Pony Express Stations, Part 10: Williams Station

Williams Station is the next Nevada Pony Express station to be encountered when traveling east from Hooten Wells and Desert Station. Originally located along the Carson River, the ruins of the station have been inundated by the waters of Lahontan Reservoir since Lahontan Dam was created in 1911. There are reports that during the drought of 1992, the ruins became visible again due to the low water level. In the early days, it was sometimes referred to as Honey Lake Station.

The Station keeper was James O. Sullivan and the station was owned by J.O. Williams. On May 7, 1860, a few Paiute Indians raided Williams Pony Express Station in retaliation for men from the station accused of kidnapping and assaulting two Paiute girls. Four or five men were killed in the raid when the station was burned with the men inside.

When news of the massacre of the men at Williams Station reached the Comstock, a militia of 105 men was assembled with volunteers under the leadership of Major Ormsby. The quickly formed militia marched to Williams Station where they buried the remains of the mutilated dead men and continued their march to Pyramid Lake to take revenge for the massacre.

On May 12, 1860, the mostly inexperienced militiamen met up with a much larger force of an estimated 500 Indians in the Truckee River gorge near Pyramid Lake. Quickly out maneuvered, the white volunteers were soon surrounded and seventy-six of them were killed while trying to escape. Most of the twenty-nine survivors who did manage to get away were wounded.

When news arrived at the Comstock about the beating sustained by militia in the first battle, Captain John C. Hayes of the Texas Rangers organized a group of 500 Volunteers which became known as the “Washoe Regiment.”

Meanwhile, Captain Joseph Stewart from Fort Alcatraz in San Francisco headed toward the scene with U.S. Army Regular soldiers. Rather than wait for Stewart’s regulars, Captain Hayes marched his volunteers to the location of the initial Indian attack at Williams Station. Hayes encountered an estimated 150 Paiute warriors at the station where a brief skirmish ensued. Two soldiers and six Paiutes were killed and the surviving warriors retreated toward Pyramid Lake. They were pursued by the Hayes volunteers and Stewart’s regulars. This time the Indians were defeated in the Second Battle of Pyramid Lake.

The burning of Williams Station and the massacre of those working there was the catalyst that started the Pyramid Lake Indian War. Williams Station was destroyed and the Pony Riders had to make use of other stations on their runs. This series of events was devastating to the Pony Express. For the next few weeks, seven other stations were razed, 16 employees were killed and 150 horses were stolen or driven off. The owners of the Pony Express operation suffered thousands of dollars in damages from loss of revenue due to mail deliveries being disrupted. Damaged and destroyed stations had to be replaced at a great cost to the owners.

It was not until the establishment of Fort Churchill in the summer of 1861 that conditions along the route were considered to be safe. By that time, the construction of the trans-continental telegraph line was nearing completion. This was the final blow that spelled the end of an era when mail carried by pony riders was the fastest way to send news across the nation.

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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.