Fort Ruby

Fort Ruby is located at the southern end of Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The parking loop for the interpretive trail through the site is shown on the map below. There is a bronze plaque situated next to the parking loop.

1862 FORT RUBY 1869

Colonel P. Edward Conner was ordered to build and command this post in 1862. The fort was built midway between Salt Lake City, Utah and Carson City, Nevada to protect the Overland Mail Route (Pony Express) and emigrant travelers from Indian raiders. Most army outposts of this time were built in remote areas, but this post was classified by the army as the "worst post in the west." In 1869 the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad brought an end to the Pony Express, and the need for this fort. Post Commander Captain Timothy was ordered to close the fort. He and his men returned the "worst post in the west," back to the Nevada desert in 1869.

As you walk through the site, please keep the gate closed and respect the archeological significance of the area by packing out all trash and leaving artifacts you may encounter in place for others to enjoy. The interpretive material below is presented in the order you might encounter it as you walk the trail.

Welcome to the Fort Ruby Historic Site - A Place with Many Meanings

Fort Ruby meant security to emigrants and travelers during the 1860s. For the troops stationed here, it was a safe but rugged haven from their sometimes dangerous duty. For the Western Shoshone, or Newe, the fort meant intruders into their Ruby Valley home.

This is our home - it is where we have always lived. We have everything we need. - Newe Elder

Fort Ruby is a bleak, inhospitable place. - Colonel Patrick Edward Connor

Fort Ruby Interpretive Trail

The Trail takes you around the perimeter of the fort's parade ground, to the remnants of other buildings, and on to a reconstructed spring house and a restored log cabin. Along the way, interpretive panels explain the fort and its history, and the importance of Ruby Valley to the Newe way of life.

The Fort Ruby Historic Site is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service.

Fort Ruby is also an archaeological resource. If you discover what looks like an artifact on your walk, do not disturb it. Cultural artifacts and historic resources are protected by law, so take only photographs.

Fort Ruby

Protector and Intruder

Fort Ruby served as a base for troops protecting the Central Route and the California Emigrant Trail from attacks by Native Americans. The soldiers' duty was to patrol the trails and guard stages and way stations. Hostilities ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ruby Valley in October 1863. Fort Ruby was decommissioned in 1869 when the Transcontinental Railroad became the region's major transportation route.

Fort Ruby gave emigrants, travelers, and settlers the safety and security they desperately needed. For the Western Shoshone, the fort represented the Euro-Americans' military power and a profound change in the way of life they had know for generations. Today, Fort Ruby still symbolizes the controversy surrounding the Treaty of Ruby Valley.


Throughout the 1850s and early 1860s, the emigrant trails became scenes of steadily worsening conflict. The emigrants' livestock devoured the grasses whose seeds were a mainstay of the Native American diet. Deer and small game were killed or driven away, and the emigrants even picked the trails clean of firewood. The Native Americans retaliated by raiding wagon trains and making off with livestock, food, and supplies.

Fort Ruby was one of two forts the California Volunteers established in 1862. The other was Camp Douglas, near Salt Lake City. Troops operated throughout the region from these two bases.


The situation came to a head when army units across the region were transferred east to fight in the Civil War. Emigrants, travelers, and settlers were left to fend for themselves against increasingly desperate bands of Native Americans. The small groups of emigrant wagons and isolated way stations on the Central Route were easy targets. Attacks in late 1861 and 1862 left hundreds of emigrants stripped of their possessions, way stations burned, and dozens dead.

An emigrant train in Utah. Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved.
Reconstructed bird's-eye view of Fort Ruby, based on historic maps and archaeological excavation. Drawings by Dan Rathbun.
"Building 1" Officer's Row


The Secretary of War ordered the Governor of California to raise a military force to protect the lines of communication between California and the East. The newly formed regiments of the California Volunteers, commanded by Colonel Patrick Connor, marched over the Sierras into Nevada. They built Fort Ruby in September 1862.

The harsh environment and primitive living conditions made service at the fort trying and unhealthy. It was also unrewarding for those Volunteers who had enlisted hoping to join in the Civil War. The men of the Third Infantry, California Volunteers, not only requested a transfer but offered to pay their own way to the East Coast. They preferred fighting Confederates to duty at Fort Ruby. Their request was denied.

Colonel Patrick Edward Connor. Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved.


