Alexander Majors

Historical Marker #2402 in Franklin notes the birthplace of Alexander Majors, a co-founder of the Pony Express.

Long before Horace Greely coined the phrase “Go West, young man!” generations had already started looking toward the western frontier. Alexander Majors was one such man who saw financial opportunity and adventure by linking the American East to the emerging West.

Although Alexander Majors’ time in Kentucky was limited, he was likely influenced by his upbringing on what was then still the frontier. His short time in the Kentucky wilderness led him toward a life that constantly pushed into new frontiers. Majors was born in what would become Simpson County on October 4, 1814. When he was only five, he moved with his family to the expanding frontier of the Missouri Territory, where he and his father cleared the land and build homesteads.

With the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, an enormous amount of territory was added to the United States. Innovative thinkers sought ways to start connecting the eastern states with the emerging settlements in the west, especially California. Majors started a successful freight business in 1848 that transported private, commercial, and military goods from western Missouri to Santa Fe.

In 1860, Majors partnered with William H. Russell and William B. Waddell to form the mail delivery service known as the Pony Express. The Pony Express delivered the mail, newspapers, and small packages from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California. Riders—usually young single men who were experienced frontiersmen—rode from one station to another and either obtained a fresh horse or handed off the mail to another rider in relay fashion across the almost two thousand mile route. Before telegraph lines penetrated the frontier, the Pony Express was the best direct line of communication. Mail could be carried the long distance in as little as ten days.

Majors was a religious man who expected his riders to be exemplary in character. Majors even developed an oath that riders were required to take that foreswore drinking, fighting, and using profane language.

Unfortunately, the Pony Express had a short life. It only operated from April 1860, until October 1861, when the US Mail contract was awarded to another firm. In addition, shortly thereafter, the transcontinental telegraph was completed that connected Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento.

Alexander Majors and the Pony Express were influential to American history in that they were the precursors to other transcontinental forms of communication like the telegraph and railroad, which were emerging in his day, and the interstate automobile highway system and airlines, which came much later.