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Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

Suggested Reading

Soldier and Brave
Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings


Location: Humboldt County, on an unimproved road, about 5 miles east of the town of Paradise Valley.

This camp (1866-71) was founded near the head of Paradise Valley in northern Nevada to protect settlers and travelers from Northern Paiute depredations. It was one of the bases used by General Crook in his 1866-68 campaign against the tribe. The garrison, however, spent most of its time patrolling and capturing Indian cattle rustlers.

The campsite is on a privately owned ranch. All the remaining buildings are adobe: two officers' quarters, now serving as ranch and bunk houses; and a barracks, used as a barn. The barracks contains remnants of a chimney, fireplace, and doorways. Behind one of the officers' quarters is a stone cellar, whose barred windows indicate use as a magazine or guardhouse.


Location: Elko County, on Nev. 11 at Secret Canyon, about 11 miles southeast of Halleck.

The troops at Fort Halleck (1867-86), in the Humboldt River Valley of northeastern Nevada, watched over the nearby route of the Central Pacific Railroad, stage and telegraph lines, and settlers. Most of the small garrison served in the Nez Perce War (1877).

A stone marker identifies the site, which is in a privately owned meadow. All the log and adobe buildings have long since disappeared, but brush-covered earth mounds indicate the location of the guardhouse, magazine, and commissary warehouse; and traces of rock walls, either the headquarters building or the officers' quarters.


Location: Humboldt County, on an unimproved road, about 2 miles east of U.S. 95 and McDermit.

General George Crook utilized this fort (1865-89), which had been founded by California Volunteers in a canyon of the Santa Rosa Mountains just south of the present Oregon-Nevada boundary, in his 1866-68 campaign against the Snake Indians. Its garrison also took part in the Bannock War (1878); protected settlers and ranchers from Paiute harassments; guarded the road running north into Oregon; and in the later years policed the adjacent Indian agency. The Army's successor at the fort was the Indian Bureau. It operated a school in one of the buildings, most of which were of stone.

The remaining structures, which include two officers' quarters, serve as headquarters of the Fort McDermit Indian Agency.


Location: Washoe County, just off Nev. 34, about 4 miles southeast of the southern tip of Pyramid Lake and immediately south of Nixon.

Twice in 1860 Southern Paiute Indians, resenting the intrusion of miners and settlers in the Carson River Valley of western Nevada, clashed with troops at this battlefield north of the valley. In the late 1850's the fertile valley, a welcome sight to emigrants passing over the Carson Branch of the California Trail after traversing an inhospitable stretch of desert, had become the site of two trading posts, the Buckland and Williams Stations. They were Central Overland Mail and Pony Express stations and supplied miners and emigrants. On May 7, 1860, the Paiutes, aroused by the abduction of two Indian girls by traders at the Williams Station, burned it and killed five men. In retaliation the miners at Virginia City, Carson City, Genoa, and Gold Hill organized at Buckland Station a punitive expedition of 105 Nevada Volunteers, under Maj. William M. Ormsby. They marched northward into the Paiute country around Pyramid Lake. Riding carelessly up the Truckee River Valley, on May 12 they fell into an ambush just south of the lake that took the lives of 46 men.

News of the defeat threw miners and settlers into a frenzy of fear and temporarily halted stage and Pony Express service over the western end of the Central Overland Mail route. Reinforcements rushed in from California. By the end of the month 800 men, including some Regulars, were under arms in Carson Valley. This force, commanded by former Texas Ranger Col. Jack Hays, also marched northward and encountered the Paiutes on June 3, at the site of the May 12 clash. In a 3-hour battle, 25 of the Indians died and the survivors fled into the hills. The next month the Army founded Fort Churchill near Buckland Station to keep watch over the defeated Paiutes and guard stage and mail routes.

The battle site, on the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, is virtually unchanged from its historic appearance. It lies in the lowlands along the east bank of the Truckee River. Just above the site, on the western rim of the Truckee River Gorge, runs Nev. 34 and a railroad. A marker across the street from the Nixon Post Office commemorates the battlefield.


Location: Lyon County, on an unimproved road, along the northeastern side of Mill Ditch, Nordyke.

This hut in the Mason Valley of west-central Nevada was one of the abodes of the Paiute mystic Wovoka, or "Jack Wilson" (1858-1932), the Indian messiah who founded the Ghost Dance religion. Upon the death of his medicine-man father, when Wovoka was only 14, the rancher David Wilson took him into his family and employed him as a ranch hand. Despite the Christian training and other education he received from the Wilsons, he found assimilation into white society impossible. Entering manhood, he left the ranch. Before settling down in the Mason Valley and raising a family, he worked his way through California, Washington, and Oregon. During the trip he became fascinated with the Shaker religion, whose extensive rituals and death-like trances one of the Washington tribes practiced.

Wovoka, or "Jack Wilson," Paiute messiah and founder of the Ghost Dance religion. (photo James Mooney, National Park Service)

As time went on, Wovoka synthesized Shaker and other Christian doctrines and his native beliefs into a religion he evolved to uplift the despairing Indians. Its revelation came to him in 1889 after a serious illness. Instead of encouraging his race's hatred of the whites, whom Wovoka believed would disappear supernaturally, he preached temporary submission, love, and brotherhood. The old order would be restored; the Indians would reinherit their lands; the buffalo, symbol of past greatness, would return; and prosperity would reign. Until the millennium came in the spring of 1891 and brought immortality and resurrection, all Indian dead would reside in a special heaven. Salvation was attainable only by adherence to a code similar to the Ten Commandments and the performance of certain rituals. The climax of these was the Ghost Dance, preceded by ceremonial purification and painting of the body. This hypnotic dance, which allowed for the expression of repressed hostility and frustration, made possible communion with the dead and promoted the coming of the millennium.

During the years 1889-91 the religion spread to some eastern and most of the western tribes, whose bitterness and impotence made practically all of them susceptible to its messianic fervor. Their bleak prospects for the future were salved only by nostalgic memories of the past. This was particularly true of the Sioux, who added aggressive and anti-white elements to Wovoka's pacifistic religion. As a result, troops crushed them at the Battle of Wounded Knee, S. Dak. The battle and the nonoccurrence of the millennium destroyed the belief of most Indians in Wovoka's teachings. Yet the Sioux incorporated some aspects of the Ghost Dance into their tribal dances, and the religion lingered for awhile among other groups, especially the Paiutes.

In the late 19th century a fire destroyed the Wilson ranchhouse. Apparently Wovoka only visited there and resided in a crude semi-subterranean hut, which has survived on the modern Nordyke Ranch just east of the ranchhouse. Of mud and wood, it measures 10 by 6 feet. It is largely intact, although some of the roof mud has collapsed. The site, used for ranching purposes, is not open to the public, but the owner has cooperated with a local civic group in protecting it. Wovoka is buried in the cemetery at Schurz, Nev., about 20 miles northeast of Nordyke.

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Last Updated: 19-Aug-2005