The first military expedition from Fort Ruby set out soon after the troops arrived. Cavalry units ranged as far west as Gravelly Ford, on the Humboldt River about 100 miles from the fort. Infantrymen rode the mail coaches and were assigned to way stations along the Central Route. This proved to be the most dangerous duty. Four soldiers were killed at Cañon Station when it was overrun and burned in July 1863.

Overland Mail (Edward Borein 1872-1945). Special Collections Department University of Nevada, Reno Library.

The deadly cycle of raids and punishment continued into 1863, when a series of treaties ended the violence. The last of these was the Treaty of Ruby Valley.

With the fighting mostly over, Fort Ruby's role turned toward policing relations between Euro-Americans and the Western Shoshone. It was also a distribution point for food and supplies promised by the treaty.

Major Patrick A. Gallagher, commander of Fort Ruby from September 1862 until July 1863. Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved.


Soldiers of the Third Infantry and Second Cavalry, California Volunteers, manned Fort Ruby during its first critical years. Company B, First Infantry of the Nevada Volunteers, replaced them in September 1864. With the end of the Civil War in 1865, regular army troops of Company I, 9th U.S. Infantry, garrisoned the fort until it closed in 1869.

The overcrowded barracks offered little beyond shelter from the elements. Soldiers' rations were salt pork and beef, dried beans and peas, hard bread, and coffee. A company of soldiers usually consisted of about 100 men. During the summer, they would be out on "detached service." Infantrymen rode the mail coaches and guarded the way stations, while cavalry patrols ranged far and wide in pursuit of Western Shoshone raiding parties.

Enlisted Barracks in 1868. This photograph was taken near the end of Fort Ruby's service. The barracks - with its square-log construction - is newer than the rough log buildings in the background. One occupant of these first structures described how "... a fierce storm is raging outside, and the snow and sleet come drifting through every crevice of our rude log houses." Special Collections Department University of Nevada, Reno Library.

A Soldier's Duty

I came in from the mail line two days [ago] ... was gone from here about five weeks during which time I calculate that I rode near 1000 miles. - A Fort Ruby trooper writing to his father, May 1863.

In all, only seven Fort Ruby soldiers were killed in action. But mortal danger was never far away:

Privates Jacob Burgher and Jacob Elliot ... while out hunting about 600 yards from the station, were waylaid by 17 Indians and killed. About 11 o'clock A.M. same day, as the water cart was returning to the station with Corporal William Hervey and Private Ira Abbot as a guard, they were fired upon by the same party of Indians when within 500 yards of the station, and Corporal Hervey was killed. - Official report of an attack on Cañon Station, June 1863.

A Break in the Routine

The barracks were not always dull places, as the correspondent from the San Francisco Bulletin wrote, describing the Fourth of July, 1863:

At the men's quarters, great preparations were going on for a grand ball in the evening. As good fortune ordered, several immigrant trains were camped near the station, with no lack of blooming beauties from Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois, who of course gladly accepted invitations from the gallant "soldier boys" to grace the dance by their presence. The sound of merry music floated out on the air [long into the night].

Photo of the trail after the Enlisted Barracks sign


Peace and friendship were declared between the Western Shoshone and the people and government of the United States with the signing of the Treaty of Ruby Valley on October 1, 1863. It ended years of conflict that cost lives and destroyed property on both sides. The Western Shoshone agreed to end their attacks on Euro-Americans and open their land to mining, transportation, and settlement. They would move to reservations once these were established by the President. The Government agreed to compensate the Newe for their lost food resources by supplying them with $5,000 worth of cattle and provisions each year for twenty years. But while the Newe immediately stopped their attacks, the Government acted slowly and half-heartedly in fulfilling its obligations.

NOTE: The treaty images below were downloaded from the National Archives.



President of the United States of America,

To all and singular to whom these presents shall come, greeting:

Whereas a Treaty was made and concluded at Ruby Valley, in the Territory of Nevada, on the first day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, by and between James W. Nye and James Duane Doty, Commissioners, on the part of the United States, and Te-moak, Mo-ho-a, Kirk-weedgwa, To-nag, and other Chiefs, Principal Men, and Warriors of the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians, on the part of said bands of Indians, and duly authorized thereto by them, which Treaty is in the words and figures following, to wit:

Treaty of Peace and Friendship made at Ruby Valley, in the Territory of Nevada, this first day of October, A.D. one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, between the United States of America, represented by the undersigned commissioners, and the Western Bands of the Shoshonee Nation of Indians, represented by their Chiefs and Principal Men and warriors, as follows:


Peace and friendship shall be hereafter established and maintained between the Western Bands of the Shoshonee nation and the people and government of the United States; and the said bands stipulate and agree that hostilities and all depredations upon the emigrant trains, the mail and telegraph lines, and upon the citizens of the United States within their country, shall cease.


