Thursday, 23 February 2017

Rowena Joins Us

The troops rendezvoused in Austen for breakfast on Friday October 8th, the assembled company comprising Mike and Bonnie, Petra, and also local ranch managers Wade Rusler and Becky Bible, shown here at the fairground with a resigned Mo, Wade and Becky's lovely mule and a young quarter horse being taken on a walk to see the world.
The old fogeys breathed a sigh of relief when young wrangler Wade volunteered to wrangle with Mo first, and although he was a little 'humpy' to begin with (Mo not Wade), he soon settled down and Mike (who is the same age as me but considerably braver) got on board with no trouble.
The cavalcade sets off across the Reese River valley, which Burton commented "might have served for a sketch in the African desert".  We were following to the side of the old US50/Lincoln Highway, now an almost deserted road....
Left to right, Mike on Mo, Wade on his palomino quarter horse, Petra leading the way on the irrepressible prancing Red, Becky with her steady mule and youngster.  The little dip in the hills straight ahead is Railroad Pass where we were headed. The line of the Pony Express trail lies through the wider pass a little off to the left, but on private land.  The site of Jacobsville Pony Express station lies behind us. It was burnt down during the Indian troubles, and was in the process of being rebuilt when Burton slept in the haystack there, serenaded by "the jackal-like cry of the coyote".

Return of the Dark Rider?.....
...or a senior citizen pottering along on a pony.  Unlike the little figure in the background, which was Wade on Petra's thoroughbred Red, still prancing after over fifteen miles. Wade had relieved an exhausted Petra and was trying to calm him down with indeterminate success!

It was all change at Railroad Pass.  Wade, Becky and four-footed friends were picked up by trailer, and Petra and Red hitched a lift with them back to the Austin fairground.  Lucy arrived with the rig and I settled Lady and Mo down in the portable corrals.  The ever public spirited Mike and Bonnie turned up at dusk to deliver Rowena from Reno airport, before driving back to their overnight lodgings in Austin while Lucy, Rowena and I had a late supper and crashed out.  Phew!

For those who are not up to speed with my whole journey, Rowena is my cousin (in fact cousin once removed!) who took part in my Beijing to London ride whenever her young family allowed.  She was with me when I set off from the Chinese coast in 2008, has joined me for weeks at a time, in China, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, and rode into Greenwich with me. She was indispensable in helping with logistics in Kazakhstan, where she and husband Matt were living at the time, and provided three of the horses I used. So it was great to have her along for a small section of the North American adventure.
 Saturday October 9th  and another early breakfast rendezvous, this time at Railroad Pass. Mike has no hesitation in digging into the very civilised breakfast spread produced by Lucy in the middle of nowhere....
Setting out across the Smith Creek Valley towards Smith Creek Ranch in the Desatoya Mountains straight ahead....
L to R, Mike and Ahab, Me and Lady, Rowena and Mo, just beyond the point where we turned off the old US50/Lincoln Highway. Mike in fact left us here, as he had very kindly accompanied us for a little way to check Mo was behaving.

After riding for about twelve miles through the sage brush across Smith Creek Valley..
 ...we reached Smith Creek Pony Station, which has been privately preserved and renovated, but not restored to its original condition, unless glass windows were a feature of nineteenth century pioneer buildings.....
This was a home station, and according to Burton "unusually neat, and displayed even signs of decoration in ornament of the bunk with osier work taken from the nearby creek.

This station is notable as the eastward destination of "Pony Bob" Haslam's famous 380 mile ride in May 1860, the longest in Pony Express history, though broken by a nine hour lay-off here.(Jack Keetley's was the longest unbroken ride at 340 miles)
Starting from Friday's Station by Lake Tahoe (then known as Lake Bigler), his usual run was to Buckland's station. However on reaching Buckland's he found the usual rider refusing to ride on due to the recent troubles with the Paiute, so he agreed to continue to the next home station which was Smith Creek, notching up a total of 190 miles. After a short rest at Smith Creek, the westward bound mail came in, and Pony Bob set off home to Friday's.  However on reaching Cold Springs (see next post) he found it had been raided and the station keeper killed.  After changing horses at Sand Springs he persuaded the lone stock tender Montgomery Maze to ride with him to comparative safety at Carson Sink (watch for these names further on), and then rode on via Buckland's to Friday's.  This was an extraordinary total of 380 miles through rough and lethally dangerous territory at the height of the Paiute war. Having covered fifty miles in a day several times in endurance races, I can tell you this is going some!  

It was also notorious for a couple of violent incidents, no doubt the result of inevitable friction generated by the throwing together of some tough characters in isolated and perilous locations.  Tempers could blow up in moments, and in August 1860. station keeper H. Trumbo and Montgomery Maze (now a pony express rider) had an argument which resulted in Trumbo 'snapping his pistol' at Maze. The following day Maze retaliated by shooting and seriously wounding Trumbo in the hip, but was not punished for his action as others present signed a certificate vouching for the fact that he was provoked.
A more serious and in fact fatal incident occurred in the same year when there was a bitter altercation between two pony express riders at the station, William Carr and Bernard Chessy.  Carr subsequently shot and killed Chessy, was arrested and brought to trial in Carson City, and became the first person to be legally hanged in Nevada!

But all was peaceful in this small oasis when we passed through, and we found a serene camping spot at Smith Creek Ranch a little further up the valley...
Life with vehicle support....

..Rowena, Lucy and Petra tuck into a glamping evening buffet, so much better than packet noodles boiled up over a Pocket Rocket camping stove and eaten straight out of a cook pan. The joy of plates, cutlery and a bottle of beer as the sun goes down.

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