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History of the Fish Springs area
Fish Springs has served as a vital resource to man for thousands of years. The different cultures that occupied the area were:
Paleo about 11,500 to 8,000 years Before Present (BP).
Archaic about 8,000 to 2000 years BP.
Fremont about 2,000 to 800 years BP
Goshiute 800 years BP until the middle of the 20th century.
The first exploration by non-native Americans of the region occurred in 1827 when famed explorer Jedediah Smith visited the springs en route from California to central Utah.
As early pioneers crossed the deserts of the west,the routes were determined not just on the shortest and easiest to travel but often were a wandering route between life saving water sources. One of these routes went south around the Great Salt Lake desert and through Fish Springs. It became the most used central route across the United States for westward bound emigrants. It was used by a wide array of transportation including:
Jackass Mail 1854 to 1860
George Chorpenning was the first merchant to use the Overland Route for carrying freight, passengers and mail between Salt Lake City and Sacramento California. His service was nicknamed the "Jackass Mail" because he used teams of mules to pull the wagons over a route pioneered by famed Utah explorer Howard Egan.
Just establishing the route was a major endeavor involving the scratching out of a rough trail and the construction of stations every twenty miles over a distance of nearly 700 miles. The Fish Springs station was only a thatched shed but did offer weary drivers and passengers over night accommodations
Pony Express 1860 to 1861
A unique icon of American history, the Pony Express was a match of man against the elements. The solo riders came and went from the Fish Springs Pony Express station twice each day, one heading east and one heading west. The Pony Express ran for about 18 months before it's demise came with the completion of the Transcontinental Telegraph.
During it's brief existence the Pony Express provided the fastest communication between east and west enabling vital communications to California during the Civil War. It proved the shorter central route across the United States could be traveled all winter. It captured the hearts and the imagination of people all over the world. The romantic lure of the Pony Express lives on and each year hundreds of enthusiast pass through Fish Springs while retracing the Pony Express route.
Overland Stage 1859 to 1869
Many travelers passed though Fish Springs on the Central Overland Stage Route. The stage line began it's western route in St. Joseph Missouri, the western terminus of the railroads at the time. Among those who passed through Fish Springs were famous authors Mark Twain and Horace Greeley. In his account of that western trip Roughing It, Twain identified riding the stage on the rough and dusty trail through the Utah desert as "an experience calculated to undermine one's religious convictions."
The demise of this service occurred when the rail roads joined east and west with the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Point Utah. The railroad provided a much faster and comfortable way of traveling between the coasts. Remnants of the foundation of the building that served the passengers on this route can be seen directly across from the rest area.
Fish Springs stage station - taken 1870
Constructed by the Western Union Company, the single wire telegraph ran between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. The line was powered by batteries placed at intervals of 50 to 250 miles.
The telegraph line was replaced by a multi-wire system constructed along the route of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railway lines.
One can often tell remnants of the original telegraph pole in this part of the desert as the beams were fashioned with 4 sides.They were milled in this fashion because sources for poles were so distant that more could be stacked on a load
with square sides rather than rounded. There are still a couple of salt encrusted stubs of telegraph poles visible where the county road crosses the southern end of the refuge.
Lincoln Highway 1913 to 1927
With the mass production of the automobile early in the 20th century, it was only a matter of time before motorized travelers started following their predecessors across the United States. In 1913, a group of business leaders primarily associated with the automobile industry, founded the Lincoln Highway. The route was cobbled together from existing automobile roads, stage and Pony Express routes and in some places new sections were build.
The Lincoln Highway like it's predecessors in the west desert, was forced to skirt the southern edge of the Great Salt Lake desert which brought it's route through Fish Springs.
J.J. Thomas, a hardy homesteader, operated a ranch and general store at Fish springs and he was quick to capitalize on these 4 wheeled strangers. He provided fuel, meals, lodging and for those who were so unfortunate, towing service from the seasonal muddy roads.
As automobile technology and numbers grew the Lincoln Highway was abandoned in favor of a more direct route. The new route named the Victory Highway was built across the Bonneville Salt Flats along the current alignment of Interstate 80.
Last Updated: September 28, 2011