Religion:Pony Express Bible

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Short description: 1860s Protestant Bible
Pony Express Bible, KJV of 1858
Pony Express Bible with gold lettering
American Bible Society KJV 1858
Overland Mail Company Bible
Close up showing gold lettering
Overland Mail Company Bible title page

The Pony Express Bible is a Protestant Bible that was distributed to the Pony Express riders by the operators of the company in 1860 and 1861. In addition, the riders were required to sign pledges related to upholding their behavior according to specified Christian principles.


The special edition leather-bound Bible was given to all the employees by the operators Russell, Majors and Waddell.[1][2] Its dimensions are about 5.7 inches (14.5 cm) tall by 3.6 inches (9.1 cm) wide and a little over 2 inches thick.[3][4] It has 1,278 double-columned pages.[5]

The copies of the Bible were specifically commissioned by Alexander Majors and contained full Protestant canon of both the Old and New Testaments. The firm had originally purchased these special copies for their company's wagon-train employees.[6] The Bibles had gold lettering on the cover with a contemporary inscription and the wording, "Presented by Russell, Majors & Waddell. 1858".[7] The source for the Old and New Testaments was an 1858 King James Version published by the American Bible Society in New York City.[3]

On commencing employment, a Pony Express rider was given one of the special edition Bibles.[8] The rider had to swear to and sign the frontier pledge of loyalty, honesty, and sobriety,[9][10] that was on the inside front cover of the Bible:[11] It appears that the 183 riders employed from April 1860 to November 1861 did not take the pledge very seriously. On the whole, they were considered "dreadful, rough and unconventional".[12]


Alexander Majors, one of the original operators of the Pony Express, had religious convictions and required his employees to sign a pledge about their beliefs and behavior, which he based on the Christian Bible.[13][14] For instance, employees were forbidden from swearing in public or drinking intoxicating alcoholic beverages; further, each rider was to honor Sunday as a day of rest.[15]

Initially the Pony Express riders were each issued certain pieces of equipment to carry, which included a bowie knife, and the Pony Express Bible.[16]

Later, most riders abandoned such equipment, because it was too heavy to carry and considered unnecessary for their journey.[16] Some sources say that the riders did take the Bibles, at least initially.[13] Other sources say the riders never carried the Bibles, since these added weight that would slow down their ponies.[15] As an example of how lightly they traveled, many riders carried only a single pistol with an extra cylinder of bullets as a weapon on their rides.[16] Some didn't take any gun, relying instead on the speed of their pony to outrun hostilities.[16]


The Forty-fifth Annual Report of the American Bible Society shows 300 copies of the Bibles granted May 9, 1861, to Major and Russell by the Society.[17] As of the last record in 1960, 12 copies survived.[18] Since 1980 only two of these Bibles have come on the market for public purchase.[4]

  • 2 copies – Pony Express History and Art Gallery, San Rafael, California
  • 2 copies – Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • 1 copy – Sons of Utah Pioneers, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • 1 copy – Bancroft Library, Berkeley, California
  • 1 copy – Denver City Library (Main), Denver, Colorado[19]
  • 1 copy – Mormon Station State Historical Monument, Genoa, Nevada
  • 1 copy – Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln, Nebraska
  • 1 copy – State Historical Society of Colorado, Denver, Colorado
  • 1 copy – Society of California Pioneers, San Francisco, California
  • 1 copy – California Historical Society, San Francisco, California

A copy of the Bible is also held by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.[20]

Society of California Pioneers

Pony Express Bible owned by the Society of California Pioneers.

Overland Mail Company

The Pony Express route that the riders used went through Utah, Nebraska and Kansas. They shared relay stations with the Butterfield Overland Mail Company stagecoach line. When the Pony Express firm was disbanded in 1861, the Overland Mail Company took over the western sections of the Pony Express route that went to Sacramento, California. The Pony Express route went through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California.[21]

The Overland Mail Company station operators were issued the American Bible Society's 1859 edition of the Bible, which was the same as the 1858 edition of it.[22]

Pawn Stars

On the Pawn Stars television program in season 8, episode 55, called "Ponies and Phonies" (April 24, 2014), the Overland Mail Company Bible is compared to the Pony Express Bible by rare book consultant Rebecca Romney.[23]

See also

  • Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Co.
  • Postage stamps and postal history of the United States


  1. Godfrey 1994, p. 62.
  2. Chapman 1932, p. 300.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Newberry Library 1968, p. 46.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Heritage Auctions 2010, p. 95.
  5. "Original Russell, Majors & Waddell "Pony Express Bible," 1858". Mike Ferguson. 2014. 
  6. Livingston 1948, p. 46.
  7. Parke-Bernet Galleries 1947, p. 9.
  8. Corbett 2003, p. 3.
  9. Settle 1975, p. 45 When the job was done [recruiting], about thirty riders had signed Majors' pledge, given bond for the faithful performance of their duty, and received a little Bible.
  10. Guthrie & Smith 2009, p. 21.
  11. "UCB Library Catalog". University of California. 2014. 
  12. Bradley & Smith 1960, p. 66.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Jeffrey 2010, p. 22.
  14. Settle 1975, p. 7 Quote: "In writing that pledge and requiring his employees to sign and keep it, Majors was giving expression to his lifelong, stern, Calvinistic Presbyterian sentiments. He read his Bible regularly, attended church when he could, and sought to practice Christian principles in all his relations with other men." Note: This description was written about Majors before he established the Pony Express, but he required similar pledges from employees of his various companies..
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Pony Express: Romance versus Reality". Smithsonian Institution. 2014. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 "The Pony Express in Nevada". U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 1990.;id=pur1.32754077529620;view=plaintext;seq=6;start=1;size=10;page=search. 
  17. "Did ABS Print a Special Pony Express Bible?". American Bible Society. 2014. 
  18. "The Famous 1858 "Pony Express Bible"". Heritage Auctions. 2014. 
  19. "Catalog Card Call Number: C220.52 B47ho". Denver Public Library. 2014. 
  20. "The Holy Bible : containing the Old and New Testaments, translated out of the original tongues, and with the former translations diligently compared and revised.". 
  21. "Pony Express Route". 2014. 
  22. "Chronological History of the Bible – 19th Century/1851-1900". Clausen Books. 2012. 
  23. "History Channel / Pawn Stars / Episodes 2014". A&E Television Networks. 2014. 


External links