The Pony Express: Let’s Make A Movie

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?

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35 thoughts on “The Pony Express: Let’s Make A Movie”

  1. I love casting movies. And books. 😉 And a good western has been top of my list since I was a kid watching “Bonanza” reruns. LOVED Little Joe, but Adam was my secret crush.

    Oh. My. How can you top those Chris Pane and Johnny Depp? One possible twist would be to cast Nathan Fillion as the rival. He was such a convincing “cowboy with a past” in the sci-fi western, “Firefly.” As much as I love Depp, I think I could cheer on the heroine passing him over for the almost perfect Chris Pane. I would be WAY more torn between Pane and Fillion, thereby upping the conflict with the poor heroine…

    If it weren’t 4am, I’d SO be pulling out the STAR TREK DVD right now…

  2. I’m constantly amazed at tools like skype and how easily we can keep in touch today. Imagine receiving a precious letter from a loved one that had been carried across the country by Pony Express.
    I’m not up on current young actors, but I’d watch Johnny Depp in anything. Love your movie idea, Vicki.

  3. Hi Regina! I think you’re right about Chris Pane and Johnny Depp. I loved him in Star Trek. That whole movie was true to the original but still modern. Really liked it!

  4. Hi Elizabeth! I actually talk more to my son while he’s in Iraq than I did when he lived under our roof. It’s amazing. And I take it totally for granted. A letter can be read again and again. With IMing, unless I save the chat, it’s gone.

    BTW, Old actors in their prime are fine for this little bit of fun 🙂 Charleston Heston pulled it off 🙂

  5. I love western movies, old and new, what a great post! I am going to go ‘Aussie’ here and pick Russell Crowe and Sam Worthington (Avatar) as the two riders.
    Russell was fantastic in ‘3:10 to Yuma’, a remake of a 1950’s Glenn Ford western.

  6. Hi Karyn! Great picks for our actors! I loved “3:10 to Yuma.” Russell Crowe was so complex. His character was fascinating. So was Christian Bale. I loved the twist on how Christian Bale was injured.

  7. Good casting, Vicki! I like your choices. I’m a big Hugh Jackmam fan, but he probably doesn’t have the right build for an express rider. Too tall an muscled for the lightweight, wiry riders.

    Did you ever watch the TV show back in the early 90s called The Young Riders? It was only on for about 3 years, but I loved that show. It was all about the pony express and a particular group of riders. They even had a girl desguised as a boy as part of the team. I think they have the series out on DVD now. If you haven’t seen it, you might enjoy giving it a try.

  8. Vicky, as always your posts inspire me to daydream! And will add your son to my prayers. My first cousin’s son is in Iraq as well.

    Now to the subject at hand…I do agree with you but I think of the Pony Express guys being so young so I would have to do some time travel with them. All that being said, Josh Holloway would make me happy.

    And wouldn’t it be great to have a woman in the saddle even though that is playing with history. Think of the possibilities.

    Hey, I typed before I read Karen’s post…I didn’t remember that The Young Riders had a disguised female. Still think that would be a great twist.

    Peace, Julie

  9. Hi Karen, I completely missed “The Young Riders”! When I read your post, I thought, “Oh, yeah . . .” In the early 1990s my kids were young and life was crazy. About the only TV show I watched was “Paradise”, which is still an all-time favorite. I wonder if I can find it on DVD? These days, we’re mostly watching “On Demand” because it’s so easy . . . another sign of the changing times!

  10. Hi Julie, Since this is fiction, we can make up a female rider. We’ll explain it in the “Dear Reader” letter. I love that idea . . . Instead of the two guys fighting for the girl at the station, we can make one of the riders female. They can be competing for something . . . Hmmm. I don’t usually write in the 1860s, but this would be great fun!

    Who should we cast as our female rider? I like Reese Witherspoon… loved her “Sweet Home Alabama.”

    And Julie, thank you for your prayers for my son. They are greatly appreciated!

  11. Great post Victoria, sounds like you have another great western coming, love them! Since I don’t watch many movies I am not sure who I would cast in the roll, maybe Sam Elliott. Sometimes I think our snail mail of today still moves like the pony express.

  12. Vicki, you’ve sure gotten my thoughts whirling. I’d love to see a movie about the pony express. I don’t know if you remember this or not, but there was a series on TV quite a while ago about the subject. If I remember right (and sometimes my memory sure gets fuzzy; surely not from old age!) it might have starred Stephen Baldwin and maybe Josh Brolin. They were really young. And there was a girl on there who was pretending to be a boy so she ride. I hated when the show ended.

  13. Hello Quilt Lady, Sam Elliot is good in everything he does. Of course Tombstone is an all-time favorite, but I loved him in “We Were Soldiers.” He’s got such a presence.

