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Sir Burton ‘liquored up,’ Indians enacted revenge at desolate pass   PDF  Print  E-mail 
Written by Jaromy Jessop  
Thursday, 05 January 2006

PONY EXPRESS TRAIL EXPLORATION

DUGWAY PASS BLACK ROCK

"Reality leaves a lot to the imagination"

John Lennon

The above quote is very fitting for the next few stations & Black Rock in particular, as there is not a shred of evidence left to suggest its existence except for the conical marker at the station site. As you head back to the main trail from Dugway Station and continue west, you will have the bulk of the grey, rhyolite peaks of the Thomas Range looming directly ahead. In a few miles the road will steepen and bend to the right and begin to climb the famous "Dugway" for which Dugway Proving Ground was named. This pass is the dividing line between the Dugway Range in the north and the Thomas Range in the south. The terrain described in this article is located within Juab County, Utah.

In 1858, Captain Simpson and his exploring party reached the pass at the head of this box canyon and dubbed it "Short-Cut Pass," but it is now known as Dugway Pass. A Dugway is where pioneers or emigrants would cut a trench in the side of a very steep hill so that wagons could anchor their "up-hill" side wheels in the dugway/trench. Anchored thus, the mules, oxen, or horses could pull the wagons up and over the pass without tipping over and tumbling in a catastrophic heap to the canyon bottom below. Visiting Dugway Pass today, you can appreciate the challenge it would have been to get wagons up and over this grade without a decent road.

A soldier in Colonel Connor's column headed to Salt Lake City to keep an eye on the Mormons in 1862 stated, "We made another camp beyond Dugway hill & which could be more properly called "Break-neck" hill" on account of its steep grade. The dust covering the road in this area prior to and just beyond is described by famous geologist Grove Karl Gilbert. "An exceeding fine and almost impalpable powder of a light brown grayish color known in the west as alkali dust," he wrote. The Pony Express trail has not changed much since Gilbert examined the area in the 1870s as it is as bumpy and dusty and barren as ever. Sometimes in the dry months, dust traps of this material up to 12 inches deep can mire a vehicle as if in mud.

Dugway Pass was one of the most dangerous points along the trail for the Pony Express riders. One rider tells of how he rode straight on through this pass and charged all the way to Simpson's springs where Major Egan was and reported that the arrows passed so near his head he could feel the wind from them on his neck. The Indians favored this pass for ambush and the terrain itself is a ready explanation of why. One of the more famous tales of the pass comes from the days of the "Jack-Ass" mail, which was operated by Chorpenning. In his book "Some Dreams Die" author George A. Thompson recounts the tale of Captain Absalom Woodward and his party of mail carriers and miners.

Legend has it that while camped near Ibapah in Deep Creek Valley, two of the men in Woodward's party raped a local Goshute Indian girl. Fearing the Indians' revenge, Captain Woodward and his party fled as fast as they could across the desert toward Salt Lake. The Indians, knowing the country much better, went through pleasant valley and reached Dugway Pass before Woodward and his men. As Woodward's party entered the pass, the Indians swooped down from the peaks and annihilated every last man. They then mutilated and stripped the bodies and dragged them up the ravine where they were left as food for the carrion crow. Many times out on the desert, the Indians attacked whites only after they had committed some atrocity. Seems like Woodward and his men got their just desserts if this tale is true.

On a lighter note, Sir Richard Burton's account of scaling Dugway Pass in 1860 is quite entertaining "After roughly supping we set out with a fine round moon high in the skies, to ascend the "Dugway Pass" Mr. Burton talks of how the Salt Desert looked stating, "It wore a grisly aspect in the silvery light of the moon." He continues on giving a description of the wagons laboring up the dangerous dugway. "As the party ascended the summit with much noisy shouting, they formed a picturesque group & the well bred horses wandering to graze, the white tilted wagons with their panting mules, and the men in their felt capotes and huge leather leggings. In honor of our good star which had preserved every hoof from accident, we Ôliquored up' on that summit and then began our descent."

In April of 2004 I drove my Ford Escort out to Dugway Pass (something I do not recommend in a small car) and camped just above the road in the pass near the remains of the three-foot concrete "Pony Express Trail Marker" that some ignoramus knocked down. There was no moon and there were no clouds. The Milky Way was on full display with billions of stars seemingly rising out of the ground, filling the horizon, and then touching the ground again & almost like being in a planetarium. Even so, it was incredibly dark. I saw only one set of headlights the entire night in the distance some 25 miles toward the Old River Bed. They disappeared and once again I was alone.

It was deathly silent. There was no wind at all & it was so still in fact that I used an old fire ring for an experiment. I put a lighted candle in the middle of it on a flat rock and it illuminated my whole camp quite nicely as it burned on the wick without stirring. The ground was too rocky for much sleep, but it was interesting & if not a bit eerie & to spend the night in the famous Dugway Pass.

As you descend Dugway Pass heading west, the grade is much more gradual and there are scattered, sparse junipers about. After a mile or so you will pass the fortress like summit of 6,192 foot Pyramid Peak rising to the north in the Dugway Range. Not long after you emerge from the mountains you will see the sign pointing the way to the Dugway Geode beds. Geodes are strange volcanic rocks that are filled with crystals in a hollow center cavity and are quite beautiful when cut and polished. They can be readily found in abundance at these world famous collecting grounds.

A bit further on, just before you round the ugly, uninviting mountains on the south side of the road, you will come to a forlorn obelisk standing in front of a dead-looking rock outcrop. This outcrop is Black Rock and you are now at the location of Black Rock Station. This location gives Dugway Station stiff competition for the title "bleakest outpost on the trail." There are no trees, no grass, not even any sage brush & just blank dirt and rocks. Granite Mountain to the north, viewed from this point seems to float on hot summer days due to mirage out on the desert.

Not much is known about Black Rock Station but George Boyd for a time in the 1860s had a contract to keep it supplied with water in barrels and cord wood. Mark Twain in his book Roughing It described the view as follows: "There is not a living creature visible in any direction whither one searches the bland level that stretches its monotonous miles on every hand." There's not much one can add to that. Black Rock is a seemingly dead place & nothing remains. Even the history is lost and dead. Reality at this place leaves nearly everything to the imagination. One thing is for sure, it certainly makes a person appreciate water, vegetation, and that fact that you were not a station man assigned to Black Rock in the 1860s.

Jaromy D. Jessop grew up in West Valley City where he attended Kearns High School and earned the Eagle Scout award while exploring the Utah Desert. A graduate of the University of Utah, B.S. in geography, U.S. Army Reserve Captain Jessop lives with his family in Dugway where he is employed by Jacobs Sverdrup at Michael Army Airfield.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 05 January 2006 )

 
   
     

 
 

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