Shoshone Irrigation Company. A staunch abolitionist, Cody was years ahead of his time as a proponent for Native American and women's rights. He eventaully became a performer traveling the world with his wild west show; and it all started with the Pony Express.

Lasting only a year and a half, the lifespan of the Pony express is little more than a blip on the expanse of United States history. Yet its legend lives on as testament to good old Yankee ingenuity... with a strong Masonic connection.

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