Pony Express Stations, Part 2: Van Sickle Station

The second Pony Express Station encountered when traveling east from Friday’s Station at the California/Nevada State Line is Van Sickle Station at the bottom of Old Kingsbury Grade in Carson Valley. In 1857, rancher Henry Van Sickle constructed a two-story hotel with a bar, kitchen and a store to cater to the needs of emigrants traveling to California as a rest stop before the climb over the high Sierra Nevada Mountains. When the Pony Express started operation in 1860, it became a station where the riders stopped to change horses.

This was a transition place in the terrain along the trails the pony riders rode. To the east of Van Sickle’s lay the barren expanse of the Great American Desert. To the west of the station rose the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the steep forested trail nearly all the way to Sacramento. Van Sickle Station was a pleasant, scenic location with the forested mountains on one side and the lush grassy fields of Carson Valley on the other. Nearby hot spring pools were a welcome place for emigrants and travelers to clean up after the tortuous trip across the desert and the filthy conditions of other stations along the way.

Just three miles north of Van Sickle’s along Foothill Road is Genoa, Nevada’s oldest settlement. It was originally known as Mormon Station, but it was not a Pony Express Station where mail was exchanged. The pony trail followed along Foothill Road through Jack’s Valley and on to Carson City, the next Station.

Several years ago I was installing irrigation lines with a trencher at the Genoa Lakes Golf Course between Jacks Valley and Genoa when I uncovered two small and extremely rusted horseshoes alongside a marker for the Pony Express Trail which crosses the golf course. I took these to the Nevada State Museum to see if archaeologist Donald Hardesty could identify them as being from the Pony Express. He never returned them to me, so I assume they were genuine. Dr. Hardesty has done archaeological excavations on some of the Nevada Pony Express station sites and is considered an expert in this field.

Van Sickle Station was quite a lively place during the days of the Pony Express. It was known to cater to all sorts of interesting people who stopped there to frequent the restaurant, hotel and bar. Henry Van Sickle had helped to finance much of the road construction in the area and was the tollmaster of Kingsbury Grade. He was the owner and operator of the station and the surrounding ranch. He became the local agent for the Pony Express when the company decided to use his facilities as the Pony Express Station.

In July, 1861 a local troublemaker named Sam Brown got into an altercation at the Station with Henry Van Sickle. Brown was looking to pick a fight with Van Sickle and threatened to kill him in the dining room of the station hotel. Van Sickle knew he had better get rid of this hot headed menace before he or some of his guests were killed or injured. After an unsuccessful attempt to fire a shot at Van Sickle, Brown took off toward the south and Van Sickle took a double barreled shotgun and went after the ruffian. During the chase, several shots were fired until Henry Van Sickle finally encountered Sam Brown at a house in nearby Mottsville. Hearing Brown’s spurs jingle in the darkness, Van Sickle called out, “Sam, now I kills You.” That being said, Van Sickle fired both barrels of the shotgun into Sam Brown’s chest.

In 1909, the historic hotel at Van Sickle’s Station, being in disrepair, was torn down. In 1944, a major preservation effort took place at the station. Many of the original hand hewn-beams and stone salvaged from the original Pony Express Station buildings were used to construct a beautiful 11-room stone ranch house. Many other buildings including barns, guest houses and corrals were restored and are well maintained today. Across Foothill Road from the ranch house and other buildings, ruins of stone walls of the original Pony express station can still be seen standing in a pasture.

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About Dennis Cassinelli

Dennis Cassinelli is a Nevada author, historian and outdoorsman. He’s written extensively about American Indian culture and Comstock history. His book, Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians, contains up-close photographs and detailed pen-and-ink drawings of American Indian stone artifacts. It also contains a fold-out chronology chart showing projectile points across a 12,000-year time scale. The book is a must-have for every enthusiast of Great Basin archaeology. Dennis’s website is DennisCassinelli.com.