If you head west on the Pony Express Trail from state Route 73 at Five Mile Pass, in approximately six miles you will arrive at a lonely, stone station marker in the middle of Rush Valley.
Not much is known about this station and some scholars question if there ever was a station there due to a lack of physical and documented evidence. Like several other stations along the route, Rush Valley Station may have been established after the Pony Express ended in 1861 to serve the Overland Stage.
Fike & Hendley, in their historical perspectives analysis of the trail in 1979, noted the station was built as a dugout. They go on to say that Howard Egan wrote in his journal the station was active but was not identified as a contract station.
In the book “City of the Saints” by Sir Richard Burton, a detailed account is given of all the stations visited from Camp Floyd to Deep Creek — but no mention is made of Rush Valley Station. However, Burton and his group lost the trail west of Camp Floyd and stayed the night in Johnson’s Settlement on Clover Creek.
Whatever the truth of this location’s history, I find Rush Valley to be fascinating. The valley is huge, measuring 32 miles from Stockton to the Sheeprock Mountains and 22 miles wide from Five Mile Pass to Lookout Pass.
Famed writer Horace Greeley crossed Rush Valley in 1859 and described it thus: “The vegetation was the same eternal sage and greasewood which I am tired of mentioning but which together or separately cover two thirds of all the vast region between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. In places the sagebrush for miles in extent is dead and withering seemingly parched up by all the pervading drought.”
While the terrain is flat in this high desert sagebrush country, Rush Valley, hemmed in by the Oquirrh, Sheeprock and Stansbury mountains, sometimes posed a serious obstacle to the Pony Express rider. One of the greatest historical resources to anyone contemplating following the trail in Tooele County is the book, “Pioneering the West,” which is a collection of Major Howard Egan’s journal entries and memories his sons had of experiences on the frontier.
In his book, Egan tells of how one Pony Express rider left Camp Floyd in a driving snowstorm but was familiar with the terrain and wasn’t too worried. This rider recalled if he followed the low rise through the pass, he would then just keep on heading straight across Rush Valley and would arrive at the next station.
But you can become disoriented in a whiteout or blizzard, and this poor fellow rode all night without finding the station. He was bone cold and knew he couldn’t stop or he would freeze.
Finally, he began to see some lights through the snow in the morning and it turned out they were the lights of Camp Floyd. He had ridden all night in circles, arriving back at his starting point. Egan said the rider reoriented himself and headed west again to the next station.
Egan’s son, Howard Ransom Egan, told of one trip when he rode the mail from Salt Lake City to Camp Floyd, then at sundown headed west towards Rush Valley in blowing snow. The rider stated the snow was knee deep to his horse, and between the darkness and blowing snow, he couldn’t see a thing.
He depended on the direction of the wind on his face to lead him west. However, the wind shifted in the night and he ended up riding south for a great distance. Today, we like to think of the Pony Express rider charging down the trail on a bright sunny day, but back then, rain, shine, sleet or snow, these tough frontiersmen carried the mail.
Oftentimes, when Rush Valley is discussed in terms of its relation to the Pony Express, the stories become confused because Faust Station, sometimes referred to as Meadow Creek Station or Rush Valley, was a major Home Station located over 10 miles west of the present Rush Valley Station marker. Faust/Meadow Creek Station was well documented and most of the occurrences referenced to Rush Valley happened at Meadow Creek.
One occurrence Egan recounted clearly happened nearby the Rush Valley Station marker as Howard Egan recalled the time he and a friend were 10-12 miles east of Faust Station. They were camping with their stock near the road in the middle of the valley when they heard a stage pass in the night. They thought it was strange because the stage only ran tri-weekly and it was the wrong day.
In the morning, the same stage returned from the other direction and Porter Rockwell was on the box accompanied by several heavily armed men. The deceased body of Lot Huntington, a local ruffian, was inside the stage as he lost an argument with Porter and his men when they attempted to apprehend him. Apparently, Huntington was planning to ambush Egan and steal his livestock so he could run them across the desert to California where they would bring $100 per head, but Porter foiled the plan.
Both areas were likely busy maintaining riding stock for the stations. Another resource that gives a direct glimpse back onto our desert in 1860 is the book by Nicholas Wilson called “White Indian Boy.” Nick Wilson was an early pioneer of Grantsville and was recruited by Henry “Doc” Faust to be a Pony Express Rider. In his book, Wilson stated, “Not many riders could stand the long fast riding at first but after two weeks they would get hardened to it.”
The riders weren’t the only ones terribly challenged by the long distances and terrain. Egan stated “the initial horses played out because they were not accustomed to the terrain or harsh conditions.” His son stated that on one jaunt he was riding a fine-looking bay that tripped and broke its neck leaving him stranded. Egan ended up walking five miles with his saddle and mail pouch to the next station. Wilson stated the company finally bought a bunch of wild horses from California, strung them out along the line and set the best riders to break them.
Wilson recalls “Pete Neece, our home station keeper was a big strong man and a good rider. After he had ridden them a time or two he would turn the half broken wild things over to the express riders to ride. Generally, when a hostler could lead them into and out of a stable without getting his head kicked off, they were considered broke.”
Those California mustangs, while head strong and wild, turned out to be perfectly suited to hard service in the desert and their legacy lives on today as you will likely see some of their descendants still living on the Pony Express Trail in our county today.
I spent the evening out one night at the Rush Valley Station marker, and had a billion stars and the metallic glow of South Tooele Army depot as companions. It was totally silent and there was no wind. For some reason, I had the strange sensation that someone or something was just beyond the limit of my light and that made for an uneasy night.
If you ever do the same, you may now have some more stories to contemplate while under the stars in Rush Valley.
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.