Friday Five: Songs About the Pony Express

Ken Morton, Jr. | August 26th, 2011

April 1860 to October 1861. That was the life span of the Pony Express. Almost unbelievably, one of the world’s most famous mail delivery services was only in operation for a year and a half. The massive undertaking involved 120 riders, 184 stations, 400 horses and several hundred personnel- all of which led to a single letter costing nearly $5.00 to mail. That was a month’s sum of money back in the day. Young brave men—many of them orphans—joined the ranks of the Pony Express and were given a horse, a Bible and a bag of mail along with expectations that they’d make it from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California in less than ten days.

With Western themes a celebrated part of the foundation of country music, it’s no wonder that these young legends have found their way into song lore. So this Friday, step back exactly 150 years ago today, and listen to five songs about the Pony Express.

 

5. Alabama – “Pony Express”

The moral of this song is that the bad guys are going to get you no matter what. Over the course of this song, off of Alabama’s The Touch album, the bad guys in three different generations make off with the booty. They steal from the Pony Express, knock off a train and hijack a plane.

 

4. Jimmy (Jimmie) Driftwood -“The Pony Express”

Driftwood wrote more than 6,000 folk songs over the course of his long career, most notably “Battle of New Orleans” and “Tennessee Stud.” The poor protagonist in Driftwood’s song is forced to choose between the mail and a girl. Call to duty wins out in the end.

 

3. Lorne Greene – “Pony Express”

Few remember that Lorne Greene, made famous in the iconic role of Ben Cartwright on Bonanza, had a string of Western-themed country music albums in the 1960’s.

 

2. Johnny Western – “Little Buffalo Bill”

Perhaps no other Pony Express has cemented himself more in legend than William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Cody was only 15 and on his way to California when he witnessed the Pony Express for himself for the first time. He immediately signed on with the company. Cody helped build several of the way-stations and would tell of his runs long after he retired.

 

1. Merle Haggard & Michael W. Herndon – “Just Do It”

The hard-luck life of a Pony Express rider is bookended in this duet released in 2008 on Herndon’s The Spirit of the Sun.

 

  1. Fid
    August 26, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Your list is spot on. Can we get an honorable mention for “Overnight Male” by George Strait?

  2. luckyoldsun
    August 26, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    This has got to be some sort of a first for me. A compendium of five songs/recordings and I haven’t heard of a single of them.
    And as an added bonus, I’ve never heard of the grand prize winner–who managed to shangahai Merle Haggard into appearing on his vanity project.

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