As author Mark Twain observed about this part of the western Utah desert, it is quiet. It is also remote.
Although a few more houses are here now than in 1862 when Twain visited, and the calm is occasionally broken by the bellowing of cattle, he probably would still recognize the place if he were to return.In fact, the Willow Springs Station serving both the stage coach and Pony Express - where he and later New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley stayed - is still standing beneath the giant cottonwood tree that shaded it then.
The station is a few feet from the back door of David and Ruevo Bagley's home. Bagley is "Mr. Pony Express" of Callao. He's also been one of the staunch Church members in this town near the Utah-Nevada border, reached easiest in the winter from Salt Lake City through Nephi over 220 miles of road, the last 50 on a dirt road.
It's a town so remote that they count time from when the telephones arrived. They don't have far to count - only two years ago. The first telephone service came April 3, 1986, on the 100th anniversary of the purchase of the Bagley ranch and the 126th anniversary of the start of the Pony Express in 1860. Electricity came in 1972, and with it came high-powered two-way radios. Before that, communication was only by mail.
After a lifetime in the desert, Bagley and his wife left Jan. 20 to enter the Missionary Training Center to prepare for their call to the West Virginia Charleston Mission. They are the fourth and fifth missionaries to be serving among the 22 families in the Callao Branch. The branch also takes in ranches in Trout Creek, Gandy and Pleasant Valley - extending 45 miles to the south and nine miles to the north.
Callao was originally named Willow Springs after the overland stage and Pony Express station. But the Post Office rejected that name because there were already too many Willow Springs offices in the country. So a miner suggested the present, less-common name: Callao. He'd been to a port in Peru by that name, pronounced Cuhl-ow. The pronunciation has since been Anglicized to Cally-O. Mark Twain would understand that.
It's a town where on the north side of the main street, residents live in log cabins and ranch homes. On the south side of the street, sagebrush grows. Beyond main street stretches square miles of open land as far as the eye can see.
Why would anyone want to live in a town 50 miles down a dirt road and far off the beaten track?
"Well, it used to be the beaten path," explained Bagley, and early Callao Branch president, 4th-generation rancher and keeper of Pony Express history. He explained that here the overland stage rumbled, cutting ruts and a trail still visible on part of the Bagley Ranch. Here was the shortcut used by the Pony Express during its daring 18-month experiment to "tie the nation together with muscle and sweat," as one writer described it.
Now ranchers in the area stay because plentiful water makes an oasis on the desert. "There is a love and camaraderie among the people here," said Bagley. He said the settlements in the branch rise and fall as families rise and fall.
Callao's second claim to fame, at least as far as LDS members are concerned, is their activity in the Church. With the same urgency early riders had to get the mail through, members here have adhered to Church activity over the years. When the Callao Branch was in its infancy, members were the top branch in the Church in sacrament meeting attendance. "For 15 of 17 months we led the Church in activity," he said. "Our branch in 1948 and 1949 was published at the top of the list in the Church News."
The branch rallied to have its own building. The members raised produce and sold it to pay their share. "We had a wonderful spirit of cooperation and love for one another," he said. The branch eventually obtained a surplus government building that was moved to a place on Bagley's ranch, and remodeled. The building is still the branch meetinghouse, with two rooms added on.
Easter sunrise services are a highlight of the year in the branch. "It has been one of the most spiritual times," he said. "Everybody in the valley comes to the service. One family that had been completely inactive came and has attended Church every since."
Church meetings also have been memorable. On one occasion, Bagley remembers standing in testimony meeting and announcing, "I am the richest man in the valley."
Others were startled by this bold pronouncement until he added, "I have five children and every single one of them has been married in the temple, and each one's spouse is also active. No one is any richer than I."
The Bagleys bought a home in Salt Lake City so the children could get a good education. During the school year Sister Bagley stayed in the city with the children, and Bagley stayed on the ranch. "We wrote letters," she explained. "If I mailed a letter on Monday, he'd get it on Tuesday. If I said I was coming home, I had to come even if it were storming, or he'd come looking. It was sure nice having a two-way radio so I could change my mind."
She said some people were slow to realize the need for telephones. Only after they realized that a phone call could save a visit would some sign up for phones. "We still start a list of things to talk about when we meet on Sunday," she said. "About halfway through the list, we remember that we have telephones and just make a phone call."