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The Pony Express

2,000 Miles In 10 Days On Horseback

Larry E. HeckPhotographer, Writer

The first Pony Express Rider left Sacramento, California, bound for St. Joseph, Missouri, on April 3, 1860. On that same day, another rider left St. Joseph bound for Sacramento. Since no official records have been found, there is still much debate over who those riders were. Some sources claim they answered help wanted ads in local newspapers. The ad simply stated:

Young, skinny, wiry fellows.
Not over 18.
Must be expert riders.
Willing to risk death daily.
Orphans preferred.

Another ad found in 1860 archives was more descriptive:

The Undersigned Wishes To Hire
Ten or a dozen men, familiar with the management of horses, as hostlers or riders on the Overland Express Route via Salt Lake City. Wages $50 per month and found. I may be found at the St. George Hotel during Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

William W. Finney

In 1860, the Butterfield Overland Stage had already been in operation between Sacramento and St. Louis for more than a year, but it still took about 24 days to send a letter end to end. The Pony Express could do it in ten.

Founders of the Pony Express had high hopes of winning a Federal Mail Contract similar to the one awarded to the Butterfield Stage. Because of the civil war and the completion of a transcontinental telegraph line, their hopes were never realized. The Pony Express lost a lot of money but it found a place in American folklore that will last forever.

A healthy horse can run at full speed for about 12 miles. For that reason 165 stations were placed between Sacramento and St. Joseph. Each rider had an assigned route of about 100 miles and was expected to average ten miles per hour. He changed horses every ten to fifteen miles and rode as fast as the horse could manage. He handed the mail bag to a new rider at the end of his route, then sat back and waited for the next mail bag to arrive from the other direction that would take him back home.

The Pony Express route crossed only two states. California and Missouri. Everything else in between was wild unsettled territory. Hiring station masters and placing them in relay stations every 12 miles across hostile territory involved finding water, building shelters, obtaining livestock, and setting up the means to keep them supplied.

The longest ride recorded for a Pony Express rider was 380 miles. Pony Bob Haslam was assigned the route between Lake Tahoe and Buckland's Station located in the territory that eventually became Nevada. One day in May of 1861, Pony Bob arrived at Buckland's Station. He had completed his 75-mile route. Indians were on the warpath and were attacking anyone they found east of Buckland's. The relief rider refused to take the mail bag.

Pony Bob mounted the relief horse and left Buckland's Station in a cloud of dust. Without taking time to rest, he completed the second route to Smith's Creek. He had traveled 190 miles.

Nine hours later, the mail bag from the East arrived. Pony Bob took that bag and ran it all the way back to Lake Tahoe. Along the way, he passed the smoldering timbers at the Cold Springs Station. Indians had burned it to the ground and killed everyone there.

In July of 1861, an eleven year old boy by the name of Charlie was hanging around the Pony Express Station in Sacramento. He was waiting to watch the Pony Express rider mount up and race out of town with the mailbag bound for St Joseph. As the minutes ticked by, it became evident the rider assigned to the run was not going to show up. Charlie, took the mail bag, mounted the horse and raced out of town. He finished the route on time that day and every week after that for five months. Bronco Charlie secured his place in history as the youngest Pony Express rider to ever carry the mail. He was also the last one living before he died at the age of 105.

Lone Writer picked up the Pony Express Trail at the Historic marker for Faust Station located along Highway 36 north of Vernon, Utah. That location is the beginning of the unpaved Pony Express National Back Country Byway across western Utah. From Faust Station it is 126 miles of desert with no services or supplies.

Faust Station was a rider and horse relay station. At this point, the arriving rider would hand the mailbag to the departing rider. About 1.8 miles west of Faust is the Visitor Information Site. It consists of numerous panels built on pedestals with some of the history surrounding the era of the Pony Express. There are also numerous warnings about the blazing summer heat and the dangers involved in traveling alone.

Each station along the Pony Express trail has a historic marker. The names of the stations were originally on the markers but vandals have stolen many of the metal plaques. It is still possible to find all the names on some Web sites.

Simpson Springs is the most modern of all the relay stations along this route. It has a BLM campground with 14 sites, drinking water available, pit toilets, and a replica of a relay station. There are also an abundance of great primitive camping sites along the route. Although the main route is graded gravel, there are many dirt trails branching off and wandering into the hills. Because it was a dependable water source, Simpson Springs was used for many purposes through the years. Numerous foundations still exist in the area, but no records were kept to identify the purposes for which they were used.

