Johnny Fry

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Billy Richardson, Johnny Fry (top right), Charles Cliff, Gus Cliff

Johnny Fry (1840 – October 6, 1863) was the first "official" westbound rider of the Pony Express.

Fry was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky to John Fry and Mary Fry. Mary moved with her son and new husband Benjamin Wells to Rushville, Missouri around 1857.

Fry, who weighed less than 120 pounds, was assigned to the first leg of the westbound route of the Pony Express delivering it from the stables in St. Joseph, Missouri a few blocks to a ferry across the Missouri River before carrying it on to Seneca, Kansas. Ads for the Pony Express said, "Wiry young men, preferably orphans to ride 20 miles..."

While there are no photographs of the start of the Pony Express, the old tin-type of Johnny Fry standing next to Johnson William Richardson in a sailor's hat and jacket, with Charlie Cliff and his brother Gus Cliff pictures the riders hired by Lewis for Russell, Majors, and Waddell.

The start of the Pony Express was delayed two hours to 7:15 p.m. because the courier from the East Coast had missed a train connection. Fry was the scheduled official first rider on April 3, 1860.

Years later, a W.  B. Richardson (1851–1946) claimed to be the Pony Express rider denied the honor, in an article titled "Uncle Billy Richardson, 91 Today, Disclaims Fame." W.  B., who would have been about nine or ten years old the day of the historic ride, boasts that his half-brother Paul Coburn, who was the station manager, "accidentally" threw the "mail pouch" on his pony instead of Fry's horse and so he made the ride.[1] Supposedly, Richardson rode the first blocks from the stables to the river, where the pouch was handed to Fry, who rode the ferry to Elwood, Kansas and then took it on to Seneca, Kansas. Fry was to deliver the first eastbound mail back to St. Joseph. W.  B. Richardson's recollection contradicts all historical accounts. Clearly, as the accompanying picture shows, J.  W. Richardson, the actual rider, was not W.  B. Richardson, a nine- or ten-year-old boy, but a grown man when he was hired by Lewis for Russell, Majors, and Waddell. He rode for the company until the Transcontinental Telegraph went into service. According to his relatives, he rode on to Fort Laramie and died later that year.

Local lore says that the donut was invented as a cake for Fry to eat, passed to him by young ladies, as he rode past their homes.[2]

After the Pony Express went out of business in October 1861, due to the advent of the transcontinental telegraph, Fry joined the Union Army and was killed by Quantrill's Raiders in the Battle of Baxter Springs.


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