To follow the trail of the Pony Express and the Overland Stage is to follow a trail of lost pony tracks and wheel ruts of more than a century ago. Fortunes in gold and silver were carried along the old trail. Some of it is still there, some lost and some hidden, waiting for someone to find it.
In 1851 Maj. George Chorpenning began the first mail service from Salt Lake City westward, followed in 1856 by Brigham Young’s now little known Young Express Co., organized to carry the mail east. Later their routes were followed by the Overland Stage Company and the Pony Express. In addition to some local stations, there were 24 principal “home” and “relay” stations stretched out east to west across the deserts and mountains of Utah.
The first station that travelers came to as they approached Utah from the cold sagebrush plains of Wyoming was the one at Needle Rock. Needle Rock was a prominent landmark used as a guide by the early pioneers. This is how Capt. Albert Tracy, an officer during the Utah War, described the landmark in his journal:
“Very peculiar rocks are the Needles, strange massive obelisks, paired in twins, projecting themselves high into the sky.”
The Needles are still there, although only an outline of rotted logs on the ground marks the spot where the old station once stood. And of prime importance to the treasure hunter, there is no evidence at all that a metal detector has ever been used at this site.
From Needle Rock Station the trail crossed an open sage-covered flat and turned down a grassy draw past Cache Cave, home of Indians long before white men came to Utah. Later the cave used by mountain men, fur traders and explorers. It was a headquarters for Mormon military leaders during the Utah War, and afterward was a hideout for the notorious Potter Gang, a band of outlaws who often cached loot at or near the cave, according to reliable reports.
And they never came back for the caches. The gang members were murdered by their captors in a staged jail break at nearby Coalville in July of 1867.
Cache Cave contains the names of at least 150 famous mountain men, trappers and outlaws, some dating back to the 1820′s. No doubt it has often heard the buzz of a rattlesnake, but it is unlikely that the buzz of a metal detector had ever been heard there.
Echo Station was located near the head of Echo Canyon, only about a mile from Cache Cave. It was also known as Red Fork Station and later as Castle Rock Station, a name it kept through the years until it became a gasoline station for automobiles.
As a stage station, it was a crude affair, described by one early traveler as “only a rough structure of slabs to keep the wolves out.” Although the area around it contains the accumulated junk of many years from the automobile age, it also hides many a relic from older times -particularly ‘insulators and tools from 1868, when it was used as a construction camp by crews stringing the Overland Telegraph down Echo Canyon.
From Echo Station the trail turned down the canyon past Hanging Rock or Bromley’s Station, where teams coming up the canyon were changed. High on the vertical cliffs above the station one can still see the stone battlements built by Mormon pioneers to defend Echo Canyon against the approach, of Johnston’s Army during the Utah War.
Only recently, a relic hunter found a rare muzzle-loading rifle left behind at one of those crude rock parapets by some unknown pioneer. The old fortifications would be an ideal place for today’s treasure hunter to begin a search.
Weber Station was located at the mouth of Echo Canyon, about two miles southwest of the present-day hamlet of Echo City. Weber was an important station, for the trail forked here, with the local stage lines of Gilmer & Saulsbury, as well as Kimball’s Stages, following the Weber River upstream to Coalville, Fort Hoyt and Rock Fort. Later it was the site of the original Echo City, built when the rails of the Union Pacific reached there in 1868.
For a season Echo City was a boomtown of at least fifty false front wooden buildings, most of them saloons or gambling halls. One visitor wrote, “Echo City is in direct communication with all of the gilted enticements with which wanton pleasure decks herself!”
But when the rail head moved on, old Echo City became a ghost.
Its hastily built saloons were torn down, and under the floor of one of them the bodies of seven men were found. Today’s treasure hunter can’t help but ask, did they leave a cache or pothole bank behind?
