Fort Churchill near what is now Silver Springs, Nevada was built in 1861 to provide protection to early settlers in what was then part of Utah Territory. The U.S. Army fort in the desert also guarded the Pony Express and helped insure silver from the Comstock Load in Virginia City benefited the North to finance the Civil War.
The Pyramid Lake War of 1860 has the distinction of being the biggest confrontation between Native Americans and whites in Nevada history with its first battle resulting in the loss of more Euro-American lives than any American Indian-white confrontation in the previous 69 years.
Trouble had been brewing for a while as the number of settlers competing for scarce resources in a often hostile environment now equaled Native Americans. The turning point came when a band of Indians retaliated for the kidnapping and molesting of two young girls by the three white men at Williams Station — a combination saloon, general store and stagecoach station sometimes referred to as Honey Lake at present day Lahontan Reservoir near Silver Springs — by killing the men and burning the station.
The ensuing panic led to a hastily organized militia of 105 volunteers from Virginia City, Silver City, Carson City and Genoa and led by Major William M. Ormsby to confront Paiute warriors near Pyramid Lake where 76 whites died in an ambush. Later that same year a much larger and better organized “Washoe Regiment” defeated the Indians at the same location.
Part of that force, Captain Joseph Stuart and his regulars, stayed in the area to construct Fort Churchill near Buckland’s Station.
Samuel S. Buckland had constructed a toll bridge across the Carson River and built a log cabin and saloon where he sold goods and livestock to travelers on the Emigrant Trail and later soldiers at Fort Churchill. Buckland’s Station was used as a Pony Express Station — Robert “Pony Bob’’ Haslam, the most famous of the Old West Mounted Mailmen rode from there — and as a staging point for the first battle of the Pyramid Lake War.
Fort Churchill State Historic Park
Fort Churchill has been designated a Historic State Monument and Registered National Historic Monument.
16,000 years ago the site of Fort Churchill was more than 100 feet below the surface of prehistoric Lake Lahontan which extended over much of western Nevada. Pyramid Lake and Walker lake are remnants of Lake Lahontan. The hill immediately south and southwest of the Fort displays wave-cut terraces marking the lake’s highest level at an elevation of 4,380 feet.
Railroad tracks cross the Carson River just south of Fort Churchill. Picnic spots and camping areas are available in the park.
Fort Churchill Road (California Emigrant Trail) is just north of the Fort connecting to Highway 95A
one half-mile north of where 95A crosses the Carson River at the site of the old Buckland Station.
Highway 95A crosses Highway 50, beyond Churchill Butte (6,250 ft) in above photo, and continues to Fernley.
Buildings at Fort Churchill, made out of adobe bricks, are being maintained in a state of arrested decay. The clays used were deposited by Lake Lahontan and masons make new bricks each year to keep the ruins from melting into the desert like so much of the fort has already. The photo above is of the Powder Magazine — a windowless storehouse for gun powder and munitions.
Orders were issued from the Post Headquarters (nearest building) for all of the Nevada Military District.
Other buildings in this photo include the Quartermaster’s and Subsistence Stores and the Laundress’s Quarters.
Officers Quarters (2 of the original 6 above) had a parlor, dining room, 2 bedrooms, indoor privy and attached woodshed
as well as an upper story low ceiling attic. Officers could visit on the post at all hours and visit Virginia City at least once a month.
Life for enlisted men at the Fort was not as comfortable. Their barracks had dirt floors and crude furnishings.
Low pay in an isolated, dreary frontier outpost — with Virginia City always needing higher paid miners — resulted in
many desertions punished by reductions in rank and pay or a month in the guardhouse.
Visitor Center and Museum
The Visitor Center, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, has exhibits explaining the history of Fort Churchill including its military history, natural features of the surrounding countryside and the Native Americans who lived here. Fees (posted at the park entrance) are charged for entrance, camping, picnicking and group use.
Several plaques on or near the entrance to the Visitor Center detail the sites historical designations and
relationship with the Pony Express. The main copy on the above Pony Express plaque (one of 3) reads:
BUCKLAND'S RANCH STATION, HOMESTEADED
IN 1859, WAS A STOP FOR OVERLAND STAGES
AND EMIGRANT TRAINS, IN 1860 IT BECAME A
HOME STATION FOR THE PONY EXPRESS. PONY
BOB HASLAM RODE FROM HERE TO FRIDAY'S
STATION (STATELINE, NEV.). FORT CHURCHILL WAS
BUILT IN 1860 ON PART OF THE RANCH TO PROTECT
THE EMIGRANTS, STAGES AND THE PONY EXPRESS.
A white picket fence surrounds a cemetery near Fort Churchill and the Visitor Center. Once the post cemetery the remains of soldiers buried here — just one soldier’s death was related to Indian activity — were moved to Carson City in 1884.
Only Buckland family graves remain in the cemetery.
Samuel Sanford Buckland began ranching in the valley in 1859 one of the earliest in the area. This headstone reads:
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF
DIED DEC. 28, 1884;
AGED 58 years, 3 months - 15 days
DEAR IS THE SPOT WHERE OUR FATHER SLEEPS
AND SWEET THE STRAINS THE ANGELS POUR,
BUT WHY SHOULD WE IN SORROW WEEP,
HE IS NOT LOST BUT GONE BEFORE.
ERRECTED BY HIS SONS
The stone directly to the left of Samuel’s is the one for his wife:
ELIZA ANN, BELOVED WIFE OF S.S. BUCKLAND, AGED 43 YRS. 4 MO'S & 2 DAYS
You can’t enter the cemetery and must view the headstones over the fence so small reproductions
have been placed near the fence at the foot of each stone so that you can read the inscriptions.
In addition to those for Samuel and Eliza Ann there are also grave markers for 3 sons and a daughter
who died between the ages of 2 days old and 8 years, 8 months.
Fort Churchill remained an Army post for nine years. The primary job of the soldiers became ensuring that Comstock Lode miners stood for the Union cause in the Civil War. After the fort closed Buckland bought the buildings from the Army for $750 and used the timbers and other lumber to build Buckland's Station as it stands today.
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Website and all photos copyright © 2001–2016 Lee W. Nelson