The Pony Express Stations of Utah in Historical Perspective
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Many stories exist and have been perpetuated about the Pony Express and its contributions to regional and national history, but unfortunately this information is sketchy and fragmented. Facts written or otherwise related are often distorted, creating a confusing and clouded account of that service's history. Notorious are newspaper articles which have contributed more to legend than fact. In Utah, few attempts have been made to compile and authenticate the fragments of information available into a reasonable historical chronology or regional account of the Pony Express. Also, little attention has been paid to the relationship between the Pony Express and the Overland Mail/Stage Service.

Past research efforts have dealt mainly with the histories of the men who engineered the Express, the riders, and associated political ramifications and events. The writers' intentions are not to rework the company's history or those of the principal people associated with its service; rather it is to describe the Express stations themselves. Associated persons and events, as well as observations, will be presented in this context.

New data, substantiated and augmented by extensive field work, have provided the opportunity to consolidate some of the fragmentary historical records of the Express; thereby lending a more cohesive character to this presentation. Cadastral records (township plat maps or cadastral plats) made by the General Land Office (GLO) and now held by the Bureau of Land Management. have provided an excellent and often neglected historical resource. Cadastral surveyors noted building locations, trails and other pertinent data essential to the sort of synthesis attempted here. But problems continually plague the Express researcher, since early eyewitness accounts are often frustratingly vague and difficult to interpret. A few examples will demonstrate. In J. H. Simpson's report on his exploration across the Great Basin in 1859, he mentions a mail station at Simpson's Springs but his trip map plots only the springs. Sir Richard Burton of Nile River exploration fame, referenced the majority of the stage stations but omitted stations used by the Pony Express. Captain Albert Tracy also left out some of the Express sites in his journal. In stories gathered by Kate B. Carter, the Express riders left out names of stations not pertinent to the situation they were relating, thus leaving researchers to think many stations were not there, were no longer in existence, or were only stage facilities.

With the aid of a map showing geographic position and terrain the researcher can begin to understand the strategic positioning for each Express station site. Some positioning is further understandable when one considers mountain passes could have 15 foot snow drifts in the winter and that summer temperatures often reached 110 degrees on the desert floor. Water was (and is) a scarcity, especially to the west of Salt Lake City, and often had to be hauled great distances to several desert stations.

Often confusing are the names (local and contract) used for the stations. For example, a strip map published in 1935 spots Hanging Rock and Weber stations as separate stations, when in actuality they were the same. [1] In another place it shows Fort Crittenden and Camp Floyd, the same station, about 25 miles apart. It is confusing to researchers when contract names and local names are found on different maps. Unless a detailed study is made for each site, the extra names confuse the researcher. This is especially true when working from line strip maps.

Figure 1. The Pony Express Trail in Utah. (click on image for a PDF version)

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Last Updated: 18-Jan-2008