By Srianthi Perera
People nowadays become impatient if an email doesn’t send or arrive in a couple of seconds.
Imagine the days of the Pony Express.
From April 1860 to October 1861, the Pony Express, mainly consisting of young men on horseback, carried mail and news from Missouri to California on a nearly 2,000-mile route through Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada.
Each year, Gilbert Days organizers illustrate the historic mail transfer with a miniature reenactment of the Pony Express. It serves as education for the many school youth who attend and also as a means of community outreach for rodeo organizers Gilbert Promotional Corporation.
It begins at 8 a.m. on Friday, November 4 at the Gilbert Post Office on Elliot Street. Riders dressed in vintage wear, including members of the Gilbert Days Rodeo Royalty Court, collect mail from the youth and others—sometimes addressed to themselves—and put them into their saddle bags.
“To get a letter from Missouri to California, the fastest time was ten days and it was a miracle. We ask the kids to think about it,” organizer Julee Brady said.
The students are asked to think about matters such as how many states did that cross? Who was the president? Why did they send the letter?
“They’re points of history. That’s my reasoning of why this is so important,” Brady said.
Children who may have not paid attention during a geography class may become interested. “It lends dimension to the facets of learning instead of just reading it from a book. Now there are horses, there’s something about the majesty of a horse that makes people remember it, in the way that it sounds, breaths, they remember it three years later,” she said.
For Gilbert Days Rodeo Queen Jaime Stack, Teen Queen Kennadee Riggs and the other members of the team, it’s an opportunity to ride to nearby communities and confer with like-minded people and talk about the impending Gilbert Days. They will also deliver a letter of invitation from the Gilbert Mayor, Jenn Daniels.
More than a decade ago, participants used to ride on a Friday to the communities of Sacaton, Casa Grande and Stanfield, camp overnight in the Casa Grande Rodeo Grounds, and on Saturday continue on to Florence, Eloy and Queen Creek before returning to Gilbert.
These days, the route is amended.
“Fifteen years ago, we could ride and have all the Hunt Highway open. Now, it’s too dangerous and too developed. We do what is called leapfrogging, where we ride in safe areas,” Brady said.
The riders trailer the horses past the congested areas until they get to a safe area and continue the journey in that manner.
The ride crosses the Gila River Indian Reservation, which also selects a royalty princess and a queen, who meet them dressed in traditional American Indian garb, adding another colorful dimension to the exercise.
The mail, safe in the saddle bag, doesn’t get misplaced. During the stops, the riders also gather mail from the boxes that are placed earlier. They bring it to the Gilbert Post Office by Monday of the next week for a commemorative postmark that is designed and authorized ahead of time.
“They will get their letter maybe seven or ten days later,” Brady said. “The postmark will be unique to the Pony Express Mail, and some like to collect it.”