Our Pony Express "adventure" anniversary trip began at the Patee House Hotel-Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri, after a morning's travel in trusty Old Blue (our '89 Ford station wagon) from Springfield, Missouri.
The Patee House Hotel (and the museum hosted there) is one of only a handful of original structures still standing and occupied within the Pony Express' St. Joseph-Fort Kearny Division. Opened in 1858 (two years before the Pony Express started), the Patee House was St. Joseph's finest hotel in its day. It was turned into a museum of Western History in 1965. In addition to the story of the Pony Express, the museum offers an authentic glimpse of 1850s and 1860s life in this Missouri River town.
The hotel's founder, John Patee, was a southern sympathizer during the Civil War and faced charges of treason. By 1865, his Confederate leanings left Patee in such debt that he held a nationwide lottery to sell the hotel. The story goes that he had to buy the last 100 tickets to get them sold -- and won the lottery himself. The hotel hosts a number of exhibits on the first floor which show authentic storefronts and walk-in displays from the 1840s-60s, as well as a furnished Victorian era home.
At the Pony Express Stables, located near Patee Park on Penn Street about six blocks from the Patee House Hotel, you'll find a museum with an excellent display of Express artifacts, including a replica of one of the mochilas (Spanish for "knapsack") which the riders slung over their saddles to carry the mail. Made of heavy leather, the mochila covered the entire saddle with a hole for the horn and a slit for the cantle. A weather-proof mail pouch, called a cantina, was stitched into each corner of the mochila. Three of these were padlocked for "through" mail, one was left unlocked for local mail between stations. The building itself is another of the few structures from the St. Joseph-Fort Kearney division which is still standing and occupied. A videotape showing at the stables when we visited explains the Express with contemporary paintings and footage of modern-day re-enactment rides along the Trail.
At it's busiest, though, the action and excitement felt on the inaugural day of the Pony Express run from St. Joseph will never be equaled by modern visitors. But if you get the chance to visit St. Joseph, you absolutely should put the Patee House and the Express Stables on your must-see list.
It was great fun for us, and I hope you'll have the opportunity, too, to see these real-life glimpses of one part of life in the Old West. And I hope you'll continue "riding" with us as we revisit our anniversary trip along the Pony Express Trail. We're just getting started and there's much more to come!