The end of the Pony Express

The dramatic rush of men into the Comstock after the discovery of silver put a strain on the already tense relations with the Piute tribes that had lived in the area for centuries. Both miners and the relay stations of the Pony Express had imposed on the available water sources, valuable pinon trees were cut down, and game was killed. Several murders, including that of the mountain man Peter Lassen, were blamed on the Indians. In the spring of 1860 the tribe gathered for the annual fish run at Pyramid Lake. Many there argued for war with the whites but the new chief, Numaga, pled for peace. Then on May 6th a small group of Indians raided and burned a combination saloon, general store and stage stop along the Carson River to revenge the kidnap and rape of two young Indian girls. Several men were killed and any chance for peace was lost.

Pony Express Map

A panic quickly spread through the mining towns of Virginia City, Carson City, Silver City and Genoa. A militia force of 105 poorly armed and disorganized men under William Ormsby started out north along the Truckee River headed for Pyramid Lake. But a few miles south of the lake they were attacked by a small number of Indians who fled into a ravine. When Ormsby’s militia pursued them a larger force of Piute warriors under Numaga quickly surrounded them. Seventy-six militia members were killed and many more wounded. Afterwards Indians raided the remote Pony Express stations at will. In late May the Simpson Park station was burned and the operator killed. The Express stopped all mail delivery between Salt Lake City and Carson City.

The Pony Express

When the news reached the mines in California some 550 men volunteered to cross the Sierra to fight under Colonel John C. Hayes. They were joined by over 200 regular troops led by Captain Joseph Stewart. They too marched up the Truckee River toward Pyramid Lake and in early June met Numaga’s forces at almost the same spot as Ormsby’s ill fated expedition had. After several hours, with only three men killed on the white’s side, the Piutes slipped away. After the battle mail delivery resumed but in August there was more trouble at isolated Nevada Express stations that continued over the next year and helped bring about the eventual end of the already financially strapped Pony Express.



  1. I’ve never read anything about the Indian wars in the Great Basin, John. What a fascinating slice of Western history! You have so much knowledge to share. Thanks for putting this out where we can read it.


    • The American west didn’t end at the Sierra Nevada Mountains, yet for some reason this incredible era has been forgotten. There are millions of exciting stories from the gold rush, many of them still unmined.

      Thanks for reading!

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