Rabbi Jeff Glickman
Pony Express Vs. The Alamo
There are two great stories from the middle of the 1800's which shape who America is today. If we learn the details of both of these, we will have a much greater understanding of what divides our country in 2021.
The first is the story of The Alamo.
I asked the night guard at The Alamo historic site in San Antonio, Texas, why this was such an important site. He told me that this is the foundation of American liberty.
We are taught that the brave Texians (what the English speaking, light colored settlers from the East were called) held out to the very end. Davy Crockett was shot there and became a martyred American hero. The troops which refused to surrender to the Mexicans (Spanish speaking and darker skinned) motivated quite a campaign of revenge. The ensuing battles enabled Texas to be part of the English-speaking United States. Little is taught about who owned the land before the Texians settled there. It could be taught as a story of the White Man's conquest. It certainly is a story of Us vs. Them, with the Spanish-speaking, darker-skinned Mexicans to our south as the dangerous "Them."
The other story takes place about 20 years later, in St. Joseph, Missouri. At that time, anything west of the Missouri River was unsettled wilderness, except for some cities in California and Oregon on the far coast. News travelled slowly -- it would take five and a half months for mail to arrive via ship (which had to go all the way around South America). There was no radio and no telephone, so word had to travel by paper. You could hire a wagon, which was a little quicker, but was so unreliable -- no roads for the 1,900 mile journey. By 1860, California was a full-fledged state and had a population of 380,000.
Three men came up with a plan to shorten the time. They set up 190 stations about ten miles apart. Riders would carry a mochila (saddle sack) of mail and ride. When they got to a transfer station, they would jump on a new horse and continue riding -- non stop, day and night. After about 10 straight hours, they would be replaced with another rider, and would rest until they were called upon to ride the other direction. The whole process took only 10 days to deliver the mail. It was how people found out that Abraham Lincoln was elected president. Some of the riders became American heroes -- including Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill Cody. I get quite a kick out of the advertisement for riders: Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.
This is the story of American ingenuity, bravery, sacrifice and dedication where every person is a part of something much larger than any one individual. We worked together for the common good. It is a story of "We are all in this together."
These two stories are like fuel which feed the values that shape our nation. The Alamo teaches us to fear and conquer our neighbors. The Pony Express teaches us to value those, regardless of how remote, and bring them closer.
We can no longer afford the lessons of Us vs. Them. It is only by working together that we can deliver a more perfect union. We are all in this together. - Rabbi Jeff Glickman