“So help me, God,” Annette Nylander said. The oath of the National Pony Express Association was complete.
After a banjo cover of the national anthem resounded through Old Sacramento, she and her horse galloped away from the crowd that gathered to celebrate the 158th anniversary of the first Pony Express ride.
Nylander is the first of almost 750 riders who will meet along the Pony Express National Historic Trail and hand off 1,000 letters in a traditional letter holder called a mochila. The riders will operate 24 hours for 10 days straight until the letters reach St. Joseph, Mo.
Every year members of the National Pony Express Association ride this trail to commemorate and bring recognition to the trips that the original Pony Express riders took, according to former National Pony Express Organization President Jim Swigart.
“The goal and the objective from the get-go was to mark and identify the trail, and to try to bring history and the significance of the pony express to the general public,” Swigart said. “Our organization was bent on trying to get that information out. We are preserving history and keeping the legend of the pony express alive.”
The first Pony Express rider galloped into Sacramento in April 1860, fewer than 10 days after leaving St. Joseph. Today, members of the National Pony Express Association wear red shirts, brown vests, yellow neckties, jeans, and cowboy hats to replicate the attire that adorned the original riders.
Not all details are the same as that first ride, though. The National Pony Express Association no longer posts advertisements calling all “young skinny wiry fellows not over eighteen” who are “willing to risk death daily,” and they do not pay their riders. Instead, riders pay dues to the National Pony Express Association.
Many attendees of the event were friends or family of riders, or were former riders themselves. Melody Kittle, who sat by a friend in a shaded lawn chair and surveyed the festivities, said her connection to the ritual is ancestral.
Alexander Majors, Kittle’s forefather, co-founded the Pony Express with two of his partners in a freighting firm.
“It always brings a tear to my eye,” she said. “The oath they used to swear the rider in today is the same oath my great-great-great-grandfather wrote 158 years ago.”