Split Rock Interpretive Site Signs
Midway between Jeffrey City & Muddy Gap on US Highway 287/789
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
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
Split Rock Meadows
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.
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.
Trails to Opportunity
The Way West
Split Rock Station and Site Map
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
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
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
“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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