The identity of the first westbound rider to depart St. Joseph has been disputed, but currently most historians have narrowed it down to either Johnny Fry or Billy Richardson. Both Expressmen were hired at St. Joseph for A. E. Lewis’ Division which ran from St. Joseph to Seneca, Kansas, a distance of 80 miles (130 km). They covered at an average speed of 12 1⁄2 miles per hour (20 km/h), including all stops. Before the mail pouch was delivered to the first rider on April 3, 1860, time was taken out for ceremonies and several speeches. First, Mayor M. Jeff Thompson gave a brief speech on the significance of the event for St. Joseph. Then William H. Russell and Alexander Majors addressed the gala crowd about how the Pony Express was just a “precursor” to the construction of a transcontinental railroad. At the conclusion of all the speeches, approximately 7:15 p.m., Russell turned the mail pouch over to the first rider. A cannon fired, the large assembled crowd cheered, and the rider dashed to the landing at the foot of Jules Street where the ferry boat Denver, under a full head of steam, alerted by the signal cannon, waited to carry the horse and rider across the Missouri River to Elwood, Kansas Territory. On April 9 at 6:45 p.m., the first rider from the east reached Salt Lake City, Utah. Then, on April 12, the mail pouch reached Carson City, Nevada at 2:30 p.m. The riders raced over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, through Placerville, California and on to Sacramento. Around midnight on April 14, 1860, the first mail pouch was delivered via the Pony Express to San Francisco. Bringing with it was a letter of congratulations from President Buchanan to California Governor Downey along with other official government communications, newspapers from New York, Chicago, and St. Louis, along with other important mail to banks and commercial houses in San Francisco. In all, 85 pieces of mail were delivered on this first trip.
James Randall is credited as the first eastbound rider from the San Francisco Alta telegraph office since he was on the steamship Antelope to go to Sacramento. Mail for the Pony Express left San Francisco at 4:00 pm, carried by horse and rider to the waterfront, and then on by steamboat to Sacramento where it was picked up by the Pony Express rider. At 2:45 a.m., William (Sam) Hamilton was the first Pony Express rider to begin the journey from Sacramento. He rode all the way to Sportsman Hall Station where he gave his mochila filled with mail to Warren Upson. A California Registered Historical Landmark plaque at the site reads:
This was the site of Sportsman’s Hall, also known as the Twelve-Mile House. The hotel operated in the late 1850’s and 1860’s by John and James Blair. A stopping place for stages and teams of the Comstock, it became a relay station of the central overland Pony Express. Here, at 7:40 a.m., April 4, 1860, Pony rider William (Sam) Hamilton, riding in from Placerville, handed the Express mail to Warren Upson who, two minutes later, sped on his way eastward.— Plaque at Sportsman Hall