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Now & Then: Indians, petticoats stirred up Simpson Springs station   PDF  Print  E-mail 
Written by Jaromy Jessop  
Thursday, 22 December 2005

As you leave the small valley where Lookout Station was located you will top a small rise from which you will have a fine view of the Davis Knolls below, Skull Valley, and the desert. The descent out of the mountains is quite steep and the road here is often wash boarded — so use caution. At the bottom of the grade a road heads south into the Sheeprock Mountains. This is the “Little Valley” road and there are some fine campspots in the junipers along this road. A bit farther along the Express Route the Davis Knolls — Terra road heads north about 14 miles along the base of the Onaqui Mountains to Utah Highway 199, which is the Johnson’s Pass road.

Soon after this road junction you will emerge into the Skull Valley. After a short distance a road will leave the trail northwest toward Dugway. Take a moment to look back at the Onaqui Mountains and Lookout Pass and think of the apprehension the approaching express rider must have felt as he charged toward the many potential ambush sites within the pass. Continuing west in a few more miles you will come to a four-way intersection. The road south is the Erickson Pass road, which leads to the Sevier Desert and Delta. The road north is another access to Dugway. From this junction you have a fine view of the 8,410 foot Indian Peaks of the Simpson Range, which brood over Government Creek casting their early winter shadows earlier each day.

As you continue west you will pass Davis Mountain on the north side of the road as you descend a small grade down into the bottom of Government Creek Wash. Back in the 1880s there was a telegraph station operated by David E. “Peg Leg” Smith near this point. In 1863 a troop of Calvary under the command of Captain Samuel P. Smith, operating out of Fort Douglas surrounded and massacred a group of friendly Indians. The exact site of the massacre is un-known but Jacob H. “Doc” Faust stated in his journal that the Indians were camped near Porter Rockwell’s Government Creek ranch. As you contemplate these unfortunate events, watch for wild horses as you emerge from the wash on the west side as they are often wintering in this area.

The Express trail rambles west and then south around the northern terminus of the Simpson Range. As you round the point of the mountains you will have your first views of the real desert. The Simpson Buttes stand starkly to the west and the treeless cone of Table mountain looms farther to the southwest out in the desert. Captain Simpson described the scene of these mountains as follows “Not a tree is to be seen upon them, nor a patch of green vegetation of any kind. They are fit monuments of the desolation which reigns over the whole region.” To those of us who have lived in Utah for most of our lives the scene isn’t so strange, but to stagecoach passengers and military men from back East, the treeless plain was downright startling.

The road becomes quite bumpy and rough as you cover the next several miles south to Simpson Springs. Along this stretch of road you may very likely see a pronghorn antelope or two. These are some of the fastest creatures on the face of the earth and the males with their curved horns are very photogenic. As the road begins to bend west again you will have a good view of the reconstructed Pony Express Station. This building with its conical monument out front and panoramic backdrop all around is one of the most picturesque points along the trail.

The building itself was reconstructed in 1975 as part of the bicentennial celebration. The work under BLM direction was completed by the Future Farmers of America. According to Fike and Headley, the layout and design is based on oral accounts and excavations performed in the area. The conical marker was constructed by the boys of the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939. Simpson Springs was very busy back in the day and Sir Richard Burton gave an entertaining description of how the whole station was upset by the arrival of a stagecoach.

“The station was thrown somewhat into confusion by the presence of a petticoat, an article which in these regions never fails to attract presents of revolvers and sides of bacon.” He states her name was “Gentle Annie” and she was heading to California to meet a friend. Women visiting the stations out in the desert always caused commotion because the lonely men working the stations would go months at a time without seeing a woman.

It was not all fun and games at Simpson Springs. On one occasion, Station Master George Dewees and his attendants were trapped in the station and surrounded by hostile Indians. The Indians demanded that George should give up all of the supplies and food in the station. Mr. Dewees reported to Superintendent Howard Egan that he told the Indians they would have to fight for it. The original station was constructed much the same as the one you see today and because it was stone, the Indians could not burn it, they became very angry and vowed to burn all the stations in the desert and kill all the attendants the following spring. As we will see in future articles, they did their best to make good on these threats.

The name of these springs was even a subject of controversy back then. Gentiles called it Simpson Springs, Mormons called it Egan’s Springs, and non-Mormons called it Lost Springs. The name that stuck through the years is that of Simpson Springs in honor of Captain James H. Simpson who explored the desert all the way to Carson Valley to map a good wagon road from that point to Camp Floyd. These springs were the last potable water on the trail for 60 miles — Fish Springs was the next water source so water from these springs was taken in barrels to the bleak waterless Pony Express stations in the desert. Simpson Springs also served as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the late 1930s as they worked on the Weiss Highway from Jericho to Callao, and the Pony Express trail road. Early during World War II, the same buildings served as the first headquarters and post of Dugway Proving Ground. The springs are quiet now. There is a parking area across the street from the reconstructed station. There is a vault toilet, interpretive panels, a campground, and many other stories that were not touched on here.

If you visit Simpson Springs, walk through the low stone threshold of the old station building. Once inside, notice the cedar poles used for the roof. which was then covered with dirt. The floor is of dirt as well and one can imagine that these were not the best of living conditions. As you exit the building through the back door, walk west through the sparse grass to a group of strange, weathered, lichen-covered rocks. These rocks make an interesting perch from which to ponder all of these stories as you gaze upon the Simpson Buttes and the vast emptiness of the Great American Desert.

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, 22 December 2005 )



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