Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
Oh, California

The Pony Express

Objective: Students research the history of the Pony Express and write a one-page story which incorporates their research.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
3-4 hours over 2 days

Building Background:
Show students a physical map of the United States. Ask them to imagine what travel was like between east and west before cars, highways, and airplanes. How was mail sent from the East Coast to the West Coast and how long would that take? Help students understand that during the mid-1800s mail was sent on ships from East Coast ports. The trip took weeks or months. Tell students that the Pony Express delivered news and mail overland to California in record time. It lasted only about a year and a half, but stories about Pony Express thrilled people. Tell students they will learn more about this means of communication and write a short story that incorporates what they have learned.

What To Do:

1. Work with the whole class to describe the operation of the Pony Express system. Make a list of elements on the board. Elements might include: horses, riders, an established trail, change points (stations,) people to help the riders and take care of the horses. Then ask students to name dangers or problems the Pony Express might have encountered: weather, sickness, injury, robbery or attack, getting lost. List these responses on the board as well.

2. Have each student choose one item from each list to research. Distribute the United States: Physical map to each student. Tell them to keep track of their research on the map by writing notes on what they learn around the sides of the map and marking where these activities took place on the map itself.

3. Have students use the school or public library to conduct their research.

Pony Express Home Station

This site has lots of information about the founding of the Pony Express, individual riders, the overland trail and distances covered, the fastest ride, the first ride, the last ride, problems, pay, living conditions, and the historical significance of the Pony Express and the role it played in California's history.

4. When students have completed their research, give them time to write a one- or two-page story about the Pony Express. Encourage students to be creative, and remind them to incorporate what they have learned during their research. Tell them to use their research/map to keep track of the facts they want to use.

5.Have students share their completed stories by reading aloud. Alternatively, display the stories around the room or compile them into a class book.

The Pony Express lasted only a year and a half. First the telegraph, then the railroads linked the East and West Coasts. Talk with students about the advantages these two alternatives had over the Pony Express.


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