The next documented Pony Express station to be encountered when traveling east from Dayton was known as Miller’s Station. It was a wooden structure located about 8 miles east of Dayton along the Old River Road and the Fort Churchill Road. It had been one of about 20 or more rest and supply stations that were established along the Carson River branch of the California Emigrant Trail in 1849 and 1850. After serving emigrants bound for the California Gold Rush for more than 10 years, it became a Pony Express relay station when the service started in 1860.
Ownership of the station changed on July 1, 1861, when it was purchased by G. W. Reed. The station remained under his ownership until the Pony Express ceased operations in November 1861. Today, nothing remains of the station since the lumber in the building was used elsewhere. I have seen reports that a well still exists on the site. Both sides of the road are posted with “NO TRESPASSING” signs and there are a few farms and ranches along the way. When I visited the area recently, I was not able to determine the exact location of the original station.
On May 31, 1860, an employee of Miller’s station named C. H. Ruffing wrote the following letter to another employee, W. W. Finney:
“I have just returned from Cold Springs (Station) and was driven out by the Indians, who attacked us night before last. The men at Dry Creek Station have been killed and it is thought the Roberts Creek Station has been destroyed. The Express turned back after hearing the news from Dry Creek.”
On May 10, 1860, when pony rider Bob Haslam stopped at Miller’s Station on his famous longest ride in Pony Express history, he was unable to get a fresh horse for the next leg of the run to Buckland’s Station. There was no change of horses available for him there since the white militiamen from Carson, Dayton and Virginia City had seized them to use in the first battle of the Pyramid Lake Indian War. Haslam continued on to Buckland’s using the same horse he had ridden to Miller’s. It would be more than a month before hostilities subsided enough to resume regular service on the Pony Express.
Back in 1849, a large party of pioneers was making its way across the Nevada desert to California. One of the families was the O’Brien family, consisting of a father, a mother, a 12-year-old son named Mike and a 15-year-old daughter named Susan. Along the way, near what is now the Utah border, a band of Indians attacked the group. The men of the wagon train were away on a hunting trip to obtain food. Young Susan showed extreme courage by pulling out two guns the family had hidden away and turned them on the intruders. When the Indians saw the resolve of the girl, they backed away and left the encampment.
The O’Brien family led the way on the dusty California trail to Ragtown near present Fallon, where they followed the Carson River Trail west to a place about 5 miles east of Miller’s Station. When they reached the present site of the Break-a-Heart Ranch, another group of Indians attacked and killed the mother, father and brutally tomahawked 12-year-old Mike. Susan hid herself in a trunk in one of the wagons until the Indians found her there. They then dragged her to the top of a plateau where they were camped.
Susan was badly scratched in the brush and rocks as she was dragged along the trail to the plateau where the Indians gave her to the chief of the band. Later that night, when it seemed her captors were all asleep, brave Susan decided to make a dash for freedom. As she started running away, the guards heard her and started chasing her. Being badly injured, she was determined to escape rather than be taken alive. She ran straight toward a steep, rocky bluff overlooking the Carson River. With her last ounce of strength, Susan hurled herself over the cliff to be smashed to death on the rocks below.
When the other wagons in the party finally reached the scene of the tragedy, they buried Susan O’Brien and the other victims of the massacre. They named the cliff where she made her final plunge “Susan’s Bluff” in her honor. Susan’s Bluff can be reached from Virginia City by taking Six-Mile Canyon Road to Highway 50, then across the highway to Fort Churchill Road. The total drive that goes past the site of Miller’s Pony Express Station to Susan’s Bluff takes less than an hour.
This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at denniscassinelli.com. All Cassinelli’s books sold through this publication will be at a discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.