This is the Pony Express used by the Whidden boys to carry mail between Fort Myers and Estero. The photo was taken by Margaret Smith Furen in the early years of the 20th century. She loaned it for use in "The Story of Fort Myers."
This is the Pony Express used by the Whidden boys to carry mail between Fort Myers and Estero.  The photo was taken by Margaret Smith Furen in the early years of the 20th century.  She loaned it for use in "The Story of Fort Myers."  Photo courtesy of the Smith-Furen collection.
Adventures of a mail carrier

By Georgia Nelson

The following is an excerpt from a letter written by Claude Rahn, of Vero Beach, Fla., in 1961 to the Bonita Springs Library. He had joined the Koreshan Unity in 1906. It appears courtesy of Liz Sturgis of the Bonita Historical Society and Mimi Straub of the Estero Historical Society.

"I vividly recall that in the year 1908 or 1909, awaiting, late in the day, at the post office in Estero for the mail carrier to arrive from Fort Myers with the local mail. In those days the mail carrier left Fort Myers with his horse and buggy about one or two o'clock in the afternoon after the train had arrived from the north with the mail, and finally after a slow, devious and uneventful

drive, that took four to five hours to cover the 16 miles, he finally would reach Estero.

"The road or trail in those days was not paved, merely roughly graded, but it pursued its irregular course here and there through the long stretch of the forest over deep sand, winding through the pines and ubiquitous palmetto roots that ever jeered obstinately, though pleasantly, at the passing traveler. Many tales are told of this old trail, one of which had a humorous sequel."

"...during the winter months the road was cursed throughout its course with heavy sand that slowed his daily trips, and during the summer months the rainy season was in full control of the old road from end to end with vast stretches of water, in many places deep and uncertain."

"In those olden days, the mail carrier with his buggy often did not reach Estero until sundown, and after delivering the mail there he continued on for seven more miles to Surveyors Creek, as the village was then known.

"While I waited that evening twilight swiftly gathered around us as the mail carrier, Frank Smith, in his buggy came in sight noiselessly plodding along through the sand down the trail. The horse always walked, but occasionally reluctantly trotted as the sand would not permit of a faster pace. The buggy stopped, the old horse heaved a sigh, closed his eyes and dozed, and Frank Smith, quite ill, rolled out of the buggy on tottering legs.

A mail carrier leaving the Estero Post Office in the Koreshan Unity Store before 1910 heading back to Fort Myers.
A mail carrier leaving the Estero Post Office in the Koreshan Unity Store before 1910 heading back to Fort Myers.  Photo courtesy of the Koreshan archives

"James H. Bubbett, a veteran of Gettysburg, was then the postmaster at Estero.... He decided that the mail must go on to Surveyors Creek. He impressed me into service and persuaded me to take the mail through to its final destination.

"I had never been to Surveyors Creek. The trail from Estero south was equally as bad, if not worse, than to Fort Myers. Furthermore, I had no clear idea how I would get there through the woods over the now faintly discernible sandy trail. However, I was told to just close my eyes, let the old horse have the reins, and when he finally stopped, I would have arrived at Surveyors Creek. Then I would find myself, along the side of an old barn, where lighting my lantern, I should unhitch, lead the tired horse to its stall, give him the bag of feed and some water, and then gather the mail bag and deliver it to the only general store in that vicinity about 100 yards farther on.

"After that was accomplished, I ate a rather meager lunch of some sort that had been handed to me at Estero, and prepared to take possession of a small cot and sleep under a smelly blanket.

Needless to say, I slept well after assuring myself there was nothing to bother me during the night in the barn, since the sleepy old horse would doubtless maintain a vigil and ward off any bobcat or cougar that might curiously wander around.

"I shall always remember that ride from Estero through the darkness that had fully taken over as I passed through Teed's cypress just about two miles south of Estero. There were no stars nor a moon to illumine the way, and I could not see the trail, and but faintly glimpse the old horse, but having faith in the sagacity of the latter I held firmly to my bouncing seat during the rough drive through the darkness.

"The next morning, bright and early, I went to the store and picked up the mail for the north. The old horse I hitched in the shafts of the buggy, and I thought I heard him mutter to himself or words to that effect, "What, another one of these weary pulls north with a stupid driver?" By now I had fully recovered my strength and courage after the night's strange experience and I gave the command to get going.

"The sun coming up through the trees now clearly revealed the deep sand ruts in the trail that led north, but we continued on our way as slowly as we had proceeded the night before specially as a guide or leader to show us the way out of town quietly ambled along ahead of us. It was an attractive looking critter that seemed in no hurry either, and the horse and I likewise took the hint and were satisfied to proceed slowly under the circumstances. The little character that had taken over the lead was a fine appearing and healthy looking skunk of good size. Finally it must have realized we wanted to get on and by him so it graciously stepped aside and waited until we passed. We did not linger, for I gave the old horse a crack with the whip and for once it actually moved into a trot for about 100 feet and then resumed its normal and pleasing walk through the delightful woods in the bright early morning to Estero."

© 2007 Bonita Daily News and The Banner. Published in Bonita Springs, Florida, USA by the E.W. Scripps Co.  Published February 14, 2007