Winds over the Great Basin first waved a 36-star U.S. flag in the autumn months of 1864 at a place soldiers there described as the “worst post in the West.”
Several months before the 36-star banner became official on July 4, 1865, Nevada volunteer soldiers at Fort Ruby — a remote outback post in White Pine County — hand-painted Old Glory on cloth and raised the colors immediately following Nevada statehood.
That flag, which resides in “The Vault” at Nevada State Archives, will be on display at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday for the Nevada National Guard’s 18th annual Flag Day and U.S. Army birthday celebration at the Nevada Veterans Memorial on Capitol grounds, 101 N. Carson St. in Carson City.
The event begins with opening remarks from Nevada author and longtime Reno Gazette-Journal journalist Guy Clifton. Nevada Army Guard Brig. Gen. Zachary Doser and retired Col. Tyrus Cobb, an international policy advisor who worked for presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, will also speak. The event will include a color guard and a cake commemorating the U.S. Army’s 241st birthday.
As for the 36-star flag, it’s shown only rarely for special events. In 2014, the Nevada Museum of Art displayed the flag as part of its 2014 exhibit “The 36th Star: Nevada’s Journey from Territory to State.” On Tuesday, the flag will make its first public appearance since the exhibit.
“As far as the evidence shows — I’ve been through most of the sources — this is the only one that comes out (as the first 36-star flag flown in Nevada),” said Jeff Kintop, administrator of the Nevada State Library, Archives and Public Records. “We bring it out when people want to see it, but we don’t have it on exhibit anymore. It is rare that you will be able to see it on Flag Day.”
The flag was likely locally made at Fort Ruby given it was painted on cloth, a rarity for flags, Kintop said. Additionally, it was raised months before the 36-star flag became official. Changes to the U.S. flag become official every July 4 following the admission of a new state. The 36-star flag became official on July 4, 1865. Nebraska entered the Union as the 37th state in 1867.
For about a century, the 36-star flag flown at Fort Ruby remained the possession of an Ohio family, descendants of the fort’s doctor, John W. Long. He served at the post from 1863-1866. It was finally returned to Nevada by the family in 1965, one year after the state’s centennial.
“The Fort Ruby flag is really an incredible artifact and one that probably most Nevadans have never had the opportunity to see in person,” Clifton said. “To know that it has been preserved for more than 150 years is really something special.”
Two years after construction in 1862, Fort Ruby became the first fort composed entirely of Nevada volunteers, the origins of the present-day Nevada National Guard. Anywhere from 100 to 300 soldiers could be found there, including Company B, 1st Nevada Volunteers, before the fort closed in 1869.
“The Nevada National Guard looks forward to putting on this event for the public every year to honor the flag that so many men and women have sacrificed their lives for,” said Lt. Col. Mickey Kirschenbaum, the Nevada National Guard’s state public affairs officer. “It’s also a chance to celebrate the Army’s birthday — now 241 years old.”
The U.S. Army is two years older than the U.S. Flag. A resolution of the Continental Congress authorized 10 companies of riflemen on June 14, 1775, giving birth to the U.S. Army. Two years later, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act and adopted the stars-and-stripes design as the nation’s flag. In 1949, President Harry S. Truman signed an act of Congress designating June 14 as National Flag Day.