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John Kovalcik, an Air Force veteran, watches the Southeast Wyoming Pony Express Association arrive on horseback on Saturday, June 29, 2019, at the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The Pony Express came to the VA to deliver letters written by local third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders to say thank you to veterans for their service. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – From April 1860 to October 1861, horse-mounted riders with the Pony Express traveled between Missouri and California delivering letters, newspapers and other messages to better connect the country’s still-developing western states.

Riders quickly became the region’s most direct form of east-west mail service; thousands had recently moved west following the gold rush and Mormon emigration to Utah. The service was soon replaced by the transcontinental telegraph, but the Pony Express continues to be a symbol of the rugged American frontier.

Riders with the Southeast Wyoming Pony Express Association hope to keep that Old West charm alive. The National Pony Express Association was established in 1978 to host re-rides and honor the original mail service’s historical impact.

On Saturday, they hand-delivered letters from Wyoming elementary school students to local veterans at Cheyenne’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

The event, called “Ride for the Heroes,” allows children from throughout the state to thank a veteran for his or her service. This year, students from Cheyenne, Glenrock, Torrington and Wheatland handcrafted cards to be delivered on horseback.

“Ride for the Heroes is an important opportunity for our youth and the National Pony Express Association to share in honoring our heroes,” said the ride’s organizer, Tony Goulart.

Although the original Pony Express never came through Cheyenne, Southeast Wyoming Pony Express Association Ride Captain Stephanie Goulart said it’s for a good cause.

“Steering our ponies south to make a special delivery is something we all look forward to as Independence Day approaches,” she said. “With everything from crayons to construction paper, to cutouts and glue, these grade-schoolers have given us an Independence Day message to deliver as only they could.”

One student’s letter read, simply, “I’m very thankful for your service, and I’m really hoping you’re having a great day.” Another wrote, “I hope that you get to feeling better or get to healing.”

“In this time of Snapchat, Instagram, emails and texting, how wonderful it is that they actually put pen and pencil to paper and wrote heartfelt messages of thanks,” said Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr, who spoke briefly at the event.

Michael Przymus, who retired from the Wyoming Air National Guard seven years ago after more than 38 years of military service, said the letters may help raise the spirits of veterans undergoing medical treatment at the facility.

“I just think it’s great,” he said.

Any remaining letters will be sent to other VA hospitals and active-duty service members.

Chrissy Suttles is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s business and health reporter. She can be reached at csuttles@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3183. Follow her on Twitter at @chrissysuttles.

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