RUBY VALLEY — Soldiers stationed at Fort Ruby, Nev., in the 1860s did not deliberately sign up for an assignment at the remote, halfway point of the Great Basin.
“These soldiers were told they were going to fight in the Civil War,” said retired Col. Daniel C.B. Rathbun, author of “Nevada Military Place Names of the Indian Wars and Civil War.” “This was not their first choice.”
More than 50 people attended the opening of the Fort Ruby interpretive trail on Saturday, about 70 miles south of Elko at the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
The “worst post in the west,” named by soldiers stationed there, now includes historical displays and refurbishment of remaining ruins.
The opening Saturday culminated a 15-year effort spearheaded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The wildlife service obtained the land where the fort sits in 2000 after more than a century of private ownership.
“It was covered in old trailers, sagebrush and trash,” said Lou Ann Speulda-Drews, wildlife service historian. “We had to find out if there was anything still there from the fort.”
Early searches found a number of items, including U.S. Army uniform buttons, coins and the small head of a 19th century porcelain doll. In 2005, Speulda-Drews began a cleanup effort annually one week in the summer with archeologists and volunteers, funded by the U.S. Forest Service’s Passport in Time program. The site of the fort is located on both wildlife service and forest service land.
Little remains other than the springhouse, used for cold storage, and foundation rock located at the entrance of the officer’s quarters.
Fort Ruby was constructed in 1862 as a military presence for overland travel and mail service.
Anywhere from 100 to 300 soldiers could be found there before it closed in 1869, including Company B, 1st Nevada Volunteers. In 1864, Fort Ruby was the first fort comprised entirely of Nevada volunteers, the origins of the present-day Nevada National Guard.
“The Nevada National Guard’s foundation begins during the formation of these volunteer and civilian militia units of the state,” Capt. Christopher Yell, the commander of the Nevada Guard’s 593rd Transportation Company of Elko, said at the event.
Soldiers were responsible for guarding the overland route from Austin to the Utah Territory border.
Additionally, then-Nevada Territorial Gov. James Nye agreed to the Treaty of Ruby Marsh at the fort with members of the Western Shoshone in 1863, a critical moment in the settlement of eastern Nevada. The treaty was forced and represents a broken promise for the Western Shoshone, said Evelyn Temoke-Roche, a Ruby Valley resident who helped with the writing of the interpretive exhibits at the fort.
Only a fraction of the cattle guaranteed were given and the creation of a Ruby Valley reservation never occurred.
“It’s emotional,” said Temoke-Roche, a member of the Western Shoshone tribe who provided a spiritual blessing during Saturday’s opening. “(This history) brings back memories. It brings back emotions. But emotion is a good thing. We can’t forget.”
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