The several routes of travel through the Shoshonee country, now or hereafter used by white men, shall be forever free, and unobstructed by the said bands, for the use of the government of the United States, and of all emigrants and travelers under its authority and protection, without molestation or injury from them. And if depredations are at any time committed by bad men of their nation, the offenders shall be immediately taken and delivered up to the proper officers of the United States, to be punished as their offences shall deserve; and the safety of all travellers passing peaceably over either of said routes is hereby guarantied by said bands.

Military posts may be established by the President of the United states along said routes or elsewhere in their country; and station houses may be erected and occupied at such points as may be necessary for the comfort and convenience of travellers or for mail or telegraph companies.


The telegraph and overland stage lines having been established and operated by companies under the authority of the United States through a part of the Shoshonee country, it is expressly agreed that the same may be continued without hindrance, molestation, or injury from the people of said bands, and that their property and the lives and property of passengers in the stages and of the employees of the respective companies, shall be protected by them. And further, it being understood that provision has been made by the government of the United States for the construction of a railway from the plains west to the Pacific ocean, it is stipulated by the said bands that the said railway or its branches may be located, constructed, and operated, and without molestation from them, through any portion of country claimed or occupied by them.


It is further agreed by the parties hereto, that the Shoshonee country may be explored and prospected for gold and silver, or other minerals; and when mines are discovered, they may be worked, and mining and agricultural settlements formed, and ranches established whenever they may be required. Mills may be erected and timber taken for their use, as also for building and other purposes in any part of the country claimed by said bands.


It is understood that the boundaries of the country claimed and occupied by said bands are defined and described by them as follows:

On the north by Wong-goga-da Mountains and Shoshonee River Valley;on the west by Su-non-to-yah Mountains or Smith Creek Mountains; on the south by Wi-co-bah and the Colorado Desert; on the east by Po-ho-no-be Valley or Steptoe Valley and Great Salt Lake Valley.


The said bands agree that whenever the President of the United states shall deem it expedient for them to abandon the roaming life, which they now lead, and become herdsmen or agriculturalists, he is hereby authorized to make such reservations for their use as he may deem necessary within the country above described; and they do also hereby agree to remove their camps to such reservations as he may indicate, and to reside and remain therein.


The United States, being aware of the inconvenience resulting to the Indians in consequence of the driving away and destruction of game along the routes travelled by white men, and by the formation of agricultural and mining settlements, are willing to fairly compensate them for the same; therefore, and in consideration of the preceding stipulations, and of their faithful observance by the said bands, the United States promise and agree to pay to the said bands of the Shoshonee nation parties hereto, annually for the term of twenty years, the sum of five thousand dollars in such articles, including cattle for herding or other purposes, as the President of the United States shall deem suitable for their wants and condition, either as hunters or herdsmen. And the said bands hereby acknowledge the reception of the said stipulated annuities as a full compensation and equivalent for the loss of game and the rights and privileges hereby conceded.


The said bands hereby acknowledge that they have received from said commissioners provisions and clothing amounting to five thousand dollars as presents at the conclusion of this treaty.

Done at Ruby Valley the day and year above written.

James W. Nye

James Duane Doty

Te-moak, his x mark

Mo-ho-a, his x mark

Kirk-weedgwa, his x mark

To-nag, his x mark

To-so-wee-so-op, his x mark

Sow-er-e-gah, his x mark

Po-on-go-sah, his x mark

Par-a-woat-ze, his x mark

Ga-ha-dier, his x mark

Ko-ro-kout-ze, his x mark

Pon-ge-mah, his x mark

Buck, his x mark


J. B. Moore, lieutenant-colonel Third Infantry California Volunteers

Jacob T. Lockhart, Indian agent Nevada Territory

Henry Butterfield, interpreter


Reese River Reveille, October 7, 1863
A group of Western Shoshone, including Captain Buck, who signed the Treaty of Ruby Valley.

Newe traditional oral history describes the signing of the Treaty as a humiliating ritual.

