Rim country residents can relive one of the most romantic aspects of the Wild West when the Hashknife Pony Express gallops into town on Wednesday, Feb. 2.
Although the pony express lasted fewer than two years and never came through Arizona, the image of two riders passing mail bags in full gallop is as much a part of Western lore as the rodeo. This will be the 47th annual ride staged by the Navajo County Hashknife Sheriff's Posse.
Each year, 39 grown men play pony express rider, galloping 200 miles from Holbrook through Payson to Scottsdale in often adverse weather conditions.
"It's all about keeping something alive that has to do with Western heritage," Chuck Jackman, Payson Swing Boss, said.
And then there's the thrill of it all.
"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," Jackman said. "After you get probably a half mile down the road, you are into it -- you are definitely focused."
The re-enactment, which features frequent hand-offs between the riders, is not for the casual horseman.
"As simple as it may sound, it's dangerous when you get out there and ride in the weather and stuff across the elements we run across," Jackman said. "These guys are a bunch of tough guys."
The riders leave Holbrook at 8 a.m. on Feb. 2 and, after stops in Pine and Christopher Creek, arrive at the Payson post office at approximately 4:45 p.m. where they will sign autographs and pass out commemorative bandanas.
The Hashknife Pony Express Dinner is at 7 p.m. at Mazatzal Casino with a dance following at the Ox Bow Saloon.
The riders depart from the Payson post office at 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 3 for Scottsdale to kick off the Scottsdale Jaycees Parada del Sol celebration.
The ride is a re-enactment of the famous pony express that ran between Sacramento and St. Joseph, Mo. Each rider covered 75 to 100 miles, changing horses every 10 to 15 miles.
An advertisement for riders in a California newspaper read: "Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred."
The riders, most around 20 years of age and weighing about 120 pounds, were paid $100 per month. The completion of the telegraph in 1861 marked the end of the Pony Express.
The Hashknife re-enactment features teams of riders relaying the mail pony express style by handing off the canvas and leather bags from one rider to the next with practiced timing.
"When the rider hands off the mail, you both yell, ‘Hashknife,' and you ride like the wind," Jackman said.
Every year the riders are officially sanctioned by the U.S. Postal Service to re-enact the ride. Special envelopes are sold by the riders at all Hashknife Pony Express events for $1 and are also available at the Payson Post Office before Jan. 28.
The tri-fold envelope has a picture of a rider, a brief history and plenty of room for a personal message. Letters are hand-stamped with the official ride logo, a treasured cachet coveted by stamp collectors around the world.
Tickets for the dinner can be purchased at the casino gift shop, Ox Bow Saloon, or the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce office. For more information, call Jackman at (928) 970-0595.
47th Annual Hashknife Pony Express Schedule of Events
Friday, Jan. 28
5:30 - 7 p.m., Meet and Greet the Riders, Taste of Payson Chamber Mixer
$5 for members, $8 for non-members
Dance follows at the Ox Bow
Wednesday, Feb. 2
8 a.m., Riders begin relay mail run, Holbrook Post Office
2-3 p.m., Riders arrive in Christopher Creek
4 p.m., Riders arrive in Pine
4:45 p.m., Riders arrive at Payson Post Office
Friday, Feb. 4
Noon, Mail arrives Scottsdale Post Office
1 p.m., Riders lunch at the Rusty Spur Saloon in Scottsdale
Saturday, Feb. 5
10 a.m., Parada del Sol, Scottsdale Road from Oak to Indian School