The Hashknife reenactment is the longest consecutive Pony Express since 1958 right here in our state of Arizona! “It is also the oldest official sanctioned Pony Express in the world” according to www.hashknifeponyexpress.com. It was most informative and fun talking with some of the riders this brisk cold Saturday morning on February 4th. They arrived in their ‘big’ trucks pulling ‘big’ horse trailers and unloading their ‘big’ horses for a practice and little local fun before the official ride on Wednesday, February 8th. This took place on the grounds at the Heber Overgaard Chamber of Commerce. This is a fun day for locals to come out and pet the horses and hear some tall tales from the cowboys dressed out in their authentic cowboy attire. The most fun was when they mounted their horses and demonstrated the “Hand Off” or some call it a “Pass Off”, which is relaying the mail bag from one rider to the other and on a fast lope at that. Mark Reynolds, Captain of the Pony Express Team was most informative to talk with. He has been with the team for 39 years. He retired from the Sheriff’s Department as a lieutenant in 2011, and currently works with the Navajo County Search and Rescue.
Mr. Reynolds brought me up on my history about the Pony Express; I was not aware that the original Pony Express began in 1860 and ended in 1861. He explained the symbols of the Hashknife brand, an interesting story you can read about at their website. www.hashknifeponyexpress.com There is also an excellent book I am referred to Arizona Dark and Bloody Ground by Earle Robert Forrest about the Pleasant Valley Wars and the Crooked Trail to Holbrook written by Leland Hanchett, Jr.
We all love seeing the well trained and eager to step-out horses. It is like stepping into a western movie set with the horses whinnying, snorting and ready to go. Then, there are all the gorgeous tooled leather saddles and tack. One of the horses I liked was named ‘Gone’; I was told that after he bucks you off he is ‘gone’. These horses and their riders are truly the brave and fittest and they endure it all. They are among the finest of horsemen to accomplish this 200-mile ride. But in today’s world with highways and pavement and more dangerous courses of travel they welcome help from their crew of supporters.
The crew of 12 Supporters who caravan close behind and ahead of each milestone in the 200-mile trek from Holbrook to Scottsdale are a very important factor in the success of this ride. They travel along with the riders to be sure they are safe and offer help for every mile they travel. As they departed Heber Overgaard on February 8th they rode to Payson all in the same day. We have all traveled to Payson and you know the traffic and road accessibility can be treacherous not to mention the weather conditions this time of year. There are many trucks and horse trailers with other horses following the riders. I am told these horses and riders ride only one mile at a time and they are switched out for a fresh horse and rider at each mile; but that horse and rider may ride at least four times a day with a fresh horse or the same horse after a sufficient rest. This is a tremendous amount of work for all of them and they have tight schedules to get to the next destination persevering all weather conditions.
The caravan following the riders includes the “cookie” wagon. Yes, just like the old days on cattle drives, and these guys can cook! We all look forward to their tasty burritos every year. One of the cooks, Efren Chavez told me they began cooking at 7am and cooked 90 Green Chili & Bean and Bean & Cheese Burritos for sale to everyone on this day of the official ride. They park every year in front of Tin Pan Alley on Hwy 260. The Pony Express stops here after the mail is collected from the Overgaard Post Office and break before they ‘hand off’ at the Heber Post Office and trek on to Payson.
When they arrive in Payson they stay at the Ft. McDowell Casino Hotel. The Casino hosts a dinner for them that night. Next day they ride to the Verde River and camp out. They are joined by dignitaries from Scottsdale on this camp out. The Hashknife Pony Express Ride is sponsored by the City of Scottsdale. The next morning they are off to Scottsdale, their final destination, where the Postmaster meets them at the Museum of the West around 10-11am in old town Scottsdale, named ‘The West’s Most Western Town’.This is their final destination and the day of the 64th Annual Parada del Sol. They will ride in the parade and partake in all the celebrations.
Our Overgaard Postmistress, Mrs. Patty Pitterlie asked to borrow my saddle for a vignette she stages in the lobby of the post office each year and I enjoy doing that. This year as we were setting it up she showed me the beautiful photographic postcards of the Pony Express riders and the bright yellow barrel can with black Pony Express graphics on it. She was so excited about this container for all the mail the Pony Express would pick up; not just the post cards but any mail a customer would want to send that would be officially hand-stamped with the official ride logo. She tells me she has more plans next year for us – now do tell Mrs. Pitterlie or do we have to wait and see? As I was purchasing my post cards and attempting to address them, employee Merry Buckley was watching me and stopped me to explain the importance of sending these post cards out to not only others but especially addressing one to yourself and how special this piece of treasured history actually is because it is hand-stamped with the official ride logo. I was caught off-guard by her enthusiasm but as I listened I got the bug. Ms. Buckley told me how she has her entire fireplace mantel graced with Hashknife Pony Express memorabilia and showed me how to properly address the post card but most of all not to forget the kiss that you cover with clear tape so it won’t smear and the xoxo by your signature and the proper pen to use so the ink does not smear which it did and I had to start over. Thank you Merry, your enthusiasm was infectious and the memory of receiving letters and postcards years ago was inspired all over again. I did receive my post card as did my family members and it posted at the top of my bulletin board. I now have my own little piece of treasured history.
This annual event is so much more than I realized and I’m looking forward to the 60th Annual Hashknife Pony Express Ride next February!