Google Doodle celebrates the Pony Express in the U.S. and, in other places, B. R. Ambedkar

April 14, 2015 • 8:45 am

There are two Doodles today, but only one is visible in the U.S.  This is the one celebrating the 155th anniversary of the Pony Express. If you’re not a Yank, you likely haven’t heard of it, but the story of the Express was taught to all schoolkids when I was a youngster.  The Pony Express was a horseback mail service connecting Sacramento, California with St. Joseph, Missouri: it was the fastest way to get letters across the U.S. before there was a railroad. Using the Express, one could get a letter from the East coast to Calif0rnia in only 10 days—not too much longer than it takes now!

Most Americans don’t realize, however, that the service was short-lived: only 18 months—from 1860-1861, until the Civil War brought it to a close. But it carries the romantic image of the Wild West, mainly because of the intrepid riders and the short-stage horse gallops needed to deliver mail rapidly. Wikipedia explains:

In 1860, there were about 157 Pony Express stations that were about 10 miles (16 km) apart along the Pony Express route.[6] This was roughly the distance a horse could travel at a gallop before tiring. At each station stop the express rider would change to a fresh horse, taking only the mail pouch called a mochila (from the Spanish for pouch or backpack) with him.

The employers stressed the importance of the pouch. They often said that, if it came to be, the horse and rider should perish before the mochila did. The mochila was thrown over the saddle and held in place by the weight of the rider sitting on it. Each corner had a cantina, or pocket. Bundles of mail were placed in these cantinas, which were padlocked for safety. The mochila could hold 20 pounds (9 kg) of mail along with the 20 pounds (9 kg) of material carried on the horse. Included in that 20 pounds (9 kg) were a water sack, a Bible, a horn for alerting the relay station master to prepare the next horse, and a revolver. Eventually, everything except one revolver and a water sack was removed, allowing for a total of 165 pounds (75 kg) on the horse’s back. Riders, who could not weigh over 125 pounds (57 kg), changed about every 75–100 miles (120–160 km), and rode day and night. In emergencies, a given rider might ride two stages back to back, over 20 hours on a quickly moving horse.

Here’s the Doodle, and it is also an animated game! You can move the rider’s horse up and down on the screen using the arrow keys, collecting letters along the way; the object is to get as many letters to St. Joe as you can. But beware of the cacti, where you could get badly hung up and lose all your mail! As one reader wrote me this morning:

Did you see [the Google Doodle] yet? It’s a game and some of my coworkers and I think we’ll get nothing done today. We have a lot of mail to deliver!

Click on the screenshot to see the Doodle and play the game—if you’re within the ambit of the Doodle (see below):

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There’s even a YouTube video of how it was made, explained by Nate Swinehart, part of the animation team:

Below is an actual letter delivered by the Pony Express; it must be worth a fortune, as there were only 35,000 transported this way, and most were surely lost or discarded.  Note the Pony Express postmark.  It was expensive to send mail this way: the prices varied between $1 and $5 for a regular letter, and, for comparison, $1 in 1860 is the equivalent of $26 in 2013.  Wikipedia has a really nice article on the service, along with stories of some colorful and heroic riders, who risked being killed by Native Americans.

Pony_Express5_St_Joseph_1860

Here’s one of several U.S. commemorative stamps, this one from 1940:

Pony_Express_3c_1940_issue

This Doodle is visible in only the following places:

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If you live in any of the countries below, you’ll see a different Doodle, one of an Indian hero/politician, B. R. Ambedkar. Had he lived, today would have been Ambedkar’s 124th birthday.  (The distribution of this Doodle is weird: I can understand India and the UK, but Ireland, Chile, Argentina, and Peru, as well as Sweden and Poland? Is Ambedkar well known in South America?

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Regardless, Ambedkar (1891-1956) is known to me, for I’ve spent a lot of time in India, where he is a much admired figure and one of the most important politicians to create the Indian nation after it became independent in 1947.  Here’s his Doodle:

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Ambedkar was the primary drafter of India’s constitution and its first Law Minister.  One of the reasons for his fame is that he worked his way up despite being born a dalit  (the term Indians now use for “untouchable”), which would normally have doomed him to a life of drudgery and discrimination. After being the only dalit in his primary school, he went on to get degrees from both Columbia University in the U.S. and the London School of Economics. During his tenure in government he worked tirelessly for the rights of dalits, and much of the “affirmative action” they receive today reflects his doings. Later in life Ambedkar became a Buddhist. Today he’s a national hero in India, a well deserved status, and one shown by the photo below:

People_paying_tribute_at_the_central_statue_of_Bodhisattva_Babasaheb_Ambedkar_in_Dr._Babasaheb_Ambedkar_Marathwada_University,_India
People paying tribute at the central statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar in Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University in Aurangabad.

