Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah
image An owl perched on a road sign on a West Desert road at night.

November 15, 2022
Desert Odyssey: Em and Jo

“You don’t have to be a house to be haunted”

Emily Dickenson

It’s dark, so very dark out in the desert at night along the Pony Express Trail.

In the winter it is so very cold. As I’m writing this there is a frigid tingle in my toes and it is 26 degrees outside under a crystal clear winter sky full of sparkling diamond like stars and all is frozen hard. It is completely calm, no wind stirring at all, totally silent, no bird song or scurrying of animals, just the crushing unseen weight of the brutal cold. 

Many places along the Pony Express Trail are likely haunted due to the fact that people died hard at some of these places. I personally believe that when something tragic occurs in a certain location, an echo of that event is left at that place. 

This night seemed like a perfect chance to head out onto the trail to visit one such place and write about that incident near the location where the event happened. I always feel that the storytelling is better if the storyteller has actually been to the place they are writing about or in this case, is actually at the place while they are writing. 

The sky had a different look to it tonight as it was overcast but there were some low, cold clouds curling about the bases of the mountains out in the southern end of Skull Valley. It was a dark 10 mile drive from the area near the Dugway main gate south to the Pony Express Trail and then west through Government Creek to Simpson Point. 

Along this stretch I noticed an abandoned trailer that looked like it got a flat tire and then the axle failed and when the bed of the trailer hit the road, it sort of came apart. Kinda creepy to see it appear out of the dark alongside the road. 

Simpson Point is where the Pony Express Trail curves around the northernmost arm of the Simpson Mountains and then heads south to Simpson springs. There are several small knolls in this area and I am camping on top of one of those knolls just north of the Express Trail. 

This is a treacherous stretch of road because it is very rocky and sometimes wash boarded. If a driver is not careful, they can lose control and either roll their vehicle or flip it on its side if you drive too fast. I saw a vehicle just last week that came to rest on its side, all bashed up in this area. Not sure if it rolled or not, but emergency services were on the scene and a deputy sheriff out there told me that the two occupants were severely injured and had to be transported to the hospital. 

Simpson Point is no place to be when it’s dark and freezing and you are injured in a wrecked vehicle as it takes at least an hour and a half for Police and EMS to get out to this point if anyone is able to call them in the first place. This was the second time I had seen a vehicle rolled in this area over the years. 

Why did I come out here? Well back in the late summer of 1861, a ridiculously heart breaking saga unfolded in the desert that will be told in detail in several parts over the next few weeks. 

The basic premise of the story is that a group of emigrant families from Missouri were traveling to California in their wagons along the Pony Express Trail. There were two wagons and 11 people in the group. The 1860s were the peak of a scourge called “cholera” which is a disease that absolutely ravaged people in the west, wiping out whole groups and families. 

This poor group of emigrants lost three small children who died and were buried along the trail somewhere between Five Mile Pass and Faust Station. While at Faust Station, two more little girls died and Doc Faust helped to ensure they received a proper burial in the tiny Faust Cemetery. 

When the group arrived at Lookout Station and camped in the meadow there, a man and a child passed away in the night and shortly after, the other man passed away as well. The two men and a child were buried in what is now known as the “Pet Cemetery.” 

At the foot of Lookout Pass where the Pony Express Trail empties into Skull Valley the tiny ravaged emigrant party lost another person. That leads us to the final episode in the tragic decimation of this little group from Missouri. The following tale was relayed by James Sharp who was an early resident of Vernon and a historian and storyteller. He was fascinated by all of the lore and history of the Pony Express Trail. 

“My mothers brother was riding from Fish Springs to Rush Valley in the late summer of 1861. He was a bit late and when he rounded Simpson Point and had gone about a mile, he saw two wagons stopped in the road. He waved to them but they never waved back so he said ‘to hell with you!’ and kept riding. Now that would be about two miles west from where the road crosses the old Government Creek wash. When he got to Rush Valley, Doc Faust asked him if he had seen a couple of wagons with a couple of families in them at Simpson. He said he had not but that he had seen two wagons in the road and 3 people on the hill. Doc asked him to stop on his return journey and he did and saw two small graves. Two stones were there about the size of a man’s head and it looked like someone had taken a stick and scraped the tar from the hub of a wagon and written “JO” on one and “EM” on the other. Were these the same Missouri emigrants who lost children in Rush Valley, then at Faust Station, then at Lookout Station, then near the Cedar Point Well?”

The two women, boy and two wagons were never seen at Simpson or Fish Springs. Did bandits steal the wagons and murder the emigrants? Were the deaths of all their loved ones too much to bear? Did they commit suicide? 

We will never know the answer to these questions as passing time has turned everything to dust. It is interesting to note however that some of the stations along the trail, the Old River Bed Station, in particular, were said to be haunted. 

At Riverbed, the apparitions were sometimes two little girls. Could it be Em and Jo? Who knows. 

I don’t personally believe in ghosts but I can tell you that I do get a strange feeling after dark along the trail between Government Creek Wash and Simpson Point. After writing this story, I got out of my truck and looked around the dark desert. The mountains loomed black and were outlined by the edge of the Stars. I noticed the swath of the milky way and Orion the Archer off to the southeast over Red Pine Mountain in the Sheeprock. I also saw an incredible green shooting star that silently burned out on descent seemingly just before it hit the ground. 

As I stood there I got a most disturbing sensation that out at the edge of the limit of what I could see in the dark, a woman in an old time dress was walking towards my truck. 

Of course there was nothing there but the mind can think up some unpleasant scenarios and play tricks on a person when you are alone in the dark. In next week’s article I will tell the tragic story of what happened to this group of emigrants at Faust and then Lookout Station.

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.

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