The clop of hoofs on asphalt. The in-unison shout of Hashknife! from seven men on horseback. The smell of… well… let’s just say the school kids often cried ewwww! while watching the horses outside Winslow’s Post Office. But that’s part of the history lesson of life in the 1860s, back when dusty young men and their horses braved the wilds to deliver communications from the west to other parts of the country via the Pony Express.
While the mail delivery enterprise of 120 riders, 184 stations, and 400 horses lasted less than eighteen months, the romantic vision of horse-backed carriers remains one of the most colorful elements of American West History.
Arizonan’s, however, can do more than simply remember. They can witness the Pony Express in action.
In 1959, Holbrook resident Roy Downing had an idea to invite then Arizona Governor Paul Fannin to Holbrook’s Stampede Rodeo, but he wanted to do it in a memorable way, a way that truly demonstrated the spirit of the old west.
He wanted to bring back the Pony Express.
Together with Holbrook postmaster Ernest Hulet, the two worked on getting permission for the Navajo County Search and Rescue Posse to carry the mail. The Postmaster-General said as long as the posse riders would submit to a swearing-in ceremony before each ride and follow regulations pertaining to handling and protecting the official mail, then Hulet could authorize the ride.
Sixty-two years and four generations of letters later, the tradition continues. The responsibility of keeping history alive through the Hashknife Pony Express drives every rider in the Posse, like Walter Pacheco.
Walter Pacheco is a fourth-generation Winslow resident.
He doesn’t remember the exact moment he first rode a horse, only that from the time he was a little boy listening to the stories of his rancher grandmother, he knew he wanted to be like his ancestors and live life astride a horse.
For the last six years, Walter has been a rider with the Navajo County Hashknife Posse.
“This is something I love to do. The camaraderie you have with the other guys… We really let ourselves go, kidding around, hanging out. It’s just fun.”Walter Pacheco
Pacheco says the feeling while riding with this group is hard to put into words. The entire unit works as a team, creating a relay system along the 200 mile route. First, the postmaster hands off to the captain who rides with the bag for a mile, then hands off to the next rider—both traveling with speed. Walter and his horse Mr Mystique—a “grumpy” quarter horse—have a technique:
What I do is try to gauge the upcoming rider’s speed–my horse is lazy–so I wait and as they approach get up to a gallup. We try to make it smooth as we ride side-by-side. I haven’t dropped the bag yet… Knock on wood.”Walter Pacheco
Walter says dropping the bag is a hanging offense. Losing your hat ain’t so great either.
If you have to go before the judge, the best defense is silence.
If you know Walter, you know what a great laugh and smile he has and I’m sure you can hear him laughing as he said the above.
The Winslow Leg
The event in Winslow wasn’t part of the official ride that begins Wednesday February 5th, but the group wanted to include as much of Navajo County as they could.
On Friday January 31st, the seven riders and support crew visited Jefferson Elementary and Red Sands Christian School before having lunch at the Hubbell Visitor’s Center. From there, they headed to the Post Office where part of the crew stamped the Hashknife Pony Express postmark on stacks of letters.
After taking the oath from Winslow Postmaster Arthur Gonzales…
Mayor Tom McCauley handed off the bags of mail to Walter Pachecho…
…who then rode like the wind to 2nd Street…
…where he made the handoff with the next rider.
While this was only a demonstration of how the group moves the mail, the crowd loved it. It seems the horses did too.
Nacho and Tim
Eight-year-old rescue horse Nacho looks forward to this time of year.
His rider, Tim Kelley of Holbrook—whose great-grandfather was a Texas ranger—has been part of the Navajo County Hashknife Posse for 17 years. The group started as a search and rescue unit in 1955 after a particularly bad winter where many hunters lost their lives. Over the years, they’ve saved military men who survived a plane crash, found lost children and hunters, pursued and guarded felons.
“For me, it’s mostly about the search and rescue. Our horses can go places vehicles can’t. Knowing we can help potentially save someone’s life is the most rewarding part.”Tim Kelley
But he also loves the Pony Express and the role it played in western history. Seeing kid’s eyes widen as the riders bring to life a long-gone moment in time gives him great satisfaction.