 

39 thoughts on “Google Doodle celebrates the Pony Express in the U.S. and, in other places, B. R. Ambedkar

    1. While I like Guha, he’s accused by Dalits of being too chummy with Gandhi on the issue of caste and thus not making up his mind between him and Ambedkar.

      Round Table India is a Dalit website and has been posting about Ambedkar like crazy today. Iirc, the last post was Ambedkar’s speech to the Mahar sub caste of Dalits about why they need to convert.

  1. Ambedkar recently appeared as a character in the Channel 4 (UK) drama series “Indian Summers”, set in 1932. I must admit that I knew nothing about him before, but seeing him in the drama inspired me to read more about him.

    1. That is very interesting stuff….Lucky Luke. Who would guess.

      From where I live here in Yank land, St. Joseph Missouri, is just 75 miles down the road. Famous for two things I suppose – The pony express and Jessie James, who was killed there.

      Many people today, even around here would say, why St. Joe and not the much larger Kansas City which is just down the road? This is why history always has to be understood from the time. Back in 1860 St. Joe had a population of 8,932 and Kansas City was only 4,418. Today Kansas City is nearly half a million and St. Joe is 76,000.

  2. April 15 is the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination. I wonder if we’ll see an animated google doodle commemorating this momentous event?

    1. It’s also tax day in the States — the deadline for filing Federal income tax returns. Probably a toss-up as to which people will pay more attention to….

      b&

        1. American Westerns were always popular in England; Keith Richards (of all people) has said that Roy Rogers was his idol when he was boy. Happy Trails!

          1. I used to watch Westerns as a kid in England in the 60’s. Particularly Rawhide. Notable in that the second-in-command was some guy named Eastwood.

            I couldn’t stand Bonanza, though. Too much happy families, not enough gunfights. 😉

      1. I never knew that there was a 125 lb. weight limit for the riders. That just doesn’t work well with my mental image of Buffalo Bill.

  3. Ambedkar always thought Gandhi was a charlatan wrt his efforts to eradicate caste. Gandhi never really questioned the religious underpinnings. This seems to be Ambedkar’s moment to be discovered by some western atheists.

    The essence of Ambedkar’s critique of caste (and Hinduism) can be found in an undelivered speech of his called “the annihilation of caste,” which can be found on a Columbia web page. It dates to the 30s and isn’t quite outdated. As he recommends, priests in India are controlled by the government, but efforts to open the priesthood up to other castes have consistently blocked. He also wanted Hindus to come together and decide on a single scripture- which sounds incredibly naive, I don’t know how you could do that without just splintering off into another sect.

    But his appraisal of caste, it’s religious underpinnings, and apologetics for it that continue to this day (hindu American foundation?), etc are spot on.

    Always thought western atheists needed to take a closer look at Hinduism, thanks Dr. Coyne.

      1. “Great Soul” and even Hitchens are actually easy on Gandhi compared to what his Indian critics have been saying about him 😀

        The real sore point is that Gandhi made sure not to let Ambedkar’s demand for separate electorates for Dalits come to fruition. That is, Dalits would have reserved seats in Parliament, and ONLY Dalits would vote for those politicians so that the politician wouldn’t be watered-down. Gandhi kept the reserved seats, but now upper castes had a say in which Dalit politicians were elected.

        But I think Hitchens– and popular opinion– seem to suggest that dalits at the time preferred Ambedkar to Gandhi. It actually wasn’t the case back then. Some of the earliest Dalit literature praises Gandhi– one poet Gurram Jashuva mourned his death.
        Ambedkar himself was viewed with suspicion by many Dalits in his own lifetime, a representative of just his subcaste of Mahars. How exactly he became a pan-Dalit icon is a history that I don’t think has been written yet.

      2. “Great Soul” and even Hitchens are actually easy on Gandhi compared to what his Indian critics have been saying about him 😀

        The real sore point is that Gandhi made sure not to let Ambedkar’s demand for separate electorates for Dalits come to fruition. That is, Dalits would have reserved seats in Parliament, and ONLY Dalits would vote for those politicians so that the politician wouldn’t be watered-down. Gandhi kept the reserved seats, but now upper castes had a say in which Dalit politicians were elected.

        But I think Hitchens– and popular opinion– seem to suggest that Dalits at the time preferred Ambedkar to Gandhi. It actually wasn’t the case back then. Some of the earliest Dalit literature praises Gandhi– one poet Gurram Jashuva mourned his death.
        Ambedkar himself was viewed with suspicion by many Dalits in his own lifetime, a representative of just his subcaste of Mahars. How exactly he became a pan-Dalit icon is a history that I don’t think has been written yet.