About eight miles from Simpson Springs, Lone Writer stopped at the site for Riverbed Creek Station. Dugway Station came 11 miles later. It's located on the south side of the current route on a faint two-track trail. Dugway Pass is a short distance past the station and offers the most scenic views along the route.

The next two stations were also missing plaques. The first one was called Black Rock and the next one was Fish Springs. Boyd Station was occupied for many years by a man named Bid Boyd. When the Pony Express stopped, he stayed.

Willow Springs began as a relay station but has continued to exist long after the Pony Express disbanded. The name was changed to Callao. There are no services. A few homes and some old buildings are still being used. Lone Writer could not resist taking a few photos of the llamas.

Canyon Station occupied two different locations. The first one was burned to the ground by Indians. The second one was built on a hilltop for easier defense. It still has the remains of a building and some interpretive panels have been added. The historic marker for the original station can be seen at the bottom of the pass across the wash on the left.

The Ibapah Trading Post is an interesting place. From the highway, it looks like a residence, but there is a sign at the driveway. Going down the long driveway eventually reveals the trading post nestled among some buildings. Besides gasoline, the store was stocked with a limited supply of odds and ends. The sheriff stopped by. Lone Writer could not help wondering if he really needed gas or if he was just curious about the stranger who had driven back and forth through town a couple times.

The mileages were taken with a '98 Isuzu that has not been calibrated. When a zero appears under the trip meter column, reset your trip meter.

The route begins by turning off Highway 36 north of Vernon, Utah, between mile post 26 & 27. There is a sign pointing west for the Pony Express Route. It's about 130 miles to Ibapah so be sure you have enough gas.

Trip Meter Latitude North Longitude West Comments
0.0 N40 9.9191 W112 25.8448 Turn west for the Pony {{{Express}}} Route.
1.7 N40 8.9902 W112 27.3492 Turn right into the interpretive site then come back to
0 the main road
6.3 N40 6.8895 W112 33.9520 Lookout Pass picnic area. Elevation - 6,192 ft.
7.0 N40 7.1726 W112 34.5877 Lookout Pass Station. Foundation remains. Primitive
0 campsites across the road.
1.5 N40 8.2033 W112 35.7604 Left toward Simpson Springs. Follow the signs.
15.1 N40 2.3718 W112 47.2250 Simpson Springs. Old foundations, reconstructed
0 building, camping, picnic area, outhouse. Water
available in campground. Some shaded sites. Good
place to use as a base camp to explore surrounding
area with its abundance of two track roads.
7.8 N39 {{{57}}}.5330 W112 53.6647 Riverbed Point station.
1.0 N39 57.5330 W112 53.6647 Straight through at this intersection.
8.6 N39 53.0692 W113 1.8121 Turn left toward Kane Spring. This is a side trip.
1.5 N39 51.7699 W113 1.4156 Turn right on the two track trail. The Dugway Station
marker is visible ahead.
2.2 N39 51.4693 W113 2.1627 Dugway Station. The historic marker and some rubble
0 is all that’s left. Go back to the main gravel road and
reset to zero. Go over the very scenic Dugway Pass.
14.5 N39 52.6820 W113 16.2869 The metal name plaque is missing at Black Rock Station.
8.1 N39 49.3322 W113 23.7692 Follow the main road to the right toward Callao.
10.1 N39 50.8783 W113 24.6539 Another station with the name tag missing.
0 According to the map, this is Fish Springs.
12.4 N39 50.5939 W113 33.1716 Boyd Station is on the right past the intersection.
0 Take the right fork at that intersection. Part of the
original building still stands. No marker at this site.
8.5 N39 53.6650 W113 42.0887 Callao. No services in this tiny town.
9.5 N39 54.0175 W113 42.8531 Willow Spring Station.
0.5 N39 54.1242 W113 43.4795 Right turn toward Ibapah
4.4 N39 {{{57}}}.4845 W113 43.9092 Left turn
12.3 N40 2.6250 W113 48.1892 {{{Canyon}}} Station is on this hilltop. This was the second location.
3.3 N40 4.6364 W113 50.6544 The unnamed marker across the ditch was the first
location for Canyon Station. It was burned by Indians.
4.2 N40 5.4041 W113 50.9993 Left fork.
5.6 N40 6.2808 W113 51.9781 Left turn.
11.4 N40 4.7005 W113 58.1415 Left onto Pavement toward Ibapah.
1.4 N40 3.5457 W113 59.0608 Ibapah trading post has gas and some groceries. The
roadside sign is beside a drive that looks like it goes
to the ranch. The trading post is in the back. Open 8 to 8
except Sunday open at noon.
2.8 N40 2.2535 W113 59.0263 Ibapah historic monument. Small town. No services.