Hashknife Rides Through Rim Country


"Neither rain, sleet, nor dark of night can stop the Hashknife Pony Express," begins the press release for the 45th annual ride which comes through Payson next Wednesday and Thursday.

Based on the past two years, you can add freezing cold, driving snow and treacherous ice to the conditions the 30 riders are willing to endure in covering the 200 miles from Holbrook to Scottsdale.

"It was pretty icy and snowing like crazy last year," said Chuck Jackman, one of the riders who will participate in this year's event. "The year before that, it was 17 degrees when we took out of Holbrook. It was a bitter cold."

Jackman, who has only been participating in the event for four years, says the old-timers can recall even worse weather conditions.

"The worst year was back in 1967 when we had six feet of snow," he said.

While inclement weather can't stop the Hashknife riders, it can slow them down a bit.

"Basically what you do is use a lot of horse sense, based on knowing the capabilities of both the horse and the rider," Jackman said. "We're not going to do a full gallop on a bunch of icy terrain. Last year, we were an hour-and-a-half late because we had to do a lot of walking."

The reason these men continue to put on this Pony Express re-enactment, Jackman said, is to keep Western heritage alive. And then there's the thrill of it.

"I played sports in high school -- wrestled and played football -- and whenever we had a game or a match, you'd get these butterflies in your stomach," he said. "It's the same feeling when you're waiting for your turn to take the mail from the rider that's coming up on you. You get these butterflies in your stomach. Then all of a sudden there he is, and he rides past you, and you catch up with him and grab the mail and yell out, ‘Hashknife,' and get going. After you get probably a half-mile down the road, you are into it -- you are definitely focused."

Working in teams of two, the riders relay the mail Pony Express style by handing off the canvas and leather bags from one rider to the next with practiced timing.

The hashknife was a tool originally used by chuckwagon cooks to cut meat for hash. The Hashknife brand originated in Texas as the identification for the Aztec Land and Cattle Company, which moved to Holbrook in 1886.

Later, in 1957, the Navajo County Sheriff's Posse retained limited use of the brand, which now identifies the Pony Express, many of whose members are in the Hashknife Sheriff's Posse.

While the actual Pony Express lasted only 18 months, the Hashknife re-enactment is approaching the half-century mark. It is one of the longest-running Pony Express rides in the nation.

Every year, the riders are officially sanctioned by the U.S. Postal Service to re-enact the ride. Their arrival in Scottsdale signals the official kickoff of the Scottsdale Jaycees Parada Del Sol.

Special envelopes are sold by the riders for $1 and are also available at the Payson post office through Friday. The tri-fold envelope has a picture of a rider, a brief history and plenty of room for a personal message.

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