Dennis Cassinelli: Bob Haslam and the Pony Express
Every month for the next several months, I will write an article about the Pony Express stations in Nevada, starting with this article about Pony Bob Haslam.
Much has been written about the Pony Express and the place it has occupied in the history of the American West. Many of the stories written about the Pony Express were romanticized fictional accounts. One true story about the Pony Express that is well documented is the exciting adventures of Pony Bob Haslam.
Born in England in 1840, Robert Haslam came to the United States as a teenager. At age 20, he was hired by Russell, Majors and Waddell, founders of the Pony Express, to help build the Pony Express stations through Nevada. April 3, 1860, was the official beginning of service for the Pony Express with riders leaving eastbound from San Francisco and westbound from St. Joseph, Mo. Haslam, later to be called “Pony Bob,” was assigned to the run from Friday’s Station (Stateline, Nevada) to Buckland Station near present Fort Churchill 75 miles east.
The year 1860 was historically important in the history of Nevada. At that time, what we now know as western Nevada was part of the western Utah territory. This region was loosely called Washoe due to the Washoe Indians who had inhabited the area for centuries. Following the discovery of silver in the Gold Canyon and Virginia City area in 1859, the “Rush to Washoe” was in full swing by the spring of 1860. At the same time, on April 3, 1860, the Pony Express started operation through this region. Then, in May 1860, the Pyramid Lake Indian War started when Williams Station, east of Buckland Station, was attacked by the Paiute Indians.
Haslam began his assigned run from Friday’s Station to Buckland, beginning with the very first cross-country run of the Pony Express. On May 10, 1860, he received the eastbound mail at Friday’s Station and headed east through stations at Carson City, Dayton and Miller’s before reaching Buckland. When he reached Buckland Station, he found the relief rider was so badly frightened over the threat of Indian attacks that he refused to take the mail. Haslam agreed to take the mail all the way to Smith Creek for a total distance of 190 miles without a rest.
After resting for nine hours, Haslam took the mochila filled with westbound mail and retraced his route back to Buckland. Along the way, he found that Indians had raided the Cold Springs Station, killing the station keeper and running off all the stock. Without changing mounts, he continued on to Buckland. The trip was a total of 380 miles, making it the longest trip in the history of the Pony Express.
Not only did Pony Bob Haslam complete the longest ride in history, but he also participated in completing the fastest trip ever made by the Pony Express. People in the American West were so far removed from the seat of government in Washington, D.C., they were eager to receive news of a political nature as quickly as possible. In March 1861, Abraham Lincoln delivered his inaugural address. Whether people in Nevada and California supported the Union or the Confederacy depended largely on the policies set forth in Lincoln’s address.
Pony Bob Haslam was the rider who delivered the news of Lincoln’s election and he was the rider who delivered the inaugural address to Fort Churchill, where it was telegraphed to Sacramento and San Francisco over a little known newly installed telegraph line called “Fred Bees Grapevine.” This was on Nov. 14, 1860, just seven days after the news left the east.
After the Pony Express ceased operations in November 1861, Pony Bob went to work for Wells Fargo and Co. as an express rider on the route between Virginia City and Friday’s Station for more than a year. When the Central Pacific Railroad reached Reno, he made the run from Virginia City to Reno for about six months. He routinely made the 23-mile run in just short of one hour. After telegraph lines were completed connecting these cities, Haslam was transferred to Idaho where he continued working on a route between Queens River and Owyhee River.
Pony Bob saw and experienced many tragedies during his career as a Pony Express rider. He had suffered being wounded by Indians and while in Idaho, his route passed by a place where 90 Chinese had been massacred by Modoc Indians. Their corpses were still on the ground. Haslam resigned and retired from express riding the Idaho route. Sye Macaulas took over the route and was killed by Indians the first time he covered the route.
Eventually, Haslam left the west and became close friends with Buffalo Bill Cody, who had also been a Pony Express rider. Haslam settled in Chicago where he was associated with the management of the Congress Hotel Association. Pony Bob Haslam died at the age of 72 in Chicago in February 1912.
This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli who can be contacted on his blog at denniscassinelli.com. All Cassinelli’s books sold through this publication will be at a discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.