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History of Simpson Springs

Simpson Springs station house & monumentSimpson Springs Mountains

Surface water is limited throughout Utah’s West Desert; as such, Simpson Springs was a major attraction for prehistoric and historic people.  Evidence of prehistoric use is rare.  Nevertheless, the Simpson Springs area was no doubt very important to prehistoric economies.  The remains of prehistoric use were likely destroyed by extensive historic use of the area.

Initially named Egan Spring, the spring was originally documented by Howard Egan, during his search for a suitable route between Salt Lake City, Utah and Sacramento, California.  Now the spring bears the name of explorer Captain James H. Simpson, a Camp Floyd topographical engineer, who stopped here in 1858 while laying out a military mail route between Salt Lake City and California to increase communication between the East and West. This route was initially located, improved, and used by merchant George Chorpenning for the Overland Mail, which consisted of a mule train service carrying freight, passengers, and mail between Salt Lake and Sacramento.  The Overland Mail service, dubbed “jackass mail,” was slow, plagued by Indian attacks, financially struggling and eventually lost the mail contract in 1860.  Russell, Majors, and Waddell began preparation for the Pony Express in early April, 1860 to provide necessary high speed mail service.  They used the same route and many of the same stations as the Overland Mail service.  A fleet of fast, but durable mustangs were purchased and rounded up from the wild to sever as mounts.  Advertisement were placed in local papers reading, “Wanted – young, wiry fellows, not over 18.  Must be expert riders willing to risk death daily.  Orphans preferred.  Wages $25 a week…”  The departure of the first Pony Express riders from St. Joseph, Missouri and San Francisco, California on April 3, 1960 was an occasion for great celebration.  The availability of dependable (if not prolific) water made Simpson Springs one of the most prominent Pony Express and Overland Stage stations in the West Desert (Jabusch and Jabusch 1994). 

When the wires of the transcontinental telegraph were joined in Salt Lake City on October 24, 1861, the Pony Express became obsolete.  Service was concluded in November, 1861 and resulted in an estimated loss of $200,000.  During its brief 20-month period of operation, 120 riders rode 308 relays carrying 34,000 pieces of mail across 650,000 miles of near wilderness. 

Some of the stations were abandoned, but several, like the station at Simpson Springs, continued to serve the Overland Stage.  Wells Fargo took control of the Overland Stage in 1863 and it prospered during the mid-sixties.  The nearing completion of the Transcontinental Railroad eventually led to the abandonment of the Overland Stage in 1869.  Stage stations, like the one at Simpson Springs were abandoned by Wells Fargo.  A local stage company, owned by the Mulliners family, ran from Fairfield to Ibapah and continued to use the Simpson Springs station into the early 1890’s.  The stop was also important for traveling merchants conducting trade between mining boom areas in Nevada and Salt Lake City merchants. 

Around 1890, Alvin Anderson built a stone cabin purportedly from the remains of the Pony Express station for his wife.  Unfortunately, his wife died in childbirth before ever living in it.  This is likely the fenced cabin remains located southeast of the reconstructed station.  Ownership of the Simpson Springs area changed hands several times between 1900 and 1930 under the Homestead Act.  Some of the homestead efforts resulted in patens, but most failed.  Ed Meredith, his nephew, a French woman from Dillon, Montana, Dewey Olson and Clarence Anderson, were among some of the homesteaders.  The area was sold back to the government in the 1930s (Berg 1978 unpublished draft, Historical Index T 9 S R 8 W)

Simpson Springs became the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the late 1930s, and continued until 1942.  Remains of the CCC camp are located south of the reconstructed Pony Express station.  The CCC was created in 1933 by President Roosevelt as one of his New Deal programs that would help lift the country out of its economic depression. The program ran from 1933 to 1942 and employed more than 22,000 Utah citizens that would have otherwise been out of work. The program also pumped over $52,000,000 into the Utah economy. During its nine year run, the CCC had 116 camps in Utah, performing a variety of tasks. They built roads, bridges, canals and reservoirs. Additionally, numerous stone monuments were built at historic station sites along the Pony Express National Historic Trail, including one at Simpson Springs. They also worked on soil erosion and fire suppression.  With the beginning of World War II, the Great Depression came to an end and the CCC folded in 1942.   

In January of 1942 the military recommended taking over the abandoned Simpson Springs CCC camp to set up Dugway Proving Grounds.  The camp served as the base of operations until May of 1942.  Following this, the camp was used to house military troops, construction workers, and was likely the source of buildings which were salvaged in 1945 to house prisoners of war. 

The Historical Index for T 9 S R 8 W suggests that the Simpson Springs area was turned over to the BLM in 1951.  The BLM established the area as a recreation area and constructed the campground in 1974.