A team of 30 horse-mounted mail carriers galloped through downtown Scottsdale at high noon Friday to mark the end of a 200-mile, three-day re-enactment of the historic pony express.
The gritty riders and their sweat-drenched horses followed wailing police motorcycles along the final stretch of East Osborn Road to deliver more than 1,200 pieces of mail they had carried from Holbrook.
About 300 spectators on both sides of the street cheered as the riders made their final turn into the parking lot of the main post office to hand over their leather mail pouches.
“We go through a lot of towns and a lot of cities, but when we get to Scottsdale, it’s always special to us because it’s trail’s end,” said trail boss Dave Alford, 49, of Scottsdale.
The 45th annual ride by volunteer members of the Navajo County sheriff’s posse marked the start of the weeklong Parada del Sol festival of Old West-themed events in Scottsdale.
The cosmopolitan resort city will commemorate its dusty yesteryears with the 50th annual horse-drawn parade |begins at 10 a.m. today along North Scottsdale Road. Parties, a rodeo and concerts continues through next weekend.
The Western-attired mail carriers, who call themselves the “Hashknife Posse,” saddled up in the Arizona high country north of the Mogollon Rim and rode through Heber, Pine and Payson.
“It was the best I’ve ever been on in 20-plus years,” said Alford, a retired horse trainer, who completed his fifth ride as trail boss and 22nd Hashknife ride overall.
This year’s trek under sunny skies and record temperatures in the mid-80s followed the coldest ride in memory last year when horses slogged through 4 inches of snow above the rim.
The ride paid tribute to the most colorful chapter of U.S. postal history — the original pony express, which ran for just 18 months in 1860 and 1861. Young riders risked their lives to carry personal letters, government documents and news of cotton prices from St. Joseph, Mo., to Sacramento, Calif., until the first transcontinental telegraph line drove them out of business.
Modern-era rider Nathan Perkins, 23, of New River, encountered a 21st century danger when the driver of an 18-wheeler blew his horn as he passed Perkins and his horse Padre near Heber. The horse bolted wildly and threw Perkins, a crane rigger who was making his first Hashknife ride, on a barbed-wire fence.
Fellow rider Don Chiappetti, 44, a Scottsdale dentist making his 13th ride, broke out his first-aid kit and put six stitches in Perkins’ right wrist.
“He’s a tough bird, that kid,” Chiappetti said. “We sewed him up and he hopped on his horse.”
Chiappetti told Perkins to keep the sutures clean the rest of the way, but as Perkins rolled back his bandages after the ride at the Rusty Spur Saloon, the only thing that was clear was Perkins’ near-total failure in his effort to keep trail dust away.
In an unusual twist, a class of third-graders from El Dorado Private School in Scottsdale hand-delivered a parcel to rider Ron Naegelin, 53, of Waddell.
Naegelin, the manager of customer service at the Scottsdale post office, had visited the class the previous week to discuss the role of horsemen during the westward expansion of the 1800s. The students gave him a booklet of thank-you letters.
“I’m really glad he came to our classroom, because he talked a lot about the Oregon Trail and the pony express,” said student Meghan Bubel, 9, of Scottsdale.
She said she was most impressed by Naegelin’s tales of the protective clothes riders wore and the dangers they faced every day in the wilderness. “It sounds like something I would enjoy,” she said.