The Mochila

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Replica of a Pony Express mochila

Mochila is the Spanish term for knapsack, although the mochilas used by pony express riders did not resemble knapsacks. Made of leather, with four pockets, or cantinas, the mochilas carried the mail. Three of the cantinas were locked. The keys were held by stationmasters at each end of the route and at the home stations where riders handed off the mail. The mochila was easy to slip on or off a saddle, and when riders changed horses, they just grabbed the mochila and swung it over the saddle of the new horse. Riders sat on the mochila-covered saddle. Openings cut into the leather allowed it to fit over the saddle horn and cantle.

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Retired Pony Express rider, "Boston," tells about life as a Pony Express rider.



Warren Upson's the name.

But around here in the old days they used to call me “Boston.”

The old days that is, of the Pony Express, the finest and the most colorful bunch of fellas I have had the pleasure to acquaintance.

We worked for a group of big money men, misters Russell, Majors, and Waddell.

I saw a poster,

“Wanted! Young, skinny, wiry fellas, not over 18. Must be expert riders, willing to face death daily. Orphans preferred.”

What the heck. I figured.

I signed up.

I took the oath saying there wouldn't be no cussing or drinking.

And I was up in the saddle on the very first Pony Express run back in April of 1860.

My buddy Sam Hamilton had the first leg coming out of Sacramento, California carrying a mail pouch we called a "mochila."

He handed off to me for the second leg, straight up and over the Sierras.

Plan was for me to make Friday's station in eight hours or I'd be stuck out there riding around in the dark.

Had a little problem though, it had been raining for two days.

Yeah, eleven miles out I hit the American River.

Now, normally that ain't no more than the creek.

But that day, I had to swim the pony across, water up to my armpits and carrying that mochila on top of my head.

Further on up the rains finally stopped and the snow started falling.

I ended up dragging that pony behind me more than I sat on her.

Well I made it to Strawberry Station.

But the farther up I went the worse the snows got.

Time I got to the summit, I couldn't see the nose in front of my face.

I got my reward though.

Coming down the east side the clouds finally broke and there was Lake Tahoe sitting down there in the sunshine.

What a sight!

I made Friday's station in just under eight hours.

Handed off to Pony Bob and that mochila made it into St. Joe, Missouri and I mean right on time.

Yeah Wash Perkins, Irish Tommy Ranahan, Deadwood Dick, and all the rest of them.

Ain't nothing stopped the boys from the Pony Express until the transcontinental telegraph, anyway.

First message on that telegraph was the people of California saying “howdy” to Abe Lincoln.

And might as well have been saying, "adios" to old Boston.

That's progress, I suppose.

But for sheer heart poundin’ thrills and adventure, I'll take a headstrong pony and a mountain blizzard anytime.

Maybe that's why I still bring my mail to the post office in the good old fashioned way.

Gotta ride, partners!