The Reason The Pony Express Riders Had To Carry Bibles

In 1848, James W. Marshall discovered gold in California, which prompted many to flock westward in hopes of striking it rich. At that time, mail was carried via ships and horseback, and according to the Postal Museum, mail from the East Coast arrived in the West Coast in a month at a minimum, even with the ideal conditions. By 1860, approximately 500,000 people had migrated to the west, and mail service was becoming a huge problem. The temporary solution was the establishment of the Pony Express.

Pony Express riders followed a specific route from Missouri to California, passing almost 200 stations along the way. Mail was carried from station to station, and riders also had to change horses upon reaching a station (vis Ducksters). The first riders traveled on April 3, 1860, and at the peak of the Pony Express' operations, it had about 180 riders and 400 horses. In addition to mail and packages, riders also carried a gun and a Bible.

Pony Express riders' oath

Advertisements for riders made rounds before the Pony Express was established. One read, "Wanted: Young, skinny, wire fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred." Riders were given a salary of $100 each month — a huge amount at that time. However, the job came with its risks, including inclement weather conditions and rough terrain. There was also the risk of coming across bandits, which was why they carried a gun (via History). The Bible, however, is a different story.

One of the founders of the Pony Express, Alexander Majors, was a devout Christian who believed adversities could be overcome with God's help. He provided Pony Express riders with a Bible each and instructed them to read passages daily. In addition, the riders signed an oath before setting out to deliver mail, wherein they vowed to not drink liquor, not engage in fights, and not use foul language. "I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful, to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers, so help me God," the oath read, as stated by the National Catholic Register.

The Pony Express riders most likely didn't take the oath seriously, though, as explorer Sir Richard Burton wrote in his book titled "The City of Saints" where he said, "I scarcely ever saw a sober driver" (via Mental Floss).