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THEN & NOW: Pony Express riders put Simpson Springs on the historical map Print E-mail
Written by Jaromy Jessop   

Simpson Springs was what one might call a Mail Station or Home Station for the Pony Express. It served many functions in the 1800s and is now represented by a mere monument.

Sir Richard Burton described the types of stations in detail: “On this line there were two types of stations — the Mail Station, where there is an agent in charge of five or six boys, and the express station — every second — where there is only a master and an express rider.”

Burton continues on to give the best description of “express station life” that I have been able to find anywhere: “It is a hard life, setting aside the chance of death, no less than three murders have been committed by Indians this year. The work is severe, the diet is sometimes reduced to wolf mutton, or a little boiled wheat and rye, and the drink to brackish water. A pound of tea comes occasionally, but the droughty souls are always out of whiskey and tobacco.”

Some of the express riders would ride 75 miles in one shot because of lack of riders or because they arrived at a station being burned by Indians and were chased on to the next one. These amazing riders carried the last messages of the Buchanan Administration, the news of Lincoln’s election, and of the shots fired at Fort Sumter. Mismanagement, the Civil War and the telegraph all combined to doom the Pony Express, however, and most of its holdings were absorbed by the Overland Stage companies.

The Overland Stages that stopped at Simpson Springs featured heavy Concord Stages with comfortable space for six passengers, more if crowded in and on top of the coaches. Smaller “Mud Wagons” were used in the winter time. Stations such as Simpson’s greeted the passengers with meals, and telegraph service. These Concord stages rumbled regularly across the desert from 1861 to 1869. The service came to an abrupt halt with the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory in May 1869. Simpson Springs activity dropped off significantly not only due to the discontinuation of the stage contract but the subsequent removal of the telegraph line to the route of the newly completed railroad. For the next 50 years, stage service was sporadic in support of mining activities in the Dugway Range, Fish Springs Range, and at Gold Hill. As the mines died out, the spring became an important watering point on the Sheep Herders trail from the winter grazing lands of the west desert to the shearing pens at Tintic Junction and Jehrico. In the 1890s, several buildings were constructed on the site, including a small grocery store and the home of Dewey and Clara Anderson, which was destroyed by fire in 1957.

The ruins of the Anderson house remain behind a chain link fence with a faded interpretive marker telling the story. In the 1930s, Simpson Springs once again came alive with the assignment of a Civilian Conservation Corps company from Clover Creek to the springs. Numerous structures were built and much work was done on improving the Pony Express Trail Road, Stock Watering Ponds, and the Weiss Highway in particular. Evidence of the camp remains today, including a foreboding gateway with two large stone pillars marking the entrance to the camp.

All of this history, folklore, and mystique make Simpson Springs certainly well worth a visit. To get there from Tooele, head south on SR-36 to the marked Pony Express Trail just before you reach the town of Vernon. Turn right and follow this improved dirt road 25 miles west to Simpson Springs. The road is still incredibly bumpy and rocky as you round the Simpson Range and head south towards the springs. When you are at the springs, you will find a reconstructed stage station built by the Future Farmers of America with the support of the BLM in 1976.

You will undoubtedly notice the rock wall along the Pony Express trail outlining a portion of the old CCC Camp. If you enter between the rock pillars and head south up into the old camp, you will notice numerous building foundations, and an interpretive BLM panel located just east of the old center of the camp and flag pole base. To the east, there is a wind-hollowed cave on a knoll overlooking the entire area. Think of the Indians that must have used this vantage point long before the white man ever came. Think of how Simpson’s wagons must have looked, laboring across the desert towards the Old River Bed to the west. Think about the Pony Express rider pushing his poor horse as fast as it could go with a bunch of Indians trailing behind, and of the bouncing, red, Concord stages rumbling along the dusty trail. Lastly, think of the hard-working men of the Civilian Conservation Corps that lived out here in the desolation for six months at a time. If only you could turn back time and observe it all from this knoll...

If you intend to visit Simpson Springs, inquire from the BLM what the road conditions are and take good maps, plenty of food and water and extra fuel. Also, make sure you have a jack, tire iron, and spare tire. This is the most interesting station site on the Pony Express National Historic Trail in my opinion and it is well worth a visit.

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