“Pony Bob” Haslam’s Account of the May 18 Express and Indian Attacks
The following account was provided by Robert “Pony Bob” Haslam in Seventy Years on the Frontier, the memoirs of Alexander Majors. Haslam carried the May 18 mail from Friday’s Station—on the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe—to Smith’s Creek Station, a distance of approximately 160 miles, then returned with the May 13 westbound mail from St. Joseph. Dates and estimated times—based on arrival/departure times reported in newspapers, speed of 10-12mph on horseback and Haslam’s remarks—are inserted in brackets to provide an approximate chronology of events.
[The trip started at Friday’s Station, Sat. May 19 6pm] From the city [Carson City] the signal fires of the Indians could be seen on every mountain peak, and all available men and horses were pressed into service to repel the impending assault of the savages. When I reached Reed’s Station [aka Miller’s Station, Sat. May 19 10pm], on the Carson River, I found no change of horses, as all those at the station had been seized by the whites to take part in the approaching battle. I fed the animal that I rode, and started for the next station, called Buckland’s, afterward known as Fort Churchill, fifteen miles farther down the river [Sat. May 19 11pm]. This point was to have been the termination of my journey (as I had been changed from my old route to this one, in which I had had many narrow escapes and been twice wounded by Indians), as I had ridden seventy-five miles, but to my great astonishment, the other rider refused to go on. The superintendent, W. C. Marley, was at the station, but all his persuasion could not prevail on the rider, Johnnie Richardson, to take the road. Turning then to me, Marley said, ‘Bob, I will give you $50 if you make this ride.’ I replied: ‘I will go you once.’
Within ten minutes, when I had adjusted my Spencer rifle—a seven-shooter—and my Colt’s revolver, with two cylinders ready for use in case of an emergency, I started. From the station onward was a lonely and dangerous ride of thirty-five miles, without a change, to the Sink of the Carson. I arrived there all right [Sun. May 20 2am], however, and pushed on to Sand’s Spring, through an alkali bottom and sand-hills, thirty miles farther, without a drop of water all along the route [Sun. May 20 4am]. At Sand’s Springs I changed horses, and continued on to Cold Springs, a distance of thirty-seven miles [Sun. May 20 6am]. Another change, and a ride of thirty miles more, brought me to Smith’s Creek [Sun. May 20 8am]. Here I was relieved by J. G. Kelley. I had ridden 185 miles, stopping only to eat and change horses.
After remaining at Smith’s Creek about nine hours [Sun. May 20 5pm], I started to retrace my journey with the return express. When I arrived at Cold Springs [Sun. May 20 7pm], to my horror I found that the station had been attacked by Indians, and the keeper killed and all the horses taken away. What course to pursue I decided in a moment — I would go on. I watered my horse — having ridden him thirty miles on time, he was pretty tired — and started for Sand Springs, thirty-seven miles away. It was growing dark [sunset around 8pm on May 20], and my road lay through heavy sage-brush, high enough in some places to conceal a horse. I kept a bright lookout, and closely watched every motion of my poor horse’s ears, which is a signal for danger in an Indian country. I was prepared for a fight, but the stillness of the night and the howling of the wolves and coyotes made cold chills run through me at times, but I reached Sand Springs in safety and reported what had happened [Sun. May 20 9pm]. Before leaving I advised the station-keeper to come with me to the Sink of the Carson, for I was sure the Indians would be upon him the next day. He took my advice, and so probably saved his life, for the following morning Smith’s Creek was attacked [Mon. morning, May 21]. The whites, however, were well protected in the shelter of a stone house, from which they fought the Indians for four days [Mon.-Thu. May 21-24]. At the end of that time [Thu. May 24] they were relieved by the appearance of about fifty volunteers from Cold Springs. These men reported that they had buried John Williams, the brave station-keeper of that station, but not before he had been nearly devoured by wolves.
When I arrived at the Sink of the Carson [Mon. May 21 12am], I found the station men badly frightened, for they had seen some fifty warriors, decked out in their war-paint and reconnoitering the station. There were fifteen white men here, well armed and ready for a fight. The station was built of adobe, and was large enough for the men and ten or fifteen horses, with a fine spring of water within ten feet of it. I rested here an hour, and after dark started for Buckland’s, where I arrived without a mishap and only three and a half hours behind the schedule time [Mon. May 21 4am]. I found Mr. Marley at Buckland’s, and when I related to him the story of the Cold Springs tragedy and my success, he raised his previous offer of $50 for my ride to $100. I was rather tired, but the excitement of the trip had braced me up to withstand the fatigue of the journey. After the rest of one and one-half hours [Mon. May 21 5:30am], I proceeded over my own route, from Buckland’s to Friday’s Station [passed Carson City at 8:30am per newspaper reports], crossing the western summit of the Sierra Nevada [arriving Friday’s Station Mon. May 21 10:30am]. I had traveled 380 miles [actually 320] within a few hours of schedule time, and surrounded by perils on every hand.