Pony Express Stations, Part 13: Middlegate and Cold Springs

The site location for Middlegate Station is unknown. There are several possible locations along US Hwy. 50 near the modern Middlegate bar and restaurant that could have been the site of the original Pony Express station. Last summer when I was working on a highway project in Hawthorne, a group of us drove up to Middlegate for a party hosted by another construction crew. A great time was had by all but there was no trace of any Pony Express station.

The next station east of Middlegate is Cold Springs Station, located 65 miles west of Austin along US Hwy. 50. It was built in March of 1860 by Superintendent Bolivar Roberts, J.G. Kelly and others. Jim McNaughton was a station keeper until he later became a rider. J.G. Kelly was the assistant station keeper for a while.

The original station was built of large native rocks and mud with walls four to six feet high and up to three feet thick. It had four large rooms including a storage area, barn, corral and living quarters. In the winter, residents took advantage of heat from the animals stabled in the barn to keep warm. The only other heat was one small fireplace.

On Pony Bob Haslam’s famous longest ride in Pony Express history, he stopped at Cold Springs to change horses, then went on east to Smith Creek Station. After sleeping for nine hours, he returned to Cold Springs and found it had been attacked by Indians. The station keeper had been killed and all the horses had been stolen. Pony Bob then watered his horse and headed to Sand Springs.

The morning after Cold Springs Station was attacked, Indians attacked Smith Creek Station. The whites defended the station for four days when about 50 volunteers from Cold Springs Station came to their rescue. They reported they had just buried the remains of their station keeper, John Williams whose body had nearly been consumed by wolves.

C.H. Ruffin, a Pony Express employee reported on May 31, 1860:

“I have just returned from Cold Springs – was driven out by Indians, who attacked us night before last. The men at Dry Creek Station have been killed, and it is thought the Roberts Creek Station has been destroyed. The Express turned back after hearing the news from Dry Creek. Eight animals were stolen from Cold Springs on Monday.”

Bartholomew Riley was a member of the 19th regiment of the U.S. Infantry who volunteered to participate in the first battle of the Pyramid Lake Indian War. He had recently received an honorable discharge from Company C when he heard about the Indian attacks at Williams Station and he decided to join in the battle led by Major Ormsby. During the battle, Riley fought with extreme bravery and gallantry, killing several of the dusky enemy attackers at the side of the ill fated Major Ormsby.

Having been one of the few survivors of the first Pyramid Lake battle, Riley assumed duties as a Pony Express rider when on May 15th, 1860, the scheduled rider at Buckland’s Station refused to take his turn on the next eastbound run. Riley, fresh from the battlefield and tired as he was, stepped forth and volunteered to ride the next change, a distance of 85 miles. He did so in excellent time.

On the following day, Riley rested at Cold Springs Station when he was accidently shot by a friend with a rifle. He was taken immediately to Carson City for treatment but tragically, he died there of his wound.

Today, the ruins of Cold Springs Station still resemble a substantial fortress alongside the old trail. Living quarters and corral are easily recognized as well as windows, gun holes, and a fireplace. A rivulet of good cold water from the surrounding hills still flows near the site as it did when the ponies and riders refreshed themselves an this incredibly historic site.

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