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Following the trails of emigrants

Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer
The sign at the Stockton Well in Silver Springs.
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If you look closely, and if the light is just right, you can see the wagon tracks left about 150 years ago, crossing the desert plain of Silver Springs.

If you use your imagination, you can almost see the wagons with teams of oxen or horses straining under their yokes, and hear the voices of pioneers or gold-seekers dreaming of riches or just wondering how they will get over the mountains.

Margaret Ruckman, who moved to Silver Springs in 2002, said she comes to the site of the Stockton Well Station, a waystation for immigrants from about 1866 to at least 1869, with her husband to see the tracks and contemplate the lives of those who passed along them.

“They zig-zag all the way through, but sadly, a lot of it has been destroyed,” she said.

Ruckman is a member of Silver Springs Entertainment and Arts Council, whose founder, Sam Jepson, purchased the 10-acre parcel for $10,000 in 1992 in order to preserve it. Jepson died in 2004, Ruckman said.

“They bought it with proceeds from bake sales and yard sales, and paid it off in five years,” Ruckman said. “The lady that owned the land sold it to them at a really good price.”

Seven wagon trails cross through, including the most commonly traveled Virginia City-Ragtown Road, later to be called the Reese River Road, taking gold- and silver-seekers to the Comstock Lode. Ragtown was a town located just west of Fallon.

Other trails led to the Mason Valley, Austin, Dayton, the Truckee Meadows and California.

A study done in April 1994 by Susan Stornetta of Intermountain Research, a Silver City-based archaeological research firm, notes that the first immigrants probably passed through Silver Springs around 1849 on their way to a tent trading post in what is now Dayton. The trail segment was called the Mormon Carson Route of the California Trail and probably crossed the Stockton Well property.

Stornetta’s research, done for the Silver Springs Entertainment and Arts Council, indicates Kit Carson may have crossed the Stockton Well property in 1853, driving sheep from Taos, N.M., to California.

The first known reference to the station was an advertisement in the March 9, 1866, Territorial Enterprise offering “accommodations for travelers one day’s journey from Virginia City. Located at the junction of the Humboldt and Reese River Roads. Props. North and Nichols.” Stornetta discovered that the station’s owners, N.N. North and W. Nicholas, hailed from Stockton, Calif., and were called “the Stockton boys.”

Stornetta also located a diary by William G. Pennebaker in 1868 that mentions passing Stockton Station on July 22, 1868.

Stornetta was unable to discover any further mention of the Stockton Well Station and it is believed to have closed sometime after 1869. What happened to the building is unknown, but Ruckman has a theory that it might have become part of the Buckland Station along the Carson River south of Silver Springs.

“It wasn’t uncommon for buildings to be dismantled and built elsewhere as part of something else, because so little wood was available,” Ruckman said. “I’m wondering if (Samuel) Buckland didn’t take the wood from Stockton Well,” she said. “He did take wood from Fort Churchill and he was known as a scavenger. We’re disappointed that there’s nothing left (of Stockton Well).”

All that’s left of the Stockton Well Station is a well hole, the outline of the building, some markers and the trails.

Though the site was added to the Nevada Register of Historic Places on Oct. 21, 1994, it is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Preserving it is essential, Ruckman said. Silver Springs Entertainment and Arts Council is hoping to build a community building on the north end of the property with the help of a Silver Stage High School youth group, which would mark and preserve the trails on the south end.

“It’s not considered a historic site, but an archaeological site,” Ruckman said. “With all the building going on around here, I’m afraid we’ll lose it. Someone might declare eminent domain or something.”

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.

Historic dates

• 1849 – First immigrants probably passed through Silver Springs area

• 1853 – Kit Carson is believed to have crossed the Stockton Well Station property

• 1862 – Road from Austin to Virginia City crosses Stockton Well site

• 1866 – Stockton Well Station is mentioned in Territorial Enterprise

• 1869 – Station is believed to have closed

• 1992 – Site of Stockton Well Station is purchased by the Silver Springs Entertainment and Arts Council.