Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah
image William Frederick Fisher

March 14, 2023
Deseret Odyssey: William “Billy” Frederick Fisher – Pony Express Rider

“Winter or summer the pay was the same, $50 a month and the balance in fame.”

The desert portion of the Pony Express Trail west of Salt Lake City was the most wild, remote and fantastic part of the trail. The landscape is awesome and terrifying as riders had to cross range and valley after range and valley for hundreds of miles across the Great Basin. Similarly, upon this landscape some of the most interesting and rugged Pony Express riders served and for whatever reason, a good handful of them kept pretty decent journals or participated in interviews after riding with the Express where they told their incredible stories. 

The next part of this series of articles will look at the riders who rode across the West Desert of Utah Territory. The first rider we will talk about is William Frederick Fisher. William was known to his family and peers as “Billy.” He was born in England and lived most of his younger years in London. His family emigrated to the United States in 1854 by steamer to New Orleans. The Fishers then made their way up the Mississippi River. At age 14, Billy drove an ox team all the way from Kansas City, Missouri to Salt Lake City walking flat and uphill portions. When the family arrived, Billy helped his father build a two room log cabin and worked on obtaining wood from the canyons and other chores.

In early 1860, Major Howard Egan was looking for strong, brave, young Mormon men to ride the Express in the West Desert. He was superintendent of the line from Salt Lake City to Roberts Creek, Nevada. Billy was hired at age 20 and assigned one of the most dangerous sections of trail along its entire 1,966 mile length — the 55 mile stretch from Ruby Valley to Egan Canyon, in what would eventually become Nevada. Billy and his fellow riders suffered all kinds of hardships out in the desert and he described one time when they were starving and he had to survive on Coyote meat.

It was while working this stretch of trail that Billy participated in his most famous episode. In the spring and early summer of 1860 some men at one of the stations in central Nevada kidnapped some Indian girls and abused them. When their relatives found out they were enraged and they attacked the station – killing the men and burning the station. This kicked off what would be known as the Paiute War. The citizens of Nevada took up arms and raised a force of men to go after the Indians under Major Ormsby. This group was attacked as they were heading to the Pyramid Lake area and over 100 of them were killed in battle. This set off a massive panic in the west and all along the Pony Express and Overland Stage line. 

Shoshone, Bannock and Goshute warriors attacked stations all along the line and burned many of them including those at Dugway and Lookout Pass. When Billy got the news of what they called the “Indian Outbreak,” he and fellow rider George Washington Perkins set out East to make sure the news reached Salt Lake City. Typically he would have ridden only 55 miles and then handed off the message to the next rider but as they galloped east they found station after station burned upon the line with some station men killed, riders missing and all the stock run off. 

The custom of the riders was to “take the mail through” at all costs no matter the weather or situation so the two young men just kept going. Their ride began at Ruby Valley and they didn’t encounter another white man until they reached Simpson Springs where Major Egan was. He instructed Billy to continue on to Camp Floyd and Salt Lake with the news and by the time he reached his destination he had traveled 300 miles straight in 36 hours using 6 horses and two mules. The commander at Camp Floyd sent two troops of mounted soldiers west to secure the line under Lieutenant Weed and another under Lt. Perkins. It was about a month and a half before the mail got going again and Billy played a big part in making that possible due to his incredible ride. 

 After this harrowing experience and much begging from his mom and sweetheart, Major Egan reassigned Billy to the route between Salt Lake City and Faust  Station in Rush Valley which was a distance of 75 miles. While working this stretch, Billy carried the news of Abraham Lincoln’s election from Salt Lake City to Rush Valley, a distance of 75 miles in four hours and five minutes using five horses. Extra horses were put on to make this fast ride. The news was carried 1966 miles from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento in less than eight days, which was the fastest time ever made by the Pony Express.

 Just before his reassignment and his record breaking ride, he wrote this letter to his sweetheart and it was delivered to her by Richard Erastus or “Ras” Egan, son of Howard Egan, who was also a Pony Express Rider and a good friend of Billy. 

Ruby Valley, 17 June 1860”

“It is with unspeakable pleasure that I sit down for a few moments to pen a few lines, to one I love best on earth. I received your very kind and welcome letter dated June 4th 1860 and was very glad to hear that it left you well, as this leaves me quite well at present and I hope it will find you in good health and good spirits. Dear Linny, you speak of being very lonesome and sad while I am out here, as you say, exposed to so many dangers which is so, but believe me dear girl, I will try and take care of myself it is only for your sake, so cheer up Linny, I expect to be with you before many months, but how long I shall stay I do not know but if you will love me then, I can tell better. I expect you think I am talking nonsense Lin, well perhaps I am. I received a letter from Ras Egan and he told me you was well. When you write to me Lin, give your letters to Ras and he will send them to me by express. Howard is at Rush Valley now. I got a letter from him last night. He said the letter I wrote to you by the last mail enclosed in his, he did not get it. The Indians are raising the devil out here now but I think they will stop soon as the troops have come out to our assistance. Well Linny, I think I have wrote enough for the present, as I am very tired and sleepy for I came in here at sunrise this morning after riding with the express all night. I can’t think of any news of importance to tell you so goodbye for the present. I remain as ever – your devoted William –”

To Miss M. Van Etten GSLCity, U.T. 

“P.S. Dear Linny, will you ever send me out your miniature likeness Ithink if you knew how much I wanted it you would send it to me. W.” 

In next week’s article we will learn about the incident along Billy’s new “Safe” route that almost cost him his life.

Jaromy Jessop has been a frequent contributing writer to the Transcript Bulletin. He enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for the West Desert with our readers. 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 can be followed on Facebook at “JD Jessop” and on his Facebook group “American Tales & Trails.” Jessop retains the rights to his writing and photographs. His permission is required for any republication.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>