Was Buffalo Bill in the Pony Express, or wasn’t he? We found in visiting the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave in Golden, Colorado that this is a matter of controversy. Museum director Steve Friesen points out in his book about Buffalo Bill that it’s sort of a moot point. After all, what can certainly be said is that without Buffalo Bill, nobody now would probably have heard of the Pony Express.
The Pony Express, the express mail service carried by relays of riders on horseback across the West, only existed from 1860 to 1861; it was quickly overtaken by the new technology of the Iron Horse. Some say Buffalo Bill would have been too young to ride in it, and while few mothers today would want their 14-year-olds employed in something like the Pony Express, Buffalo Bill lived in a different age – he had already left home to work, herding cattle and driving a wagon train, at the age of 11.
Buffalo Bill was later an Army scout and got his name hunting buffalo. He popularized the Pony Express in his Wild West show of the late 1800s. The show was intended to be both educational and entertaining (sort of like most museums….) With this show, East Coast (and eventually English) audiences were introduced to cowboys and Indians as well as rodeo-type events, all presented by real cowboys, real Indians, real animals, and Annie Oakley.
(Historical side note: for less-than-accurate details but a memorable show about the Wild West show, watch the musical Annie Get Your Gun, the title of which sounds a bit odd unless you realize it refers to the opening line of the WWI “Over There” song, “Johnny, get your gun”, and the songs were by Irving Berlin, who was in the US Army in WWI and composed his own famous WWI song Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning).
Buffalo Bill is actually buried at the site of the museum, on Lookout Mountain west of Denver, a steep foothill of the Rockies that gives a great view of Denver and the beginning of the Great Plains.
The t-shirt design avoids the controversy by showing Buffalo Bill presenting the Pony Express, with a rider starting in Missouri and leaping the Rocky Mountains to get to the end of the trail in California. The t-shirts are available at the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave in Colorado, the Pony Express National Museum in Missouri, and (if you’re not near either museum) Historyonashirt on Etsy.