Pony Express Stations, Part 14: Smith Creek Station

This will be the last in my series of articles about the Pony Express stations in western Nevada. When Pony Bob Haslam made the longest ride in Pony Express history, he rode the route from Friday’s Station at Lake Tahoe to Smith Creek Station almost halfway across the state of Nevada. My articles have described many of the conditions and dangers of operating a horse mounted mail service through rough Indian territory during a time when little protection was available.

It is appropriate to end the series with this article since most of the activity that involved the Comstock region occurred at the stations in the western half of Nevada. The ruins of the Smith Creek Pony Express Station are located on the present day Smith Creek Ranch about fourteen miles north of State Highway 2 on the east side of the Desatoya Mountains. There is one adobe building with a willow thatch roof and a second building with one section of adobe and another section of rock also with a thatch roof. The first building has been identified as the location of the corral. The adobe section of the second building is the original Pony Express Station house.

At least two shootings were reported to have occurred at Smith Creek Station. The Virginia City Territorial Enterprise reported one case in August, 1860 when H. Trumbo, station keeper at Smith Creek got into a difficulty with Montgomery Maze, one of the pony riders. Apparently Trumbo snapped a pistol at Maze several times. The next day, the fracas resumed when Maze shot Trumble with a rifle. The ball entered above the hip and inflicted a dangerous wound. Maze was taken to Carson City for treatment and brought with him a certificate signed by witnesses who stated that Trumbo had provoked the attack.

In 1860, William Carr started a quarrel with Bernard Chessy at Smith Creek Station. During the altercation, William Carr murdered Chessy and was brought to trial in Carson City. He was found guilty by Judge John Cradelbaugh and became the first person legally hanged in Nevada. A Pony Express rider named Bart Riles was killed at Smith Creek Station in an unfortunate riding accident on October 14, 1860.

Located in Lander County, Nevada, Smith Creek Station was the first Pony Express stop in Shoshone country, being at the dividing line between Shoshone lands and Paiute territory. The stations west of Smith Creek were in Paiute country and were more routinely raided by the Paiutes during the 1860 battles that followed the Pyramid Lake Indian War. The station was named for Captain Smith, when Simpson’s survey party located the site on May 30, 1859.

When Sir Richard Burton visited the station on October 14,1860, he reported the station was situated in a deep hollow. It had an unusually neat station house with furnishings including the bunks made of osier (willows) taken from the neighboring creek. There was a stone corral and a haystack. He mentioned the presence of Indians at the station but none of them were allowed to enter the station house.

After the Pony Express and the Overland Stage lines no longer existed, Smith Creek became a successful ranching operation which is still active today. The Maestretti family, owners of the ranch have preserved the old Pony Express station buildings. The adobe section of a half-adobe, half-rock building is part of the original Pony Express Station. Other old willow-and thatched-roof buildings also remain intact.

 

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.