Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice

    Description

    The Famous 1858 "Pony Express Bible." One of a handful of surviving copies from the original issue of 300, distributed by Russell, Majors & Waddell to the riders of the Pony Express. One of the partners, Alexander Majors, held deep religious beliefs, and insisted that all employees of the company, even Pony Express riders, honor the Sabbath, even going so far as to require each employee to sign an oath to that effect. Each Express rider was presented with his own copy of a Bible, coming from the stock of specially bound copies that Majors had ordered for his company's wagon-train crews. Each copy was imprinted in gold letters, "Presented by Russell, Majors, & Waddell 1858". More details of the fascinating history of these Bibles may be found in the website description of this lot.

    Most existing copies seem to be in institutional hands. A 1960 "census," the most recent we could locate, identified twelve copies held by institutions. Our research discloses only two copies sold on the auction market in 30+ years. One of these was sold by Heritage in our November 2007 Western History auction, where it brought $38,837- more than double the reserve -with spirited bidding.

    Condition of the present example is, on the whole, probably somewhat superior to that of the copy sold in 2007. The earlier copy exhibited fairly heavy wear to the leather surface of the cover, which is much better preserved on the example offered here. The gold lettering is stronger and presents better contrast. Both copies had suffered partial separation along the spine, however this example has been effectively professionally restored, including a partial split running vertically down the spine through the "B' in Bible. The previous copy was missing part of one interior leaf, but all pages are present and intact in the current offering. The interior pages are basically in excellent condition, with scattered light foxing and water staining which detracts minimally. The 2007 Bible also exhibited these characteristics, perhaps to a slightly greater degree. Vintage inscriptions inside front and back covers connect this Bible to the McGaugh family, a well-known name in Missouri at that time. To date, research has not established a connection between anyone named McGaugh and the St. Joseph-based company of Russell, Majors, & Waddell, but this is certainly worthy of further investigation. Dimensions 4" x 5.75", with a thickness of slightly over 2".


    More Information: The Pony Express was a fast mail service crossing the North American continent from the Missouri River to the Pacific coast, operating from April 1860 to October 1861. Messages were carried on a horseback relay across the prairies, plains, deserts, and mountains of the western United States. It briefly reduced the time for mail to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to around ten days. By traveling a slightly shorter route and using mounted riders rather than stagecoaches, the founders of the Pony Express hoped to establish their service as a faster and more reliable conduit for the mail and win away the exclusive government mail contract.

    Founded By William H. Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors, it officially opened on April 3, 1860. The first trip, westbound, was made in 9 days and 23 hrs. The eastbound trip was made in 11 days and 12 hrs. Every 24 hrs they covered 250 mi. The Pony Express, established a year before the beginning of the American Civil War, reflected the need to provide fast and reliable communication with the West.

    By 1860, the fastest route was the Butterfield Stage line from St. Louis, Missouri, through El Paso, Texas, which took 25 days. It was almost 600 miles (950 km) shorter to deliver the mail over a central or northern route. There were concerns, however, whether these alternatives were viable during the winter snows.

    In 1854, Benjamin Franklin Ficklin, an employee of the firm of Russel, Major and Waddell is said to have first proposed a faster northern route to California Senator William M. Gwin. Russell, Majors and Waddell was one of the biggest outfitters for travelers on the Santa Fe and Oregon trails, operating out of a vast complex in the West Bottoms of Kansas City, Missouri. The firm also outfitted the army from its main western base at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

    In October 1857, Russell, Majors and Waddell faced financial ruin when Lot Smith and his Nauvoo Mormon Legion destroyed 54 of their wagons during the Utah War. The Army did not reimburse the firm, and the company began looking for other avenues for funds. In 1859, they bought from Ben Holladay the contract to deliver mail between Leavenworth and Salt Lake City, Utah.

    On January 27, 1860, William Hepburn Russell wired the firm from Leavenworth that Gwin was supporting a contract for California service on the central route provided that it be delivered in 10 days and be ready to debut by April. They renamed their Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Express to the Central Overland California and Pike's Peak Express Company to attempt the feat.

    The Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad had just opened in 1859 and was the first railroad to cross Missouri. It was 30 miles (48 km) up the Missouri River from Leavenworth in St. Joseph. It was determined that this would be the starting point for a rapid central mail route to California.

    Alexander Majors and Ficklin assembled 190 relay stations over 1,966 miles from St. Joseph to Sacramento, along with 50 riders and 500 horses. They completed the task in time for the April 3, 1860, opening. Ficklin later clashed with Russell and quit the business in July 1860. He became one of the incorporators of the Pacific Telegraph Company.

    Early in his freighting business, Alexander Majors adopted the unheard of practice of observing the Sabbath as a day of rest, and presented each of the riders with a small Bible. Later when establishing the Pony Express, Majors insisted that his hiring practices continue. Each employee was required to take an oath and each rider was presented with his own copy of a bible using up a stock of specially bound copies Majors had orderedfor his company's wagon-train crews. Each Bible was imprinted in gold letters: "Presented by Russell, Majors & Waddell - 1858".

    Forty-Fifth Annual Report of the AMERICAN BIBLE SOCIETY, presented May 9, 1861. Miscellaneous grants, To Messers. Major and Russell, 300 Bibles for distribution among their Pony Express Riders.

    List of the known (1960) location of twelve copies of these Bibles:
    · Pony Express History and Art Gallery (2), San Rafael, California
    · Bancroft Library, Berkeley, California
    · The Society of California Pioneers, San Francisco, California
    · The California Historical Society, San Francisco, California
    · Mormon Station State Historical Monument, Genoa, Nevada (Currently it is in safe keeping in the state vaults.)
    · Sons of Utah Pioneers, Salt Lake City, Utah
    · Daughters of Utah Pioneers (2), Salt Lake City, Utah
    · State Historical Society of Colorado, Denver, Colorado
    · Denver City Library (Main), Denver, Colorado
    · Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln, Nebraska



    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2010
    22nd Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 5
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 16,321

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $14) per lot.

    Sold for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    VIEW BENEFITS
    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
      winnings 
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2020 March 29 Vintage Guitars & Musical Instruments Musical Instruments Signature Auction - Dallas.

    Learn about consigning with us

    The pre and post sales experience was wonderful and flawless. Heritage has the best in-house operation I have ever seen and their people are not only professional but fun to work with, especially Steve C.

    As for Heritage's online system… Yes the interface is more complex than what we are used to with SAN but what is behind that interface is amazing for sellers and buyers alike. It is real time and for a real serious auction buyer there is nothing better in the auction industry, bar none.
    Ron Cipolla,
    AZ
    View More Testimonials

    HA.com receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source: Similarweb.com)

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search

    Recent auctions

    2019 December 8 Civil War, Militaria, Arms & Armor Signature Auction - Dallas
    2019 December 8 Civil War, Militaria, Arms & Armor Signature Auction - Dallas
    REALIZED SO FAR $933,431