West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express

West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express

by Jim DeFelice


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2019 Spur Awards Finalist, Best Western Historical Nonfiction • The new definitive history of the Pony Express, illustrated with 50 images

"A GROUNDBREAKING WORK. ... The first comprehensive history of the legendary transcontinental experiment in mail delivery in sixty years." —True West

"This rollicking account of the daring enterprise known as the Pony Express brings its era and its legendary characters to life." —San Francisco Chronicle

"Sure to stand amongst the great popular histories of the West." —Tombstone Epitaph

On the eve of the Civil War, three American businessmen launched an audacious plan to create a financial empire by transforming communications across the hostile territory between the nation’s two coasts. In the process, they created one of the most enduring icons of the American West: the Pony Express. Daring young men with colorful names like “Bronco Charlie” and “Sawed-Off Jim” galloped at speed over a vast and unforgiving landscape, etching an irresistible tale that passed into myth almost instantly. Equally an improbable success and a business disaster, the Pony Express came and went in just eighteen months, but not before uniting and captivating a nation on the brink of being torn apart. Jim DeFelice’s brilliantly entertaining West Like Lightning is the first major history of the Pony Express to put its birth, life, and legacy into the full context of the American story.

The Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company—or “Pony Express,” as it came to be known—was part of a plan by William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell to create the next American Express, a transportation and financial juggernaut that already dominated commerce back east. All that stood in their way were almost two thousand miles of uninhabited desert, ice-capped mountains, oceanic plains roamed by Indian tribes, whitewater-choked rivers, and harsh, unsettled wilderness.

The Pony used a relay system of courageous horseback riders to ferry mail halfway across a continent in just ten days. The challenges the riders faced were enormous, yet the Pony Express succeeded, delivering thousands of letters at record speed. The service instantly became the most direct means of communication between the eastern United States and its far western territories, helping to firmly connect them to the Union.

Populated with cast of characters including Abraham Lincoln (news of whose electoral victory the Express delivered to California), Wild Bill Hickock, Buffalo Bill Cody (who fed the legend of the Express in his Wild West Show), and Mark Twain (who celebrated the riders in Roughing It), West Like Lightning masterfully traces the development of the Pony Express and follows it from its start in St. Joseph, Missouri—the edge of the civilized world—west to Sacramento, the capital of California, then booming from the gold rush. Jim DeFelice, who traveled the Pony’s route in his research, plumbs the legends, myths, and surprising truth of the service, exploring its lasting relevance today as a symbol of American enterprise, audacity, and daring.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062496782
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/14/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 155,755
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Jim DeFelice is the co-author, with former U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, of the multi-million-copy bestseller American Sniper, the source for Clint Eastwood’s film starring Bradley CooperHis other books include Omar Bradley: General at War; Rangers at Dieppe; and West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express. He lives in upstate New York.

Table of Contents

1 Go! 1

2 Money, Ambition, and Other Complications 19

3 Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Men 31

4 Of Colts and Cranks 51

5 Threat of Dissolution 69

6 Rough Men 85

7 Buffalo Bill 103

8 Unbonded 121

9 The Great Divide 125

10 Saints 145

11 Sand And Silver 169

12 Indian Wars 187

13 Storms 207

14 A Place Called Tomorrow 225

15 Remains of the Day 239

Acknowledgments 269

Sundry and Other: Appendix 271

The Pledge 271

Riders 272

Stations East To West 284

The Schedule 300

Timeline 300

Reenactors 303

Sources 305

Notes 313

Select Bibliography 329

Index 343

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West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lots more than just The Pony For history buffs as well as those wanting something about the, almost, mythical, American Enterprize that was this unique way of delivering the mail. While taking a seat with a rider from St. Joseph, Missouri to California, as the author takes you along, he also 'stops' to give history and back ground of some of the geography and events that took place as the mail carrier passes through. There's enough old, Western history and traditions born along the old 'Pony' route, you are bound to be entertained! It is not quite a deep, detailed history of the enterprize, but it doesn't get so side tracked by the history that happened around it that the original story is lost. The author battles the quint essential West problem, there are so many 'stories' vs facts, and back in the day, the stories probably got printed over the somewhat mundane facts. Good book on the subject, good book on history, but it is about BOTH.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I grew up in Marysville, Ks., a Pony Express town and heard a lot about it. This book is fascinating, telling about a very interesting enterprise in a fast-changing and turbulent time in our country. Wide-ranging, it liberally follows all sorts of side-tracks and tells you a little about a lot of different things. Writing style is more of a popular fiction than a scholarly history, which fits with the subject and was appealing and enjoyable. I enjoyed this book and got a new appreciation for the Pony Express.