A few years later, when its jail was dismantled, a cache of gold coins and a pair of spectacles was found in a hollowed out place in a rock wall of one of its cells, probably hidden by a prisoner who never got a chance to recover it. Who knows what else might be found around the site of Weber Station or old Echo City today.
From Weber Station the Overland Trail followed the Weber River downstream to Salt Creek Springs, now Henefer, and then turned westward up Thomas Canyon to Bauchmin’s Creek, now East Canyon Creek, which it followed to Dixie Station.
Dixie, also known as Carson House Station, was located just over the top of Hogback Summit, about a half mile inside the present Morgan County line. Today its site can be found in a small grove of stunted cottonwood and willows by the side of the old Pioneer Trail. Horseshoes and other metal relics lost or thrown away a century ago make it difficult to use a metal detector there, but if you have one with a “mineral” setting you might just uncover a real “keeper” relic there.
Wagon tracks of the Mormon Pioneers of 1847 and of the ill fated Donner Party of 1846 can still be seen where they crossed Hogback Summit. From Dixie Station, the trail zig-zagged up-canyon, crossing Bauchmin’s Creek 13 times in 8 miles, before reaching the summit of Big Mountain Pass. From the summit, where travelers got their first view of the Great Salt Lake Valley, the trail wound steeply downward to Hank’s Station, the last stop before reaching Salt Lake City.
Few cared to stay long at Hank’s Station, for it was located in the depths of a dark and gloomy canyon, and was operated by a strange, sinister man, Ephraim K. Hanks, a much feared Danite Chief known to non-Mormons as the Avenging Angel. Stories were whispered of the many he had killed, and of the loot he had buried near his station. But Sir Richard Burton, the famed British explorer, never found him as bad as his reputation. Burton described Hanks as “a middle size, fair haired, good looking man, not at all what I had pictured the ‘Terrible Ephe’ would look like.” Still, who knows what might be hidden around Hank’s Station!
The stage station at Salt Lake City was welcomed by travelers after the rough fare found along the trail, but those bound for the gold fields had to continue on, although if they had known the terrors of the trail ahead many might have turned back.
Travelers Rest was a small station located south of Salt Lake City, now within the city limits. But 12 miles south of Travelers Rest was the Utah Brewery, far better known as Rockwell’s Station, named for the famed marshal and Danite Chief who operated it. Porter Rockwell never bothered to deny stories that he had killed more than 100 men. He sold “Valley Tan” whiskey for $1 a bottle, and if he was in the right mood he might entertain travelers with tales of the outlaws he had trailed or the horse thieves he had captured. But he usually forgot to mention that he brought very few of them back alive.
Rockwell’s Station was located near a small spring at the southeast corner of the present day Utah State Penitentiary, but there is hardly a trace of it left. And that’s too bad, for Rockwell made a lot of money and spent very little of it. It’s safe to say that he cached at least part of it. Rockwell advised Sir Richard Burton that the trail ahead “was about as fit for travel as Hell is for a powder magazine,” and then warned him “watch out for white Indians, which are the very worst kind! ”
From Rockwell’s, the stage road crossed the Jordan River at what was then known as “the Old Indian Fort, and continued up Ash Hollow to Joe’s Dugout, a crude station named for its operator, “Dugout Joe” Dorton. Dorton got his name from the “coyote hole dugout” he lived in. He had a dry well 200 feet deep, but he also had plenty of Rockwell’s Valley Tan whiskey for travelers who were thirsty-and after the long, hard and dusty climb from Rockwell’s Station, most travelers were thirsty.
The trail from Joe’s Dugout led to Camp Floyd, once the largest military base in the country, and over the years since a gold mine for coin hunters. After the Utah War of 1856-58, more than 7,000 soldiers and camp followers were stationed here. Frogtown, just outside the military base, was a hodge podge of saloons, honkytonks and gambling halls. Gunfights and killings were daily occurrences, and many a cache and pothole bank were lost forever to their owners when they came to an unexpected end of the trail here. One correspondent reported, “The revolver and Bowie knife had nightly work to do.”
