Virtually everyone has heard of the Pony Express, the thundering horses, and the spirited young men who rode risking life and limb. All have seen a multiplicity of images, the stereotypic Pony Express horse and rider, that grace a variety of corporate stationery, restaurant menus and billboards. But who really knows the truth of the history of this singularly American venture?
Living in Pony Express country and having done my share of reading and having visited various Express-related sites I thought I was fairly well versed. But after reading "Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express" by Christopher Corbett I have to admit that my supposed knowledge was more a collection of the myth surrounding this short-lived, though spectacular, chapter in history.
"Orphans Preferred..." was thoroughly enjoyable read. Corbett does what all responsible authors tackling a dubious subject should do: he collects all of the information, both factual and fabricated, puts it in the hopper and does his best to sort things through. Then he leaves it to us, his readers, to maker our own conclusions. Not once in the book does Mr. Corbett claim to be totally convinced that this or that piece of information is undeniably true or undeniably false. He correctly leaves it to various quoted sources to do that.
But what else could he do? The information available about the Pony Express is at best a jumbled mess. Such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody and James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok muddied the waters with their efforts to link themselves to and take credit for various aspects of the Express. Hollywood, playing on this hearsay and extensive legend, did its best as well to further mess things up. The result: not one of us, including Author Corbett (and that made very clear by his own admission in the book), has a clear picture of what really went on.
But who's really counting? Corbett does a masterful job of setting straight, at least in my mind, what is absolute fact and what is absolute fiction, leaving a considerable amount of gray area in between.
Corbett eloquently points out in "Orphans Preferred..." that the legend will ride on regardless. Thank goodness it does. Legends are great so long as we know they are legends. But as Americans would we really let any of our favorite legends go, among which the Pony Express holds an honored place, without a considerable fight?
John Ford's movie, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" perhaps says it best: "This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend!"