`Magnificent' statue recalls heroic epic in American history

A chapter in the history of the American West that lasted only 18 months but is learned by virtually every American school child has been memorialized in Salt Lake City with a sculpture designed by a noted LDS artist and dedicated July 25 by President Gordon B. Hinckley.

The Pony Express, which lasted from April 1860 to October 1861 as a mail delivery service, included Salt Lake City on its route from St. Joseph, Mo., to Sacramento, Calif. It was discontinued when the completion of a transcontinental telegraph line rendered it unnecessary.Replicated from a design by the late Avard Fairbanks, the sculpture features a rider changing horses, assisted by a station keeper. The 9-foot, heroic-size monument was copied from a sculpture made 51 years ago by Dr. Fairbanks. It was completed only three days prior to the dedication and lowered into place the next day at This Is the Place Heritage Park. (Formerly called This Is the Place State Park, it has been renamed and redesignated as a non-profit, donation-funded facility by recent act of the Utah Legislature.)

The monument's creation and placement was organized by the National Pony Express Association, representatives of which addressed the gathering.

Dr. Fairbanks is known for a number of monuments in the West, many pertaining to LDS themes, notably the monument in the pioneer cemetery near the Church visitors center at Winter Quarters, Neb.

In 1947 he made the life-size Pony Express monument to celebrate the centennial of the Pioneers' arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. It was placed that year on a float for the July 24th parade in Salt Lake City.

Dr. Fairbanks' son, David, spoke for the family in presenting the monument to the park. He and his brothers worked with Robert Shure and staff at Skylight Studios to replicate the statue, as they had worked a half-century earlier with their father when the original sculpture was made.

In remarks before the dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley called it "a magnificent piece of statuary."

"I've seen many of Dr. Fairbanks' works," he noted. "In fact, I have a bust of my father [Bryant S. Hinckley] in my office that he did. But I don't know of anything more touching, more significant than this portrayal of a Pony Express rider changing horses" unless it's the Winter Quarters monument, he added.

President Hinckley drew laughter and cheers from the 300 or so spectators when he joked: "I think there was no junk mail that was moved by the Pony Express; the rate was $5 per half-ounce!"

Tracing the history of the enterprise, President Hinckley said it was developed by the business partnership of Russell, Majors & Wadell. He identified Russell as a political lobbyist, Waddell as an entrepreneur and Majors as a religionist, a Calvinist. "And I'm confident it was Majors who wrote the oath which was taken by the Pony Express boys."

The oath, repeated earlier by the audience members, prohibited profanity, liquor, quarreling and fighting among employees.

Many of the riders were from what is now Utah, and would have had no trouble in keeping the oath because of their upbringing, President Hinckley surmised.

Riders, who could not weigh more than 120 pounds, were young, idealistic and courageous men, President Hinckley said. "They received $25 a month and room and board for the very arduous service which they gave. They were at it constantly, day and night, through sunshine and storm."

One reason the Pony Express came to be, President Hinckley said, is that Russell saw a chance to win the U.S. mail contract away from Butterfield Stage Lines, which operated a more southerly route from St. Joseph to Sacramento that took 21 to 25 days. "And Russell figured that if they could demonstrate the feasibility of the central route, which would run for 1,966 miles and could be traversed in 10 days, that they might have a chance of getting the mail subsidy from the government."

This subsidy was needed, he said, because as U.S. Army contractors, they had lost $500,000 in the Utah War, when President Brigham Young asked Lot Smith to burn the wagons as a means of resistance to delay the army's coming to the Salt Lake Valley.

"The [Pony Express] route was divided into five large divisions, each of which was divided into home stations 75 to 100 miles apart, where the riders rested and slept," President Hinckley explained. "Between the home stations were remount stations every 10 to 15 miles, where horses were exchanged."

Though the venture lasted only a short period, "courageous riders and tremendous animals wrote a history that can never be erased from the annals of the West," President Hinckley said. "God be thanked for these valiant, wonderful men . . . who gave their service, knowing that they may have to give their lives in bringing about this tremendous epic in the history of the West."

Also speaking was Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, who read a brief congratulatory letter, delivered on horseback, from U.S. President Bill Clinton.

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