The Last Ride of the Pony Express, Reviewed

Will Grant, a horseman and writer from New Mexico, rode the entire length of the Pony Express and wrote about it: The Last Ride of the Pony Express: My 2,000-Mile Horseback Journey Into The Old West. Curtis Moore, who lives in Nevada near the old route, reviews it below.

Grant was born and raised outside Denver, Colorado. After college, he worked as a cowboy and a horse trainer in Colorado, Wyoming, and Texas, where he apprenticed under Jack Brainard.

In 2008, he pivoted to a career in journalism. His writing has appeared in Outside magazine, Bloomberg BusinessweekThe Wall Street Journal, as well as regional publications throughout the West. His efforts to combine horses and storytelling have included a 600-mile horse race across Mongolia, an expedition to find gold in Arizona, and two trips to Kyrgyzstan to play the most dangerous horseback sport, kok boru.

The Last Ride of the Pony Express is his first book. He envisions his next book to be an exploration of the history of horsemanship along the Silk Road in Central Asia.

Reviewer Curtis Moore grew up in Bishop, California, where he spent his summers packing mules in the Eastern Sierra. During college, he cowboyed at a ranch near Greenfield, California, where he learned and practiced low-pressure stockmanship techniques. In law school, he focused on environmental and natural resource law, subjects that would lead him to simultaneously pursue a master’s in conflict and dispute resolution from the University of Oregon.

In his spare time Curtis rides his horse, Rooster, writes, and makes memes about underrated fantasy novels.

Read about Curtis’ Nevada leg of the Pony Express here.

By Curtis Moore

Will Grant’s The Last Ride of the Pony Express is part travelogue, part history lesson, and part meditation on the landscape of the American West and its impact on the western identity. Astute readers, or at least my former English teachers, will note that one part of that first sentence is quite a bit longer than the other parts. If this book was just a travel diary about his trip from Missouri to California along the historic Pony Express Trail, just a history of the Pony Express, or even both combined, my opening line would be much shorter than it is.

Grant, who has studied and written as a journalist, does an excellent job of researching and condensing an enormous amount of historical information to serve as background for the book. Similarly, his description of his preparation and execution of his journey is done with an eye toward clarity and economy.

Much of the book’s length, charm, and impact comes from its descriptions of the people and communities Grant encounters on his way west. A keen observer of people, Grant paints a vivid picture of the changes in environment and culture through the characters he encounters along the way, along with their surroundings.

Photo by Claire Antoszewski

One feature of this book that sets it apart from the other books on the Guy-Rides-Horses-a-Long-Way-and-Describes-the-People-He-Meets shelf is what will make this book withstand reading and re-reading. Grant’s clear descriptions invite conclusions, but he never lays them out in a dedicated paragraph at the end of the chapter. The conclusions he draws are often subtle, and perhaps not the same as the ones his readers will reach. His positions are quiet and understated, as befits a westerner.

Rather than as the author of an authoritative position paper, Grant assumes the same posture as a cowboy telling a story in a bunkhouse or at the bar of the Star Hotel. The story and the people are the important part, he lets the reader do the rest of the work if they want more.

Overall, having ridden part of this trail myself for many of the same reasons, I enjoyed this book. It invites the reader to move through it either at a brisk pace, eating up the miles Grant worked so hard to cross, or to take it at a more leisurely pace, experiencing the change from East to West as he must have.

Horsepeople, history buffs, or readers just looking for an interested story to pass the time with, will all find pages that bring them joy, or that leave them wanting to know more about a certain subject. For myself, I would dearly love to know more about Grant’s time on the Kok Boru team.

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