Pony Express Bible

Among Joe Nardone’s gifts to the Library is an original “Pony Express Bible.” It is 5–7/8 inches high, 4 inches wide, and 2–1/8 inches thick, and exceedingly rare. Two thousand of these Bibles were ordered from the American Bible Society in New York. Today, there are only twenty-two of them known to be in existence. The scroll work on the leather covers as well as the lettering are in gold gilt. Printed on the spine are the words HOLY BIBLE and on the front cover:

PRESENTED BY
RUSSELL, MAJORS, & WADDELL
1858

If the Pony Express wasn’t started until 1860, why does this Bible have the date 1858 written on it? The three founders of the Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company William H. Russell, Alexander Majors, and William B. Waddell were operating a very large freighting business. “They had a big contract with the federal government to supply all the western forts,” Nardone said. “Russell was the president. Waddell was in many ways the bookkeeper of the company. So Majors was the one who hired everyone, and he was a devout Christian.” In 1858–1859, Majors hired 5,000 men. He had each new employee take the oath described above, and then according to Nardone, “He would hand the men a Bible as a gift.”

However, it is Nardone’s feeling that few, if any, Pony Express riders got one when hired in 1860–1861. Majors conducted his business from his farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska, 150 miles north of the Pony Express Trail, and his original order of Bibles was insufficient to give copies to every one of the company’s newly hired men. Majors did order 300 more Bibles in 1860 that were received in 1861. “But it is a totally different Bible in size, in text, and in style,” Nardone said (6).

In his opinion, Nardone believes Bibles like the one now on view in the State Library’s California History Room should have been called the “Alexander Majors Transportation Bible.” Whatever it is called, this Bible speaks to the nature of the company that distributed it and calls to mind powerful associations with the history of the period.