Treasure hunters still find rare coins and relics where Camp Floyd and Frogtown once stood, Part of the site is off-limits for metal detectors, for Camp Floyd is a historical monument now, including the famous Stage Coach Inn and the camp’s cemetery. But there is still plenty of sage-covered hillside and alkali flats where stores and saloons once stood, and where coin hunters still find valuables lost or left behind by those who traveled the Overland Trail.
Beyond Camp Floyd the long, dusty trail crossed over Five Mile Pass and down its western slope to East Rush Valley Station. Located on a dusty, windswept flat, it was only from necessity that anyone would stop or live in such a desolate place. But a relay station was a necessity so teams could be changed before heading for Johnson’s Pass. Not long after the Overland Stage began service, the route over Johnson’s Pass was abandoned, with the road continuing straight west to Meadow Creek, or Faust’s Station, at which time East Rush Valley Station was abandoned. Few relic hunters stop there now, but it should be one of the best stops for real old coins and relics.
By the new route, it was only 18 miles from Camp Floyd to Meadow Creek, where Dr. Henry Faust operated a pleasant and welcome rest stop. Faust, who was well educated, liked to read the classics to his guests. When Horace Greeley stopped there overnight, Dr. Faust hid all of the station’s lamps and candles so that the famed journalist couldn’t write for his newspaper as he had planned, but instead had to spend the evening listening and talking with the station keeper.
Long after stage coaches and express riders were only memories, Dr. Faust remained at his station and became a well-known rancher. A small cemetery where several toughs killed in a gunfight are buried is located in the low foothills east of the old station, but the log cabin which was once the station is now on private ground.
The next station west was a most unusual one, named Point Lookout. It was operated by “Aunt Libby” and “Uncle Horace” Rockwell, kin of famed Porter Rockwell. Uncle Horace claimed he named the station because it had such a fine lookout over the desert, but express riders who often raced for their life there insisted it meant “look out for Indians!”
Uncle Horace charged five cents for a bucket of water, or 20 cents to water a team. Alvin Anderson owned a general store at Point Lookout, where large amounts of coin passed over his counters and saloon bar. Without doubt some of those coins were dropped or lost and left for today’s treasure hunters. Remember, a single Mormon gold coin of the type minted at Salt Lake City sells for more than $20,000 each now!
Weary travelers couldn’t help but wonder at the strange little cemetery on the hillside below the station where Aunt Libby buried her pet dogs and Uncle Horace buried emigrants who died along the trail. Pets and travelers were buried side by side. It wasn’t hard to tell which graves were which though, for the dog’s graves were the only ones with tombstones. That little cemetery now has a historical monument to mark its site, and needless to say, it is still an object of wonder to travelers.
From Point Lookout, the trail wound down a steep canyon to the desert floor and crossed Skull Valley to Simpson’s Springs, sometimes shown on old maps as Egan’s Springs. Simpson Springs was a home station, and was probably the most substantial station between Camp Floyd and Virginia City. Its station house and other buildings were of solid rock, and water was plentiful. Alvin Anderson operated a store there, where all sorts of supplies could be purchased. Part of the old station has been preserved, while a replica of another of its old buildings was erected in 1976. Simpson Springs is far and away the best place to camp along the old trail today.
Beyond Simpson Springs the stage route made its way down a long sandy grade where stage coach wheels cut deeply into the soil a century ago, and where after wind storms today auto wheels sink deeply. The bottom of the long Slope was Riverbed Station, perhaps the most dismal of all stops, but also the most interesting for today’s treasure hunter. There was no river at Riverbed, only the dry channel of an ancient river course, and there was no bed either, for the station was only a crude stone shelter on a hot sun baked flat.
