Melba J. Ray was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida in the early 1940's. While growing up, to help earn money for school cloths, she spent her summer vacation in Nashville, Georgia working on a farm, stringing tobacco and picking cotton.
She married and became Melba J. Leal, at the age of sixteen, while a junior in high school. As a condition on marriage, a promise was given to her parents by her, and husband to be, that she would complete High School. At the end of her junior year, she and her husband moved to California, her husbands home state. They had met each other while Jerry Leal was stationed in Jacksonville, Florida, with the Hurricane Hunters Squadron VW4, after serving in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. Coral Sea CVA43
Upon signing up for her senior year of High School in California, she was denied enrollment. The reasons given by the administration: 1)she was married, 2)she would be a bad influence on the other students. Believing this to be a denial of her educational rights and unlawful, she and her husband prepared to go public, and seek an attorney. Her enrollment was accepted, and she completed her senior year of High School and graduated, keeping the promise to her parents. The Leal's did not begin their family until eight years into the marriage.
Melba has been a trails advocate for the trail preservation and multi-use trails since 1983. She became a member of the National Pony Express Association in 1985. She openly confesses personal bias for the Pony Express and California National Historic Trails. She has been a board member of the El Dorado County, Trails Advisory Committee, as well as a member of, "Trails Now," both in Placerville, CA.
In 2002, she received the Butch Henly Award from the American Hiking Society, for her many years of dedication to the protection of the Pony Express National Historic Trail. She served as a Trails Representative and a Special Project Manager in the California Division of the National Pony Express from 1990-2005. She was the first woman president of the California Division of the NPEA.
A variety of published writings include: articles in the California Historian, a publication of the conference of California Historical Societies, articles in the National Pony Express annual Gazette newspaper, a cookbook: "Treasured recipies from along the Pony Express National Historic Trail," Editors Melba J. Leal and Bonnie Ryan, plus a published poem in the National Poets Society.
The year was 1990. It was the 130th Anniversary of the annual Re-Ride of the Pony Express, a teachable living history event. It was a ride that had been named by the National Pony express Association as "A Ride for Peace and Unity Among Nations," and more about it is explained in the book, “Women and the Pony Express.” This would be the first time women would participate in the annual re-ride.
In honor of the 130th event Melba is requesting the missing names, as well as the horse they rode in on, to be acknowledged, (as well as those female riders that have since followed). In 1990 the newspapers that reported on the re-ride only reported the number of women riders, not the names, with the exception of the state of Missouri. If you are that rider, or you know for a fact the person that did ride in 1990, would you please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a part of the history of the modern day Pony Express. Many times over it has been stated it would have been great if the 1860 Pony Express Riders had only known then what is known now of their importance too history. Today the modern day Pony Riders do it to keep the spirit of those that came before us alive, plus commitment, teamwork, and the adventure of the experience to become one with the mighty horse.
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