Split Rock Interpretive Site Signs
Midway between Jeffrey City & Muddy Gap on US Highway 287/789

Split Rock
Split Rock was a relay station during the turbulent 18 month life of the Pony Express. The Express operated at a gallop, speeding mail across the West in only 19 days. However, because of the “talking wire,” its days were numbered. The telegraph reached California by October 1861, ending a unique American experiment.

How it was done
Mail relay stations were set up 10 to 15 miles apart, each with two to four men and extra horses. About 500 of the hardiest western ponies were bought at prices up to $200 each. Most important of all, 80 riders were recruited from the most daring, determined and toughest “wiry young fellows” in the West.

Lightly equipped and armed, each rider rode about 70 miles round trip, exchanging horses at three relay stations. Over his saddle he carried the mochila, a leather cover with four mail pouches. Postage for a single letter varied from $1 to $5. Each rider rode at top speed to his relay stations where the precious mochila was placed on a waiting horse and he was off again in about two minutes. Day and night, good weather and bad, winter and summer, the “Pony” never stopped, averaging 10 to 15 miles an hour across the West.

The Pony’s Echo
Completion of the transcontinental telegraph line on October 24, 1861 doomed the Pony Express. During its short life, the Express attracted world-wide attention that has not faded with time. Russell, Majors, Waddell and Company lost over $1 million on this venture. Nevertheless, the Pony Express stands tall as an outstanding example of American enterprise, endurance, courage and determination.

Split Rock Meadows
Shoshone, Arapaho, Crow and Sioux Indians occupied this pleasant valley long before the Oregon Trail, which changed their cultures and life styles forever. This led to tragic warfare and the eventual loss of country they had called their own.

Split Rock Relay Station, a crude log structure with a pole corral, was built at the base of the mass of rocks directly in front of you. It was used by both the Pony Express and the Overland Stage and until the early 1940s was a U.S. Post office.

The Pony Express generally followed the Oregon Trail through Wyoming to Fort Bridger which is located 185 miles west of here, then followed the existing mail route across Utah and Nevada to Sacramento, California.

A detachment of the 1st Independent Battalion Ohio Cavalry, which later became the 11th Ohio Cavalry, was garrisoned here in 1862. The troops provided escort for stagecoaches and emigrant wagon trains and protected the new telegraph lines.

Split Rock
Originally called the Emigrant Road, the Oregon Trail was the main route of westward expansion from 1812 to 1869. An estimated 500,000 people journeyed past here in search of new lands and new lives in the West.

Because of its unique shape, Split Rock was a well known trail landmark and navigation aid. Emigrants were guided by the rock for an entire day’s travel from the east. It remained in view behind them for another two days. From Split Rock, it was about six days to South Pass, the gateway to the Great Salt Lake Valley, California’s gold fields and the Pacific Northwest.

Emigrants on the Oregon and the Mormon Pioneer Trails coming from Devil’s Gate, 12 miles east, often camped below this point on the Sweetwater River where good grass and water were available for stock. West of here, ruts carved in the rocks by iron wheeled wagons are still visible. Generally, Mormon emigrants tried to stay on the opposite side of the river from the main trail to avoid confrontations with others also heading West.

In 1844, James Clyman recorded this in his journal about this spot.
“(August) 17. Smokey But the sun rose over the Eastern Mountains in its usual majesty. Some recent Signs of a war party of Indians ware discovered yestarddy which caused some uneasiness…roled up the Steam on the South side…the most rugged bare granite rocks lay along the North side close to the water…saw some fine herds of Ibex or wild sheep some of which were taken and found to be very fine eating…This region seems to be the rufuses of the world thrown up in the utmost confusion.”

Trails to Opportunity
The Oregon Trail was America’s main street west. Building upon American Indian footpaths, emigrants bound for the Pacific Northwest used the trail. They were soon followed by Mormons fleeing persecution, gold seekers rushing to California and the thundering hooves of the Pony Express.

The Way West
Following Indian paths, fur trapping mountain men traveledd west. Astor’s Pacific Fur Company opened the trail through the Rockies at South Pass in 1812. Mountain men guided the first wagon train over it in 1841. Until the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, the Oregon Trail was the way west. As many as 500,000 men, women and children journeyed this way over some 2,000 miles of deserts, plains and mountains.

Split Rock Station and Site Map
The Pony Express generally followed the Oregon Trail through Wyoming to Fort Bridger, then followed the existing mail route across Utah and Nevada to Placerville and Sacramento, California. Split Rock Relay Station, a crude log structure with a pole corral, was located at the base of the mass of rocks directly in front of you. Come view the site at a trail station a short walk from here.

William C. “Buffalo Bill” Cody exchanged horses at this site on a record ride from Red Buttes Station to Rocky Ridge Station and back. Due to another rider’s untimely death, Cody was forced to add an extra leg to his normal relay and eventually covered a total distance of 322 miles in 21 hours and 40 minutes, using 21 horses in the process. On another occasion, Cody rode one horse at top speed for 24 miles when chased by Indians from Horse Creek Station east of Independence Rock to Plant’s Station just east of here.

“Split Rock”, the mass of rock on the skyline to the north, was an Oregon Trail landmark. It was visible for a day before it was reached from the east and for two days when it was viewed looking back from the west.

The Oregon Trail
The Oregon Trail, the main route of westward expansion from 1812 to 1869, passed through the valley below. An estimated 350,000 people journeyed past this point in search of new lands and new lives in the West.

Two routes of the Oregon Trail coming from Devil’s Gate, twelve miles east, converged below this point on the Sweetwater River where good grass and water were available for the stock. Just west of here, ruts carved in the rocks by iron-tired wagons are still visible.

August 17. Smokey But the sun rose over the Eastern Mountains in its usual majesty. Some recent Signs of a war party of Indians ware discovered yestarddy which caused some uneasiness … roled up the Stream on the South side … the most ruged bare granite rocks lay along the North side close to the water … saw some fine herds of Ibex or wild sheep some of which ware taken and found to be verry fine eating … This region seems to be the refuses of the world thrown up in the utmost confusion. —James Clyman, 1844

Split Rock Station
Split Rock Station, used by the Pony Express and the Overland Stage, was located in the meadow below. A small log building later served as the Split Rock Post Office until it was closed in the early 1940s.

Shoshone, Arapahoe, Crow and Sioux Indians occupied this pleasant valley before the Oregon Trail became heavily traveled. Their hunting patterns, culture and life style were changed forever. Friction between the tribes and the newcomers from the East led to tragic warfare and the loss to the Indians of the country they had known as theirs. It was due to such hostility that a division of the Sixth Ohio Cavalry was garrisoned at this site in 1862 to provide escort service for stagecoaches and emigrant wagon trains and to establish protection for the telegraph line.

The Sweetwater Rocks
The “Sweetwater Rocks” date back at least 1,400 million years and are some of the oldest found in the Rocky Mountain area. These Precambrian granites have been re-exposed in recent times by erosion of much younger Miocene and Pliocene sediments. When the sediment pressures were removed, granite slabs peeled off, producing the smooth rock knobs. Erosion along old fractures and shear zones left the large cracks in the rocks.

“Split Rock” served as a well known landmark and navigational aid because of its unique shape. Emigrants were guided by the rock for an entire day’s travel when they were approaching from the east. It remained in view as a checkpoint behind them from the west for another two days.

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