Fort Churchill. Photo courtesy the Western Nevada Historic Photo Collection. Click on the image to view the original photo.
The previous Pony Express station I told about in this series was Buckland’s Station. It served as a Pony Express station for just a short time between April 3, 1860 until the Pyramid Lake Indian War started about May 12, 1860. For the next two months, service on the Pony Express was disrupted by periodic Indian attacks on several of the riders and some of the stations. Service was sporadic at best during this time and full regular service was not resumed until a new station was established in the administrative office at Fort Churchill.
Meanwhile Buckland’s Station continued to be used as the Overland Express and Pony Express station. Even after the relay station was moved to Fort Churchill, the Buckland Ranch provided livestock and hay for the Pony Express.
Fort Churchill was named in honor of Sylvester Churchill, the Inspector General of the United States Army. Captain Joseph Stewart, a leader of the second battle of the Pyramid Lake Indian War, and the Carson River Expedition were ordered to construct the desert outpost to guard the Pony Express run and other mail and travel routes through the region. Construction started on July 20, 1860 using stone foundations, adobe walls and wooden roofs to build a compound in a square shape enclosing a central drill and parade ground.
Several hundred soldiers were based here patrolling the routes taken by overland travelers and mail routes until the danger of Indian attacks no longer existed. The fort was abandoned in 1869, and over 20 adobe buildings were auctioned off to Samuel Buckland for just $750. In 1884, the remains of soldiers buried at the Fort Churchill cemetery were relocated to Carson City. Graves remaining at the fort today are those of the Buckland family whose nearby ranch sold supplies to the fort.
Samuel Buckland salvaged much of the wooden material from the abandoned fort to build the still existing two-story hotel on the site of his original log cabin Pony Express station. The State of Nevada was offered a chance to acquire Fort Churchill in 1871 but declined the offer. In the early 1930s the Daughters of the American Revolution became interested in preserving the fort and were able to have 200 acres of the property transferred to the State.
The National Park Service became involved and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) made several preservation improvements to the once proud fort and constructed the Visitor Center that is still being used. In 1957, the fort became a part of the Nevada State Park System.
For several years, efforts were made to repair the adobe walls, including casting new adobe blocks to reconstruct portions that have simply melted away from rain water and erosion. My landscape company submitted unsuccessful bids to perform some of this work. Several of the walls are now nothing more than rectangular mounds of dried adobe mud. Other buildings have been preserved in a state of arrested decay. The park service has set out markers at various portions of the ruins telling what the purpose of many of the buildings was.
Fort Churchill State Park and the surrounding area is a popular place for visitors and contains many historical and scenic attractions. The park features a visitor’s center and museum at the entrance where information about how to best see the fort ruins is available. Buckland’s Station is now a part of the park as well as picnicking and camping areas along the tree-lined Carson River. There are hiking trails and places to view wildlife and interesting Great Basin plants. Fort Churchill is located along the Carson River eight miles south of Silver Springs on U.S.95A.
The park is 40 miles east of Carson City and 36 miles west of Fallon. Visitors are advised to enter the Park from U.S. 95A on a short, paved access road. While the Old Fort Churchill Road and Pony Express route along the Carson River from U.S.50 is scenic, it is 16 miles long through private property and is unpaved.