A Close Encounter with Halfway House?
Sir Richard Burton, the world famous explorer, apparently passed quite close to Half Way House on a dark October night in 1860. Burton was traveling across the United States, and had stopped in Salt Lake City to gather material for City of Saints, his book about the Mormon settlements. He resumed his westward trip to San Francisco on the commercial stage line which followed Simpson’s route and the Emigrant Road as it approached Carson City. The pages below, taken from City of Saints, tell us a great deal about travel in the unsettled West, and the hazards confronting the indefatigable Englishman. The account begins with an evening departure by stagecoach from China Town (Dayton). It was a cold, rainy night and the driver and passengers alike had fortified themselves with alcohol. The “long divide” Burton refers to lies between Dayton and Carson City, where Half Way house was situated.
Burton’s misadventure probably took place a good six months after Half Way House was built, and certainly close by. It is interesting to speculate about why the party, after the second mishap, and “unwilling to risk their necks by another trial” walked down to Dutch Nick’s without stopping at or mentioning Half Way House. The soft spots which caused Burton’s coach to tip over sound similar to sandy spots Carson City pioneer, Robert Fulstone, describes in his memoir in roughly the same area. In Fulstone’s day, the tracks had to be packed with sagebrush to keep the heavy freight wagons from digging in and bogging down. But this was not until the toll road entrepreneurs had consolidated the loosely defined stage roads into more manageable routes. Burton’s driver—like many others—probably took his coach along whatever track he thought best. Half Way House was in a good location, but not necessarily on the only passage through the hills above Dutch Nicks. Burton’s party could easily have been using one of these alternatives and, in the cold and darkness—not to mention their inebriation—walked right by Half Way House.