As an eastbound stage made its way from Riverbed to Simpson Springs carrying $40,000 in gold, its driver spotted the body of a man lying in the sparse sage by the side of the road. He stopped the coach while the shotgun guard climbed down to learn what had happened. When the guard rolled the body over, he suddenly found himself looking into the business end of a cocked six-shooter. The driver was made to throw down the box, after which he and the guard, minus their guns, were told to “get going!”
The robbery was reported at Simpson Springs and the following day Porter Rockwell was on the outlaw’s trail. He found tracks where a horse which the outlaw had hidden was used to carry the heavy loot southward to a camp Rockwell located near the south end of the West Tintic Mountains. Rockwell observed the camp for two days, until he saw the outlaw walk into the cedars several times, each time returning with a sack of coins stolen from the stage.
Rockwell arrested him, and after loading the loot took the outlaw to Point Lookout Station, where he entrusted the prisoner to a stable boy while he slept after three days and nights on the trail. While Rockwell slept, the outlaw escaped. But the marshal was soon on his trail again, and followed him all the way to Montana where he killed him.
It was only after Rockwell returned from the chase that he learned the outlaw had only time to dig up part Of the stagecoach loot before he was arrested. A sack containing $10,000 in gold was still missing, and although Rockwell and a few others have since searched for it, it has never been found. So somewhere out there, near the south end of the West Tintic Mountains near where Cherry Creek sinks into the sands, a fortune still waits some lucky treasure hunter.
The traveler never tarried long at Riverbed, for after the horses were changed it was all aboard for the long, hard climb to Dugway Station, ten miles farther west. Like Riverbed, Dugway Station offered only the most primitive facilities. One traveler described it as “only a crude dugout, roofed with cedar logs.” He added that the station had no table or stools, and that plates of greasy stew had to be eaten while standing.
From the rough station it was a steep 2 mile climb to the top of Dugway Pass, where only a few years earlier a party of four gold miners traveling eastward had been killed by Indians.
The bodies of the miners weren’t found for several months, and it was years later before a Gosiute Indian admitted that all of the miners’ personal belongings, including heavy rucksacks of raw gold, were thrown into deep cracks in the rocky ridge atop the pass. Their killing was considered to be little more than desert legend until 1975, when a rockhound found a rusted revolver and a gold pan in a rocky crevice just above the pass. The pack sacks of gold haven’t been found yet.
From Dugway Pass, the next station west could be seen. It was known as Blackrock or Rock House Station. It, too, had little to offer the traveler except a brief rest while horses were being changed. Most were anxious to leave it and continue on to Fish Spring Station, across a swampy mud flat and past several large pools of deep water, some of them boiling hot while others, along side, were strangely icy cold, with schools of fish swimming in them.
After the long miles of harsh desert, Fish Springs was a welcome retreat. Many of the pools were just the right temperature for swimming, while water barrels could be filled at the cold ones. Some of the boiling hot pools threw great columns of steam high into the air on cold mornings. Sir Richard Burton described one he called the Devil’s Hole as being “a most fearsome thing!” Many travelers camped at Fish Springs to rest their teams or themselves, and many relics of their stay have been found during recent years.
The trail from Fish Springs skirted several more deep and mysterious pools before it circled the north end of the Fish Springs Range and headed for Boyd’s Station. Here the trail forked, with the south branch or Simpson Route being the one usually taken by miners heading for the rich silver strikes then being made in southern Nevada. The northern branch, or Egan Route, was taken by most travelers, including those going to the California mines and the Comstock Lode.
Just before reaching Boyd’s Station, a now dim and later built trail led southward to Fish Springs, a wild and wooly mining camp. It was located 15 miles west of Fish Springs Station and had no connection with that place. Fish Springs mining camp was a rough and tough place, and one where relic hunters of today can still find a sun-purpled bottle or a coin lost 80 years ago. Few people know of it today and fewer visit it, so be careful and don’t fall down an abandoned shaft or it may be a long time before someone finds you.
