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.
     Captain S.P. Smith, formerly of Fort Ruby, was at Winnemucca Ridge when he received orders to found Camp Halleck. With Lieutenant Augustus Starr (now you know where Starr Valley got its name) he led Company H, Eighth Cavalry to Cottonwood Creek a few miles south of Secret Pass.

 Captain S.P. Smith.
     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.

Fort Halleck circa 1878.
Fort Halleck about 1878 - Photo from Northeastern Nevada Museum, Elko.

     In 1869 the Central Pacific was completed and supplies came by railroad, off loading at Halleck Station, about twelve miles to the north.
     By the 1870s, local farmers and ranchers depended on the fort for entertainment and economic strength. Many soldiers, especially on payday, took their business to nearby John Day Ranch where there was a saloon, dance hall, and a stock of professional girls with loose morals.
Drawing of the layout at Ft. halleck.
                                            Drawing by the author.

     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..
     Since there was no danger from the Indians, commanding officers from time to time wrote letters to their headquarters suggesting closure of the fort. Those efforts were always met with much resistance from local settlers because their livelihoods were threatened by the inevitable end had to come someday.
     Soldiers from Fort Halleck never fought any local battles but they still saw plenty of action: 131 men, under the command of Lt. George R. Bacon, fought in the Modoc War in 1873; 1877 saw troops from the fort fighting the Nez Perce in Idaho; and, in 1885, they were involved in the Apache War in Arizona.
     Major General O.O. Howard wrote the letter that started the fort's demise: "There seems to be no good reason why Fort Halleck, Nevada should not be abandoned. It is 12 miles from the railroad and possesses no paramount importance as a strategic point. The settlers are interested in some degree in keeping the Post, in order to have a market near at hand for grain and other supplies they can raise. It is, considering its size, the most expensive Post in the Department."
     In1886, the Secretary of War finally authorized abandonment of the military reserve and turning the property over to the Department of the Interior.
     After the soldiers left local settlers moved in and cannibalized lumber, roofing material, and whatever else they could use. It is probably there are still ranches with parts of Fort Halleck in their buildings. It didn't take long for the place to fall into disrepair and for nature to reclaim the land..
     Daughters of Utah Pioneers erected a monument in 1939 noting the fort's 19 years of service. It is on the south side of the road. About all that remains today are mounds marking foundations and cottonwood trees that once bordered the parade ground. Perhaps, with the right circumstances and frame of mind, a visitor might hear cadence being called, horses neighing, firearms practice, construction sounds, and maybe a soldier in quarters playing his harmonica and thinking of the girl he left behind. Walk a few moments in the past.

Howard Hickson
September 8, 2002

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. 

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