The Pony Express
Students will plot the route of the Pony Express, discover the kinds of terrain it crossed, and calculate the number of legs needed to cover the distance of its total route.
What You Need
- The Pony Express (PDF file print and copy)
- outline map of the United States (PDF file print and copy)
- atlases (optional)
What to Do
- Distribute copies of The Pony Express and ask a volunteer to read it aloud. This should provide enough background on this unique system of communication for students to do the following math problems. However, some students may wish to look in additional sources for more information.
- Challenge students to calculate the following problems:
- How much faster did the news of President Lincoln's inaugural address reach California than the regularly scheduled 8-day Pony Express run? (8 days minus 7 days 17 hours equals 7 hours; or more than one-fourth of a 24-hour day was cut off the usual prairie-to-the-coast time.)
- How many legs of the journey did it take to cover the whole route from Missouri to California? Suggest that students look for two numerical facts in The Pony Express. (1. The total mileage that the Pony Express stretched was over 2,000 miles. The average miles a rider covered on one leg of the Pony Express was 10 to 15 miles).
- Have students share their calculations and answers with the class.
- How much did the cost of a half-ounce letter drop after the Pony Express became established? (It cost $5 for a half-ounce at first. This dropped to $1 for a half-ounce. The price dropped by four-fifths, or by 80 percent.)
- Give each student a blank outline of the United States, entitled “The Pony Express, 1860–1861.” Have students use atlases to find the Pony Express route that ran between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. Encourage students to label other information on their maps, such as the Pacific Ocean, the Mississippi River, the Rocky Mountains, their home community, and so forth.
- Challenge students to draw a chart that compares the time it would take for a message to travel from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, by these methods: wagon train, Pony Express, Union Pacific transcontinental railroad, telegraph, Amtrak train, commercial jet, telephone, and e-mail. Discuss the effects of these times on the lifestyles of ordinary people both then and now.