Saturday, 14 January 2017

A Dangerous Canyon

Heading along the Pony Express trail across Steptoe valley towards Egan Canyon on Thursday 29th September...
You can clearly see the canyon opening in the Egan Range straight ahead along the trail.
This peaceful little canyon was once one of the most notoriously dangerous sections of the trail during the 1860s. The narrow valley with its steep rocky sides was a perfect spot to be ambushed and trapped, and it witnessed many instances of violent encounters with hostile Indians.. 
Nick Wilson tells a tale of following a small emigrant train into the valley and finding the whole party including women and children massacred, apart from two men he passed running out of the canyon.  The mules and horses were gone.  These emigrants had been warned of the danger of travelling in a small party through this country, but mistakenly thought they were well armed enough to repel any attacks. 
 Howard Egan (most likely the younger Egan rather than his father Major Egan)came across a camp of Indians while riding through the canyon at night. He decided to use surprise tactics and 'run the gauntlet', galloping straight through the camp while firing his guns, and making a rapid exit on his fast pony. He later heard that the Indians had indeed planned to capture a rider, to find out what they were carrying with such urgency!
 An enigmatic sign by the side of the track..
What on earth would someone be doing with a rubber tub and red mat on a hillside in the desert, and more intriguingly what sort of person would choose to steal them?  Not the Indians this time methinks.
Egan Canyon Pony Express station was built where the canyon opens out, and was sited in the area of thick salt bush to the left of the creek in the photo below.  In the distance rise the Cherry Creek mountains.
The most notable event which occurred here was 'The Battle of Egan Station' of August 1860 when the station was attacked by a large number of Goshute warriors who overpowered station master Mike Holton and rider Wilson.  The Indians were apparently intending to burn both the station and the unfortunate pair, but in the meantime helped themselves to provisions and prepared to feast.  Fortuitously for the duo, pony express rider Will Dennis happened to be nearing the station from the west, and realising it was under attack, galloped back and alerted a military column he had passed on the trail.  It was quite literally the cavalry to the rescue as Lieutenant Stephen Weed and his party of mounted riflemen arrived in the nick of time to save the intended victims.  Pony Express rider Billy Fisher claimed eighteen Paiutes were killed in the ensuing battle, but Lieutenant Weed's report puts the number at only one.

When Burton passed through the canyon at the beginning of October, it was a bleak and threatening journey. Fires on the hillside warned of possible Indian attack, and they sped on at full speed to the end of the canyon to find that Egan's station "had been reduced to a chimney stack and a few charred posts".  The station had been burnt by Goshutes two or three days previously in revenge for the death of their warriors. "We could distinguish the pits from which the wolves had torn up the corpses, and one fellow's arm projected from the snow".  The station was subsequently rebuilt, and continued to serve as a Pony Express station and then as a stage station up to 1869.

We camped a little further on by Fort Pearce cemetery which contains the graves of several unidentified individuals from the nineteenth century.

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