History

Lookout Station (start)

Above a flat on the west side of Lookout Pass (General Johnston’s Pass in the days of the Pony Express) we find the marker for the location of the station also known as Point Lookout. A rock alignment and the trace of the old road can be seen between the stone monument and a dam built to catch water from a small spring. An employee of Howard Egan stated that Egan built a station here in April of 1860, but that the station was in ruins by the following September. Sharp describes the station as a small two-room log house. Burton, in September of 1860, mentions halting near “the ruins of an old station.” How it fell so quickly into ruin is not explained. A few years later, Horace Rockwell, brother of Orrin Porter Rockwell, and his wife Libby lived in a small log house at Lookout. They had no children, and Aunt Libby, as she was called, kept several dogs upon which she doted. The stone enclosure a short distance to the south was built to protect the cemetery where her beloved dogs are buried. Three emigrant graves are also said to be found within. An entertaining story is told of a time when one of Aunt Libby’s beloved dogs was sick. She sent to Tooele, about 40 miles away, for the nearest doctor. She sent the message that one of the ranch hands was critically ill, knowing that old Doctor Dodds would never make the trip to treat a dog. When he arrived, late at night, he was nearly apoplectic to find he had rushed out there for a sick dog. Aunt Libby just smiled and gave him a $20 gold piece, and everyone was happy.

Government Creek (mile 8.5)

About eight and a quarter miles from Lookout we cross Government Creek. Although a telegraph relay station, operated by David E. “Pegleg” Davis, was located here in late 1861, the existence of a Pony Express relay station is a matter of debate. No contract or mail company schedule mentions a station at Government Creek. But the distance and topography between Simpson and Lookout would make this a logical location for a change of ponies, and it is speculated that the telegraph station may have been placed there because of buildings already standing. In the early 1860s, John Bennion, the legendary Porter Rockwell, and fifteen other men explored these valleys. Porter Rockwell decided to establish a ranch at Government Creek. In commenting about his choice of location, he said, “For a cattle ranch you want a place where you can track’em out.” Certainly with this wide-open range, tracking would have been easier. The Bennions lived up over Lookout Pass in Vernon. Israel Bennion recalled, “As a boy, I with others rode and camped at round-up times with the Rockwell outfit. ‘Old Port’ was a good neighbor, a picturesque, stately rider. . . . Having heard stories, my home folk were a little ‘leery’ of our neighbor, but for me, I thought he was just fine—despite his long hair neatly done up at the back, and his high, squeaky voice.”

Simpson Springs Station (mile 16.0)

Simpson Springs Station bears the name of explorer Captain J. H. Simpson who stopped here in 1858 while searching for the overland mail route between Salt Lake City and California. It was one of the most dependable watering points in this desert region. Captain Simpson first named the spring “Pleasant Spring” because of the good water. He later renamed the spring “Simpson Springs” because of the spring’s significance as the “last stop for water” for travelers heading west. Dugway Proving Ground, 30 miles to the north, was built in 1942 for chemical weapons testing during World War II. In March 1968, 6,400 sheep were found dead after grazing in this section of south Skull Valley. It was discovered that a deadly nerve agent called VX had poisoned the sheep. Farmers were compensated $1 million dollars for their losses, and a safety investigation was launched at the Dugway military site. In May 1969 rare antibodies of a disease called Venezuelan Encephalitis were found in birds, cattle, sheep, and rodents in the valley. The entire region was contaminated. Dugway’s budget was cut and the eventually the government banned open-air testing of all chemical and biological agents. In the 1980’s Dugway was modernized and weapons research continues to be a controversial presence.” Recent controversy has charged that anthrax produced at Dugway might have been stolen and could have been the source of the anthrax scare of 2001

Riverbed Station (mile 24.4)

About eight miles west of Simpson Springs, the road drops into the old bed of the Sevier River and the site of Riverbed Station. It was built near the end of the Pony Express era, and is not mentioned in the mail contracts or schedules. Substantial structures were found here to serve the stagecoach line, however. Look out across the desert landscape and imagine the following, recorded by Howard R. Egan: “When we arrived at Simpson Springs the pony rider told us we could not cross the river bed until the road was repaired, as there had been a big flood that had torn the whole bottom out: road and all. The rider on the previous trip, going west, as he started down the bank, heard a sound like a very heavy wind among the trees. He stopped to listen; the sound was coming from the east and increasing rapidly. He put spurs to the pony and, just as he made the opposite side of the bed, he could see a wall of water, brush and other debris, twelve or fifteen feet high, spread from bank to bank, rolling down the bed at race horse speed. If he had been one-fourth of the distance back across the bed, when he first saw the flood, he could not have escaped with his life.” According folklore, this site was difficult to man because of its reputation of being regularly visited by desert spirits. Three former operators claimed they were afraid of the “desert fairies.” David and Susan Jabusch did an archeological survey of the site in the early 1990’s. They noted, “During our overnight sojourn, while mapping the site, we were not visited.”

