Museum Minute: Pony Express Saddle

Jul 16, 2019

Saddle- mochilla- leather- brass- brown- tooled- pony express style- Stamped left side front: PONY EXPRESS/MARCH 3RD 1860, Stamped left side back: LOUIS HOOK/S.L. CITY, Stamped right side front: JULY/24TH 1897, Stamped right side back: LOUIS HOOK/S.L. CITY- Mochilla saddle, pony express style, tooled brown leather, 2 pouches on each side with brass catches and locks. This is a reproduction possibly used in Wild West Show performances. Date: March 3, 1860; July 24, 1897
Credit Buffalo Bill Museum, Garlow Collection

Although the Pony Express only lasted for about a year and half, the mail service has become synonymous with the Old West. The story of riders delivering mail from Saint Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California in ten to eleven days at the time was the fastest a letter was ever delivered before electronic communication. 

One way riders were able to travel so quickly was because of how the saddle was designed. Jeremy Johnston, the curator of the Buffalo Bill Museum, said the Pony Express saddles had a mochila. 

“The way that it [mochila] fits over the top. The mailbags would get over the top of the saddle so they could easily be removed and they could easily shift it over to another horse with a saddle,” said Johnston. “So the rider could get a fresh horse and not worry about taking the saddle off the horse.”

He said this allowed the rider to switch horses without worrying about changing the saddle. It created an efficient system but unfortunately for various reasons the Pony Express did not last long. 

“Buffalo Bill Wild West Shows contributed to the pop myth of the Pony Express,” said Johnston. “It was an act that was recreated over and over again during most Buffalo Bill’s’ performances so audiences would have seen the Pony Express relay over and over again.”

He adds it probably had to the dangers these riders potentially faced racing across the Plains.