It was hell being stationed at Fort Ruby in eastern Nevada. Established in September 1862, the fort provided a military presence to protect emigrants heading to California and Oregon as well as the Overland Stage and Mail Service.
It also happened to be located in one of the most remote and desolate places in the country, almost exactly midway between Carson City, Nevada, and St. Lake City, Utah.
“Ruby Valley is a bleak, inhospitable place—no forage, nor lumber to build with, and as far as the Indians are concerned, entirely unnecessary to keep troops there,” reported Colonel Patrick E. Conner, who led an expedition of 600 troops, members of the Third Regiment of California Volunteers, to build the fort.
Colonel Conner would stay a month.
According to records, the soldiers cut wood and gathered stone from nearby mountains to build a compound that eventually included some 14 buildings including storehouses, living quarters, stables and corrals. A small natural spring in the area provided water.
Almost immediately after the camp was completed, some of the troops grew frustrated and bored, and offered to have their pay withheld in return for being allowed to participate in the fighting during the Civil War, but the request was denied.
But that’s not to say there wasn’t any action. Troops from Fort Ruby were involved in the Goshute War of 1863, which was triggered when members of the Goshute tribe, who were angry about the influx of non-Indians in the region, attacked a stage station.
In the end, seven Overland Stage stations were burned and the company also lost 16 employees and about 150 horses. Additionally, soldiers killed dozens of Western Shoshone and Goshute people.
On October 1, 1863, Fort Ruby was the site of the signing of the Treaty of Ruby Valley, which ended hostilities. The agreement stipulated that the Shoshone/Goshute would stop attacking emigrants and mail carriers and in return the U.S. government would grant them reservation lands and compensation for loss of game and for subsistence.
And that was the highpoint of Fort Ruby’s existence. In 1864, a smaller unit of Nevada Volunteers replaced the California Volunteers to patrol the stage routes. By 1869, the Army realized the fort, now renamed “Camp Ruby,” was no longer essential and on September 20, 1869, de-commissioned the facility.
After 1870, many of the buildings were sold to nearby ranchers and most were moved off the fort site. By the mid-20th century, only two of the original buildings (an enlisted men’s barracks and one of the officer’s quarters) remained on the site, which was part of a privately owned ranch. Sadly, an electrical fire destroyed both structures in 1992.
Today, only a handful of scruffy trees near a spring-fed pond and an historic marker erected in 1994 by the Lucinda Jane Saunders Chapter E Clampus Vitus mark the spot of the former fort, which is now part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Additionally, a small cemetery site with two graves can be found about a half-mile north of the site.
For the past several years, the forest service has conducted formal excavations of the Fort Ruby site as part of its Passport In Time (PIT) Project. Under the guidance of trained archaeologists, volunteers spend about a week searching for structural remains and artifacts associated with the fort.
According to PIT organizers, the digs have uncovered the sites of four buildings during the past few years. For more information about the program, go to http://www.passportintime.com/.
The site of Fort Ruby is located at the south end of Ruby Valley, off Ruby Marsh Road, about eight miles south of the Gallagher Fish Hatchery. For more information go to http://www.greatbasinheritage.org/great-basin-heritage-Fort-Ruby.html.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.