Round Station/Canyon Station
The original “Round Station” Pony Express station, located about three miles west of here, was burned down in an Indian attack, rebuilt with stones on this site, and renamed Canyon Station.
See other stations here:
Stories of solitary Pony Express riders valiantly galloping through the western frontier still inspire people around the world. Publishers and editors during the 1860s often developed romanticized tales of the Wild West. Eyewitness accounts paint a more accurate picture of frontier history.
British explorer Sir Richard Burton visited Salt Lake City in September of 1860. His journal entries paint an eerie image of the Overland Stage and Pony Express stations west of the Great Salt Lake. Near the top of Overland Canyon, Burton wrote:
“Nothing, certainly, could be better fitted for an ambuscade than this gorge, with its caves and holes in snow-cuts, earth-drops, and lines of strata… in one place we saw the ashes of an Indian encampment; in another, a whirlwind, curling, as smoke would rise from behind a projecting spur, [it] made us advance with the greatest caution.”
When en route to California, author Mark Twain vividly recounts his experience as a Pony Express rider gallops past his stagecoach:
“We had a consuming desire from the beginning to see a pony-rider, but somehow or other all that passed us… managed to streak by in the night, and… the swift phantom of the desert was gone before we could get our heads out of the windows. But now we were expecting one… Away across the endless dead level of the prairie a black speck appears against the sky, and it is plain that it moves.”
“In a second or two it becomes a horse and rider, rising and falling, rising and falling – sweeping toward us nearer and nearer – growing more and more distinct, more and more sharply defined – nearer and still nearer, and the flutter of the hoofs comes faintly to the ear… another instant a whoop and a hurrah from our upper deck, a wave of the rider’s hand, but no reply, and man and horse burst past our excited faces, and go winging away like a belated fragment of a storm!”
Atrocities and Hostilities
American Indians inhabited lands along the Pony Express Trail for thousands of years before the Pony began its historic run. From the 1840s through the 1860s, they watched swarms of white settlers cross their homelands – impacting traditional hunting grounds with cattle and oxen grazing prairie grasses down to bare ground, and then the senseless killing of thousands of buffalo.
A long history of hostilities on both sides, combined with the terrible atrocities committed by hordes of miners during the 1859-60 rush for silver and gold at the Comstock Lode Mine in western Nevada, launched several years of conflict throughout the Great Basin area. Emigrant wagon trains, Pony Express riders, and station keepers alike began experiencing the angry reactions of regional tribes.
Pony Express riders and station workers alike were frequent targets of attack. Because they could hide safely behind cabin walls during an attack, one might think that workers in the station were safer than the riders were. Not so – more station workers were killed than riders were. Unlike riders who could usually outrun threats, station keepers were sitting ducks. Most of the stations across western Utah and Nevada were not much more than flimsy shelters – frequently located in remote areas far from help.
British adventurer, Sir Richard Burton, on his way west from Salt Lake City in 1860, made this observation on the stations:
“On this line there are two kinds of stations, the mail stations, where there is an agent in charge of five or six ‘boys,’ and the express station – where there is only a master and an express rider… It is a hard life, setting aside the change of death – no less than three murders have been committed by the Indians during this year.”
The Crowds Cheered On…
In 1845, it took six months to get a message from the east coast of the United States to California. By the time it arrived, the news was old. In the late 1850s, a half million people had migrated west, and they wanted up-to-date news from home. Something had to be done to deliver mail faster and to improve communication in the expanding nation.
“The Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company,” a subsidiary of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, announced the formation of the Pony Express on January 27, 1860. They planned to carry letter mail between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California in only ten days. Although the Pony Express was a financially risky enterprise, the company hoped to attract a lucrative contract with the U.S. Postal Service.
Knowing that a healthy horse could run at a full gallop for only 10 to 12 miles, the Pony Express needed stations for its riders to change mounts. They utilized existing stage stations on the eastern end of the route, but needed to build many new station in remote areas across the Great Basin. Alexander Majors said that 400 to 500 mustang horses were purchased, 200 men were hired to manage the station, and 80 riders signed on to begin the run of the Pony Express.
Although the Pony Express captured the admiration, imagination, and hearts of people, it was a financial disaster for its founders. The Pony era, however, was not brought to an end by its financial failure, weather, or even problems with Indians – but by the completion of the Transcontinental Telegraph on October 26, 1861.
“Every neck is stretched, and every eye stained… Across the endless prairie a black spec appears… In a second or two it becomes a horse and rider, rising and falling, rising and falling – sweeping toward us – growing more and more distinct, and the flutter of hoofs comes faintly to the ear – another instant a whoop and a hurrah from our upper deck, a wave of the rider’s hand, but no reply, and man and horse burst past our excited faces, and go winging away like belated fragment of a storm.” – Mark Twain – Roughing It, 1872.
This stabilized fortification, known in modern times as Round Station, was built in 1863 to serve the Overland Stage. It was probably the third incarnation of Canyon Station, the first two having been burned by Indians. The ruin at Round Station is that of a structure probably used for defense, and the foundation of the station is visible to the south and east across the parking lot. The interpretation is the product of a cooperative agreement among the BLM, National Park Service, and the Utah Division of the National Pony Express Association.
Of the canyon ahead, now called Overland Canyon, Burton observed: “Nothing, certainly, could be better fitted for an ambuscade than this gorge, with its caves and holes in snow cuts, earth-drops, and lines of strata, like walls of rudely piled stone; in one place we saw the ashes of an Indian encampment; in another a whirlwind, curling, as smoke would rise, from behind a projecting spur, made us advance with the greatest caution.”
(*)Information provided by Patrick Hearty, NPEA Utah, 2005.