In early winter of 1850, three business partners, William H. Russell, Alexander Majors and William B. Waddell, agreed to start a pony relay system from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California to speed up the delivery of mail from the eastern United States to California. The distance between these destinations was 1,996 miles. The mail already traveled three other ways, two by sea and one by land, but in each case the delivery time could range from 3-6 weeks with each route having its challenges.
Another route, called the Central Route, existed, but had not been considered as a viable alternative because of hostile Indians, the Rocky Mountains, deserts, impassable rivers, unpredictable weather and buffalo stampedes. The goal of these gentlemen was to cover this distance in 10 days, or less, with riders departing from both points. It was a daunting task requiring an initial investment of $750,000.
However, in three months the partnership had secured the funding and had hired 200 riders and purchased 400 horses for the venture, a major endeavor in itself. So, on April 3, 1860, a lone rider by the name of Johnny Fry left a stable in St. Joseph from what would become known as the Pony Express Stable and headed west to California. At the same time, a rider departed from Sacramento and headed towards St. Joseph. In 10 days, both riders reached the other town. The people in these towns celebrated with great enthusiasm the success of this most daring of feats.
The Pony Express Stable, which houses the Pony Express National Museum, has had a long and varied life. The original building measured 60 x 120 feet and consisted of a pine frame and a building to the Central Overhand California and Pikes Peak Express company (C.O.C. & P.P.). The partners in the company were Russell, Majors & Waddell. They needed the stable to house their horses for the Pony Express. Mr. Patee’s hotel was located two blocks east of the stables and served as the business office for the partners. Being an entrepreneur himself, Patee had developed much of area around the stable.
The Pony Express ended up being a short-lived venture, but literally was worth its weight in gold. Although, it passed into bankruptcy in the fall of 1861, it succeeded in achieving several important achievements. First, it proved the Central Route could be used year-round. Second, it solidified communication with California and helped retain the state in the Union in the early days of the Civil War. And third, and most importantly, by California remaining in the Union, its gold fields helped finance President Abraham Lincoln’s Union armies during the war.
After the demise of the Pony Express, the stable experienced a long and sorted decline. It saw many owner’s ad many uses. In 1887, the structure’s appearance changed dramatically, when the St. Joseph Transfer Company encased it in brick, as it now appears today. But hard times continued to plague the old work horse and it continued to fall into disrepair. Finally, in 1946, the Chamber of Commerce interceded and purchased the building. Unfortunately, though, the rear section of the stable had collapsed shortening its length.
In 1959, M. Karl Goetz stepped forward and make it his mission to save, restore and turn the Pony Express Stable into a museum. Mr. Goetz owned the M. K. Goetz Brewing Company and established d the Goetz Foundation for the building’s ongoing preservation. Sadly, he unexpectedly passed away in 1860, short of his dream of completing the stable’s restoration. With his death, it was donated to the St. Joseph Museum. This museum remained its owner, until 1991, when the stable became a separate museum.
In 1987, a master proposal had been put together entitled the, “The Heart of the City Development Plan,” presented by the St. Joseph Development Corporation. The initiative called for the acquisition of more land, resulting in the purchase of the adjoining bowling alley in 1989. In order to achieve Mr. Goetz’s vision, a $1,700,000 capital campaign commenced in 1991, with the purpose of rebuilding the stable to its former size and adding a community room, which has since been doubled in size. By 1993, the funds had been raised and construction completed on the building.
April 3, 2010, marked the 150th Anniversary of Pony Express. As part of the sesquicentennial commemoration ceremonies, the board of Trustees broke ground on the construction of an 1860 school house behind the stables. Another novel addition has been the inclusion of the former Pony Express Motel sign to the grounds, which now forever illuminates the stable as a beacon to our country’s rich western heritage.
Joseph K. Houts, Jr.
April 3, 2015