National Geographic : 1980 Jul
system of horsemen riding in relays: the Pony Express. For more than a decade the central route had suffered a bad name from the snowbound Donner party's resort to can nibalism to survive a Sierra winter. "When Russell outlined the plan to Ma jors and Waddell, they both objected that such a scheme could never pay expenses," Miss Johnston told me. "But Russell said Senator Gwin could all but guarantee the federal mail contract-and besides, Russell had given his word, and that was that!" Destiny could hardly have drawn togeth er three partners more diverse. Conserva tive William B. Waddell held the reins of finance, and ramrod Alexander Majors kept the ox trains and stages rumbling on sched ule by brandishing a Bible rather than a six-gun. "The Bible was his way of meeting the ruffianism so common among the freighters and stage drivers," Louisa Johnston said. Every rider had to swear that "while I am an employee of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language; that I will drink no intoxicating liquors; that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm. ... So help me God." Having sworn and signed, the new hand found himself the owner of a Bible, leather bound and gold engraved, "Presented by Russell, Majors, & Waddell." There is dissenting opinion on the efficacy of putting Bibles in the hands of bull whackers. Adventurer-scholar Sir Richard Burton, stagecoaching west in 1860, noted that "I scarcely ever saw a sober driver. .. ." But the manning of 1,840 miles of trail in little more than two months was the miracu lous feat of sober, hardworking men. On January 29, 1860, the Pony Express was only a dream. On April 3 it was an off-and running reality with 157 relay stations, placed five to twenty miles apart, with 400 horses, some eighty young riders, plus sta tion keepers, stock tenders, route superin tendents, and shuttling supply wagons.