“Some say that if you stop here at twilight and sit in the quiet of gloaming, you can hear the barking of dogs and the voice of a woman”
from “The Woman of Point Lookout”
by Elaine L. Ipson
Last week we started a look at Horace & Libby Rockwell of the Pony Express “lookout” station. This week we will finish out their story with what may be the most well-known tale of Lookout Pass, Aunt Libby Rockwell and her dogs.
The Rockwell’s didn’t have any children, least ways not human children anyhow, but dogs.
Aunt Libby had several dogs and she loved those animals more than a lot of parents love their own children. These dogs were described as being “low, fat-short haired black dogs with tan legs.”
Dr. Stookey stated that these dogs were always overweight. In fact, one of the men who worked at the station, a Mr. Perkins, would complain that those dogs ate better than he did and he was probably right. Mr. Sharp relayed the following memory of the dogs: “My first visit to Point Lookout was in 1885 when Horace and Libby Rockwell lived there. They had no children but they did have a whole colony of black and tan dogs. I believe they said they were of the ‘Fiste’ breed. You know the kind, with short hair, who always try to stand on three legs, shivering to keep from freezing to death in July.”
Libby named one of her dogs “Josephine Bonaparte” after the empress of France, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. She named another one of her dogs “Jenny Lind” after the Swedish singer who had such a beautiful voice and good range in the 1850’s that she was known as the “Swedish Nightingale”. Another dog was named “Toby Tyler” after the popular children’s classic of the late 1800s. The last two dogs that I am aware of were simply named “Bishop” and “Phoebe.”
When her dogs would get sick, she would call on the physician in Tooele, a Dr. Dods and begged him to come out and tend to her dogs, even going so far as to offer him $20 gold pieces to do it. Dr. Dods complained that he had more human patients than he knew what to do with and that he would not come out to Lookout to check on Dogs.
This frustrated Aunt Libby so she decided to outsmart old Doc Dods. Libby said to her hired man Elijah Perkins “Lije, I want you to play sick so Doc Dods will think a human is sick and not an animal, and that way he will come a runnin’.”
Aunt Libby was right of course, as Dr Dods showed up on their property hours later at 2 a.m. after a long muddy ride from Tooele, asking for access to the patient.
He was fit to be tied when he discovered that Lije was not sick after all and that it had all been a ploy to get him out to Lookout so that he would treat the dogs. Aunt Libby paid him $100 in gold coins for his trouble. Doc Dods begrudgingly agreed to look at the animals on account of the fact that he was out there anyway. Now this was no small sum of money in the 1800’s but Libby loved her dogs and money was not a factor. In Sharp’s account of this story, the dog, Phoebe, after being examined, did not survive.
This trick did not work again and Libby was forced to take her dogs into Salt Lake City for treatment and it was on one such occasion that old Toby Tyler died on the road. Libby was heartbroken by her loss and she had a Mr. Gustave E. Johnson erect a stone wall around a small cemetery in 1888, where she laid her beloved dog to rest. As the years went by and her dogs passed away, Aunt Libby lovingly buried her dogs in the little pet cemetery. When the last dog died, Aunt Libby and her husband moved away from Point Lookout. This was approximately 1890. Aunt Libby died in Los Angeles in 1895 when she burned to death in her bed. It was said that she had been smoking her pipe, fell asleep and everything caught on fire.
The setting where the station was located and the Rockwell’s lived for many years would have been quite a pretty little place back in those times. There is an open meadow of considerable size across the road to the south from the station that greens up nicely in the spring. Nowadays it is criss-crossed by deep ruts from fools who tried the trails when they were too soaked to sustain the weight of their vehicles. That fact notwithstanding, and the fact that the hillside to the south was burned to a crisp a few years ago by a wildfire, exposing to view Aunt Libby’s tiny pet cemetery where it was once concealed within the junipers, this is still a special place. Especially in the morning or just before sunset — like most places in the desert, there is some kind of inexplicable magic here — a kind of feeling that overcomes you and, in the process, allows your city cares and worries to melt away.
In the evening or early morning, I like to go to this place and places like it in the desert to ponder the past and the way things must have been.
It has been said by old timers and I have found reference to the same in old documents and letters that there were three immigrants; two adults and a child, who were buried within the wall of where the pet cemetery now stands, back in the days of the Pony Express.
These emigrants were likely kin to Nora and Eva, and Em and Jo. Whether this tale is true or not, please be respectful of this final resting place. I imagine that if there are such things, the ghost of Aunt Libby is always nearby, watching over her beloved dogs whose bones rest among the bleached bones of the burned-out Junipers, in the Great American Desert along the Pony Express Trail, below Lookout Pass.
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.