The members of the Navajo County Sheriff's Posse are brushing off their dusters and dusting off their cowboy hats to get ready for the 41st Annual Hashknife Pony Express Ride.
The riders will be making their annual stop in Payson Jan. 27, where they become guests of the Rim country's annual Hashknife celebration.
The original Pony Express ride, from St. Joseph, Mo. to Sacramento, Calif., ran from April 1860 to October 1861. It became obsolete with the advent of the transcontinental telegraph.
For more than four decades, the Navajo County Sheriff's Posse has ridden into Arizona legend in a 200-mile re-enactment of that ride --the only re-enactment sanctioned by the U.S. Postal Service.
Each January, the Hashknife riders arrive at the Holbrook post office to begin their ride, where they are sworn in by the postmaster as official U.S. mail carriers. From there, they ride across the Mogollon Rim in teams of two to deliver the mail to its appointed destination.
This year, the Ox Bow Inn is your one-stop for all of the Hashknife events, beginning with the Chamber of Commerce mixer Friday, Jan. 22. The mixer is from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is $3 for chamber members and $5 for non-members.
At the mixer, folks can mingle, dance to the music of the Russell Band, and help judge the Ox Bow's chili cookoff.
For a $20 entry fee, the best chili cooks in the Rim country will have the chance to compete for a $150 grand prize, $50 second prize and $25 third prize.
Contestants are encouraged to make their chili dishes as hot as they want, but they must bring at least two gallons of already-made chili to enter. Those attending the mixer will taste each recipe and vote for their favorites. The winners will be selected by a "people's choice" ballot.
Dine and dance Jan. 27
The following Wednesday, Jan. 27, the Hashknife riders will gallop into town around 4 p.m. and will make a brief stop at the IGA parking lot. From there, around 4:15 p.m., they'll head on down the Beeline to the Payson post office, where they'll drop off the mail for the night.
The annual dinner/dance kicks off at 6 p.m. at the Ox Bow and the riders are expected to arrive around 7 p.m., said Hashknife coordinator Lori Foss.
"Dinner tickets are $20 each, and proceeds help offset the costs of meals and lodging for the riders while they're in Payson," Foss said. "Any leftover money will be donated to the Northern Gila County Historical Society.
Dinner will be served until 9 p.m.. Then it's on to dancing to the music by the Everclear band.
"What's new and exciting this year is the costume contest," Foss said. "We want to encourage all who attend the dinner and dance to dress in 1800s attire.
"The best-dressed man and woman will receive $25 each."
The following morning, Rim country residents will have their last chance to say good-bye to the riders at a breakfast from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., sponsored by the Payson Lion's Club. The Lions will be serving up all-you-can-eat pancakes, with bacon and eggs, juice and coffee for $5 a person at the Ox Bow.
After breakfast, riders continue their trek south, stopping for the night at Verde River. Friday -- the final day of the 200-mile expedition --the riders once again saddle up their mounts and ride south to the Scottsdale post office, where they deliver the final batch of mail. Their arrival marks the kick off to the Scottsdale Jaycees' Parada del Sol Rodeo.
For tickets, or more information about the Hashknife Pony Express Celebration, contact Foss at 474-9314, or Brown at the Ox Bow, 472-9772.
Send a letter by Pony Express
When the Hashknife riders head out of town next week, will they be carrying any of your mail?
One way to make sure they do is to buy a commemorative Hashknife mailer.
Available at $1 each, mailers that are returned to the post office by Jan. 26 will be sent carrying the official Hashknife cachet.
Mailers are available at the Payson post office, the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce or at the Ox Bow Inn.