‘Faces of Pony’: Stories of a community
Pony Homecoming Club seeks to chronicle town’s legacy
PONY—Pony, Montana may be home to less than 200 people, but each resident has their own unique story, and Kari King is taking it upon herself to kick start an effort to chronicle those stories.
King’s parents have owned property in Pony for nearly three decades. She moved to Pony several years ago and joined the Pony Homecoming Club immediately, but still considers herself a relative newcomer.
“What I’m working toward is creating a community group that hosts events and maybe raises money, so these buildings can be better appreciated, both in our community and beyond,” she says. “Because it’s such a cool place to come to.”
The project came about when members of the Homecoming Club decided to create a website: a place where Pony community members — young and old, current and former — could have their stories told; a place where a tiny town, almost forgotten, could avoid fading away.
The Club owns the old Pony schoolhouse and its adjacent gym, plus the 1903 Episcopal church, which is still in use today. As the miners and their descendants moved away from Pony, someone had to step up to preserve the buildings as best they could and keep their legacy alive. That’s where the Pony Homecoming Club (PHC), created in 1961, came in.
The website will feature information about events and history as well as the stories of its residents. It will go live sometime in the coming weeks, after King and a professional photographer have spent three consecutive afternoons gathering the stories and photographs of people who live in and near Pony or have some past connection to the place. Subjects sat for portraits however they felt most comfortable, most themselves. Some used props, some had conversations with the photograph or their loved ones, some smiled or didn’t. It was up to them.
The 2010 census listed Pony as having a population of just 118, a far cry from the 5,000 or so people who lived there in the booming gold rush days of the 1860s. But like so many gold rush towns, the ore eventually dwindled, and the transient miners moved on, leaving only the hardiest of souls to populate the town—which technically isn’t even large enough to qualify for that category.
But the hardiest souls often have the best stories, and the spirit of Pony is as resilient as the mining men that brought it to life. Churches built in 1894 and 1903 still stand, rented for parties, weddings, school functions and other celebrations. And while Pony is a certified ghost town, nearly empty for most of the year, there are still days where crowds draw for events that run deep with residents around the area.
The Pony Fiddle Fest each may includes workshops on stringed instruments of all kinds, dinner, dancing and music.
An annual Poker Ride draws equestrians from all over the country to enjoy scenery, lunch and a friendly hand or two of poker.
Those who prefer to traverse the hills of Pony on foot must wait until June, when the annual Pony Trot 5K and 10K races take place, frequently drawing entire teams of high school athletes and repeat runners. Just be prepared to lose your breath gaining nearly a thousand feet in elevation over a very short distance.
There was no way to chronicle the people and history of “the last best town in the last best place” until PHC was created as a community centering point for preservation and remembrance. The club has done its best to collect photographs of old-time Pony, piece together over 150 years of history and preserve the few buildings that are fortunate enough to have lasted that long.
As for King, she wants to take that mission a bit farther.
“I’m hoping that the response will be ‘yes, we want to tell these old stories and preserve the history,’” she says. “But also, who are the people who live here? There are new stories to be added to the old ones.”
So far, she says, the response has been good, but it a place as small and isolated as Pony, resistance to change can be strong.
“There’s a lot of people who have been here a long, long time,” she says. “But people are even popping up in response to this who don’t live here anymore, but whose family lived here years and years ago.”
Hopefully, the new website will provide a space to collaborate in pulling together more of Pony’s history, facilitated by the people who know that history the best: its residents, each with unique perspectives, memories and stories of their own that continue to shape the community today. And this will just be round one: King hopes to continue efforts chronicling Pony and its people in the future, so a town forgotten by so many will still have a voice and a story to tell.