Park city summer 2012 horses mining c67xhb

Horses work the mines underneath Park City

Early Native Americans hunted on foot using dogs as pack animals. When Coronado’s Spanish conquistadores arrived in what is now the American Southwest in 1539, Native American culture was permanently altered. Within a century, Navajos were raiding Spanish colonies for horses, while Pueblo Indians took horses and horsemanship skills with them as they fled Spanish servitude. The Plains and Great Basin Indians adopted horses as the cornerstones of their cultures, and by 1730 the Comanche had a fully mounted nomadic lifestyle. But the era of mounted warriors and Indian horsemen lasted little more than a century. Western expansion of white settlements, military defeats, and the near extinction of buffalo by 1884 shattered the nomadic, hunter-warrior horse culture forever.

As the US expanded westward in the 19th century, industrious settlers relied on the labor of horses to mine mineral-rich mountains and manage rangelands. Draft horses and mules made significant contributions to Park City’s mining economy and history. Until being replaced by machinery in the 1930s, horses were routinely lowered down mine shafts in canvas slings to work underground, sometimes for up to eight hours at a time. Once in the mine, horses hauled heavy ore carts on tracks through the dark, wet tunnels below town. Ore was then hauled from the mine to the railroad by teams of mules or horses. Local ore transportation was revolutionized in 1901 when the Silver King Coalition opened its aerial tramway. Horse-drawn ore wagons became obsolete overnight.

Park City still needed the services of a good livery stable, however. The Dexter Livery was built by George Snyder in 1874 and named after the “finest trotting horse in upstate New York.” In 1886, William Kimball and his brother bought the livery and renamed it Kimball Brothers’ Dexter Stables. The brothers also operated a much-needed light express stagecoach and local mail service. The livery thrived at the base of historic Main Street and Heber Avenue until 1930, when automobiles replaced horse-drawn transportation. The stables were torn down, but the original Kimball Brothers Stagecoach, once pulled by a four-horse team, is restored and exhibited at the Park City Museum.

In 1907 Ellsworth J. Beggs constructed another facility, the Beggs & Buckley Livery on Park Avenue. Beggs was a highly regarded and successful builder, and his work on the livery has stood the test of time. Today the livery and attached residence (from 1914) are the home of a new iconic Park City business: the High West Distillery & Saloon.

Ride the Pony

The call for riders to staff the overland mail courier service, known as the Pony Express, went out in 1860, and applicants responded in droves. The 80 selected Express riders proved to be some of the toughest, most durable horsemen in America and included several Utahns.

Echo, Utah's Pony Express station

The Pony Express operation needed 500 of the best-blooded American horses to refresh the riding stock. Pony Express horses varied in lot and type depending on where along the route they were purchased. Horses from the western route in Utah, Colorado, and Nevada were grass-fed wild mustangs.

Although the Pony Express survived only 18 months (from April 1860 to October 1861), Summit County played a key role in the ambitious plan to pioneer a route to deliver mail by horseback. The famous Overland Route winds through northern Summit County toward the Salt Lake Valley and beyond. Twenty of the 190 courier stations were built in Utah, and several historic stations remain. You can see one such Pony Express historic marker right at the base of the popular Glenwild trailhead off of Bitner Road in Park City. For details about the Pony Express National Historic Trail and way-station locations, visit nps.gov/poex/index.htm.

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