Fort Churchill & Buckland Station

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FORT CHURCHILL & BUCKLAND STATION
Fort Churchill State Historic Park and Buckland Station on the Pony Express National Historic Trail and California National Historic Trail in Nevada.

The trails that were blazed to settle this vast country provide an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of those who were willing to take huge risks to better their lives, in the “pursuit of happiness.” Free Land! Gold! Adventure!

The promise of rich farmland, escape from crowded cities in the east, and gold, lured from 350,000 to 500,000 emigrants from the eastern United States to the west between the 1840s and 1870s. These adventuresome people crossed over mountains and plains, following rivers on foot, horseback, or in ox-drawn, covered wagons. They traveled over 2000 miles, taking months to get from Kansas or Missouri to California, running into all kinds of obstacles, from floods, wagons breaking down, illness, and losing their way, to conflicts with Native Americans. This is the greatest migration of people in American history.

The California National Historic Trail takes you across ten states (California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming) where over 1,000 miles of trail ruts and traces of this great journey can still be seen.

In Nevada, you can visit Fort Churchill and Buckland Station, just about half an hour North of Yerington on US Route 95 ALT. Both the fort and the station are stops on the Pony Express National Historic Trail and the California National Historic Trail. Fort Churchill State Historic Park is also a Nevada State Park, which includes Buckland Station. Buckland Station was a way station for the Overland Stage Company on the Overland Route.

This mass migration of peoples was encouraged by the United States government, so it follows that the government would help protect its people, as well as make sure they had the services they needed.

The time was ripe for entrepreneurs, one of such was Samuel S. Buckland. Buckland settled at what is now known as Buckland Station (above) in 1859. He started a ranch, but his main objective was to establish a station for the Overland Stage Company. He operated a tent hotel, but also built the first bridge across the Carson River downstream from Genoa, which he operated as a toll bridge.

A wagon train came through Buckland Station with two sisters, part of a weary group. Eliza and Margaret Prentice had walked all the way from the east, doing the camp work, cooking, and washing to pay their way. In 1860 Samuel Buckland built a large log cabin and married Miss Eliza Prentice.

The same year trouble brewed with the Paiutes. Three men from Williams Station, a Carson River outpost 30 miles east of Carson City, kidnapped two Paiute girls, and refused to release them. The Paiutes retaliated by killing the three men, burning down the station, and rescuing the girls. Rumors were rife and Buckland Station became the assembly point where 105 volunteers gathered with plans to avenge the deaths of the Williams Station men. This skirmish is known as the Pyramid Lake War.

The volunteers attacked the Paiutes and suffered a major defeat. Hostilities were at an all-time high and regular troops were called in. Captain Joseph Stewart and his Carson River Expedition were ordered to establish Fort Churchill with the duty to protect the Carson River settlers and Buckland Station, that had become a remount station on the Pony Express Route. Eventually Buckland Station opened a store to supply travelers, settlers and the soldiers serving at Fort Churchill.

As you visit Buckland Station and Fort Churchill, you can get a feel for the lifestyle of the settlers and soldiers as they worked to bring civility and normalcy to an unsettled territory. Even though Fort Churchill was built mainly as a show of force, and there were never any battles fought there, it was built as a permanent installation. It was an important supply depot for the Nevada Military District (especially during the Civil War), a Pony Express stop, and a base for troops tasked with patrolling the overland routes.

The adobe buildings (above) were built on stone foundations in the form of a square facing a central parade ground. The fort had barracks for 200 men, a guardhouse, officers’ quarters, and a cemetery.
As the railroad and telegraph came in, the need for the fort and the Pony Express declined. The fort was dismantled and Samuel Buckland salvaged materials from the buildings to build the two-story house you can visit today.

One of the biggest problems for the pioneer families was the lack of timely letters and news from their families back east. The Pony Express, though short-lived, met that need for 19 months (from April 3, 1860 to November 20, 1861). Riders started out from San Francisco, riding east to St. Joseph, Missouri while other riders started out from the east, traveling the same route going west.

There were stops along the way, where it is said, the riders were greeted with a waiting fresh mount and mail pouch. They dismounted, switched horses in a flash, and galloped off. They would ride for 75-100 miles, swapping horses 8-10 times before trading off with another rider, and having a chance to rest at a station. The service eventually ran twice a week, delivering mail every ten days.

Over the life of the Pony Express the service delivered over 33,000 pieces of mail traveling over 600,000 miles – 300 runs each way.

Today you can tour Buckland Station, see the insides of the Buckland house, as well as walk through Fort Churchill and see exhibits at the Visitor Center. You can picnic next to the Carson River in shaded areas, or hike, camp, and watch the bird and wildlife in the area. This is a superb place to let history come alive for you. While there, make sure to visit nearby Yerington, a quaint town that is full of fun!

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 Fort Churchill Road along the Carson River from U.S. 50 is scenic, it is 16 miles and unpaved. For more information call (775) 577-4880 or visit http://parks.nv.gov/parks/fort-churchill-state-historic-park/







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