As part of our regular monitoring, we try to watch every David Barton presentation that we can find because, even though it is generally all of the same material, every once in a while he works in some absurd new point that we don’t want to miss.
But, for the most part, Barton’s presentation is more or less the same every time he delivers it, regardless of how it is billed, so even when he is supposedly speaking about “Why Common Core Is A Failure,” the presentation turns out to be the standard one that we have heard a hundred times before.
Listening to Barton repeat the same points time and again occasionally inspires us to do a bit of research into some of the more innocuous claims that he makes and, inevitably, we discover that even on these sorts of benign issues, Barton’s history cannot be trusted.
One of Barton’s favorite points to drive home during his presentations is that, before the Bible was removed from public schools, school children were better educated and far more mature than they are today. As such, boys as young as 12 or 13 were routinely heading off to college or serving in government positions or otherwise engaging in a wide array of activities that today are not done until people are much older.
To help illustrate this point, Barton flashes an ad on the screen that supposedly ran seeking riders for the Pony Express that read:
WANTED. YOUNG, SKINNY, WIRY FELLOWS. NOT OVER 18. MUST BE EXPERT RIDERS. WILLING TO RISK DEATH DAILY. ORPHANS PREFERRED.
The ad always generates a good laugh from the audience, but Barton uses it to highlight the “not over 18” requirement to demonstrate that, once upon a time, young men were routinely sent out to do dangerous jobs because they were expected to be fully mature by the time they became teenages … and that was because they were taught the Bible from a young age.
Yesterday, after having heard Barton repeat this claim yet again, we decided to investigate and, lo and behold, it turns out that the ad is a complete fabrication:
The advertisement has been famous for generations: “Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”
It’s on T-shirts and other souvenirs celebrating the short-lived Pony Express that carried mail between St. Joseph, Mo., and San Francisco from April 3, 1860, to late 1861.
Joseph Nardone, national executive director and historian of the Pony Express Trail Association, spent years searching through newspaper archives looking for the ad, before concluding it’s a hoax dating no earlier than 1902.
As a matter of fact, author Christopher Corbett has written a book examining the mythology that surrounds the Pony Express that is entitled, appropriately enough, “Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express.”
In a presentation that Corbett delivered in 2011 at the National Postal Museum, he revealed that he had scoured the historical records in eight states along with various libraries and was unable to find any evidence that the ad was real, concluding that it had been made up by a newspaper writer long after the Pony Express had ceased operation:
Of course, as with so much else that Barton “teaches” during his presentations, the simple fact that this entire claim is false is probably not going to stop him from continuing to repeat it.