Little Bit of Local History: Pacific Springs on the Oregon Trail-an early day ranch
(Lander, Wyo.) – As pioneers crossed South Pass in what is now west-central Wyoming in the 1840’s and 1850’s, they knew they were now in the “Oregon Country.” The first fresh water west of the Great Divide was a fresh water spring called Pacific Springs. Here they camped, washed clothes and rejoiced in the name of the spring that let them know they were on the Pacific Ocean side of the continent. They still had over one thousand hard fought miles to go–but this was an important point on the Oregon, California, Mormon and Pony Express Trails.
During the year of the Pony Express’ existence in 1861, Pacific Springs became one of the many stations along the way to change horses and exchange mail on the way to and from California. It is also the site of the infamous fight between station manager/supervisor Jack Slade and a man named Jules (namesake of Julesberg, Colorado). Slade had carried a grudge for some time after they had tangled near Julesberg Station and finally killed his enemy at Pacific Springs, cutting off his ear to use as a watch fob.
By the late 1860’s, wagon trains were replaced mostly by settlers moving out on the newly completed transcontinental railroad. Still, Pacific Springs remained as a stage stop on the stage road from the gold camps on South Pass (particularly South Pass City) to the rail head at Bryan and later Point of Rocks.
In the 1880’s a couple of enterprising fellows by the name of Halter and Flick started up a road ranch on the site and also had some “entertainment” of the red light variety to entertain local sheepherders and cowboys who worked the high country. They also had saloons. The spot became so notorious, with stabbings and shootings and an unmarked boot hill up on Pacific Butte, that the Hay family form Rock Springs, who employed many of the men, bought the two out and turned Pacific Springs into a ranch sub-headquarters for the Bar X Ranch. The wild hay fields were hayed and cattle grazed where oxen once pulled wagons. In the 1940’s, my father Bob Mathisen, worked there in the summer and helped move the old saloon to a new cement foundation–his initials RM and the year 1943 are in the base of the foundation. The old ranch was busy in the summer and my folks lived in a sheep wagon there the first summer they were married in 1946. South Pass City was a nearby ghost town, but they still drove there to the old Sherlock store for supplies. Peter Sherlock, who had been blinded in a dynamite explosion while helping build the Grannier Ditch in 1883, still ran the store. He could recognize people by their foot steps and once identified a man who robbed him.
Today the site is marked nearby as the historic stop on the Oregon-California-Mormon and Pony Express trails that it was. The buildings are slowly deteriorating and someone took the roof from the old barn that may date from Pony Express days. The boot hill above cannot be found due to high sagebrush and many unmarked pioneer graves are scattered across the hills. Still, on a quiet night, perhaps a tune drifts out on the night breeze, or a pioneer mother’s lullaby may also be heard on the quiet breeze.