‘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

Illustrations by Rob McClurkan
Dr. Universe explains belly buttons

Ask Dr. Universe is a science-education column from Washington State University.

Mother Nature prefers her landscape to be layered

If you’re looking for low maintenance, put down layers of tall-, medium- and low-growing plants.

‘Talk to Me’ draws from real life

The view from above was stunning. The cliché says that people look… Continue reading

Photo by Haley Ausbun
                                The Browne’s treehouse has evolved from child playland to den.
The transformation of a treehouse

The structure went from pirate playground to practical den.

Illustrations by Rob McClurkan
Dr. Universe tells us the smelliest fruit

Ask Dr. Universe is a science-education column from Washington State University.

Winter is time to dream big, get seed packets ready

Dreary winter days can be spent ordering seed packets, providing dreams of new plants in the spring.

A complicated man, a look into ‘The Mule’

Recommendation: 3/5 Stars, STREAM Plot: “A 90-year-old horticulturist and Korean War veteran… Continue reading

Breathe easier in 2019

Kick start your lung health with National Take the Stairs Day, Jan. 9

You’ll want to hang tight when reading ‘The New Iberia Blues’

Your hand is deep in a bucket of crunchy goodness. Without popcorn,… Continue reading

Let’s clear the air: resolve to grow more house plants

Indoor plants will give off oxygen and reduce CO2, effectively cleaning the air your family breaths.

Illustrations by Rob McClurkan
Dr. Universe explains earthquakes

Ask Dr. Universe is a science-education column from Washington State University.

Learn about favorite writers in ‘A Sidecar Named Desire’

The holiday season started with a cup of cheer. Then there was… Continue reading