Hashknife Saddles Up

Rim Country resident Chuck Jackman

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Nostrils flared and teeth clenched, a lone figure gallops through dust and snowdrifts to deliver the mail, the old-fashioned way.

And the horse under Payson resident and Hashknife Pony Express rider Chuck Jackman shows the same dogged determination.

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Chuck Jackman, right, and Hashknife rider Matt McRay deliver mail to Payson in 2006. The annual event takes riders through Pine, Christopher Creek and Payson on their way to Scottsdale.

What sounds like a tale from long ago, on Jan. 30, will canter through Payson to celebrate the first run of the Pony Express, which 147 years ago started delivering mail between St. Joseph, Mo. and Sacramento, Calif.

In the meantime, Jackman has accumulated some history of his own since 2000 when he started riding with and loving the history of the Hashknife Pony Express.

He will take part in the 50th anniversary of the annual event this year.

In fact, the Hashknife has already outlasted the original Pony Express by an impressive 48 years -- since the original Pony Express lasted just 18 months before the stagecoach displaced it.

Oddly enough, Jackman can now boast a host of connections with the daring riders of the Pony Express, who captured the imagination of a nation.

For one thing, he's an orphan -- and a native of Tucson.

The original call for riders on that first April 3, 1860 run called for orphans, since the hard ride through Indian territory was considered a suicide mission.

Not to say Jackman has no family now. Jackman married his bride, Hallie just last July, and has two sons, Willy, 20, who lives in Payson, and John 22, who attends ASU and lives in the Valley.

That's not the only bond Jackman shares with the Hashknife and the original Pony Express.

For one thing, he's just barely older than the Hashknife -- since he only recently entered his second century of life.

So he was just a baby down in Tucson when the first Hashknife Pony Express riders saddled up.

It was Tuesday, March 10, 1959 when O.C. Thompson rode out from Holbrook, headed for Arizona State Fair Grounds in Phoenix to deliver a letter to then Secretary of State Wesley Bolin.

When the Hashknife started, carriers rode for about seven or eight miles before handing the mail to another rider at a full gallop.

Today's riders only travel about a mile each before being relieved.

The distance each horse and rider traverse changed over the years, but the emotion and excitement remains the same.

While Jackman and his compatriots don't have to brave flying arrows and war clubs on their relay race from Holbrook to Scottsdale, they do battle the same elements that pelted the legendary riders of days past.

Moreover -- they face at least one dire danger that might have daunted the most fearless of those hard-riding orphans -- traffic on Highway 260.

Jackman said his penchant for everything Western drives him to continue, despite the rain, snow and hail -- not to mention the aches and pains of hitting 50.

Not being a "spring chicken" doesn't deter Jackman in much of anything in his life.

Like all the Hashknife riders, he's also a member of the Navajo County Sheriff's Posse and the county's search and rescue team.

He said he keeps his horses conditioned by participating in rescues, parades and other equestrian events throughout the year.

"About every other month we're doing something," said Jackman. "Every three to six months we get the call to go on search and rescue missions."

He said only about a quarter of Hashknife members own horses, various Arizona outfitters supply he rest.

The Hashknife will began this year on January 29, as the first rider, Capt. Mark Reynolds leaves Holbrook headed for Overgaard-Heber, then Christopher Creek, and on into Payson.

Prior to that, the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce will hold a mixer on January 25, at The Main Street Grille from 5 to 7 p.m., followed by a dance featuring Country and Western musicians Junction 87.

The mixer is open to the public.

The actual ride into Payson to deliver and pick up mail destined for addresses all over the globe is scheduled for January 30.

After delivering and picking up mail from the Payson post office, Hashknife members will attend their annual banquet, open to the public, at Mazatzal Casino at 6:30 the same evening.

Tickets for the banquet can be purchased through the Chamber of Commerce.

While in Payson, Hashknife riders, on horseback, horseback, will visit Julia Randall Elementary School, Frontier Elementary School, Payson Elementary and the school in Pine to deliver seminars to school-age kids, Jackman said.

Jackman and his fellow riders will depart Payson on January 31, for an overnight campout at the historic site of Fort McDowell.

The next day, February 1, they will participate in the unveiling of a larger than life-size bronze, by Herb Mignery, dedicated to the original Pony Express at Scottsdale's main post office, followed by delivery of the mail to postal officials at the Scottsdale Municipal Ballpark.

Anyone interested in having a letter carried and marked with a special cancellation stamp, just for Hashknife mail, can do so by logging onto the Hashknife Pony Express Web site at www. hashknifeponyexpress.com and following instructions, or by picking up the special 50th anniversary commemorative mailer at the Payson or Pine post offices.

The cost of the mailer is one dollar and all proceeds go for operational costs of the organization.

The Hashknife Pony Express is a nonprofit organization relying solely on sponsors and donations.

Anyone who would like to make a donation can do so through their Web site.

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