      1. Well in the diaspora, there are so few “lower castes” that we really have no opportunity to exclude them. There’s plenty of apologia though that condemns caste discrimination but insists it’s not religious (sound familiar?)

        And we have our own creationists in A Erica railing against Western study of India and Hinduism. If you have time, look up Rajiv Malhotra and also the Hindu American Foundation.

        1. I must say the caste stuff I’ve never really talked to any folks about – years ago I took a course “Passage to More than India” as one of my required courses in English literature, where it was discussed, but …

          I do however remember encountering a Hare Krishna on talk.origins, with his own particular creationism so I suppsoe there are some …

  4. The Pony Express was…the fastest way to get letters across the U.S. before there was a railroad.

    …Most Americans don’t realize, however, that the service was short-lived: only 18 months—from 1860-1861, until the Civil War brought it to a close.

    A third major contributor to its death was the telegraph. Even if the civil war had not occurred, I doubt the Pony Express would’ve been funded for much longer than it was. Stage coaches could deliver non-time-sensitive messages far cheaper while the telegraph could deliver time sensitive ones far faster.

    1. Yes, I believe the transcontinental telegraph was completed in 1861 and that was it for the pony express.

  5. In high school I lived in a house a few hundred feet from the Nevada leg of the Pony Express. There is an annual “re-ride” that passes right by my old house, in which hundreds of riders relay a mochila from St. Joe to Sacto over a week or ten days. A few miles up that road is a natural hot springs, developed into a resort in the 1970’s and much expanded since: a railroad once ran along the trail and hot springs were a popular stop and “health” destination. And a little further up the trail is the Mormon Station, the oldest U.S. settlement in Northen Nevada – it’s a real, pointy-post fort like on F-Troop.

    All that history, right on my street, and as a kid I could not care less! A few years ago, after 30-odd years away, we took the family and stayed at the hot springs for a week and visited the historical sites and the town around the Mormon Station, Genoa. I was shocked at how different and interesting it all was to me. Remarkable.

  6. Somehow I’ve heard of it – that’s not surprising, really, but I’m trying to figure out where.

    My guess would be the American Sesame Street – I grew up watching that and the Canadian one. (Could also be other PBS shows, I guess.)

    1. SRA Reading Cards, perhaps? They were used (at least as extension material for advanced readers) in both British and Australian primary schools I attended in the early 70s*. Moving between continents involved missing large chunks of history and geography in both school systems, but the little box of USAnian mythology was relentless. I subsequently inferred that SRA, like Reader’s Digest, was a CIA Cold War plot to Americanise the globe.

      *I actually remember the Pony Express one in particular, because it was the day I learned that ‘fleet’ could mean ‘fast’ as well as an assemblage of watercraft; the embarrassment when I found out that ‘fleet ponies’ wasn’t a metaphor hasn’t quite faded.

  7. I chuckled at the avalanche obstacle. Waxing existential, memory infuses everything we do and yet it’s just there, an attribute of the living able to construct a connection with the deceased. Amazing.

    Existentialist moment over. 🙂

    Mike

  8. Ambedkar was part of the first generation of politicians of independent India, a lot of whom were more secular-humanist than subsequent generations of politicians. His clear thinking is summarized by this quote from his famous ‘Annihilation of Caste’ speech (undelivered):

    “I have, therefore, no hesitation in saying that such a religion must be destroyed, and I say there is nothing irreligious in working for the destruction of such a religion. Indeed I hold that it is your bounden duty to tear off the mask, to remove the misrepresentation that is caused by misnaming this law as religion.”

    “So long as people look upon it as religion they will not be ready for a change, because the idea of religion is generally speaking not associated with the idea of change. But the idea of law is associated with the idea of change, and when people come to know that what is called religion is really law, old and archaic, they will be ready for a change, for people know and accept that law can be changed.”

    I would strongly recommend writer/polemicist Arundhati Roy’s article “The Doctor and the Saint” that compares and contrasts the values of Ambedkar and the much more regressive Mahatma Gandhi.

  9. Did you see [the Google Doodle] yet? It’s a game and some of my coworkers and I think we’ll get nothing done today. We have a lot of mail to deliver!

    These simple games are quite fun and addicting.
    I read that the google Pac-Man game “wasted” 4.82 million productivity hours.

    I wonder if Google would get any backlash if they created games for every event, since it is the games that grab people’s attention. Does anyone work in a place that bans the internet? I wouldn’t be surprised if some businesses are (or become) draconian re. the internet.

  10. “Is Ambedkar well known in South America?” Is the pony express well known in Myanmar?

    The distribution is indeed. Fascinating and also the places it is, apparently, not visible at all. Spain! Italy! All of Africa? And what is that dot in the Med. Malta? Corsica, of course, just twigged.

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