The hooves of galloping horses echo as they pound across a vast expanse of desert and neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night keep the Hashknife Pony Express from reaching its destination. Every winter since 1958, more than two dozen riders from the Navajo County Sheriff’s Hashknife Posse make the 200-mile, 2 ½-day trek from Holbrook to Scottsdale to deliver more than 20,000 pieces of mail and to kick off the annual Parada del Sol, a celebration that revels in popular myths of the American West.
The Hashknife Posse began as a search-and-rescue unit in the mid-1950s, but the Hashknife “brand” began with the rough-and-tumble cowboys who, in the late 1800s, staked out turf for the Aztec Land & Cattle Co., a New York investment company eager to profit off the still untamed land of northern Arizona. The original Hashknife cowboys, whose name came from the shape of the brand on the cattle that looked like the hash knife used by cowboy cooks, have become the subjects of rowdy tall tales that evoke an Old West of turf wars and gunfights, barroom brawls and dance-hall girls.
This "Old West" lies in a grey area between reality and myth, but it is based in the unsettled and unsettling nature of Western expansion during the nineteenth-century. Land was up for grabs, ranching opportunities were seized, and settlers pushed the frontier ever forward. It is the spirit, the feeling, of this age of wild possibility that the Hashknife Pony Express resurrects each year in its symbolic ride into Scottsdale. The real Pony Express never operated in Arizona, but for 18 months from April 1860 to October 1861 it filled the need for a swifter method of communication between the East and West. The completion of a telegraph linking both coasts made the Pony Express unnecessary, but brave young men battling harsh conditions and making their way across long stretches of countryside remains one of the most popular images of the American West.
Today, the riders of the Hashknife Pony Express, who are not re-enactors but are actually sworn in by the US Postal Service, draw on the icons of the past to bridge the “Old West” and the “New West” and provide a reminder of the pioneering ideals that shaped “the West’s most Western town.” Even so, it is worth noting that the original Pony Express only operated briefly from 1860 to 1861, before the telegraph made it obsolete; and, it never traveled through the Arizona territory.