Editor’s note: This is another installment in a multi-part series on exploring the Pony Express Trail through Tooele County.
In last week’s article, we left off on the slopes of Davis Mountain Round Top. The mountain stands alone like a sentinel in southern Skull Valley and it dominates the view to the west as you cross Skull Valley on the Pony Express Trail.
The last time I climbed to the peak’s summit it took me about an hour, but those 60minutes weren’t easy. The elevation gain is abrupt, yet the view of the surrounding desert and mountains get better with each step. The steep slopes are covered with short range grasses, junipers and limestone outcrops. On the steepest parts of the mountain there are rust colored rock slides that have dozens of timeless game trails crossing them.
On the summit, you can easily see the trace of Government Creek far below to the south. Government Creek got its name in the 1860s when troops from Fort Douglas dug a well there and made a temporary camp to launch forays into the desert to keep the Overland Stage route open and safe from American Indians. As mentioned in last week’s article, David E. “Peg Leg” Davis operated a telegraph office at Government Creek.
According to Perry Jenkins’ book “Notes on the Transcontinental Telegraph” there were two stations on the desert in this area — one at Government Creek and one at Deep Creek. Jenkins states that the telegraph equipment consisted of a single 9- or 10-gauge annealed iron wire strung on poles spaced 25 to the mile with glass insulators covered by wooden jackets to protect them against bullets and arrows.
The circuit was completed by connecting the lines at the stations to ground rods. Eventually, just like the Pony Express and Overland Stage, the telegraph ceased operations in this area as it was relocated north to the Transcontinental Railroad line. Peg Leg Davis moved his operation to Rush Valley and Government Creek was silent once again.
Sadly, Government Creek was also the scene of a despicable massacre of 10 friendly Goshute Indians by U.S. Calvary in 1863. Capt. Samuel P. Smith of Company K, 3rd California Volunteers, hunting fame and glory, was responsible for this disgraceful act. While standing on top of Davis Mountain Round Top, looking down on the Pony Express Trail, I thought back to this event and the account I read from Henry Jacob “Doc” Faust’s journal:
“I was living at Rush Valley when Captain Smith and his Company came to Rockwell’s Ranch and camped. For some cause or another, they surrounded and killed the men, women, and children that were camped in the cedars nearby. The soldiers only saved one, that was Pe-Anum’s young squaw. Captain Smith took her to his tent, where I saw her and I went over to see what was going on. She told me that he made her sleep with him and she begged me most piteously to take her away. I talked with Smith and he told me that he was holding her in order that she would tell where the rest of the Indians were.”
Faust’s journal continued: “I will never forget the poor woman as I left, crying as though her heart would break. It afterwards transpired that Smith kept her as long as he wanted her and then sent Spanish Joe off with her. She was afterwards found with a bullet in her head. I visited the dead Indians camp and found them unburied. I recognized the father and brother of Pe-Anum. It was a ghastly sight. They were all swollen up to twice their natural size, one mother hugging her little papoose to her breast as tight as though she would shield it from the destroyer. There are more savages than Indians.”
One thing that is difficult to describe about the desert in this area is its silence, especially in the early evening. Walking through the junipers and following the ridges of Davis Mountain, I thought about the people who once inhabited these desert ranges, specifically the Goshute Indians. I wonder if they climbed this mountain and observed the desert. I wonder if they followed the game trails across the rock slides and through the junipers.
The story of the massacre by Smith is a common theme throughout the American Old West as the native people were brutally and completely removed from the land by so-called advancing civilization. There is no evidence of this atrocity on the landscape. Like the Pony Express, the Transcontinental Telegraph and Overland Stage, these episodes are all echoes that mostly go unheard by the majority of people who follow the trail today.
A poem, written by former Utah Gov. Charles R. Mabey, brings the discussion of Davis Mountain Round Top and Government Creek to a fitting close:
The riders are dead, their ponies are dust,
The years have buried the trails they made.
The moldering posts are strewn with rust,
From stockless gun and harmless blade.
Where once the savage lurked in force,
The settler sleeps in his calm abode.
And only the ghost of rider and horse
Streaks down the path over which he rode.
The area along Government Creek described in this article is located at the southern foot of Davis Mountain half way between Lookout Pass and Simpson Springs. As previously stated, you won’t see any evidence of a telegraph station or any of the other described events. You will simply encounter an area along a dry desert creek bed where the road dips down from the valley, follows the creek for a short distance, and then climbs out of the wash and heads west around the point of the Simpson Range and eventually to Simpson Springs.
Driving through the area, stop your vehicle for a moment and turn it off, then hike to the top of Davis Mountain Round Top. While there, pause for a moment and listen. The silence can be calming — or unnerving if you’re not accustomed to such stillness. Consider the history that transpired along this lonely wild road, and listen for its echoes. If you hear something, you may find yourself asking if you believe in ghosts.
Maps: Davis Knolls and Indian Peaks1:24,000 USGS Quads
Jessop grew up exploring the mountains and deserts of Utah and has traveled to all 50 states, U.S. Territories and a dozen foreign countries. He and his family live in Stansbury Park.