In the far west, situated in the Nevada desert and far from the din of battle, Fort Churchill was established on the eve of the Civil War. Created to protect the Pony Express route, telegraph lines and emigrants to the west, the fort also provided a military presence to serve notice to Native Americans – mainly the Paiutes – that they would not tolerate attacks on settlers along the Carson River.
All that remains today of Fort Churchill are ruins and an old cemetery. Still, apart from pesky gnats, a visit to the fort is worthwhile to help understand the challenges of establishing a desert outpost in the 19th century. Surrounded by an unforgiving desert, the old military post is now operated by the state of Nevada as a state historic park.
The ruins outline what was a complex of buildings making a square with a central parade ground. Built on stone foundations, the adobe buildings would house nearly 300 soldiers and would be named after the Inspector General of the army Sylvester Churchill.
Established and operated by the U.S. army, the post was active from 1860 until 1869 when the buildings would be auctioned off. Sold to Samuel Buckland, a local rancher, for $750 the salvaged buildings would help to build a new two-story home which still stands today.
The old post cemetery, which once held about fifty graves, now holds only the Buckland family. When the post was abandoned by the army, the bodies of soldiers were transferred to Carson City – about thirty miles distant.
Even though Fort Churchill was far removed from the scenes of war, the ruins stand as an important reminder that while many Union soldiers were battling for the preservation of the Union and an end to slavery, the army was also battling other forces in the west in an effort to preserve peace and protect important supply lines and lines of communication.