The first Hashknife Pony Express Ride carried a single letter: an invitation to then Governor Paul Fannin to attend the Hashknife Stampede Rodeo in Holbrook. Last year, at the end of the 61st commemorative ride, 9,000 pieces of mail were delivered.
Every letter and postcard is hand stamped — twice, once with the official postal service cancellation mark and again with the special Pony Express cachet.
Jim Mobley handles all the mail. He and a crew of four other Hashknife riders process the letters and postcards.
Mark Reynolds is captain of the ride, a post he has held for several years. He brings the 62nd annual Hashknife Pony Express to Payson Wednesday, Feb. 5. The riders will make a “parade” run into the post office parking lot at 4:45 p.m. and then sign posters and bandanas and pose for photos. Several riders and support staff are again offering a Kids Camp at the event with face painting, roping dummies, lessons on saddling a horse and a chance for youngsters to have their photos taken with the riders.
Students in Payson and Pine schools again have a Pony Express coloring contest with prizes provided by Culver’s of Payson and their work displayed in the post offices.
Commemorative posters, bandanas, mailers and postcards are available for purchase now, Reynolds said. They can be found at Bob’s Western Wear in Payson and Uncle Tom’s Kwik Stop in Pine. The costs are $10 for a large poster; $5 for a bandana; and $1 each for a mailer or postcard. The funds go toward the expense of the ride, which Reynolds says is between $30,000 and $40,000 a year.
Mail to be specially processed for the Pony Express Ride must be at the Payson post office by end of business Wednesday, Feb. 5.
Reynolds says 28 riders are taking part this year and about three dozen people in support roles. The average age of the riders is 60.
“It’s hard to find young people to participate. We might be the last generation to do this.”
Reynolds is a second generation participant in the ride, and this is his 42nd event. His father and older brother were also Hashknife Pony Express riders. Mobley is making his 14th ride this year.
Most of the riders are active members of the Navajo County Sheriff’s mounted search and rescue team. They will all be sworn in as official mail carriers for the U.S. Postal Service in a ceremony at noon, Tuesday, Feb. 4 at the Old Courthouse of Navajo County in Holbrook. The mail leaves Holbrook at 8 a.m., Wednesday, Feb. 5 and is exchanged between two riders every mile. Mobley says there were 17 bags of mail last year and they carried each in a relay at least three times.
The Hashknife Pony Express is the oldest officially sanctioned Pony Express ride in the world. It is in commemoration of the Pony Express riders who raced from St. Joseph, Mo. to Sacramento, Calif., traversing more than 1,800 miles in 10 days. The original Pony Express ran only from April 3, 1860 to Oct. 26, 1861, ending when the transcontinental telegraph lines were completed.
The Hashknife ride earned official designation from the Arizona Historical Society on its 50th anniversary. Its members were chosen to carry the football and “official coin” (for the opening toss) for two of the three Super Bowls hosted by Arizona. The Hashknife group frequently takes part in the Fiesta Bowl Parade and traditionally opens Scottsdale’s Western Week and leads the Parada del Sol. It has also helped celebrate NASCAR events at the Phoenix International Raceway.
With the help of former Arizona U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, the Hashknife Pony Express is represented in the Smithsonian Institution’s Local Legacies exhibit, Reynolds says.
As part of the group’s 2020 event, riders will be at the Star Valley Ronnie O. and B. Diane McDaniel Community Park at 3 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 5 and take part in a prime rib dinner at the Payson Elks Lodge, 1206 N. Beeline Highway at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 5. Tickets to the dinner are $20 per person and are available at Bob’s Western Wear, 605 S. Beeline Highway, and at the door the night of the dinner.