Thursday, 5 January 2017

To the Wilderness... the next leg was described by Burton.  On Sunday 25th September we set out into Nevada across "another grisly land, if possible more deplorable than before" (according to Burton), riding across the Antelope Valley towards the Antelope Range (not the Spring valley range as I mistakenly say)...
On the current maps Prairie Gate is marked several miles further along the road from Eight Mile, but older accounts (eg Howard Egan) apply both these names to the same Pony Express station.
We had been following the line of the Pony Express trail as well as the old Lincoln Highway, but at the current Prairie Gate the Pony Express trail strikes out in a more direct line across the sage brush desert to the left towards Antelope Springs.  The main reason we were not able to take this more direct route was that we were now riding through the Goshute Indian reservation, and the land on either side of the Lincoln Highway here is restricted Indian land which must be respected.
The Goshute are a small tribe now numbering well under a thousand.  They are related to the Shoshone, and traditionally inhabited the area west of Salt Lake City westwards to the Egan range, in other words, the area we had been travelling through.  They are now divided between this reservation and another in Skull valley to the southwest of Salt Lake City (near the Dugway Proving Ground).
 Trying to survive in such a barren region originally meant living at a minimum subsistence level on wild vegetables, seeds (particularly pinyon pine nuts), insects and small desert mammals and reptiles, as well as larger animals such as coyote and deer when available. They wintered in the well watered Deep Creek valley.   It was thus not surprising that tensions grew when Mormons moved into the area and their domestic livestock competed for the limited resources. This contributed to the Indian troubles which have already been referred to. The Goshutes were brought under control and forced to sign a treaty in 1863 which allowed for the incursion of whites into their tribal lands.
The present reservation was established in 1912 on just over 122,000 acres, and some of the Goshutes that remain farm cattle and grow hay on better land near Deep Creek. 
Leaving the Goshute reservation, and you can see the boundary signs with dire warnings concerning the penalties for trespassing or poaching on Indian land - "to the full extent of tribal law including confiscating vehicles and equipment"!...... 
We stayed on the straight and narrow and emerged with vehicle and equipment intact, not that that any of the threatened patrols were evident. 
Far from the Madding Crowd - our remote camp spot at Antelope Springs at the foot of the Antelope Range, here looking east to the Deep Creek Range - we didn't see a car all day ...
The  small pond shown here is just below the springs and pile of stones which mark the site of the former Pony Express station......
The station was originally built as a stage stop by Chorpenning in 1859.  It later served the Pony Express, though it was burnt down by the Goshutes in June 1860 though the inmates escaped.  It was subsequently rebuilt.   Reportedly quite a large band of mustangs roam the area near the springs, but we saw neither hide nor hair of them.
Monday 26th September.  I had intended to follow the Pony Express trail over the Antelope hills through Rock Springs Pass to Spring Valley, but Lucy was struggling a little with map directions, so I decided to play safe and follow the road around the southern spur of the hills and through Twelve Mile Pass.  This in fact was a route used by the Pony Express during the winter, although I doubt it was as scenic as the mountain route.  My new Canon camera seems to have a mind of its own, and I sometimes find it has mysteriously employed video or special effects, though in this case it gave a suitably bleak and wintery effect to the Antelope Valley road heading towards the low pass..... 
There were two Pony Express stations in the Spring Valley area, though nothing remains and Burton does not mention either.  Rock Springs station is thought to have been on the shorter summer route over the Antelope Range.  Spring Valley station was on the longer winter route that we were following.  Riding down into Spring Valley we came to Stonehouse, where there is unsurprisingly an old stone house.  It dates from after the time of the Pony Express, but the Overland Mail had a station somewhere here which may also have been used by the Pony Express after July 1861.  This was sited in the vicinity of the photo below..
If this is truly the site of the station, this is also the setting for another Indian attack which almost cost the life of Pony Express rider Nick Wilson, the same rider who defended Eight Mile station.
 Elijah Nicholas Wilson was one of the more fascinating characters in the history of the Pony Express.  Emigrating to Utah in 1850 with his Mormon family, as an eleven year old boy he ran away to live with the Shoshone Indians for two years, initially tempted by the promise of a pretty pinto pony which he was allowed to keep when he returned to his white family.  He was fluent in the Shoshone and Goshute languages, and thus later in demand as an interpreter and guide. While with the Shoshone he became an accomplished wild horse tamer, and Dr Faust subsequently persuaded him to become a pony express rider. He rode parts of the route between Ruby Valley and Deep Creek, as well as between Carson Sink and Fort Churchill, experiencing many adventures which as 'Uncle Nick' he recounted to rapt young listeners in later life. (See his autobiography White Indian Boy).
On this occasion he had stopped for lunch at the station when he saw a couple of Indians making off with the horses. In chasing after them he was shot above the eye with a arrow and left for dead by the station boys. Realising he was still alive the next day, they called for a doctor who removed the flint arrowhead but did little else. It was only when Major Egan discovered him still alive six days later that the doctor made an increased effort, and after another eighteen days Wilson came out of a coma and began to make progress. He was eventually back in the saddle, though he continued to suffer from the effects of his wound.   After the end of the Pony Express, he became an experienced stage coach driver, before settling near Jackson Hole in Wyoming where he pioneered the settlement which became known as Wilson.
 I had identified a ranch in Spring Valley that I hoped was still occupied and where we might find water and be able to camp for the night.  Lucy drove on ahead and I was delighted when she returned with sheep rancher Hank Vogler bearing very welcome cool refreshment!
On arrival at the Vogler Ranch Lady was ushered into a spacious corral and was soon tucking into feed and hay...
 ..while Hank invited us in for shower, dinner and wine -  I was able to parade my equine traveller's version of 'glamming up' for the occasion, complete with elegant footwear fit for Cinderella...
...cannot believe I managed to have my eyes closed in both the photos Lucy took. 
Some people are most impressed when I mention we used to keep around 500 ewes on our farm at home in Wales, but next to the 10,000 sheep Hank runs on his ranch we seem like small fry in comparison!  They are mainly Rambouillet merino sheep, a breed I was not previously familiar with, but which were first introduced to America from France in 1840.  A dual purpose wool/meat breed, developed from Spanish merino, they are well suited to the dry conditions of the American west. 
Thrice married Hank is a larger than life character with a wealth of knowledge, and not slow to express his opinions on a variety of subjects. His latest squeeze is a very beautiful Chinese lady (we saw the photos) he quite literally bumped into in the supermarket in Elko. She broke her eggs, he paid for her grocery and they soon became an item.  Fortunately for her she was back in China visiting her family, so did not have to suffer my appalling attempts at Chinese, but it was a pity to miss her.
Hank counts himself very lucky to be alive as he has recently survived major surgery from which he was not expected to recover, but I am sure it was his indomitable spirit which pulled him through.

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