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West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express (Paperback)
2019 Spur Awards Finalist, Best Western Historical Nonfiction • The new definitive history of the Pony Express, illustrated with 50 images
"A GROUNDBREAKING WORK. ... The first comprehensive history of the legendary transcontinental experiment in mail delivery in sixty years." —True West
"This rollicking account of the daring enterprise known as the Pony Express brings its era and its legendary characters to life." —San Francisco Chronicle
"Sure to stand amongst the great popular histories of the West." —Tombstone Epitaph
On the eve of the Civil War, three American businessmen launched an audacious plan to create a financial empire by transforming communications across the hostile territory between the nation’s two coasts. In the process, they created one of the most enduring icons of the American West: the Pony Express. Daring young men with colorful names like “Bronco Charlie” and “Sawed-Off Jim” galloped at speed over a vast and unforgiving landscape, etching an irresistible tale that passed into myth almost instantly. Equally an improbable success and a business disaster, the Pony Express came and went in just eighteen months, but not before uniting and captivating a nation on the brink of being torn apart. Jim DeFelice’s brilliantly entertaining West Like Lightning is the first major history of the Pony Express to put its birth, life, and legacy into the full context of the American story.
The Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company—or “Pony Express,” as it came to be known—was part of a plan by William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell to create the next American Express, a transportation and financial juggernaut that already dominated commerce back east. All that stood in their way were almost two thousand miles of uninhabited desert, ice-capped mountains, oceanic plains roamed by Indian tribes, whitewater-choked rivers, and harsh, unsettled wilderness.
The Pony used a relay system of courageous horseback riders to ferry mail halfway across a continent in just ten days. The challenges the riders faced were enormous, yet the Pony Express succeeded, delivering thousands of letters at record speed. The service instantly became the most direct means of communication between the eastern United States and its far western territories, helping to firmly connect them to the Union.
Populated with cast of characters including Abraham Lincoln (news of whose electoral victory the Express delivered to California), Wild Bill Hickock, Buffalo Bill Cody (who fed the legend of the Express in his Wild West Show), and Mark Twain (who celebrated the riders in Roughing It), West Like Lightning masterfully traces the development of the Pony Express and follows it from its start in St. Joseph, Missouri—the edge of the civilized world—west to Sacramento, the capital of California, then booming from the gold rush. Jim DeFelice, who traveled the Pony’s route in his research, plumbs the legends, myths, and surprising truth of the service, exploring its lasting relevance today as a symbol of American enterprise, audacity, and daring.
About the Author
Jim DeFelice is the co-author, with former U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, of the multi-million-copy bestseller American Sniper, the source for Clint Eastwood’s film starring Bradley Cooper. His other books include Omar Bradley: General at War; Rangers at Dieppe; and West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express. He lives in upstate New York.
“A groundbreaking work on the Pony Express. ... The first comprehensive history of the legendary transcontinental experiment in mail delivery in sixty years. ... Like the Pony Express riders themselves, DeFelice paces the dramatic story with alacrity and diligence.”
— True West
“West Like Lighting reads like the title—a fast-paced narrative of the Pony Express. ... One can hear horse hooves pounding across the prairie and sense the fear and courage and excitement of dashing young men.”
— TOM CLAVIN, New York Times-bestselling author of Dodge City and co-author of The Heart of Everything That Is
“Fresh and engaging. … A wild ride. ... West Like Lightning is sure to stand amongst the great popular histories of the west.”
— Tombstone Epitaph
“A wild ride … rendered in fine, thrilling detail.. ... Delightful.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Incredible true stories of [Pony Express] riders’ exploits and more.”
— New York Times
“This wonderfully vivid, accessible, and documented account of the Pony Express is a legendary American adventure story. Highly recommended.”
— Library Journal
“DeFelice brings [the Pony Express] to galloping life. … Fans of frontier history and lore will relish the incomparable stories he relates.”
“A lively history of the short-lived but much-evoked Pony Express. … Good stuff for Western history buffs.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“DeFelice shares how he retraced the Pony’s steps, fully immersing himself into the lore and legends of hte historic ride. ... On his journey, he manages to separate fact from fiction—and uncover a darker side to the venture.”
“The most romantic chapter of the Old West may well be that of the Pony Express. The story of intrepid young riders dashing across the prairie, pitting themselves against Indians, accidents and bad weather never fails to thrill readers. West Like Lightning ... takes on the whole Western frontier.”
— Denver Post