"... the soldiers ... killed an Indian which they had previously captured and brought with them. They they cut the Indian up and put him in a huge iron pot ... and cooked him .... Men, women and children were all forced to eat some of this human flesh while the soldiers held their guns on the people. And it was after this terrible thing which the white man did to our people the the Treaty of 1863 was signed." - Frank Temoke Sr., April 24, 1965


To the Newe, Article 6 of the Treaty committed the Government to establishing a reservation in Ruby Valley. In 1859, and again in 1864, the Indian Agency set aside a six-mile square area for the Newe to farm and raise livestock. But the boundary was never officially surveyed. When Euro-American ranchers began filing claims on the land, the Government abandoned the idea of a Ruby Valley reservation.

Only a fraction of the promised cattle, provisions, and supplies ever actually reached the Shoshone. In 1877, the Ruby Valley Indian Agent complained that the Newe received nothing that year but blankets and a few trinkets. The Government's failure to deliver these vital supplies prolonged the hunger and hardship of the days before the Treaty.


The Newe maintained their traditional homes, took jobs as ranch hands and domestic workers, and defended their land rights. Eventually, a number of families obtained title to their property in Ruby Valley through government allotment or special purchases. Their ownership continues today, although the "six-mile square" reservation never became a reality.

A Newe residence in Ruby Valley, 1917
Bronco Charlie's ("Horsekiller's") camp in Ruby Valley, 1917.


The Treaty of Ruby Valley brought peace to the Nevada frontier. For the Government and Euro-Americans, it was a crucial step in the settlement of the state. In the eyes of the Newe, the treaty was never honored, and its signing is remembered as a dark day in their history. The Treaty of Ruby Valley and the fort that symbolizes it still have very different meanings for different people.

A Newe woman carries a hoe and traditional burden basket. The curious, tame-looking bird in the foreground is a sandhill crane.
Muchach Temoke, a Newe leader related to Old Temoke, one of the signers of the Treaty. Muchach Temoke was described as “a strong character and very much in earnest in this fight [for land and water rights]. He is . . . very much determined to assert the rights of himself and his people to this particular tract.” - Special Collections, University of Nevada-Reno Library

This stone "spring house" served as cold storage for meat, wild game, and fruits and vegetables that supplemented the soldiers' diet of canned, dried, and salted food.

The lower portion of the building was dug into the ground near a spring. The damp soil cooled the interior of the spring house. Its thick stone walls helped maintain a low, even temperature.


The Army closed Fort Ruby in 1869 and auctioned the buildings to local ranchers. They dismantled the structures and salvaged the lumber. A few buildings were left behind, including two that eventually became part of the Joseph Tognini Ranch. In 1961, Fort Ruby was designated a National Historic Landmark. The two surviving log buildings were thought to be remnants of the fort.


Ruby Valley has been a generous home for the Newe—a name that means “The People” in Shoshone. Streams of water from springs and melting snow flow year-round from the Ruby Mountains, creating lush canyons, watering the foothills, and feeding the lakes and marshes on the valley floor. This well-watered environment supports a rich diversity of plants and animals.

The Newe followed a seasonal round from their foothill villages to every part of the valley. The lakes and marshes produced tule and waterfowl. Rabbits and pronghorn lived on the valley floor among stands of rice grass. Roots and berries grew on the lower mountain slopes. The pinyon woodlands supplied pine nuts that the people relied on in the winter. High among the mountaintops, Newe hunters stalked mountain sheep.

For the descendants of Ruby Valley’s first inhabitants, knowing the plants and animals—what to call them in the Newe language, where to find them, how and when to harvest them—is part of life. They continue to come to Ruby Valley, passing on the traditions and ceremonies that make them “The People.”


This log cabin does not appear on any maps or photographs of the Fort. The other buildings were constructed using vertical round logs or horizontal round or squared logs, with neatly trimmed corners. The log cabin was built using everything from thick, gnarled tree trunks to fencepost-size logs. The corners are ragged and uneven, and in several places the builders spliced two short logs together to span the length of a wall. It is unlikely the soldiers would have built this cabin so differently from the others.

Who built the log cabin, if not the soldiers?

Civilian merchants, called "sutlers," operated stores at military posts. They sold luxury items like coffee, sugar, and tobacco to supplement the soldiers' meager rations. This could have been a sutler's store, but we are still left wondering why the builders used such mis-matched materials. Were they in a hurry? Did they salvage unused logs from the fort? Or was the cabin only for temporary use?


