It is cold today. Not a typical summer day in San Francisco kind of cold; this is an Artic sort of not quite ten degrees but a lot colder with the wind kind of day. Maybe if I lived in Fairbanks I would not think anything of it, but in our Global Warming spoiled Chicago, this feels pretty cold. All three of us are a bit under the weather too so do not be expecting much in the way of adventure from us. Instead I bring you yet another “Great Books in Travel History.”
Orphans Preferred (by Christopher Corbett) is not the easiest read. Truth be told it took me a few starts and stops before I was able to read the thing cover to cover. Like the Pony Express itself, the book tends to cover the same ground over and over again without ever really declaring what the true facts of that endeavor were. For example, it is not yet settled as to who took that first run out of St. Joseph, MO. What is certain is that the Pony Express was never profitable and did not last very long. Also a certainty is that the true heroes of the Pony Express, men such as Pony Bob Haslam (who once rode 400 straight miles in the midst of an Indian uprising) are mostly forgotten whereas others such as Buffalo Bill (who may not have actually ever ridden for Express) are forever linked with this privately run mail enterprise.
It is in the retelling of the legend of the Pony Express that Christopher Corbett shines. I have twice spent the night in Cody, WY (a mostly Disneyesque Western themed town that William Cody created) but never understood just how popular the man was. Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show were as big as they get in his time and he extensively toured Europe and America (and even performed before most of European royalty at Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee celebration). A big part of that Wild West show was always an incredibly fictionalized account of his Pony Express experience (which in actuality may have only consisted of him feeding some horses). Hollywood later seized upon that legend and to this day the Pony Express conjures images of an untamed West filled with an adventure.
That same Hollywood West has always captured my imagination and is a big part of the magnet that draws us west most summers. Truth be told, the real west is better than the legend. It also is a lot more fun.