THE HOLLENBERG STATION
Not far from the northern Kansas town of Hanover stands an old ramshackle building. It is known as the Hollenberg Station and it was once the largest stop along the famed Pony Express route, a trail that ran from Missouri to California. Not only is this building the only one of the old pony express stops that remains unaltered today.... but it also is believed to be unique for another reason also. It is said that the old building also holds the ghosts of the young riders who once rode across the prairie, carrying the mail from one destination to the next.
In 1860, the railroads and the telegraph lines ran no further west than St. Joseph, Missouri. From there, the mail traveled west by stagecoach or wagon, a trip that took more than three weeks. The government, and the western settlers, demanded a faster form of communication and thus, the Pony Express was born. It was believed that these horsemen could carry the mail as far as California in half the time it took letters to travel by stagecoach. It was a daring plan... and a dangerous one. The trip west in 1860 was fraught with every sort of danger imaginable from bad weather to wild Indian attacks and many of the riders did not survive.
"WANTED.... Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred." A March 1860 advertisement looking for riders for the Pony Express routes.
Nearly 120 riders were hired, half of them riding east and half riding west. The route followed the Oregon-California trail across Kansas, along the Platte River in Nebraska, then west by way of Fort Kearney, Scotts Bluff, Fort Laramie, South Pass, Fort Bridger and Salt Lake City. The trail then crossed Nevada and ended in Sacramento, California. Relay stations were set up every ten to fifteen miles along the trail and a rider would give a loud yell when he rode within sight of them. He would then switch horses and a new rider would take over about every third station.
The Pony Express lasted for 18 months but in that short time, it made its mark on history.
One of the noted riders was William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, who was only 15 years old when he signed on as a rider, but he was one of the many who braved freezing cold, Indians and even animal attacks to make sure that the mail got through.
Eventually, by October of 1861, the telegraph began sending messages to the west coast and the need for the Pony Express was over. After that, many of the stations fell into ruin but somehow the Hollenberg station managed to survive. Located about 120 miles from St. Joseph, where the Pony Express route began, the building was located on the ranch of Gerat Henry Hollenberg and held a store, a tavern, a post office and living quarters for the station keeper and his family. The riders and overland stage drivers were housed on the second floor.
In 1869, the town of Hanover was founded and its residents made a conscious effort to preserve the old station and they held a drive to purchase funds to keep it just as it was. The building is now located on a state historical park and has been restored to operate as a museum.
As the years have passed however, traces of the old pony express riders still remain. Perhaps their indomitable spirits remain embedded in the wood of the station itself, or perhaps their ghosts still ride hard, dreaming of the days when they formed a vital link between the east and west..... but regardless, many believe that the old station is haunted. Visitors and staff members alike claim to have heard the sounds of pounding hoofs, thundering through the night, and the distant sounds of young men calling out as their phantom mounts near the station.
Echoes of spirits from the past? Or lively imaginations? I can't really tell you for sure, but deep down, I guess I'd like to think those boys are still out there somewhere, reliving their glory days when the mail just had to get through.
Hanover, Kansas is located about 45 miles north of Manhattan in the northeastern part of the state. The old Hollenberg station can be found at the intersection of Highway 148 and 243.
Copyright 1998 by Troy Taylor
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