”It’s important to hold onto this heritage and pass it along to my kids and their kids.”Tim Kelley
David and Sundance
Three years ago David Ramos of Flagstaff watched a video on the Hashknife Pony Express. The second it finished, he made a goal: For his 60th birthday, he would ride in the upcoming 60th annual Hashknife Pony Express.
He called his friend Leo and together they joined the posse.
David and his rescue horse Sundance, who is “as loyal as a golden retriever,” love interacting with the kids and the community. Plus…
“We get to preserve a part of history that is forgotten. If we don’t remember the past, we make mistakes.David Ramos
Preserving history is also important to…
Leo and Bayley
Flagstaff resident Leo Parent didn’t hesitate when David called him about joining the ride. The 73-year-old is now on his third year riding with this band of brothers on his fourteen-year-old Mustang, Bayley.
“It’s fun. Giving back to the community. Recreating this part of history. The city slickers come in and try to change rural areas, but we need to preserve it. The land is part of our western heritage.Leo Parent
The Navajo County Hashknife Posse is the only officially sanctioned Pony Express in the United States, delivering 20,000 pieces of mail via horseback every year—a far different story from the original Hashknifers.
The Notorious Hashknife Outfit
Aztec Cattle and Land Company, better known as the Hashknife Outfit, was the largest ranch in Arizona—with a not-so-great reputation for whooping it up on a Holbrook Saturday night.
The Buckaroos of the outfit quickly gained the unsavory reputation of being the “thievinist, fightinest bunch of cowboys” in the United States.From Legends of America Article on the Aztec Cattle Company
The Hashknife Cowboys, though, saw things a bit differently.
“Our most fun was to get on a horse and get throwed off,” Hennessey said. “We enjoyed the life [of a cowboy] very much. There was no responsibility, only to just work. You had to be a pretty good cowboy to hold your job with the Hash Knife.”George W. Hennessy From True West Magazine article about the Hashknife
While the modern Hashknifer’s don’t pick bar fights and rob and steal, they do share one thing in common: A sense of fun. When asked what they like best about the ride they all answered: Because it’s fun, and cited the true camaraderie running through the group as they do this thing they love.
The 62nd Annual Hashknife Pony Express Schedule
2020 62nd Annual Hashknife Pony Express Ride Itinerary
Tuesday Feb 4th @ 11:30 AM
Hashknife Pony Express Parade – Line up will begin by the Old 66 Lumber Yard and will end at the Old Holbrook Court House.
Tuesday Feb 4th @ 12:00 PM
Swearing In at Old Holbrook Court House.
Tuesday Feb 4th @ 7:00 PM
Send Off Dinner at the Holbrook Elk’s Lodge – Lasagna, Salad, Rolls and Dessert.
$10 a plate. Tickets avalable at the Door.
Wednesday Feb 5th @ 6:00 AM
Send Off Breakfast Holbrook Senior Center.
$6 per person
Wednesday Feb 5th @ 8:00 AM
Mail Leaves Holbrook Post Office
Wednesday Feb 5th @ 4:45 PM
Mail Arrives Payson, AZ Post Office
Wednesday Feb 5th @ 7:00 PM
Dinner with Riders Payson Elks Lodge
Thursday Feb 6th @ 9:00 AM
Mail Leaves Payson Post Office
Thursday Feb 6th @ 3:30 PM
Mail Arrives Fountain Hills Post Office
Friday Feb 7th @ 8:00 AM
Mail Leaves Verde River (Fort McDowell)
Friday Feb 7th @ 12:00 PM Mail
Arrives Museum of the West (Scottsdale)
Saturday Feb 8th @ 9:00 AM
Historic Parada Del Sol Parade (Scottsdale)
Saturday Feb 8th @ 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Historic Parada Del Sol Trials End Block Party (Scottsdale)
Official envelope and postmark.
Hashknife Pony Express in Scottsdale kicks off the annual Parada del Sol.
Many thanks to the Hashknife Pony Express for including Winslow once again!
Until next time…