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IN a little while all interest was taken up in stretching our
necks and watching for the “pony-rider”—the fleet messenger
who sped across the continent from St. Joe to Sacramento,
carrying letters nineteen hundred miles in eight days!
Think of that for perishable horse and human flesh and blood
to do! The pony-rider was usually a little bit of a man, brimful
of spirit and endurance. No matter what time of the
day or night his watch came on, and no matter whether it was
winter or summer, raining, snowing, hailing, or sleeting, or
whether his “beat” was a level straight road or a crazy trail
over mountain crags and precipices, or whether it led through
peaceful regions or regions that swarmed with hostile Indians,
he must be always ready to leap into the saddle and be off like
the wind! There was no idling-time for a pony-rider on
duty. He rode fifty miles without stopping, by daylight,
moonlight, starlight, or through the blackness of darkness—
just as it happened. He rode a splendid horse that was born
for a racer and fed and lodged like a gentleman; kept him
at his utmost speed for ten miles, and then, as he came crashing
up to the station where stood two men holding fast a fresh,
impatient steed, the transfer of rider and mail-bag was made
in the twinkling of an eye, and away flew the eager pair and
were out of sight before the spectator could get hardly the
ghost of a look. Both rider and horse went “flying light.”
The rider's dress was thin, and fitted close; he wore a “roundabout,”
and a skull-cap, and tucked his pantaloons into his


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boot-tops like a race-rider. He carried no arms—he carried
nothing that was not absolutely necessary, for even the postage
on his literary freight was worth five dollars a letter. He
got but little frivolous
to carry — his bag
had business letters
in it, mostly. His
horse was stripped
of all unnecessary
weight, too. He
wore a little wafer of a racing-saddle,
and no visible blanket. He
wore light shoes, or none at all.
The little flat mail-pockets strapped
under the rider's thighs would each hold about the bulk
of a child's primer. They held many and many an important
business chapter and newspaper letter, but these were written
on paper as airy and thin as gold-leaf, nearly, and thus bulk
and weight were economized. The stage-coach traveled about
a hundred to a hundred and twenty-five miles a day (twenty-four
hours), the pony-rider about two hundred and fifty. There
were about eighty pony-riders in the saddle all the time, night
and day, stretching in a long, scattering procession from Missouri
to California, forty flying eastward, and forty toward the
west, and among them making four hundred gallant horses
earn a stirring livelihood and see a deal of scenery every single
day in the year.

We had had a consuming desire, from the beginning, to
see a pony-rider, but somehow or other all that passed us and
all that met us managed to streak by in the night, and so we
heard only a whiz and a hail, and the swift phantom of the
desert was gone before we could get our heads out of the windows.
But now we were expecting one along every moment,
and would see him in broad daylight. Presently the driver

Here he comes!”

Every neck is stretched further, and every eye strained


Page 72


[Description: 504EAF. Page 072. In-line image of a man switching from one horse to another at a horse post. They are in front of a straw house.]
wider. Away across the endless dead level of the prairie a
black speck appears against the sky, and it is plain that it moves.
Well, I should think so! In a second or two it becomes a horse
and rider, rising
and falling, rising
and falling—
sweeping toward
us nearer and nearer—growing
and more distinct,
more and more
sharply defined—
nearer and still
nearer, and the
flutter of the hoofs
comes faintly to the ear—another instant a whoop and a hurrah
from our upper deck, a wave of the rider's hand, but no
reply, and man and horse burst past our excited faces, and
go winging away like a belated fragment of a storm!

So sudden is it all, and so like a flash of unreal fancy, that
but for the flake of white foam left quivering and perishing on
a mail-sack after the vision had flashed by and disappeared, we
might have doubted whether we had seen any actual horse and
man at all, maybe.

We rattled through Scott's Bluffs Pass, by and by. It was
along here somewhere that we first came across genuine and
unmistakable alkali water in the road, and we cordially hailed
it as a first-class curiosity, and a thing to be mentioned with
eclat in letters to the ignorant at home. This water gave the
road a soapy appearance, and in many places the ground looked
as if it had been whitewashed. I think the strange alkali
water excited us as much as any wonder we had come upon
yet, and I know we felt very complacent and conceited, and
better satisfied with life after we had added it to our list of
things which we had seen and some other people had not. In
a small way we were the same sort of simpletons as those who
climb unnecessarily the perilous peaks of Mont Blanc and


Page 73


[Description: 504EAF. Page 073. In-line image of a man falling down a hill surrounded by lots of debris.]
the Matterhorn, and derive no pleasure from it except the reflection
that it isn't a common experience. But once in a
while one of those parties trips and comes darting down the
long mountain-crags in a sitting posture, making the crusted
snow smoke behind him, flitting from bench to bench, and
from terrace to terrace, jarring the earth where he strikes, and
still glancing and flitting on again, sticking an iceberg into
himself every now and then, and tearing his clothes, snatching
at things to save himself, taking hold of trees and fetching
them along with him, roots and all, starting little rocks now
and then, then big boulders, then acres of ice and snow and
patches of forest, gathering
and still gathering
as he goes,
adding and still adding
to his massed and
sweeping grandeur as
he nears a three thousand-foot
till at last he waves
his hat magnificently
and rides into eternity
on the back of a
raging and tossing

This is all very
fine, but let us not be
carried away by excitement, but ask calmly, how does this person
feel about it in his cooler moments next day, with six or
seven thousand feet of snow and stuff on top of him?

We crossed the sand hills near the scene of the Indian
mail robbery and massacre of 1856, wherein the driver and
conductor perished, and also all the passengers but one, it was
supposed; but this must have been a mistake, for at different
times afterward on the Pacific coast I was personally acquainted
with a hundred and thirty-three or four people who
were wounded during that massacre, and barely escaped with


Page 74
their lives. There was no doubt of the truth of it—I had it
from their own lips. One of these parties told me that he
kept coming across arrow-heads in his system for nearly seven
years after the massacre; and another of them told me that he
was stuck so literally full of arrows that after the Indians
were gone and he could raise up and examine himself, he
could not restrain his tears, for his clothes were completely

The most trustworthy tradition avers, however, that only
one man, a person named Babbitt, survived the massacre, and
he was desperately wounded. He dragged himself on his
hands and knee (for one leg was broken) to a station several
miles away. He did it during portions of two nights, lying
concealed one day and part of another, and for more than
forty hours suffering unimaginable anguish from hunger, thirst
and bodily pain. The Indians robbed the coach of everything
it contained, including quite an amount of treasure.