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  • History Friday: The Wild Ride of Pony Bob Haslam

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 24th May 2013 (All posts by )

    The most famous want-ad in the history of the Wild West appeared in a California newspaper in 1860: “Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over 18. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”

    What restless, fit and daring male teenager could resist? Besides considerable prestige, the Pony Express job paid north of $100 a month, or more depending – a higher rate of pay than for all but those at an executive-level for the transcontinental freighting company of Russell, Majors & Waddell. The Pony Express service was initiated partly as a stunt to attract public attention and partly for a deadly serious purpose; to fill in the communications gap between the established United States (Northern Division) and the outposts in the Far West – California, Oregon, Nevada and Utah – as a transcontinental telegraph line was being surveyed and constructed. The riders carried nothing valuable in their mochilas; only the mail, and newspaper dispatches; they depended for their safety on the speed of their horses, and perhaps a pair of Navy Colt revolvers in saddle holsters. Company policy was that riders would not engage in careless gunplay. Indeed, their horses – many of them pedigreed and in superlative condition – and those revolvers were the only items tempting the larcenous to even consider attacking a Pony Express rider.

    The riders eventually hired did tend to be young; one began work at the age of eleven, and they did tend to be light of build physically. There was no uniform dress provided, although the straight-arrow member of their employer triad, Alexander Majors, did insist on them swearing an oath of teetotality, and also to abjure swearing and fighting with other employees. It was a prestigious thing, to be a rider for the Pony Express; both ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok and ‘Buffalo Bill’ William Cody later claimed to have been Pony Express riders. Hickok was a stage station employee of Russell, Majors and Waddell, and William Cody was a messenger, but neither of them were on strength as transcontinental express riders during the brief glory year of the Pony Express. The riders gained fame for spectacular feats of endurance; one of them was English-born Robert “Pony Bob” Haslam. He participated in the record-breaking feat of transmitting the written copy of Lincoln’s first inaugural address from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California in seven days and seventeen hours. But that wasn’t Pony Bob’s most hazardous drive.
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    Posted in History | 6 Comments »

    Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Slade – Conclusion

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 27th March 2012 (All posts by )

    But Jack Slade was not quite dead. Some stories have it that he looked up at Jules Beni and gasped, “I’ll live long enough to hang your ears from my watch chain!” The two stage drivers carried him into the station and laid him in a bunk. Almost before the smoke had cleared, a westbound stage pulled into Julesburg, carrying Slade’s immediate boss, the operations superintendent on his own tour of inspection. Accounts differ on what happened to Jules Beni upon being arrested by the outraged operations superintendent. Without provocation, Jules Beni had gunned down an unarmed man in front of witnesses. Anyway it was sliced on the frontier; it came out as cold-blooded murder. Although Jack Slade was still breathing, everyone seemed fairly certain he wouldn’t continue to do so for long. Beni was hung from an improvised gallows and half-strangled; either the rope broke and he managed a daring getaway, or the superintendent ordered him let down and extracted a promise that he would depart immediately and at speed, and stay the hell away from the division. The Pony Express had a real-time test, as one of the newly-hired riders was sent galloping hell for leather to the Army post at Fort Laramie two hundred miles away – the nearest place to find a doctor.
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    Posted in Americas, Biography, History, Human Behavior, North America | 4 Comments »

    Historical Diversion: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Slade

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 25th March 2012 (All posts by )

    “In due time we rattled up to a stage-station, and sat down to breakfast with a half-savage, half-civilized company of armed and bearded mountaineers, ranchmen and station employees. The most gentlemanly- appearing, quiet and affable officer we had yet found along the road in the Overland Company’s service was the person who sat at the head of the table, at my elbow. Never youth stared and shivered as I did when I heard them call him SLADE! … Here, right by my side, was the actual ogre who, in fights and brawls and various ways, had taken the lives of twenty-six human beings, or all men lied about him! … He was so friendly and so gentle-spoken that I warmed to him in spite of his awful history. It was hardly possible to realize that this pleasant person was the pitiless scourge of the outlaws, the raw-head-and-bloody- bones the nursing mothers of the mountains terrified their children with.” That was what Mark Twain wrote, years afterwards in an account of a stagecoach journey to California, in 1861, upon encountering Joseph ‘Jack’ Alfred Slade, a divisional superintendent for the Central Overland, and a man who combined a horrific reputation with a perfectly soft-spoken and gentlemanly demeanor … and who in the space of four years, went from being a hard-working, responsible and respected corporate man (as these things were counted in the 19th century wild west) to being hanged by the Virginia City, Montana, Committee of Vigilance.

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    Posted in Americas, Book Notes, Diversions, Entrepreneurship, History | 4 Comments »