When the Pony Express ran mail in the mid-1800s the horses moved swiftly and the young riders rode hard. Although most people probably conjure images of young boys flying past saguaros and dodging Cochise and hostile Apaches, that’s not exactly the truth.
The Pony Express never ran through Arizona so the orphan boys who were the Pony Express’ riders didn’t see saguaro or Arizona Apache. Yes, orphans. The Pony Express specifically asked for orphans because if they died in their dangerous line of work, no one would be left in mourning.
The Arizona men who call themselves the Comancheros resurrect the spirit of the Pony Express with their version of a delivery, which occurs every summer and goes from Phoenix to Prescott. They still treat the delivery with the same respect it demanded during the dangerous and violent early years of the run.
The Comancheros began their existence as the Phoenix Rodeo Booster Club. When the rodeo died, these cowboys refocused their considerable energy on philanthropy; their Pony Express run gives all of its money to children’s charity. Over the last decade, they’ve raised $80,000 for various organizations from postage (postage costs five dollars, just as it did 100 years ago), donations from businesses, and also cash contributed by the riders themselves.
For the 2011 run, the Comancheros kicked off the event at the Cave Creek post office, and donated their hard-earned dollars to Horses Help, a wonderful place that helps autistic children bond with horses. The day of the run, the temperature topped out around 105 degrees – mild for that time of the year – and the cowboys were already sweating by 7 a.m. Though their trail encounters mountains and hills, it starts in the lowlands of Maricopa County, which is one of the hottest places in America.
With 42 riders, there are many stories to tell. However, two individuals were on everybody’s mind. Two cherished members of the group – Ron Littleton and Richard Haupert II – had died shortly before the year’s run. Each requested their ashes be spread on their leg of the ride. It became apparent that deep bonds held the group together: brothers cracked jokes, fathers and sons made time for each other, and old friends shared horse trailers and passed bottles of whiskey at the day’s end. The journey trumped the destination.
That path from Phoenix to Prescott is exactly what out-of-staters imagine when they picture the Grand Canyon State. The Comanchero’s trail meandered through ghost towns, mining communities, and historic roads like The Old Senator Highway. Anticipating their arrival, the town of Prescott sealed off its entire main street. Like a bandito attack in an old Western, the Comanchero riders stormed down Whiskey Row. They then have the privilege of kicking off the Prescott Rodeo; they ride in a single file procession and when the Trail Boss tosses his mailbag to the Prescott Postmaster, the mail is officially delivered.
What: The 24th annual Comanchero Pony Express Run, celebrating Arizona’s 100th anniversary
Where: The ride begins in Phoenix and ends in Prescott at the Prescott Rodeo
Why: To relive history and raise money for children’s charities
Who: Visit OfficialPonyExpress.org for more information.