Fort Churchill, Buckland Station and a “Nest?” March 23, 2014

24 Mar

Today was a gorgeous, sunny, fun day filled with adventure, good friends and excited dogs.  I got to go on an outing with Diana and Jack Jacobs and their two loveable ranch dogs, Lucy and Molly, to Fort Churchill, an abandoned ruin about an hour northeast of my house (on the other side of the Pine Nut Range that sits to the east of my house).  Don’t forget to click on the pictures if you want to enlarge them.

Lucy and Molly, great ranch dogs

Lucy and Molly, great ranch dogs and good on the trail

To give you a little background on the fort:  There was a great fear of Indian attacks in the 1860s, exacerbated by three white men who kidnapped two Indian girls in 1860.  They refused to release the girls and that led to the Indians killing the men.  Then rumors were magnified, battles ensued with the white folks being defeated.  An urgent call went out to get soldiers in the area and the tide was eventually turned against the Indians. The upshot was that Fort Churchill was established on July 20, 1860.  It was named after Sylvester Churchill, the Inspector General of the U.S. Army.  The fort was to guard the Pony Express route that ran near by and the settlers in the area as well as serve as a supply depot for the Nevada Military District after 1861. (Remember that the Civil War began in April, 1861)  The fort was abandoned in 1869 and the adobe buildings were auctioned for only $750.

Today, one can visit the fort and check out a little museum, the Carson River as well as Buckland station.  One item that caught my eye was an 1864 American flag with 36 stars and an odd arrangement of stars.

An 1864 flag with 36 stars (right after Nevada became a state)

An 1864 flag with 36 stars. (Nevada is #36) The Nevada State Capitol has on display another 1864 flag with a 6 x 6 arrangement. I wonder why there is a difference.

Jack and I joined a guided tour and learned many things about the fort and the rest of the State Park.  (Diana is recovering from knee surgery and isn’t ready yet for this type of trek).   We visited three distinct  ecological areas in the park…the floodplain river terrace (Fremont cottonwood, and Indian ricegrass), riparian (reeds and willow) and upland scrub (low sagebrush and bluegrass and where the fort buildings are).

The following picture is our first glimpse of the adobe buildings of the actual fort.  The low, flat buildings were enlisted men’s quarters and officers lived in the larger two story buildings that are off to the right.

Fort Churchill cost about $200,000 to build

Fort Churchill cost about $200,000 to build

Officer's quarters. Building materials were later stripped from them to help build the Buckland Station house

Officer’s quarters.
Building materials were later salvaged from them to build the Buckland Station house

We walked around the perimeter of the buildings that surrounded a parade ground.  It’s all covered with sagebrush now, but it wasn’t hard to imagine soldiers marching in formation out there.

Kim, our very knowledgeable guide

Kim, our very knowledgeable guide

We left the actual fort area and walked along a trail that led to the Carson River, the only perennial source of surface water near the park.  As we trod along the trail, we could hear woodpeckers, quail, black birds and other birds.  We didn’t see any critters, other than lizards, but we know they live there because we saw some evidence of their presence.  Beavers had felled trees, scat was visible in some parts of the trail and we might have smelled skunk if we’d scared one.  But most of the critters Kim told us about are nocturnal, so we weren’t likely to see any.

It was pretty warm and Jack and I thought the “girls” (Lucy and Molly) would like a drink.  We took them down to the river, but only Molly took advantage of the drink.  She loves the water!

Molly testing the Carson River

Molly testing the Carson River

Another view of the Carson River is below.  You can see how dry it is on the shore.

Kinda looks like the desert it is, eh?  It'll be prettier when everything begins to leaf out.

Kinda looks like the desert it is, eh? It’ll be prettier when everything begins to leaf out.

This stately old cottonwood will leaf out in another month and bring much needed color to the area.  John C. Fremont took samples of this tree back east with him and, since it was a new species of cottonwood, it was named after him.

An old Fremont cottonwood

An old Fremont cottonwood

We grow large beavers here in Nevada!

A mighty big beaver felled this tree!

Shortly after we saw the downed cottonwood, we spotted a couple of mallards and a Canada goose.  But that’s about all the animals we saw.  Not even a squirrel!

Buckland Station is located on the Carson River at Weeks Bridge

Buckland Station is located on the Carson River at Weeks Bridge on Hwy 95A

As we completed our two mile hike, we neared Buckland Station, a ranch settled by Samuel Buckland in 1859.  It was one of the earliest ranches in the area, supplying emigrants, ranchers, travelers and the soldiers at Fort Churchill.  The Overland Stage Company kept horses at the station and the Pony Express stopped there for a change of mounts.  It was a thriving enterprise.  Today, one can see a short film about the Buckland family and tour the large house.  It’s furnished as it would have been in the late 1890s and is quite interesting.  There is even a dresser with a sign asking if you can spot the secret, hidden drawer.  I couldn’t, but then, I’ve never been very good with puzzles.

We enjoyed a most welcome and delicious picnic lunch at the station and then toured the Buckland house.

Our little expedition group

Our little expedition group

Our drive home took us through Wabuska (an abandoned copper smelting community), Yerington and Smith Valley.  A long way home, but it was pretty and we all enjoyed it.  The dogs were pooped and they didn’t care.

For those of you who don’t know Diana, a life long friend all the way back to Kindergarten, I need to tell you that she owns Quail Cottage, an antique shop in downtown Gardnerville.  She told me about a pair of Canada geese that had recently been building a nest on top of an old shed on the property in back of her shop.  She said the female was working hard, collecting twigs, putting them on the roof of this shed and sort of scraping the twigs together with her foot while the male stood around and watched her.  Anyway, when Diana took me home, we stopped by the shop to see if the goose was sitting on her nest.  What we found was a little pile of twigs with an egg outside of the “nest” and no geese to be seen.  Even though these geese are supposed to mate for life, we think this might not have been a successful relationship and they abandoned the nest and maybe each other.  What happened?  Inquiring minds want to know!

This is a nest?

This is a nest?

What a great day this was!  Diana and Jack are so much fun to be with and always know what’s going on in terms of history, geography and general info.  They add a great deal to my appreciation of Nevada and make me feel a part of what’s going on.  Many thanks to you both and to Lucy and Molly for welcoming me and making me feel at home here in Carson Valley!

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