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Hardcover Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express Book

ISBN: 0767906926

ISBN13: 9780767906920

Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express

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Book Overview

"WANTED. YOUNG, SKINNY, WIRY FELLOWS. NOT OVER 18. MUST BE EXPERT RIDERS. WILLING TO RISK DEATH DAILY. ORPHANS PREFERRED." --California newspaper help wanted ad, 1860 The Pony Express is one of the... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

'Orphans' Leads to Happy Trails

If dry wit and historical musings are your cup of tea, this book is for you. Christopher Corbett mixes facts, hearsay, and humor to provide an engaging and amusing tale of the Pony Express, its creators, riders, and historians. What little is known of the Pony comes from decades of oral history and embellishments, leaving the truth to toss around like a tumbleweed in the wind, but Corbett leaves no trail untrod as he explores facts and tall tales of the famous mail delivery service. No one can unravel all the twists of the poorly documented, short lived Express, but Corbett's exploration into the past will give you some answers and quite a few chuckles.

The Pony Express

Ah, the innocent times of yesteryear, when a company could actually try something in its busines line without worrying about the government interfering with it, or solving all kinds of "red tape" regulations! The Pony Express was a privately-run business that delivered the mail over miles and miles of trackless country, from Missouri to California, for 18 glorious months in 1860 and 1861. Soon, however, the telegraph took away its business, and it went under, quite quickly. Now all we know are the legends built up by countless dime novels and Hollywood pictures, and what we get is quite a distance from the truth. This book strives to give us what realy happened, and along the way we learn a lot about the Express, its founders, some of its riders, and then the legends that built up over the years. There are many interesting and unusual characters in this story, from Wild Bill Hickock, Buffalo Bill Cody and others, to Broncho Charlie Miller. The writing keeps our interest, and the pace of the story never flags, nor did the horses and riders of this venerable institution of so long ago.

This much we know to be true

Christopher Corbett has done a wonderful job in "Orphans Preferred," a unique look at not only the Pony Express but also the men and women who created the image of the mail service that has become a legend. Engaging bios on Buffalo Bill Cody, Mark Twain, and others show how fact and fiction were entwined, recreated, and hopelessly tangled together until one was indistinguishable from the other. Corbett's wit and dry humor will make you chuckle. An informative, engaging read.


Virtually everyone has heard of the Pony Express, the thundering horses, and the spirited young men who rode risking life and limb. All have seen a multiplicity of images, the stereotypic Pony Express horse and rider, that grace a variety of corporate stationery, restaurant menus and billboards. But who really knows the truth of the history of this singularly American venture? Living in Pony Express country and having done my share of reading and having visited various Express-related sites I thought I was fairly well versed. But after reading "Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express" by Christopher Corbett I have to admit that my supposed knowledge was more a collection of the myth surrounding this short-lived, though spectacular, chapter in history."Orphans Preferred..." was thoroughly enjoyable read. Corbett does what all responsible authors tackling a dubious subject should do: he collects all of the information, both factual and fabricated, puts it in the hopper and does his best to sort things through. Then he leaves it to us, his readers, to maker our own conclusions. Not once in the book does Mr. Corbett claim to be totally convinced that this or that piece of information is undeniably true or undeniably false. He correctly leaves it to various quoted sources to do that.But what else could he do? The information available about the Pony Express is at best a jumbled mess. Such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody and James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok muddied the waters with their efforts to link themselves to and take credit for various aspects of the Express. Hollywood, playing on this hearsay and extensive legend, did its best as well to further mess things up. The result: not one of us, including Author Corbett (and that made very clear by his own admission in the book), has a clear picture of what really went on.But who's really counting? Corbett does a masterful job of setting straight, at least in my mind, what is absolute fact and what is absolute fiction, leaving a considerable amount of gray area in between. Corbett eloquently points out in "Orphans Preferred..." that the legend will ride on regardless. Thank goodness it does. Legends are great so long as we know they are legends. But as Americans would we really let any of our favorite legends go, among which the Pony Express holds an honored place, without a considerable fight? John Ford's movie, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" perhaps says it best: "This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend!"Douglas McAllister

The Truth, but the Truth is Legendary

Chances are you never heard of the great nineteenth century freight-hauling firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell. You never heard the official name of the firm's most famous effort, the Central Overland California & Pike's Peak Express Company. You have certainly heard of the popular name of the endeavor: the Pony Express. You know the Pony Express, because from its beginning, it was the stuff of legend, and the legend has never stopped growing. That is the main point of _Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express_ (Broadway Books) by Christopher Corbett. Corbett has given as good a history as can be written about the Pony Express because he has shown what difficulties there are in digging up such history. "We know that much to be true" becomes a frequent refrain in his work to emphasize how little we really know of the truth. It isn't important. The legends about the Pony Express may not be literally true, but they are real and they mean something, and Corbett's book is about them as much as it is about plain facts.Take the title of the book, for a start. An ad that supposedly ran in newspapers all through California in 1860 sought "Young, skinny, wiry fellows, not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred." The ad has been reproduced many times as part of the Pony Express's history, in such journals as _The New York Times_, but there is no documentation of any original. Such a title for the book is thus perfectly emblematic of its contents, and also ensures that the undocumented quotation will continue to be attached to the Pony Express. Such are the risks of writing fact about legend. Russell, Majors, & Waddell instituted the Pony Express in 1860 as a commercial gamble that mail could get in days from the western edge of civilization (St. Joseph, Missouri) to the western edge of the country (Sacramento, California), almost two thousand miles. The most surprising thing about _Orphans Preferred_ is that almost exactly halfway through the book, the Pony Express is disbanded. This reflects its short life; it ran for only eighteen months, overtaken by the first transcontinental telegraph. So much legend was based on such an ephemeral institution that the second half of the book examines the making and continuance of the legend. One name looms largest: Buffalo Bill Cody, who had a Pony Express performance at every show.Buffalo Bill's representation may well have been heroic, but it must have been realistic, too. That is much more than can be said for the Pony Express in novels, and especially in movies. Corbett lists various movies through which the Pony Express rides, and could never have actually ridden due to its northern route or restricted months of operation. _The Pony Express_, made in 1953 and staring Charlton Heston, is "the best bad movie" about the service, and is "a spectacular fraud," containing "virtually no facts in its entire 101 minu
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