Along this stretch, the story is told that during the 1860s a lone woman passenger on a stagecoach awoke to find the horses and coach standing still. She could not find the driver and ended up driving the coach to Simpson Spring. Legendary frontiersman Porter Rockwell greeted her there. “She was a noted character known to carry a revolver and was also known to be able to take care of herself under any and all conditions. Port examined the gun and found one empty shell in it, listened to her story, and let her continue east while he went to investigate.” Porter found the driver’s body about one mile west of the Dugway Station, drove to the well and dumped the body down it. Later, stagecoach officials in Salt Lake City demanded that Rockwell go retrieve the body so they could investigate the death. “He told them it was too hot to attempt to haul a dead body that distance, but if any of them wished to investigate, he would be glad to go back with them and lower them down the well and let them carry on all the investigating they wanted to alone with the body. No one wanted to go.” The story speculates that Rockwell didn’t arrest the woman because he believed that Indians had killed the stage driver. Rockwell found an arrow shot into the driver’s heart.”

Dugway Station (mile 34.3, one mile to the south of the road)

Dugway Station, also known as Shortcut Pass, is located east of Dugway Pass, which connects the Dugway mountain range to the north and the Thomas range on the south. The station was located about a mile south of the modern road, about eight and a quarter miles west of Riverbed. Burton says that the station was simply a dugout roofed over with split cedar logs, with a rude adobe chimney. Three wells were attempted, the deepest being dug to a depth of more than 150 feet. All were dry, and water had to be hauled from Simpson or Riverbed. Greeley, passing by in 1860, describes Dugway as “…about the forlornest spot I ever saw.”

Dugway Pass (mile 37.5) – not a station

In 1885, a horse was stolen from the town of Vernon, in Rush Valley, to the east. Men followed the trail of the horse to Simpson Springs. They arrived there shortly after midnight and awoke Ed Meredith, who maintained the station. Meredith mentioned that a man had been there but must have left abruptly while Meredith slept. The men continued along the long road to Riverbed and toward Dugway Station. As they rode down from the bench, “they saw a man hastily throw a saddle on his horse, mount, and speed away, possibly one-quarter of a mile from them. What a race and what a racetrack—level as a barn floor with nowhere to hide before Dugway Mountains were reached, ten miles away! . . . Mile after mile it continued with little change in position.” As they chased him toward the horseshoe switchback in the road, one of the chasers took a shortcut directly up the hill as the thief continued on the bended road. The chaser reached the road above, jumped off his horse, hid behind a large rock and waited. As the thief approached he called out for him to surrender. “Taken completely by surprise, the thief turned in his saddle only to find himself looking right into the business end of a pistol sticking over a large rock. Automatically up went two hands as the tired horse came to a stop.” They tied up the thief and took him back to face justice.

Geode Beds (mile 40.9) – not a station

Scientists believe that approximately 6 to 8 million years ago, volcanic activity occurred in western Utah and deposited an igneous rock called rhyolite. “Trapped gasses formed cavities within the rhyolite, and millions of years of ground-water circulation allowed minerals to gather into the cavities. The result is geodes with spherical shapes and crystal-lined cavities. Roughly 32,000 to 14,000 thousand years ago, a large body of water known as Lake Bonneville covered most of western Utah. The lake’s wave activity eroded the geode-bearing rhyolite and redeposited the geodes several miles away in the Dugway geode bed area as lake sediments. Most geodes are typically hollow whereas others are completely filled with massive, banded quartz. The most common mineral found within the geodes is quartz in various colors: clear (rock crystal), purple (amethyst), and pink (rose).”

Blackrock Station (mile 48.5)

Blackrock was also known as Butte, or Desert Station. It was named for the black basalt outcropping just to the north of the road and the CCC monument. Sharp says it was also known as Rock House. Little is known about Blackrock station, or its usage. A structure of native black stone was apparently built here in 1861, while other structures in the area are suggested. At Blackrock, as at many sites in Pony Express history, we have more questions than answers.

Fish Springs Station (mile 58.2)

Fish Springs was the 21st contract station in Utah. Sharp mentions it as a home station. The area, named for the numerous small fish found in the abundant warm springs, has been an important oasis in the Great Basin desert since prehistoric times. Although the CCC monument was built adjacent to the road, the station stood a distance to the east, near the present-day campground. The best estimate places the old station just south and west of the big trees visible to the east, near what is called the House Spring. Simpson described a thatch-roofed shed on the site in 1859, but extensive development and activity at Fish Springs since the days of the Pony have rendered difficult any accurate interpretation of the its early appearance. Today, station site and the surrounding area are a part of Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Refuge, established in 1959, covers almost 18,000 acres, including approximately 10,000 acres of marshland. It serves as an important stop on the migration routes of thousands of birds from dozens of species, as well as a prime location for a variety of fields of wildlife research.