Title: Riders of the Pony Express
Author: Ralph Moody
Major Themes: American West, Pony Express
Synopsis: Was it really possible to get mail through from Missouri to California in ten days—and how could it be done?
One of our all-time favorite series was Ralph Moody’s Little Britches books. These tell the wonderful story of a boy growing up out West, and then trying to fit into life in New England. Ralph also wrote some other books. About 30 years ago, I found Riders of the Pony Express in a library I visited, and it was the best one I ever found on that subject. I looked for it again a few years later in the same library, but couldn’t find it. Imagine my delight to find it recently in an online library! I read it aloud to the children, and they enjoyed it as much as I did.
The Pony Express was founded to tie the United States together, on the eve of the Civil War. California was teetering on the brink of joining the Confederacy, and the North didn’t want that to happen. However, they had to have a quick way to get news back and forth. William Russell had a plan. He believed he could get the mail through in 10 days, from Sacramento, California to St. Joseph, Missouri. Though he was laughed at, he and his partners went ahead with their plans, and built relay stations across the country along the route they believed would be the fastest. They hired small, tough young men, and bought fast horses. On April 3, 1860, riders set out from both ends. Where would they meet? Which team would go farther, faster?
The riders from the western end of the route faced a blizzard as they went across the mountains. These determined men got through ahead of schedule—but could the rest of their team keep up the pace? The riders who were carrying mail from the east had challenges, too; an unusual storm brought rain and mud all along their route. When some got behind schedule, could others make up for the lost time? Which team would reach the halfway point first? The chapters switch back and forth between the eastbound riders and the westbound riders, with each chapter describing the rides of several of the boys and their adventures (or misadventures!).
After the description of the first run, the last few chapters describe some of the more famous riders and their rides. Most of these stories took place in Nevada, where the Paiute Indians were ambushing the Pony Express riders, so these chapters are the most gruesome in the whole book. We enjoyed the first part of Riders of the Pony Express much more!
Ralph Moody has certainly not glorified or romanticized the Pony Express in his book. He told the story the way it really was. The riders faced many dangers, from Indians, the weather, and the terrain, and all of these dangers are described. We really enjoyed the book, though. Ralph did a great job of telling the story of the first ride as an adventure and a mystery. I still consider this the best book I have read about the Pony Express!
WARNING: Chapter 1: Well, I’ll be dogged. Chapter 10: what in tarnation. Chapter 11: doggone, durned bighead. Chapter 13: several fights with Indians are described. Chapter 14: a man is shot and killed. Chapter 16: a man is badly wounded by Indians.
Listening Level—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12, Family Friendly
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12, 12 – 15