“At sunup came to Willow Springs and camped. This is quite an extensive valley. These springs are deep holes like wells and some so deep there can be no bottom found. Some run over, others stand level full. Every year some stock is lost here by drowning in these wells.”
George Harter, August 1864
This location is the site of Utah Crossroads Chapter – OCTA’s historic marker #COTNU-13. (see other markers here)
Burnt Station 300 Feet West Pony Express – 1860-61 St. Joseph, Missouri – Sacramento, California Overland Stage 1858-1868 Established April, 1859 as an Overland Stage Station. Used later by Pony Express. It was burned and pillaged twice by Indians who killed five keepers and riders, and two soldiers. Rebuilt on this site May, 1861, and on the ridge south of Overland Canyon in 1864.
This monument was constructed by enrollees, U. S. Grazing Division, C. C. C. Camp 116, Company 2529 on August 23, 1940 and sponsored by the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association (#94 of their monuments) it was later adopted by the Sons of Utah Pioneers (#238 of their monuments) and rededicated in 2017.
Central Overland Trail – Black Rock Hills Southern Route
“Having reached the plain the road ran for eight miles over a broken surface… it then forked. The left, which is about six miles the longer of the two, most be taken after rains, and leads to Devil’s Hole. … We chose the shorter cut and after eight miles rounded Mountain Point, the end of a dark brown vuute falling into the plain.”
Sir Richard Burton, September 29, 1860
This is Utah Crossroads Chapter – OCTA’s historic marker #COTNU-8A, located along the old Pony Express Route and near the Dugway Geode Beds.
“The topographical party under my command left the post to explore the country intervening this locality and Carson River. Our course lay slightly south of west, up a scarcely perceptible ascent, out from Cedar Valley to Camp Floyd Pass, 3 miles distant from Camp Floyd.”
Captain James H. Simpson, May 2, 1859
This is Utah Crossroads Chapter – OCTA’s historic marker #COTNU-2, located along Highway 73 at the Utah County/Tooele County line at Five Mile Pass, north side of the highway. (GPS: N 40.23161 W 112.17858 )
Blackrock Station Pony Express 1860-61 St. Joseph, Mo. – Sacramento, Cal. Also Overland Stage & Freight Route 1858-1868
This monument constructed by enrollees of U. S. Grazing Division, C. C. C. Camp G-116, Company 2529.
Note: The above is a replica of the marker placed in 1940 (replica placed in 2017). However, no records prior to 1862 show a station here. This includes the 1861 Pony Express Schedule. In 1862, this new station was built by the Central Overland Stage & Freight and used by others.
This is Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association historic marker #90 and Sons of Utah Pioneers historic marker #236, located along the pony express trail in Utah’s west desert and erected August 23, 1940.
Boyd Station Also known as, Desert Station, Boyd’s Station and Boyd’s Half-Way House
There is a very well preserved ruin of the station located here, fenced off and maintained by the BLM. The station was named for George Washington Boyd who built it in 1855 and lived there until after 1900, reportedly enjoying the solitude. He died in Salt Lake City in 1903.
This location is the site of Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association historic marker #92 which is no longer here (I did see a picture of the plaque in a museum and would like to find out where it is) and also Utah Crossroads Chapter – OCTA’s historic marker #COTNU-12.
“Left camp [at Fish Springs] at seven o’clock. Drove on to the first station [Boyd Station] and nooned.”
Albert Jefferson Young, August 12, 1862
Strategically placed relay stations across the western frontier proved to be a major contributing factor to the early success of the Pony Express mail service. “Station Keepers” assigned to these outposts readied swift horses, fresh and rested, for each rider. Often working in pairs, day and night they kept a vigil for incoming riders.
Life for the brave men at these station covered a broad spectrum of living conditions depending upon location and situation. Home station were generally better established and more accommodating, even luxurious by some standards. Remote relay stations, especially in the West, were often exceedingly primitive.
In St. Joseph, Missouri, Patee House was one of the most luxurious hostelries on the frontier. This four story brick building, which is still standing, was well known for its social life and gala balls and parties. Smith Hotel in Seneca, KS, and the Salt Lake House in Utah, were other prominent hotels which served as comfortable home stations for riders and company personnel.
West of Salt Lake City and across the Great Basin to California, accommodations and quality of life tended to go downhill. Hot, dry summers and bitter, cold winters often were the only companions for station keepers. On other days, loneliness and idle time were interlaced by fending off horse thieves and Indian attacks. Frequently exposed to danger, many lost their lives in this daring American enterprise.
Though the Pony Express has become a romanticized legend in American history, the station keepers – those who kept the horse waiting and bid “Godspeed” to the rider as he galloped away – are the true unsung heroes of the Pony Express.
With Speed Came Limits
The first teams of Pony Express riders amazed the nation by accomplishing their east and westbound deliveries within the projected 10-day schedule. The speed of the riders even had a role in swaying a divided California to stay with the Union during the American Civil War. News of President Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address was delivered in record-setting time – a new seven and one-half days.
On a typical run, Pony Express riders changed horses at relay stations located about 12-15 miles apart. At home stations, spaced about 75-100 miles, a fresh rider and mount would continue the run to the next station.
With speed however, came limits. Each Express rider had a carrying capacity of about 10 pounds – limited to what could fit into the four pockets of the mochila.
High demand for such limited capacity, combined with the monumental expense of finding the operation, made Pony Express rates extremely high: initially $5.00 per half ounce, or $1,000 per ounce in 2002 dollars. Consequently, most of its customers were the military, the U. S. Government, major newspapers, well-capitalized businesses, and individuals who could afford the service.
“It was not until December, 1860, that I had an opportunity to ride. The boys were dropping out pretty fast. Some of them could not stand the strain of the constant riding. It was not so bad in summer, but when winter came on, the job was too much for them. . . My first ride was in a heavy snow storm, and it pretty nearly used me up.” – Western Nebraska Pony Express Rider, William Campbell
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.