Submitted by scott on

Tuesday, Aug 13.—Arrived at Carson Sink where Carson river loses itself. It is a beautiful lake, 25 miles long by 15 wide, and 60 miles from Carson City.

Wednesday, Aug. 14,—Arrived at Carson City 580 miles from Salt Lake, or 1700 miles from St. Joseph    (Orion)

On the nineteenth day we crossed the Great American Desert—forty memorable miles of bottomless sand, into which the coach wheels sunk from six inches to a foot. We worked our passage most of the way across. That is to say, we got out and walked. It was a dreary pull and a long and thirsty one, for we had no water. From one extremity of this desert to the other, the road was white with the bones of oxen and horses. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that we could have walked the forty miles and set our feet on a bone at every step! The desert was one prodigious graveyard. And the log-chains, wagon tyres, and rotting wrecks of vehicles were almost as thick as the bones. I think we saw log-chains enough rusting there in the desert, to reach across any State in the Union. Do not these relics suggest something of an idea of the fearful suffering and privation the early emigrants to California endured?

At the border of the Desert lies Carson Lake, or The “Sink” of the Carson, a shallow, melancholy sheet of water some eighty or a hundred miles in circumference. Carson River empties into it and is lost—sinks mysteriously into the earth and never appears in the light of the sun again—for the lake has no outlet whatever.

There are several rivers in Nevada, and they all have this mysterious fate. They end in various lakes or “sinks,” and that is the last of them. Carson Lake, Humboldt Lake, Walker Lake, Mono Lake, are all great sheets of water without any visible outlet. Water is always flowing into them; none is ever seen to flow out of them, and yet they remain always level full, neither receding nor overflowing. What they do with their surplus is only known to the Creator.

On the western verge of the Desert we halted a moment at Ragtown. It consisted of one log house and is not set down on the map.

31.7–8 Ragtown:  This settlement on the Carson River, which marked the end of the arduous desert passage for early emigrants on the trail to the California gold fields, probably derived its name from the worn-out clothes they washed and draped over bushes to dry (Townley, 31; Carlson, 197).

"Chapter 20: note for 131.7–8," in Roughing It : an electronic text. 2016 

We were approaching the end of our long journey. It was the morning of the twentieth day. At noon we would reach Carson City, the capital of Nevada Territory. We were not glad, but sorry. It had been a fine pleasure trip; we had fed fat on wonders every day; we were now well accustomed to stage life, and very fond of it; so the idea of coming to a stand-still and settling down to a humdrum existence in a village was not agreeable, but on the contrary depressing.

Visibly our new home was a desert, walled in by barren, snow-clad mountains. There was not a tree in sight. There was no vegetation but the endless sage-brush and greasewood. All nature was gray with it. We were plowing through great deeps of powdery alkali dust that rose in thick clouds and floated across the plain like smoke from a burning house.

We were coated with it like millers; so were the coach, the mules, the mail-bags, the driver—we and the sage-brush and the other scenery were all one monotonous color. Long trains of freight wagons in the distance envelope in ascending masses of dust suggested pictures of prairies on fire. These teams and their masters were the only life we saw. Otherwise we moved in the midst of solitude, silence and desolation. Every twenty steps we passed the skeleton of some dead beast of burthen, with its dust-coated skin stretched tightly over its empty ribs. Frequently a solemn raven sat upon the skull or the hips and contemplated the passing coach with meditative serenity.

By and by Carson City was pointed out to us. It nestled in the edge of a great plain and was a sufficient number of miles away to look like an assemblage of mere white spots in the shadow of a grim range of mountains overlooking it, whose summits seemed lifted clear out of companionship and consciousness of earthly things.

We arrived, disembarked, and the stage went on. It was a “wooden” town; its population two thousand souls. The main street consisted of four or five blocks of little white frame stores which were too high to sit down on, but not too high for various other purposes; in fact, hardly high enough. They were packed close together, side by side, as if room were scarce in that mighty plain.


We do know that the Pony Express ran through what is now Churchill County, Nevada during its brief existence of just 18 months between April 1860 and October 1861. The original stations constructed by C.O.C. & P.P. Express were used from April 3, 1860 until May 12, 1860 when the Pyramid Lake Indian battles started. These stations followed what has become known as the Southern Route through Churchill County. For the next few months, the pony runs were disrupted by sporadic Indian attacks. Some of the stations were burned or damaged and a safer route was selected further north until hostilities subsided.

When a safer route was selected due to the Indian hostilities along the Southern Route, the newer Northern Route was established and used during the final seven to eight months of the Pony Express. The Butterfield Overland Mail Company took over this section of the route and the pony riders simply started using this safer route. Several stations were established but there are no ruins still in existence nor can the route of the trail be determined with any accuracy. It crossed the Carson Sink and became known as the Stillwater Dogleg.

Historians are not in complete agreement about how many stations were used on this Northern Route or exactly where most of them were located. Record keeping during this time was sporadic and incomplete due to the Indian threat, the intense activity developing the Comstock mines and a rush to get the trans-continental telegraph lines completed.

Fortunately, stagecoach routes and the Carson branch of the Old California trail passed through this area. It was a relatively simple matter to construct adobe or willow structures to serve as stations for the waning days of Pony Express service. At Millers/Reed’s Station, the route passed Susan’s Bluff, then turned north along a branch of the California Trail toward what is now U.S. Highway 50. The route then turned east toward Ragtown.