Legendary Utah historian Leland Creer used to decry what he called "armchair historians," who wrote about places they had never visited. His ideal was Francis Parkman, immortalized through his classic work, "The Oregon Trail," because Parkman recreated everything he ever wrote about.
True to that time-honored tradition, 50-year-old Joe Nardone, an accountant turned historian, will leave from St. Joseph, Mo., on horseback on June 8 to follow the Pony Express Trail to Sacramento, Calif. It will be the first complete solo ride along the actual Pony Express Trail in this century - all 1,958 miles of it.The ride is part of a major effort to get congressional designation of the Pony Express Trail as a "National Historic Trail." Nardone will carry a scroll to gather 10,000 signatures petitioning Congress to grant the historic status. Actually, on May 9 the U.S. House of Representatives voted 409-0 to make such a designation, leaving the next step to the Senate - so if Nardone is lucky, the petition may become moot before the conclusion of his
But that's OK, because there's another reason for Nardone's grandstand play - to publicize his book - a three-volume work on the Pony Express, titled "In Search of the Pony Express." The first volume will be published in 1992. Volumes one and two include maps of the trail, and volume three is intended to be the definitive history of all the events of the trail.
He wants the footnoted book to appeal not only to scholars - but to "the average person - so they don't get turned off."
In researching the book, Nardone says, he spent five years "literally walking the trail, documenting it and locating original relay stations," as well as "an awful lot of time at the Utah State Historical Society, because Salt Lake City was the division headquarters for the Pony Express - located between 100 and 200 South and Main Street."
It will be Nardone's first major book. He calls himself a "former businessman and jack-of-all-trades" who got an MBA and worked as an accountant for several corporations. While teaching a course in commercial aviation in Costa Mesa, Ariz., he wrote "a couple of books on aviation" for use in the class.
At the age of 40 he began moving in the direction of Western history, a field he loved from the age of 17 when he went on his first historic trek on a Western trail. "I wanted to do what I was most interested in without worrying about money." So seven years ago he went to work for Western Trails Enterprises in Carson City, Nev., as a historian even though he had no degree in history - and has loved the process of locating and documenting trails.
The Pony Express operated only between April 1860 and October 1861, but in its short history it carried more than 30,000 letters. It brought Salt Lake City within seven days of mail from Washington, D.C., and within four days of mail from Sacramento. It was quickly rendered obsolete by the telegraph.
Although the original Pony Express riders averaged 12 to 14 days to complete their rides, Nardone intends to spend most of the summer on the trail, traveling only 30 to 40 miles a day, and taking Sundays off. He will bring six head of horses, riding only two of them a day, and will bring wranglers and veterinarians along so that the horses will be guaranteed the best care.
His horses are furnished by Utah's own East Canyon Outfitters and his head wrangler will be Utah's Anthony Bertagnole. Nardone says, "I'm placing a great deal of trust in him."
"Utah has about 200 miles of original trail. I will enter Utah at Needles, on the Wyoming-Utah border, the same place that Brigham Young did. Then I will come down Echo Canyon, off the freeway on the access road down to Henefer, and from there through East Canyon over Little Mountain, over the Emigration Trail into Salt Lake City."
He hopes to reach Salt Lake City in time to ride in the Days of '47 Parade on July 24 and is slated to give a talk to the Sons of the Utah Pioneers on July 25. "I'm a very good motivational speaker."
By Sept. 2, he hopes to ride the last five blocks from the dock to the location of the 1860 Pony Express terminus in San Francisco, where the modern-day Francis Parkman will end his historic journey.