Dennis Cassinelli: Pony Express Stations, Part 14: Smith Creek Station
This will be the last in my series of articles about the Pony Express stations in western Nevada. When Pony Bob Haslam made the longest ride in Pony Express history, he rode the route from Friday’s Station at Lake Tahoe to Smith Creek Station almost halfway across the state of Nevada. My articles have described many of the conditions and dangers of operating a horse-mounted mail service through rough Indian territory during a time when little protection was available.
It is appropriate to end the series with this article since most of the activity that involved the Comstock region occurred at the stations in the western half of Nevada. The ruins of the Smith Creek Pony Express Station are located on the present day Smith Creek Ranch about 14 miles north of State Highway 2 on the east side of the Desatoya Mountains. There is one adobe building with a willow thatch roof and a second building with one section of adobe and another section of rock also with a thatch roof. The first building has been identified as the location of the corral. The adobe section of the second building is the original Pony Express Station house.
At least two shootings were reported to have occurred at Smith Creek Station. The Virginia City Territorial Enterprise reported one case in August 1860 when H. Trumbo, station keeper at Smith Creek, got into a difficulty with Montgomery Maze, one of the pony riders. Apparently Trumbo snapped a pistol at Maze several times. The next day, the fracas resumed when Maze shot Trumbo with a rifle. The ball entered above the hip and inflicted a dangerous wound. Maze was taken to Carson City for treatment and brought with him a certificate signed by witnesses who stated that Trumbo had provoked the attack.
In 1860, William Carr started a quarrel with Bernard Chessy at Smith Creek Station. During the altercation, Carr murdered Chessy and was brought to trial in Carson City. He was found guilty by Judge John Cradelbaugh and became the first person legally hanged in Nevada. A Pony Express rider named Bart Riles was killed at Smith Creek Station in an unfortunate riding accident on Oct. 14, 1860.
Located in Lander County, Nevada, Smith Creek Station was the first Pony Express stop in Shoshone country, being at the dividing line between Shoshone lands and Paiute territory. The stations west of Smith Creek were in Paiute country and were more routinely raided by the Paiutes during the 1860 battles that followed the Pyramid Lake Indian War. The station was named for Captain Smith, when Simpson’s survey party located the site on May 30, 1859.
When Sir Richard Burton visited the station on Oct. 14, 1860, he reported the station was situated in a deep hollow. It had an unusually neat station house with furnishings including the bunks made of osier (willows) taken from the neighboring creek. There was a stone corral and a haystack. He mentioned the presence of Indians at the station but none of them were allowed to enter the station house.
After the Pony Express and the Overland Stage lines no longer existed, Smith Creek became a successful ranching operation which is still active today. The Maestretti family, owners of the ranch have preserved the old Pony Express station buildings. The adobe section of a half-adobe, half-rock building is part of the original Pony Express Station. Other old willow-and thatched-roof buildings also remain intact.
This article is by Dayton author and historian, Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at denniscassinelli.com. All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.