(Paisley is quite ill, but recovering. In the meantime, this is a post she wrote several years ago when she still lived in the Pacific Northwest.)
One of my friends recently visited Fort Churchill. I was intrigued by the buildings making up this fort and thought to share them with you and give you a little bit of history. I live over the mountain from Carson City, Nevada, and had never heard of this place before. It was small, but seems to have had an integral part in our history. Talk of Indian atrocities at Williams Station, a Carson River outpost located 30 miles east of Carson City, filtered back to settlers in the Carson Valley. Because of the fear of impending attacks, the settlers demanded immediate protection.
The so-called Pyramid Lake War began on May 12, 1860, when three white men living at Williams Station kidnapped and held two Indian girls prisoner. Their action and refusal to release the girls led to reprisals. Indians killed the three men, released the girls and burned the station. Because rumors exaggerated the number of whites killed and the number of Paiutes thought ready to move against white settlements, hasty and ill-conceived plans resulted in the movement of 105 volunteers to Pyramid Lake to avenge the deaths of the white men.
The out-numbered whites suffered a major defeat in the battle that followed. They lost two-thirds of their original force. The Indians' momentous victory led to immediate white retaliation. Urgent calls went out to California for regular armed troops. The troops, bolstered by additional volunteers, moved against the Indian forces in early June. In this second battle, the out-numbered Indians were forced to retreat. Casualty reports ranged from four to 160 Indians killed while only two whites died.
Captain Joseph Stewart and His Carson River Expedition were then ordered to establish a post on the Carson River. Starting July 20, 1860, tens of thousands of dollars were spent to construct Fort Churchill, the desert outpost that guarded the Pony Express run and other mail routes. Between expeditions against the Indians, hundreds of soldiers were based there.
The fort was named in honor of Sylvester Churchill, the Inspector General of the U.S. Army. It was built as a permanent installation. Adobe buildings were erected on stone foundations in the form of a square, facing a central parade ground. The Civil War made the fort an important supply depot for the Nevada Military District and as a base for troops patrolling the overland routes.
The fort was abandoned in 1869, and the adobe buildings were auctioned for only $750. In 1884, the remains of soldiers buried in the post cemetery were moved to Carson City. The remaining graves are those of the Buckland family, pioneer ranchers who sold supplies to the fort.
Fort Churchill sits at an elevation of 4,250 feet and is flanked on the south by rolling desert hills and higher areas of the Pine Nut Range. The Carson River originates in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west. It forms the major water resource in the area and is the only perennial source of surface water near the fort.
Photos by Judy Newberry Ashley