“Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.”
Today the sun was out, the temperature was a comfortable 70 some degrees and I decided the Quest would take me someplace old and yet new to me. I chose to explore Fort Churchill in Silver Springs, NV. Not being a well-versed student of history, I had not heard of Fort Churchill before, but it was recommended that I need to see this site.
So, with that, I made sure to wear some comfortable clothes, sunscreen and hiking sandals. Of course, I brought my trusted scout–Siri. I packed some water and some snacks as the drive would be about 1.5 hours one-way. Siri led me through the Washoe Valley which sits at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The snow has mostly melted now, but the mountains look just as majestic as they always do. I then took highway 50, AKA: “The loneliest highway” out to the Fort Churchill State Park.
I testify that HWY 50 did seem desolate and lonely, but perhaps it gave me time to contemplate what I was about to embark on. Would I be impressed? Would I find courage at this destination and through its story? Have I chosen wisely to take this trip? As I headed further into the desert terrain, the minutes seemed to turn into what felt like hours. There wasn’t much that caught my attention on this drive. Alas, Siri led me right to the entrance of the State Park.
I pulled up in the tiny parking lot and parked my car. I stepped out and made my way to the only public access building there, the museum. As I approached the museum, I noticed an interesting plaque that was along the walkway. It acknowledged and gave credit to the Pony Express riders. Ah yes, the Pony Express! That’s right, Highway 50 originally was the Pony Express route that stretched from Missouri to Sacramento. The plaque celebrated “120 riders who rode 650,000 miles with only one rider having been killed by an Indian, one schedule that was not completed and one mail lost!” Perhaps the USPS could learn a thing or two from these studly riders!!! Lol! Seriously, what bravery these men must have possessed. Nevada is barren with mountains as far as the eye can see. Extreme seasonal temperatures could not have made their missions easy! They persevered in all sorts of conditions testing the human spirit in so many ways… truly impressive!
I then stepped into the museum and was struck by the artillery guns that sat in the middle of the museum. They were in amazing condition as if they had not aged at all. There were many artifacts which included swords, kitchen utensils, uniforms, pictures and rifles. These artifacts led me to ask, what was the mission of Fort Churchill? I picked up a pamphlet and read about some dark days in this country’s history and quickly felt regret for traveling this distance as I thought, “Where is the courage in this story?”
According to the pamphlet, In May 1860 three white men kidnapped and held prisoner 2 Indian girls. This led to the Pyramid Lake War where the Indians took the initiative to kill the 3 white men and take the girls back. Rumors and inflated story-telling led to 105 volunteers at the Pyramid Lake that vowed to seek revenge against the Indians. The Indians outnumbered the white avengers and this bolstered the need for the military to send troops to battle the Indians. In the second battle, the Indians suffered defeat and retreated. A U.S. military outpost was ordered to be built and starting July 20, 1860 tens of thousands of dollars was appropriated to build Fort Churchill along the Carson City River. This outpost served as a reminder to the Indians of the U.S. military’s presence, to protect the Pony Express riders and also for military training. It was built and intended to be a permanent military installation. Over the years and many wars, the Fort was sold and then left abandoned. In the 1950’s and 60’s a new effort was made to preserve what remained of the adobe constructed buildings that survived the years they were left abandoned.
I walked out of the museum feeling a sense of confusion left wondering where is the bravery in killing Indians that lived on this land first? Hmmm… As I walked down to the path that led to the area where the remaining buildings stood, all I heard was silence as I was the only one at the time visiting this site.
I made my way down to the remnants of the fort and I was struck at how weathered they appeared and that most only had half of the building still intact. The views through the open windows lent a suggestive perspective to what may have been what the soldiers saw as they peered out their windows. I kept thinking how desolate this place seemed. I felt as if I were walking with a ghost, as I could envision the soldiers walking along the same path I walked with wool uniforms and perhaps carrying their rifles.
The walk from building to building was short but quiet, as it gave me more time to think about what these men may have faced during the 1860’s… sickness, weather conditions, emotional difficulties being separated from their families, perhaps even fighting a battle with the Indians they didn’t believe in. But I felt compelled to partake in as those were the orders given and all they may have known was to defend the land they now claimed as their own. Perhaps I don’t necessarily agree with the thought that engaging the Indians in battle was courageous, but I do think that protecting the Pony Express riders from danger did require fearlessness and bravery. The P.E. riders had a mission to ride as fast as they could across the country to deliver the mail… facing every natural element along the way and maintaining a personal state of physicality that would allow them to stay lean and ride fast. The bravery it took was immeasurable in knowing that their lives could be in danger when the military were not protecting them… from my perspective that is a true act of courage… all in the name of delivering the written word!!!
As I made my way to the river’s edge, I couldn’t help but notice the persistent signs warning of rattle snakes and there was no shortage of sage brush for these reptiles to hide under. I made sure to stay on the path but thought of the danger that lurked.
With the thought of rattle snakes on my mind, having already taken the opportunity to dip these toes in the cool river water, I had explored all that Fort Churchill had to offer, I made my visit short and returned to my car. As I reached the parking lot, I looked back at the Great Basin where the remainder of Fort Churchill sat. I heard birds singing and lizards rustling over the ground, the silence had faded but the history remained…
I walk away from this adventure having made the choice to acknowledge that even courageous men participate in acts with questionable judgment as was the case in the war against the Indians… But could their acts of bravery to protect the Pony Express riders reconcile those dark days?
Ironically, the Fort never became a permanent installation but the Native American Indians survived and are revered today…
I was reminded today that what some think is courageous, others may disagree with.… I did find courage at Fort Churchill… It is with a sense of complete truth that I say that as much as I believe that soldiers were brave in protecting the P.E. riders, I believe that courage resides with the Native American Indians for persisting to preserve their tribes on the land that they originally claimed as theirs….
On the heels of this story….. wondering where tomorrow will take me?