Pony Express CA and the Naming of Buffalo Bill Lake
It was a small trading post tucked into the “Blacksnake Hills”. It would grow to become the City of St. Joseph, where in 1860 the famous Pony Express mail service would be born. Thirty miles east as the crow flies and 101 years later in 1961, the Department of Conservation began acquiring land for what would be called the Pony Express Conservation Area, in honor of the famous cross-country riders. Aiming to provide recreational opportunity in a portion if the state that was mostly agricultural, the Pony Express Area demonstrated that a balanced relationship could exist between agricultural operations and wildlife populations.
Over the years, especially in the 1980’s, the Conservation Department has purchased additional tracts and added to the area’s size. The 240-acre Pony Express Lake, opened to public fishing on January 1, 1966.
In cooperation with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, construction of 45-acre Buffalo Bill Lake in the north part of the area was completed in 1987. (The Bronze commemoration plaque was promptly stolen off of the concrete base, so many folks don’t have any idea when it was built.) The lake opened to public fishing in 1990 and features a concrete boat ramp, parking lot and facilities for visitors with disabilities.
Another mystery to visitors is why the 1987 lake was named after “Buffalo Bill”. William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody was an American scout, bison hunter, and showman. He was born in Le Claire, Iowa Territory, but he lived for several years in his father’s hometown in Toronto Township, Ontario, Canada, before the family returned to the Midwest and settled in the Kansas Territory. He is said to have ridden for the Pony Express at the age of 14-15, making one of the longest rides of any of the Pony Express Riders. Arriving at the station at the end of his relay, the rider he was supposed to hand the mochila off to had been killed in a fight. Cody rode the dead rider’s leg as well, only to arrive at the relay station in Wyoming when the eastbound mail arrived, again with no rider available to return east. Cody volunteered headed back east, riding the same two legs back the way, he had come, some 322 miles straight through. Cody is purported to have killed 4,282 buffalo in eighteen months in 1867 and 1868. He eventually became one of the most famous Americans in the world. But it is his connection to the Pony Express that caused a 45-acre lake in Northwest Missouri to be named after him.