The annexation of California in 1848 and the Gold Rush of 1849 created a demand for mail service between the new state and the rest of the nation. The Central Route - south of the Humboldt River - followed the shortest, most direct line from Salt Lake City to the California border. It crossed Ruby Valley just south of Station Butte and left the valley at Overland Pass.

Pack mules carried the mail along the primitive Central Route during the 1850s. Later, stagecoaches traveled the more developed trail, carrying mail and light freight. In 1859, Captain James Simpson surveyed a wagon road along the Central Route. Stage lines, emigrants, the Pony Express, and the Overland Telegraph quickly adopted Simpson's improved route. They all looked to the army and Fort Ruby for protection.

Panorama view across southern Ruby Valley. East is on top, west is below.
Bancroft's 1873 Map. Mary B. Ansari Map Library, University of Nevada, Reno.


Simpson's Central Route was 288 miles shorter than the Humboldt River emigrant trail. The shorter distance and travel time were powerful incentives for commercial enterprises, like the Overland Stage Line. It was worth their effort to negotiate the mountain passes and wide, dry valleys of the Central Route. More and more emigrants also joined them, cutting weeks from their journey even though the rugged terrain was a challenge for their heavily loaded wagons and herds of livestock.

For ten years, the Central Route was a primary cross-country link between the eastern and western United States. This ended in 1869. The Transcontinental Railroad - built along the Humboldt River - offered much faster and more efficient transportation.


Carrying the mail along the primitive Central Route was a risky business. But by 1865, the Overland Mail and State Company had 75 coaches carrying mail, passengers, and freight - with way stations about every 20 miles - on the road between Virginia City and Salt Lake City.


Pony Express riders galloped along the Central Route, delivering mail from Missouri to San Francisco in record time. While the business lasted only 20 months during 1860 and 1861, the legend of the Pony Express has a permanent place in the history of the West.

The Ruby Valley Pony Express station in 1960. It has since been moved to the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko, and restored. Courtesy Northeastern Nevada Museum.


The Transcontinental Telegraph was completed in 1861. It provided instant communication between the east and west coasts. The Overland Telegraph Company built and operated the western portion of the line, between Sacramento and Salt Lake City.

Fast as it was, the Pony Express was no match for the telegraph. Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-127508).


The Ruby Valley Station - actually several different "stations" - was about 2 miles southeast of Fort Ruby. In 1859, William "Uncle Billy" Rogers built a small stone cabin that served as a mail station and store. The Pony Express built a station in 1860, followed by the Overland Stage and Telegraph in 1861.

The stage station provided rest and meals for passengers and drivers, and fresh teams of horses. This allowed the stages to run day and night, but also required a stable of rested and well-fed horses at every stop. Ruby Valley's water and fertility made the station one of the most popular on the line. Passengers could look forward to baked goods, fresh meat, vegetables, fish, and fowl. The Overland Ranch, about 20 miles north of the station, was so successful it kept the whole company supplied with grain and hay.

Ruby Valley Station was also an important stopover for emigrants. On August 8 and 9, 1864, Phebe Abbot Carleton wrote:

"We reached Ruby Valley today and camped near the station. There is a trading post here but everything if fearfully dear.... Most of the young people went up to the fort to have a dance last night, they did not [get back] till sunrise this morning. They said they had a very nice time."

Fort Ruby and Ruby Valley Station mapped in 1869.


Archaeological investigations revealed the exact locations and layout of the buildings in "Officers' Row." The Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service sponsored six years of excavations through the Passport in Time program. Volunteers from all over the country participated in this heritage preservation project, working alongside professional archaeologists.

The excavations revealed details about the buildings' construction and recovered thousands of artifacts. Stone foundations for two large fireplaces were uncovered at opposite ends of Building 1. Remnants of the buried ends of vertical logs marked the location of the walls. Artifacts included nails and window glass, and everyday items such as pen nibs (for record keeping and report writing), buttons, glass and ceramic tableware, and alcohol and medicine bottle fragments.

Officers' Row, 1868. Special Collections Department University of Nevada, Reno Library
The field sketch of Building 1 shows the grid system archaeologists use to guide their excavation and map their finds.
The clusters of flat rocks are the fireplace and chimney foundations.
Officers at Fort Ruby enjoyed the privilege of bringing their families with them. The woman seated on the porch of the Commanding Officer's residence is possibly a member of his family. Artifacts from this building included toys and a woman's dress button.