Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah
image Looking north from behind the Pet Cemetery, across the meadow to the Lookout Station site with Black Mountain in the Onaqui Range rising in the distance.

December 21, 2022
Desert Odyssey: Pet Cemetery at Lookout Pass — Part 1

“The desert takes our dreams away from us and they don’t always return”

Paulo Cohelo

One of my favorite places along the Pony Express Trail is a tiny little valley or meadow down the west slope from Lookout Pass across the road from the old Lookout Station site. Back in the 1860s, this was a favorite camping site for emigrants and travelers heading west across the desert to California due to the grass in the meadow and the tiny spring or seep that trickles out of a draw behind the station site. 

This area used to be covered with a dense juniper forest but a fire several years ago burned the trees off of the hills to the south of the Pony Express Trail. Now there are just a few stands of old junipers in the meadow and a bunch of gray and white juniper stalks or skeletons all over the hills. For decades, a tiny rock enclosure peered out of these trees across the meadow…looking directly at the old Pony Express Station marker. As it was nearly covered by the trees it was an easy thing to miss, but since the fires occurred, it is in the wide open and impossible to miss as you drive the road past the old Lookout Station site. 

The enclosure is made of large blocks or chunks of native stone held together by crude cement mixed with an old metal railing set in a concrete cap around the top wall of the square enclosure, no doubt designed to keep people out of the center of the tiny cemetery plot. It is believed that the Civilian Conservation Corps boys built this enclosure to protect the graves back in 1939-1940 when they erected the stone station markers at all of the sites along the Pony Express Trail in western Utah.  

I have hiked all through this area, camped in the meadow several times and visited the cemetery at least a dozen times as it is a beautiful, quiet little place where you can think about the past or just enjoy an incredible desert mountain sunset. One evening in April of 2021, I took a walk through the cedars after dark across the tiny meadow near Lookout Station over to the cemetery. I was surprised how much light you get out of a half-moon in the desert as it caused the junipers to cast incredibly black shadows upon the powdery dirt. It reminded me of being on a night patrol back in the Marines where you avoided the dead space — being out in the open — and where the dark shadows were your friend because you could remain concealed from observation in their blackness. 

The sky was beautiful and the stars shone bright in the frigid night. The wind whooshed in intermittent gusts through the trees and at times all was still and perfectly silent with Orion the archer and the big dipper overhead in the sky. I know this place is referred to as the “Pet Cemetery,’ and no doubt aunt Libby Rockwell, with the toiling help of her husband Horace, buried her dogs that she loved so much here and cared for their graves but this story has been romanticized all out of proportion, so much so that it has overshadowed the first occupants of the cemetery. 

Horace Rockwell had a different take on it all according to early Vernon resident James Sharp who frequented the area as a young man and was told the following story by Horace many years ago: “It happened in the summer of 1861. Two emigrant wagons camped right below here for the night. Next morning, I was busy getting horses ready for the westbound stage and east bound pony when just after day break a lad of about 10 or 11 came over leading 4 horses. He paid me 20 cents for watering them and I saw he was crying so I asked him what was the matter? He said his pa and uncle had died about midnight and his ma and aunt had been busy ever since digging a grave — and when they went to get the men, they found his brother had also died, so they put the three in one grave and had just finished filling it in. I gave him his money back and intended on going over and seeing if I could help in any way but the stage was late and by the time I got around to going, they had left. No, I don’t know who they were.” 

I stood there in the darkness near the cemetery enclosure and thought about the pain, agony and grief the families of those emigrants who perished here must have felt. Imagine uprooting your family from a comfortable living back east, putting all you own in a covered wagon and then toiling across the plains, surviving the heat, drifting snow and blizzards, crossing the rivers, privation from lack of adequate food, extreme exhaustion — fighting for each next step every day and the constant on guard stress experienced when passing through an Indian Country for a thousand miles or more… only to have your dreams end in a lonely desert grave at Lookout Pass. 

The timelines for the passing of these two men and a child here at Lookout Pass matches up with the deaths and burial of Nora and Eva at the Faust Ranch Cemetery and it is also likely that this same family, or what was left of it, also buried Em and Jo at Simpson Point, after which, the wagons, two woman and a boy were never seen again. If all of these people were from the same group, what a terrible story it would be. An entire emigrant party decimated by disease and then the survivors possibly finished off by “White Indians” as the outlaws who preyed upon the emigrants in the lonely stretches were often called.

It is a sobering thought to realize that this was not an isolated incident as there are thousands of marked, faded and unmarked graves of emigrants from Council Bluffs, Iowa through Nebraska along the Platte River past Chimney Rock, Scotts Bluff and Fort Laramie to South Pass, Wyoming along the Oregon Trail; and many more along the Santa Fe Trail from Independence, Missouri across the Kansas and Colorado plains to Santa Fe, and finally across the deserts from Great Salt Lake City to southern, central and northern California. 

The frontier certainly was conquered and bought hard at a very heavy price. As I sit in my truck writing this by lamp light only a short distance from these graves, I wish there was some record that could tell who these brave emigrants were so they could be identified and properly remembered. Who knows if the two women and young boy made it to California or not? It seems like I can hear the lonesome heartbreak on the wind as it whooshes through the trees in the moonlight at 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.

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