Willom Springs was the next station west, but almost everyone knew it as Callao, named by an old Spanish prospector for another mining camp in Peru. Callao was literally an oasis in the desert, for here the traveler was greeted by springs of fresh water and green hay fields. Indians often stole livestock from the stage company, but a few were caught, and until only a few years ago a row of graves where some of these “good Indians” were buried could be seen just south of the station.
Callao is probably the most perfectly preserved stage station in the country today, for descendents of its original operators still live there. Now known as the Bagley Ranch, it is a fascinating place to visit. But remember, it is more than 100 miles by dirt road from the nearest gas station, and a heck of a lot further from a five and dime store.
It was six bone jarring miles from Callao to Six Mile Station, also called Mountain Springs, where only a brief stop was made to rest and water the horses before continuing to Round Station, or Reading Springs, where a most unusual station was located at the mouth of Overland Canyon.
Round Station was a circular, fortlike rock enclosure, high atop a ridge with only a narrow door and small rifle portholes for windows. It offered no accommodations other than its welcome spring water and the protection of its rock walls when the Gosiute Indians were troublesome. It was built strictly for defense, and. many a time a stagecoach or a Pony Express rider reached it only minutes before a band of marauding Indians raced out of Overland Canyon.
If the trail ahead looked safe, the stagecoach plunged into the depths of Overland Canyon, a favorite ambush site for Indian attacks. A traveler considered himself lucky if he made it through the deep, dark canyon to Burnt Station without incident. Burnt Station would be an excellent place for a treasure hunter to use a metal detector or to search for relics, for there were actually three Burnt Stations.
When first established in 1859, it was originally known as Canyon Station, but after Indians burned it in 1861, it was rebuilt across the canyon and renamed Burnt Station. It was burned again in 1864 and was rebuilt near where the present Historical marker is located. At least two soldiers and five station agents and travelers were killed there. It was a dangerous place, and few stayed there any longer than necessary.
Up-canyon from Burnt Station, the canyon widened onto Clifton Flats, where a few years later a booming gold camp named Clifton would explode into life at the edge of the Great Salt Lake Desert. It is only a ghost today, and few people visit its old rock buildings any more. But Clifton had saloons, stores and other business houses where now valuable coins were lost, and homes where bottles and other junk then, but relics now, were discarded. From the Clifton Flats the narrow winding road turned down the western slope of the Deep Creek Range to Ibapah, the western-most stage station in Utah.
Ibapah, an Indian word meaning “the clay colored water,” was a wild and remote station, but because of its tiny stream of muddy water it later became an Indian village where some 200 Gosiute Indians still live. On Match 22, 1863, stage driver Henry Harper was killed by Indians just west of the station, but judge Mott, a passenger, climbed up on the driver’s seat of the runaway coach and brought it safely into Ibapah, barely ahead of the pursuing Indians. From Ibapah it was only eight miles to Tippett’s Station, the first in Nevada, where -but that’s another story!
The Overland Stage and Pony Express trail stretches hundreds of miles across Utah, from mountains to deserts and through deep canyons. From the Wyoming border to the mouth of Echo Canyon, it is sort of far from Interstate 80 in miles, but it is a world away in time.
From Echo to Salt Lake City it sometimes parallels paved highways, but more often it follows narrow dirt roads through colorful mountain canyons. It is a busy highway south from Salt Lake City to Porter Rockwell’s, but from there it quickly fades into little more than a trail.
From Camp Floyd to Faust’s, it is a dusty desert road, and where it leaves the pavement behind for good as it crosses U-36, a sign warns motorists that it is 102 miles of dirt road to Callao, and there are no services there!
From Faust’s, the old trail west is plainly marked on state road maps as the “Old Pony Express Trail, but neither the map nor the signs tell the century-old tale of Indian ambushes, stagecoach holdups or outlaw caches. To learn that story first hand, you have to follow the trail of the Overland Stage through Utah.