A day in the life

Fort Churchill

(Authors note: ws goign through someolderposts and cme across this one. I have to admit I still love Fort Churchill, but by golly it is usually hot there.)

In my recent travels, I stopped at Fort Churchill Historic Park in Nevada. I had been there previously but always with others, in particular children, so taking my time and really enjoying the park did not happen until this trip. This time I was able to really look at the small museum and read all of the plaques strewn about the place. I walked down to what was left of the adobe buildings. I got a little creeped out down there. It was hot and as was the only one there, it was very quiet. There was no sound except for the sounds of bugs and lizards running through the sagebrush. I have a very active imagination and I started to imagine the soldiers on the grounds standing at attention wearing wool uniforms in the full desert sun. I saw them trying to keep cool without air conditioning, walking to the well for water, riding in from the desert, hot and dusty. It became so real in my mind that I was not paying attention and darn near stepped on a rattlesnake. I know better than that. I am glad that Mr. Western Diamond Back warned me with a shake of the tail. It also reminded that I was alone out there and it was probably not a real good idea to stay. If I had been bitten or twisted an ankle, there would be no help for me. So, I left.

The following is what I have learned about Fort Churchill.


In 1860, talk of attacks by Indians on white men at Williams Station reached settlers in the Carson Valley. The settlers became fearful and demanded protection; in fact, they wanted immediate protection. Like most of us, the settlers feared what they did not understand and like most talk, by the time it reached them it was blown way out of proportion. The actual attack on the Station by Native Americans was the result of three white men who kidnapped and held prisoner two girls from the Paiute tribe of Pyramid Lake. When demands were sent to release the girls, the white men ignored them. So a raid was conducted on the Williams Station, the girls were released, the men killed and the Station burned to the ground.  Again, rumors magnified the number of whites killed and the number of Native Americans involved and thus began an increasing number of violent skirmishes culminating in two battles.   The Pyramid Lake War ended with a cease-fire, although no treaties were ever signed.


Because of the attacks, Captain Joseph Steward and his Carson River Expedition were ordered to establish a post on the Carson River. Starting on July 20, 1860, tens of thousands of dollars was spent to construct Fort Churchill. Not only would the outpost in the desert serve to guard the pony express, hundreds of soldiers were based there between expeditions.

The Fort was named in honor of Sylvester Churchill, who was the Inspector General of the US Army. Build as a permanent installation,  the adobe buildings were erected on stone foundations, forming a square around a central parade ground.   The Civil War turned Fort Churchill into an important supply depot for the Nevada Military District and as a base for troops patrolling the overland routes.


In 1869, the Fort was abandoned and the buildings were sold at auction for $750 dollars. In 1884, the remains of soldiers buried at the Fort were removed and the only folks left resting there are of the Buckland family, pioneer ranchers who sold supplies to the Fort.  The State of Nevada finally acquired the land and what remains of the Fort in 1957. In the 86 years in between, the Fort served a variety of purposes, from building materials to temporary shelter for travelers on the Carson River Trail.

Today, there are some buildings remaining. The park is maintained at a state of arrested decay. There have been no efforts to rebuild the buildings. When you walk through them, it does take a little imagination to see the purpose of the buildings. The park has done a good job with the placards out front of each one describing its purpose.  It is desolate, hot unforgiving country. There is a little museum on the grounds and a grassy area with trees that is perfect for a picnic, but you will have to compete with the Jack Rabbits and Cotton Tails for grass space.If you go, make sure you take water with you, wear a hat, watch for critters and bring your imagination.