Author of Pony Express book to come to Truckee | SierraSun.com

Author of Pony Express book to come to Truckee

Renee Shadforth, Sierra Sun

There has been a lot of hype about the Pony Express over the last 150 years.

Christopher Corbett – professor, journalist and author of “Orphans Preferred” – was drawn to the history of the Old West mail delivery service for that reason. Corbett will sign his book “Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express” at the Truckee Bookshelf on Friday at 6 p.m.

“The story of the Pony Express is rooted in fact but layered with 150 years of embellishment,” the Baltimore-based author said in a phone interview Monday. “It’s a classic Old Western story that’s sort of true and sort of not true.”

For example, the Pony Express was only in business for 78 weeks – much shorter than most Americans would believe considering how much attention it has received, Corbett said.

The Pony Express began in 1860 as a relay mail delivery system from St. Joseph, Mo., to Sacramento. Part of the system went through Genoa, Nev., and east to Lake Tahoe.

The Pony Express went out of business in 1861.

“It was a colossal financial disaster,” Corbett said.

However, its legacy – in the form of Hollywood films, Mark Twain’s “Roughing It,” dime novels and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show – has been worth millions of dollars.

The folklore aspect of the Pony Express is attributed, in part, to the fact that there are few records, and the operation itself kept no documentation at all, Corbett said.

Nothing was published on the delivery system until 50 years after it went out of business.

In almost four years of research, Corbett purchased every single published volume about the Pony Express he could find on the Internet, and he traveled the country to read as much as he could at America’s most renowned libraries.

He soon realized that he wasn’t going to find all the facts about the Pony Express.

“That’s the story: The making of an American legend,” he said. “Some people might find that defeating, but that’s what I found very charming.”

The title of the book comes from an 1860 help wanted ad seeking Pony Express carriers that reads: “Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”

“Orphans Preferred” has received rave reviews from publications ranging from The Washington Times to The Onion. It was published by Broadway in September 2003 and is in its seventh printing.

“I’m not pretending that this is the definitive story of the Pony Express,” Corbett said. “There’s never going to be a definitive story on the Pony Express.”

Corbett will read excerpts from “Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express” at the Truckee Bookshelf, located in the Gateway Shopping Center, on Friday at 5 p.m. Call the Bookshelf at 582-0515 for more information. The Web site for “Orphans Preferred” is http://www.orphanspreferred.com.