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Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express Hardcover – September 9, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School--"Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows, not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. Wages--$25 per week." Thus ran a notice in several western newspapers in 1860. Or maybe not. This is just one of many unproved "facts" about the Central Overland California & Pike's Peak Express Company, better known as the Pony Express. The Pony's day was short, a mere 18 months, from April 3, 1860, to October 26, 1861 (just two days after the completion of the first coast-to-coast telegraph line). The company was a financial disaster for its owners. The total amount of mail carried was insignificant. Ah, but the "twisted truth and lasting legend," now that is something a good writer can throw in his saddlebag and ride with. And Corbett does exactly that in this fine analysis of the famed riders of the Wild West. He does an excellent job of finding bits of truth hidden behind layers of myth. For example, Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok were not Pony Express heroes, despite numerous dime novels and Hollywood westerns to the contrary. On the other hand, true heroes were lost among the lore. The feats of Robert Haslam and William F. Fisher were impressive by any standard. This book tells two main stories: what happened (so far as is known) and how the legend grew (about which much is known). A good selection for Old West aficionados, especially those who relish the challenge of separating fact from fiction.--Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

If MBAs existed in 1860, they'd have advised Russell, Majors & Waddell that their business plan for a cross-continental courier service was a loser. But the firm's folly was the Old West's gain, creating one of its most myth-encrusted mirages--the fabled Pony Express. In Corbett's discerning hands, the saga splits in two. The first part is his rollicking account of the Express, in which Corbett wryly picks his way through the embellishments that surround its short year-and-a-half existence. The second part ambles through the afterlife of the Pony Express as entertainment, accumulating Corbett's gallery of newspaper hacks, cheap novelists, showman Buffalo Bill, filmmakers, and local history antiquarians who peddled truths and fabrications about it. It makes for fun reading as Corbett handicaps which writer was a jolly liar, who was a conscientious chronicler, or what old timer's memories of his days on horseback have a smidgen of believability. The book is great entertainment in and of itself, but buffs of the West will virtually gallop to the checkout line. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; 1 edition (September 9, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767906926
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767906920
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #676,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Christopher Corbett is the author of The Poker Bride: The First Chinese in the Wild West (Atlantic Monthly, 2010) and Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express (Random House/Broadway Books, 2003). He is also the author of the novel Vacationland (Viking/Penguin, 1986).
Corbett is a 1973 graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. A former news editor with The Associated Press, Corbett began his journalism career in his native Maine. Since 1995 he has written The Back Page for Baltimore's Style magazine, twice winner of best column from the City and Regional Magazine Association and honored by the Society for Professional Journalists for best editorial writing.
A Baltimore resident, Corbett is a faculty member at the University of Maryland Baltimore County where he is professor of the practice in the English Department. He was awarded the University System of Maryland Board of Regents' Faculty Award for Mentoring, 2007-2008. In 1990, Corbett was the James Thurber Journalist-In-Residence at Ohio State University. From 1990 to 1993, he was visiting journalist at Loyola College in Baltimore. His journalism has appeared in major American newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Chances are you never heard of the great nineteenth century freight-hauling firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell. You never heard the official name of the firm's most famous effort, the Central Overland California & Pike's Peak Express Company. You have certainly heard of the popular name of the endeavor: the Pony Express. You know the Pony Express, because from its beginning, it was the stuff of legend, and the legend has never stopped growing. That is the main point of _Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express_ (Broadway Books) by Christopher Corbett. Corbett has given as good a history as can be written about the Pony Express because he has shown what difficulties there are in digging up such history. "We know that much to be true" becomes a frequent refrain in his work to emphasize how little we really know of the truth. It isn't important. The legends about the Pony Express may not be literally true, but they are real and they mean something, and Corbett's book is about them as much as it is about plain facts.
Take the title of the book, for a start. An ad that supposedly ran in newspapers all through California in 1860 sought "Young, skinny, wiry fellows, not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred." The ad has been reproduced many times as part of the Pony Express's history, in such journals as _The New York Times_, but there is no documentation of any original. Such a title for the book is thus perfectly emblematic of its contents, and also ensures that the undocumented quotation will continue to be attached to the Pony Express. Such are the risks of writing fact about legend.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Virtually everyone has heard of the Pony Express, the thundering horses, and the spirited young men who rode risking life and limb. All have seen a multiplicity of images, the stereotypic Pony Express horse and rider, that grace a variety of corporate stationery, restaurant menus and billboards. But who really knows the truth of the history of this singularly American venture?
Living in Pony Express country and having done my share of reading and having visited various Express-related sites I thought I was fairly well versed. But after reading "Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express" by Christopher Corbett I have to admit that my supposed knowledge was more a collection of the myth surrounding this short-lived, though spectacular, chapter in history.
"Orphans Preferred..." was thoroughly enjoyable read. Corbett does what all responsible authors tackling a dubious subject should do: he collects all of the information, both factual and fabricated, puts it in the hopper and does his best to sort things through. Then he leaves it to us, his readers, to maker our own conclusions. Not once in the book does Mr. Corbett claim to be totally convinced that this or that piece of information is undeniably true or undeniably false. He correctly leaves it to various quoted sources to do that.
But what else could he do? The information available about the Pony Express is at best a jumbled mess. Such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody and James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok muddied the waters with their efforts to link themselves to and take credit for various aspects of the Express. Hollywood, playing on this hearsay and extensive legend, did its best as well to further mess things up.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Christina Lockstein on May 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Orphans Preferred by Christopher Corbett is a fun history of The Pony Express. Corbett does his best to piece through the mythology of the "Pony", but he doesn't always have a lot to work with. Sometimes he spends pages explaining all the different possibilities of a fact which isn't all that important. There are neat, short biographies of some fascinating characters from the Wild West including Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickock. Corbett treats the whole book as fun and not to be taken too seriously, and that's exactly how I suggest you read the book. He does his best to give us the facts, but sometimes the legend is more interesting, so he recounts that as well. I have a new understanding of The Pony Express and some of the people who helped create its myth, but many mysteries remain, including the "orphans preferred" newspaper advertisement.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Frank J. Konopka VINE VOICE on December 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Ah, the innocent times of yesteryear, when a company could actually try something in its busines line without worrying about the government interfering with it, or solving all kinds of "red tape" regulations! The Pony Express was a privately-run business that delivered the mail over miles and miles of trackless country, from Missouri to California, for 18 glorious months in 1860 and 1861. Soon, however, the telegraph took away its business, and it went under, quite quickly. Now all we know are the legends built up by countless dime novels and Hollywood pictures, and what we get is quite a distance from the truth. This book strives to give us what realy happened, and along the way we learn a lot about the Express, its founders, some of its riders, and then the legends that built up over the years. There are many interesting and unusual characters in this story, from Wild Bill Hickock, Buffalo Bill Cody and others, to Broncho Charlie Miller. The writing keeps our interest, and the pace of the story never flags, nor did the horses and riders of this venerable institution of so long ago.
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