Men in Blue
Fort Halleck, Nevada (1867-1886)
In 1867 Central
Pacific Railroad construction crews were laying rails toward tracks of
the Union Pacific to complete the first transcontinental railroad in the
United States. Back east in Washington, D.C. army brass decided to build
a fort to protect the workers from Indian attacks. It didn't matter that
there had been no battles in northern Nevada in recent years.
Once there, Capt. Smith bought property for the fort (fort or camp, it changed status from time to time, I will use fort for the sake of continuity) from First Lieutenant William G. Seamonds. Seamonds had been stationed at Fort Ruby but was retired and had the honor of being the first settler in what would be Halleck Valley. The post was named in honor of General Henry W. Halleck (right), Commander-in-Chief of the US Army in 1867. The new military reservation covered 17 square miles of grazing areas, forests for wood, and the post proper.
Smith put his soldiers to work constructing dugouts for the enlisted people and putting up tents for the officers. Smith was a tough Indian fighter from the Overland War of 1863. He was also an oppressive leader, always insisting that his men follow military rules to the letter. If not, they were flogged. One of his reports noted that of a roster of 70, 15 soldiers, not wanting to face the whip, had deserted.
Shoshones and Paiutes visited the fledgling fort to watch the men work. The soldiers, in turn, sometimes traveled to nearby Indian camps to watch dances. There wasn't any danger from the peaceful local natives. Occasionally a wagon train detoured from the Humboldt River to the fort but they too were in no danger.
Food was freighted to the fort from Austin. The choice didn't vary. There was flour, beef, bacon, beans, coffee, tea, rice, and sugar - the only delicacy was dried apples. If the men wanted some variation they patronized a nearby store where they bought eggs at $2 a dozen, butter for $2.50 a pound, and canned goods were $1 each. Double that price because the army was paid in greenbacks not accepted by local merchants who converted them to gold for a 50% commission.
Water was frequently a problem. Cottonwood Creek dried up part of the year so a ditch was dug from another stream to the west. Additionally, barrels were filled from a nearby spring and brought to the camp by wagon. When there was enough water the men planted gardens in self defense to provide some variation in their diet.
By December, 1868 there were two companies at Fort Halleck: Company D, Eighth Cavalry, with two officers and 50 enlisted men and Company H, Eighth Cavalry, with two officers and 64 soldiers. Add to those one assistant surgeon, one hospital steward, one hospital matron, and three laundresses. If the math is right, that's 120 people.
More permanent structures were built of cottonwood logs and adobe. Officers, of course, were assigned to the adobes. They were more weatherproof.
In 1869 the Central Pacific was completed and
supplies came by railroad, off loading at Halleck Station, about twelve
miles to the north.
Attempts were made to bring a little civilization
to the place by wives of men stationed at Fort Halleck. They tried to bring
some semblance of civilization by promoting religious and social
activities. The commanding officer's sister tried converting local Indians
to Christianity. It didn't work out. The services were well attended but
the Indians didn't understand English. They came for the music and refreshments..
Source: Most of the information in this vignette came from Halleck Country - The Story of the Land and its People by Edna B. Patterson and Louise A. Beebe published in 1982.
©Copyright 2002 by Howard Hickson.