On Monday I put the manuscript for The Outlaw’s Return in the mail to my editor. Well, not exactly the mail. I sent it via Fedex. I take overnight service totally for granted, but there was a time when it took 10 days for an itty-bitty letter to to go from St. Jossph, Missouri to Sacramento California, and that was considered fast. The Pony Express did an amazing job for the short 18 months of its existence. The first ride began on April 3, 1860 with Johnny Fry traveling westbound from St Joseph, Missourt and Billy Hamilton riding east from Sacramento.
As I was leaving the Fedex office, my imagination took off . . . It’s high time Hollywood made another blockbuster western, and the Pony Express is ripe with possibilities.
It wouldn’t be the first Hollywood movie on the subject. Charlton Heston starred in the Pony Express in 1953, and it was one of the last “B” westerns. Let’s do a remake, something that honors the courage of these men. How about this . . . we do a story about two riders traveling in opposite directions, both in love with the same young lady. Her older brother runs a pony express station at the midpoint. The young men are racing to see her, and of course they’re going to arrive at the same time . . . One of them is a total “bad boy.” The other took the job for the money and wants to go back East and become a doctor. (The job paid $100 a month.)
Past or present, who should we cast as the two riders?
Here’s the ad for riders that ran in a California newspaper: “Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.” Eighteen is too young for a hero in a romance, but most riders were in their early 20s. The oldest was in his mid-40s. The youngest ever a boy named Brancho Charlie. He was only 11 years old and rode for five months.
Not only do we need actors, we need horses. The Pony Express ran 400 horses including mustangs, pintos and Morgans. A rider rode full-out for about an hour and covered 10 miles. A half-mile or so before arriving at the next station, he’d shout or blow a horn to announce his arrival. The stationmaster would have the next horse waiting, and off he’d go. The route was 2,000 miles and 165 stations marked the trail that went from St. Joseph, Missouri, through Kansas, Nebraska, the northeast corner of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and finally California.
There’s plenty of room for drama and plot twists. Pony Express riders faced danger from terrain, weather and Indian attacks. I’m seeing one of our heroes stuck battling an unexpected blizzard. The other has a horse go lame and he’s stuck without water. The trip generally took 10 days in the summer and 12-16 in the winter. Perhaps most amazing of all, only one bag of mail was ever lost.
The Pony Express is the stuff of western legend. Like so many other pieces of history, it was done in by technology. When the telegraph was completed, the Pony Express was no longer relevant. Ten days seemed like a long time compared to what the telegraph could do.
Which brings me back to the here-and-now. I have to wonder how relevant the Post Office is going to be in 10 years? My oldest son is in Baghdad, Iraq. We Skype and IM several times a day. He’s 8,000 miles away, and we talk all the time for free. It’s pretty amazing. The ms I Fedexed arrived in less than 24 hours.
But back to the movie . . . My picks for the two riders are Chris Pane (the young James T. Kirk in the new Star Trek) for our future doctor and a young Johnny Depp for his rival. Any other ideas? Which actors, young or old, living or long gone, would make the best Pony Express riders?