    About Snail Mail… lol! It’s better here in KY than it was in northern Virginia. In northern VA, it took longer because there were just so many people. We’re loving Lexington!

  14. Hi Vicki, what a wonderful blog on a subject I truly love. I agree with Linda…before I even read her post, this series was what I was gonna write about. The series was the Young Riders and I totally loved it. The casting was perfect. An old guy was named Teaspoon. I loved the girl character…one of the riders was falling in love with her subconsciously knowing she was a girl, so relieved when she turned out to be one LOL. She was Lou, I recall. Miss that series, too.

  15. Vicki,

    I cannot top your choices–Johnny Depp and Chris Pane…great pair! Maybe a youngish Kurt Russell??? And Russell Crowe…be still my heart.

    Keeping your son in my thoughts and prayers, too, Vicki. My own son is 20 and thinking of the military right now–scares me to death. You are a very strong woman.


  16. Howdy Tanya! I would have loved “The Young Riders.” I’m amazed I missed it, but you know how it is with small kids. That was definitely a busy time of life. “Teaspoon” is a fun name. I’m instantly picturing an older guy with some spunk!

  17. Hi Cheryl! Thank you for the prayers for my son. I get to worry on two counts. The oldest–the one in Baghdad–is there with a USAID contractor. I’ve gotten a couple of 5 a.m. phone calls that start with, “Hey, mom. I’m alive, but you’re going hear about a bombing.”

    The youngest is military. He’s in the Kentucky National Guard and ROTC. We’re looking a possible 2011 deployment. Would someone please tell me when these kids grew up???? LOL! I look at them and I’m stunned!

    I hear you on your son’s military interest. My youngest was 20 when he joined the guard, and I’ve got to say, the Army made good on the promise, “Send us a boy and will give you back a man.” Going through Basic was great for him, and we’re so proud we could bust all our buttons:)

    And for actors . . . A young Kurt Russell would be perfect!

  18. Hi Linda! “The Young Riders” was a hit with everyone here. I wish I’d seen it. I can see Josh Brolin in it…He’d have been perfect. I wonder who played the girl?

  19. Vicki, the girl who played Lou was Yvonne Suhor. I’d never heard of her and haven’t seen her in anything else. Anthony Zerbe played Teaspoon. He was great in that role.

  20. ooooooooh, the whole time i was reading this post i was trying to remember the name of that show, “the young riders”
    i LOVED it!!
    it was so good…up there with “dr quinn- medicine woman”

    i guess i never knew the pony express was that short lived
    i love the excitement of it
    as a girl i pretended to be a pony express rider…a friend and i would hand off a feed back with our horses galloping next to each other

    the ad was interesting…under 18yrs
    and an 11yr old boy did it! wow! i bet he grew up to be quite the man…maybe he should be the spin off for some story after he’s all grown up 🙂

    thanks for a fun post!

  21. The girl in The Young Riders was Yvonne Suhor.
    My first thoughts for casting your movie were Johnny Depp, Leonardo Decaprio & Reese Witherspoon. My second thoughts for MY fantasy movie were James Dean, Johnny Crawford (from the Rifleman) and Katharine Ross. Okay, I know those are weird choices, but its hard for me to think in terms of little wiry Pony Express riders. My fantasy cowboys are always tall and broad shouldered!

  22. Hi Tabitha! I don’t recall the exact details, but that 11-year-old boy lived a long life. He rode in a Pony Express re-enactment when he was 80 years old. I like your idea of a spin-off!

  23. Hello Judy H! I know what you mean about it being hard to picture a small and wiry hero. Western heroes are always tall and broad-shouldered. The old movie poster with Charlton Heston gave me pause. He looked huge compared to the pictures in my head. James Dean and Johnny Crawford would be excellent choices. My husband and I saw Katherine Ross in an old movie the other night. It was “Tell Them Willy Boy is Here.”

  24. Wow, great post, Vicki, and well done on getting that MSS in. 🙂

    Also, is that a picture of your son — there toward the end? On the left? If so, he sure is a handsome dude. And isn’t it great that you can talk everyday?

    Great post.

  25. Hi Kay! That picture is of Chris Pine, the guy in the Star Trek movie. I have to say, though. He’s kind of a combo of both my son 🙂 The oldest is getting married in October. You can bet I’ll be blogging on the wedding 🙂



    on the other hand, you can’t say they didn’t warn you.

  27. I’ve been predicting the end of the Post Office for years. When was the last time you got a personal letter? Not counting Christmas. And I got several eCards for Christmas and you know what? I liked ’em just fine.

  28. Hi Mary! I’ve got boys, so I can totally believe they’d have takers. Dangerous? Cool! Really, really dangerous? Even more cool! Young men are natural risk takers . . . until they wise up! It’s the moms who want to lock them in their rooms!

    About personal letters. What are those again? Oh yeah! The things my grandmother used to write 🙂

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