When I first started researching the Pony Express I was not too impressed with the operation and the prominence it held in the history of the American West. The more I read and studied, however, the more I came to appreciate how the Pony Express became so famous. At my first impression, I wondered how this enterprise that lasted just eighteen months and ended not only broke but deeply in debt, could have achieved the apparent legendary status it holds in our history.
I have since learned that the history of the Pony Express in Nevada was intricately woven with the early history of the Nevada Territory, the numerous indian wars and the pioneers who came to Nevada to develop the Comstock mines. It served the Territory well to convey much needed communication with the eastern states at a time when no other means of communication was available.
I have found the stories of the several Pony Express stations and the riders who made the runs between them to be a fascinating legacy of this bold adventure. For the next few days, my articles will tell about some of the more interesting and well documented Nevada Pony Express Stations. Due to the early date of their existence, the history of some of the stations is sketchy or nonexistent. Many of the stories are fragmentary and the very existence of a few of the stations is suspect.
Beginning from the west, the first Nevada Pony Express Station was Friday’s Station located at Lake Tahoe near present day State Line Nevada. In April, 1860, Robert (Pony Bob) Haslam received the first shipment of mail from Sacramento at Friday’s Station and made his first run between Friday’s and Buckland’s Station, 75 miles east. Friday’s had already been established as a way station for the Pioneer Stage Lines following the old Kingsbury Grade and for the next 18 months, it also served as the Pony Express remount stop.
Friday’s Station was selected by Pony Express developers Russell, Majors and Waddell due to the location on the main California Trail and the station buildings already in existence. Some writers have referred to Friday’s Station as Lakeside Station due to its proximity to Lake Tahoe.
The original blacksmith shop and a historical marker can be seen 3/4 mile east of State Line near Loop Road on U.S. 50 across from Caesar’s Tahoe. It was named for one of the original operators, Martin K. “Friday” Burke. It was a well equipped two story wood frame white building which was a welcome sight to the riders from both east and west who had just completed long runs through steep and difficult terrain.
Continuing east from Friday’s, the riders had to make the steep ascent of Kingsbury Grade over Daggett Pass and down into the Carson Valley. The route is now mostly on private property and Forest Service land but it somewhat follows the route of the modern paved Kingsbury Grade highway. At the bottom of the grade was the next relay station known as Van Sickle’s Station near the eastern foot of the grade. This station has been partially restored and will be the subject of a future article.
A beautiful bronze statue in front of Harrah’s Lake Tahoe in State Line Nevada commemorates Friday’s Station. The larger-than-life representation of a Pony Express rider was commissioned by Harrah’s Club owner Bill Harrah. The statue was designed by Dr. Avard Fairbanks and cast in bronze in Italy. Similar statues by Dr Fairbanks can be seen near Salt Lake City, Utah and Casper, Wyoming. All along the route of the Pony Express, hundreds of historical markers and statues have been constructed.