This Nevada story is only partially about me. The main character is actually a man I became acquainted with several years ago, a man I have since come to admire a great deal. The man I refer to is Captain James Hervey Simpson, West Point graduate of 1832, career army officer and Great Basin explorer.
In the summer of 1859, Captain Simpson led a 63-man expedition westward across the Great Basin from Camp Floyd, located 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, to the tiny village of Genoa, an established gateway into California. The objective of this reconnaissance was to discover a shortcut and alternate route to supplant the wearisome and winding emigrant road that was then in use along the Humboldt River. Eight months after Simpson completed this 1,100-mile roundtrip reconnaissance, gallant Pony Express riders were galloping over his shortcut.
For the record, I was born in Fallon, Nevada, in 1948. I have resided in this great state of ours my entire life and consider myself, in a very real sense, to be one of her proud offspring. Therefore, when I came upon Captain Simpson’s journal, I naturally was curious.
Soon after beginning to read the journal, I found it to be so intriguing, offering as it did such a rare and fascinating glimpse into what ultimately became our state’s very heart, that I was prompted to write a book about his adventures. It was not long before I found that writing a book, something I never before had attempted, was in some respects much like Simpson’s adventure, a long and arduous journey of discovery. Nevertheless I stubbornly persevered, despite my lack of book writing experience, because I felt that Captain Simpson’s special story needed to be told.
I have included here a short excerpt from the book regarding the Simpson party’s arrival in Genoa on 12 June 1859, almost 5 ½ years before Nevada became a state:
At half past 9 a.m., after traveling approximately 13 miles over a good road, the company finally reached their long-awaited destination, Genoa. “Encamped among some giant pines at the foot of the Sierra Nevada,” Simpson noted, “just upon the southern edge of the town, and on a gushing stream of pure water which courses down from the mountain. Our position is so high on the base of the mountain that we can overlook a large portion of the valley; and a beautiful one it is….”
The thrilled inhabitants of the tiny town did not let the party’s arrival pass without fanfare. “Just as we entered town,” the Captain wrote, “were saluted by the citizens with thirteen guns and the running up of the national flag, in honor of the party’s having successfully accomplished the object of the exploration—the opening of a new and short road across the Great Basin from Camp Floyd, and thus facilitating the mails and emigration.”
Moments after the completion of this official ceremony, Simpson and his men were surrounded by numerous well-wishers, each one expressing his personal gratification over their success, and tendering to them “all the hospitality in their power.”
I am both proud and pleased that I could present this small piece of Nevada history to my fellow Nevadans, and I hope that wherever Captain Simpson is today he is able to look down from his high position and observe the many and varied events associated with our state’s 150th birthday celebration. For if he can, I am confident he would say with satisfaction: “And a beautiful one it is….”