Rider—Pony Express

I love our country’s history. It is often tragic, yet always rich and beautiful when you see  people creating events that made our country what it is today. Our books are full of great personalities, presidents, wars, and hugely important events. Important as those are, I like the stories of the common people. Those stories that make one say, “I want to be like that,” or “I wonder if I would have courage like that.”

A most thrilling episode is that of the Pony Express. Done in by those new-fangled telephone poles and telegraph wires being strung across the country, it lasted only 20 months. Those who rode were indicative of the character of our young country. I did not write the story that follows. It is taken from Gladys Shaw Irskine’s Broncho Charlie—A Saga of the Saddle and American Courage edited by Herbert W. Warden III. I did write the poem. How interesting that each rider rode with only a pistol, one extra cartridge of bullets, a knife, and a bible given him by the Pony Express. This rider did not know he would be written about. I shall always remember him.

Riders of the Pony Express rode alone as hard and fast as they could go
They were chased by Indian warriors, frozen by mountain snow
Smothered by desert winds and drenched by torrential rains
They climbed the high mountains and crossed the desert plains.

Billy Tate rode the trail from Camp Ruby to Carson City, Nevada
His blue-green eyes were said to shine like water
His hair lay soft and golden beneath his broad brimmed hat
You wouldn’t think of a steel heart with looks like that.

He lay low on his mustang’s neck as he charged onto the valley floor
Bannock and Ute warriors were waiting—there were a dozen or more
Armed only with one extra cylinder of bullets, a revolver and a knife
Billy Tate was in a race for his life.

They would cut him off if he stayed on the flat regular route
So he turned back into the foothills where he could dodge, run and shoot
He hoped his great horse would keep them apart
This California mustang that was half muscle, half speed, and all heart.

An arrow struck Billy’s shoulder knocking him forward with its force
Another pierced the mail sack and wounded his gallant horse
They pressed on dodging and turning, running like the wind
Still the deadly menace intent on bringing their lives to an end.

He dashed up a small canyon realizing too late
The gulley was a dead end—had he sealed his fate?
He could see no way out
With a fierce and primal yell he stopped and wheeled about.

He dismounted and began to fight
Twelve against one in the fading light
When they found him next day the scene was brutality and mayhem
Billy’s body full of arrows—seven native warriors lying dead around him.

Scalps and mutilation were the order of the day
But the surviving warriors paid the highest honor they could pay
His body lay untouched, a fitting though ignoble end to this savage tale
By his side lay his revolver, his bible, and the US mail.

When he died that fateful day
Writing a sad but grand chapter in the American Way
Billy Tate, handsome, brave and bold
Billy Tate was fourteen years old.

Ray Kenneth Clark

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November 22 ·

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