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Of all the intrepid men who rode for the Pony Express during its brief period in the sun, the most famous was Robert Haslam, affectionately known all over the west as "Pony Bob." So many times did he escape death at the hands of savage redskins, and so arduous were some of his rides over the sand and alkali-clad deserts of Nevada Territory, that the tale of his experiences during his employment with the famous mail service reads like a swashbuckling adventure story.
"Pony Bob" joined the Express soon after its birth. His runs were over the Territory of Nevada. About eight months after the Express began running the Piute War erupted in the territory. Virginia City, where the fabulous Comstock Lode was a fountainhead that poured fort a rushing gargantuan flood of silver, was the largest settlement in all of the territory and it was there that a bloody Indian attack was expected at any moment. A stone hotel on C Street was under construction, and was hastily converted into a fortress where the women and children were rushed for protection. From the high mountain tops the dread Indian signal fires of the redmen flared and the men of Virginia City stood armed and ready to repulse an attack. Every available man and horse were gathered to help repel the redmen.
In spite of the fact that the Indian attack was expected, Pony Bob started his route when his turn came. Like the mails of today, nothing stopped the Pony Express from going through. Pony Bob left Virginia city and reached Reed's Station on the Carson river without mishap. But at Reed's there was no change of horses - all mounts had been pressed into service to participate in the expected Indian attack. Bob fed his tired animal and started for the next station fifteen miles distant, which was called Bucklands - which later became Fort Churchill. This was to have been the end of Pony Bob's run as he had changed his old route to this one. On it he had experienced many narrow escapes from the hostile Piutes and had been wounded twice by the savages.
When Pony Bob thundered up to Bucklands, he had covered seventy-five miles since his start with the Express. The relief rider was waiting for him but refused to take the route from there on. Even the superintendent, W. C. Marley, could not persuade the rider to proceed. He then in desperation told Pony Bob, "Bob, I will give us $50 if you make this ride."
Bob answered that he'd start at once. He hastily adjusted his seven-shooter Spencer rifle and his Colt revolver and jumped astride a fresh horse. From Bucklands to the Sink of the Carson, Bob rode a dangerous route over desolate terrain. He arrived safely and headed for Sand Springs through deep sand hills and an alkali bottom, thirty miles further. Not a drop of water was to be had the entire distance. At Sand Springs Bob changed horses and pushed on towards Cold Springs, thirty-seven miles distant. At that point an Express rider by the name of J. G. Kelley relieved him. Pony Bob had ridden one hundred and ninety miles, stopping only long enough to snatch a bite of food and a drink of water. This run went down in the records of the Pony Express as the fastest in all of the route which covered two thousand miles.
Pony Bob rested at Smith's Creek nine hours and started his return journey over the same route. When he reached Cold Springs he was horrified to find that Indians had attacked the station, killed the agent and stolen all the horses. Even though he was well aware that danger in the form of savage redskins lay on the lonely desert, Bob decided to go on. He watered his horse. The mount - ridden hard for thirty miles straight - was fagged, but he responded when Bob vaulted into the saddle. The messenger headed for Sand Springs, thirty miles away.
Night was closing fast on the desert and the route lay through thick, tall sagebrush. Bob kept his eyes on the horse's ears, knowing that they would flash a danger signal if Indians came near. He had made up his mind to fight for his life in case he was attacked. The night was deadly still. Now and then the silence was broken by the sound of wolves. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Pony Bob thundered up to Sand Springs Station. He told the agent there of the fate of the Cold Springs stop and advised immediate departure for the Sink of the Carson, telling the man that the marauders were sure to hit the following day. The agent willingly mounted his horse and rode with Bob, and in doing so probably saved his own life. The Piutes swarmed upon Smith's Creek the next day. However, those at the station were in a strong stone house and from there they fought the savages for four days. On the fifth day, a company of fifty volunteers from Cold Springs rode upon the scene and routed the Indians. The company buried John Williams, station keeper.
When Bob reached the Sink of the Carson, he found the men in the station apprehensive, for they had seen fifty Indians, armed and in war paint, scouting the vicinity. In the station wree fifteen white men, all armed. The adobe station was large enough to accommodate all the men and fifteen horses. It was located only a few feet from a spring. Bob rested at the Sink for an hour and that night began a ride to Bucklands. He arrived at his destination without mishap and only three and a half hours behind schedule. He found Superintendent Marley there, and when Bob told him the news of the Cold Springs massacre, Marley raised the bonus for Bob's daring ride to one hundred dollars.
It was while Bob was riding the Pony Express in Nevada Territory that Lincoln was elected president of the United States. By that time, Fort Churchill had been established near Bucklands on the Carson River. The Pacific Telegraph then reached as far as St. Joseph, Missouri. The end of the line from the east was at Fort Kearney, Nebraska Territory. From there communication went via Pony Express across western Nebraska Territory, Wyoming and Utah to Fort Churchill, which was hooked to California by an independent telegraph line owned by Fred Bee and several partners. The little line, known as Fred Bee's "Grapevine," ran over the very crest of the towering Sierra Nevada and connected with the west coast. When the votes were in after the November 1860 election and Lincoln was the president-elect, the news sped over the wire to Fort Kearney, then raced overland on the back of fleet Express ponies to Fort Churchill. There an operator with his wife clear tapped out the news to San Francisco and Sacramento on November 14, just seven days after it left the east. Since Pony Bob Haslam was the most famous of the riders for the Pony Express, he was given the honor of taking the message on its last lap to Fort Churchill. Many vital issues hung in the balance in this election - slavery and a possible war that would turn state against state. Eagerly the sentries awaited the coming of the Express rider with the results. Long before he raced through the gate, Pony Bob shouted to the sentries, "Lincoln's elected!"
When the Pony Express was discontinued, Bob secured a job with Wells, Fargo & Company as an express rider. His route lay between Virginia City and Friday Station and back. He rode one hundred miles every twenty-four hours. He was on that job more than a year. By that time the Pacific Railway was pushing westward fast, and the Pony Express business was dwindling. Eventually the rails reached Reno, Nevada, and Pony Bob made the run from Virginia City to Reno for six months, using fifteen horses. Traveling time between the two cities was just short of an hour for the twenty-three miles. The telegraph line was completed next and the Pony Express on the route was discontinued. Pony Bob was transferred to Idaho where he rode a one-hundred-mile route, using one horse and traveling from the Queen's River to Owyhee River. When the Modoc War erupted, Bob was at Queen's River Station.
Bob saw many tragedies on his runs through this lonely country. Once he passed a spot where ninety Chinamen had been massacred by Indians. Their corpses were still on the ground. The Idaho run was Bob's last job with the Pony Express. The man who took over his route when he resigned, Sye Macaulas, was killed by Indians the first time he covered the route.
Eventually Pony Bob left the west and settled in Chicago, where he was associated with the management of the Congress Hotel organization. It was there in 1907 that the famous Indian historian and writer, William Lightfoot Visscher, interviewed him and heard the story of his daring rides in the west.
Bob Haslam was born in London, England, in January 1840. Thus he was only twenty years old when he made his famous ride, and he died at the age of 72 in Chicago in February 1912.
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