Born: Jan. 31, 1812
Died: Sept. 10, 1872
Known for: Russell was the front man for the overland freight company Russell, Majors and Waddell, which formed the Pony Express, whose western terminus was Sacramento.
Background: A successful Missouri businessman, Russell was called "Napoleon of the West." He and his partners' freight company transported supplies to forts and government outposts throughout the West. At the suggestion of U.S. Sen. William M. Gwin of California, the company formed the Pony Express to keep California in touch with the Union in case of Civil War. The Pony Express began April 3, 1860, when a rider dashed from St. Joseph, Mo., toward Sacramento. Before, it took more than three weeks to move mail across the 1,966-mile span. Pony Express riders cut that by more than half. Because of the advent of the transcontinental telegraph, the Pony Express was no longer needed after one year, five months and 21 days of service. Russell, Majors and Waddell are said to have lost at least $100,000 on the venture.
A highlight: At its height, the Pony Express had 400 horses, 80 riders and 190 stations. A statue of a Pony Express rider and horse stands in Old Sacramento.
In History's Spotlight profiles of Sacramento newsmakers were published originally in 2007 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of The Sacramento Bee. They were written by Anthony Sorci. Look for them every Sunday in Sac History Happenings.