‘West Like Lightning’ will get your stamp of approval

Click. No stamps.

And: email sent. You didn’t have to hunt an envelope down, and no trip to the mailbox; within a minute or so, the recipient of your missive read it and he can reply as quickly, even if he lives on the other side of the world. You gotta love technology; even more so after you’ve read “West Like Lightning” by Jim DeFelice.

Everyone was tense on that evening in November 1860, but nobody more so than the young man who was pacing on a porch in Ft. Kearny , Nebraska . As soon as word came from St. Louis – word that held the fate of the United States – he’d jump aboard a pony and head west because he was an employee of the Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company, the Pony Express, or just “the Pony.”

The Pony had begun just a few months before, a creation floated by three partners, one of whom was a bit of a criminal. William Hepburn Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors knew that success for their endeavor relied on quick missives between Missouri and California at a time “when weeks, if not months, were the norm for coast-to-coast communication.” Ultimately, once riders learned their routes well and knew where the dangers lay (and, incidentally, once most of them became celebrities), the Pony reduced that communication time to a mere ten days.

But first, funds had to be prepared and contracts signed to the tune of “over $68 million” in today’s money. The company purchased more than 7,500 oxen and thousands of ponies, most of which were “half or mostly wild when bought.” Riders weren’t required to wear uniforms but firearms were necessities, although shooting a weapon was dicey from the back of a horse. Stationmasters and supervisors were hired to hold the whole operation together; they were, says DeFelice, “unsung heroes.”

And yet, despite speedy delivery of the news, despite that the population of the West was growing, despite the romance it would gain over the decades, the Pony was only meant to be temporary.

Eighteen months after it began, it was done.

Imagine, if you will, that your book is embedded with hundreds of tiny firecrackers and each time you read something enlightening or surprising, one crackles.

That’s what it’s like to open “West Like Lightning.”

And it isn’t just that author Jim DeFelice writes about a small page in American history; he also entertains. We learn, with a few wry asides, about the shadiness of one of the Pony’s founders. A little bit of sarcasm floats around tales of the riders themselves. Even the unknown facets of the Pony Express are treated with a what-can-you-do lightness that makes readers want to learn even more. It also helps that DeFelice doesn’t ignore the rest of America ’s colorful characters of those pre-Civil War days…

This is a no-brainer for Western enthusiasts. It’s a must-have for historians and fact-fiends. Start this book and enjoy the ride. “West Like Lightning” will get your stamp of approval.

More in Life

Five inspired ideas gleaned from a visit to Tuscany

The third week of June is the start of summer and that… Continue reading

Renton Senior Activity Center attendees Steve Riordan, Skip Clemens and Jackie Silva are seen here, left, enjoying sunshine and conversation. Courtesy photo
Senior centers are more than “boring old people”

When my daughter turned 50 last year, I showed her the cover… Continue reading

This book, like change, is a good thing

Change, they say, is good. It’s the opportunity for growth. It’s a… Continue reading

Seven secrets for growing stunning succulents

The second week of June is not too late to plant some… Continue reading

You’ll enjoy ‘Us Against You’ more if you read the prequel

You’re going down. Down, defeated, beaten, and sent home. You’re losing, not… Continue reading

Dr. Universe describes glaciers

Dear Dr. Universe: What is a glacier? – Addison, Pullman, WA Dear… Continue reading

Author Debbie Macomber poses with the cast of “The Inn at Rose Harbor.” Photo courtesy Renton School District
Writer watches story unfold on stage

Author Debbie Macomber watched the play adaptation of her book at Hazen High School last week.

This political biography is unlike any others

Sometimes, it’s good to take account. You’ll know where you stand when… Continue reading

Once you start “The Last Cowboys,” you won’t want to stop

You can’t take it with you. People have tried for millennia to… Continue reading

Renton Rotary selects Youth of the Month for May

The award is given to students who have leadership abilities, maintain a good GPA and volunteer in the community.

Mick Flynn sits underneath his “Blues Greats” acrylic series at Liberty Cafe. Photo by Leah Abraham
Sharing the love of rock ‘n’ roll through art

Mick Flynn’s art exhibit is displayed at Liberty Cafe.

Spend Mother’s Day with mom reading stories from ‘Tough Mothers’

Your mom is tough as nails. The minute you were placed in… Continue reading