Indians on the warpath and interrupted Pony Express mail service led to the establishment of Fort Churchill. After the first battle at Pyramid Lake, troops were dispatched from California and following several more battles at Pyramid Lake, Captain Joseph Stewart's Carson River Expedition was ordered to establish a post. Construction began on July 20, 1860. Built by Captain Stewart and his men, the fort was rhomboid in shape. It occupied 1,384 acres and adjoined Buckland's Ranch on the banks of the Carson River. It was built as a permanent installation consisting of adobe buildings erected on stone foundations. This U.S. Army outpost served as the largest calvary battalion in the West, and was the main supply depot for all expeditions against the Indians.
For several months after October 1860, Fort Churchill was the eastern terminus of telegraphic communication for California. Important dispatches sent from the east by Pony Express were removed from the rider's pouch and telegraphed to California to speed their delivery, although dispatches were frequently delayed because of downed wires.
Sir Richard Burton gave the following description of the fort on October 19, 1860:
"Fort Churchill has been built during the last few months. It lodged about two companies of infantry and required at least 2,000 men. Captain F.F. Flint (6th Regt.) was then commanding, and Lieut.-Col. Thomas Swords, a deputy quartermaster-general, was on a tour of inspection. We went straight to the quartermaster's office and there found Lieut. Moore, who introduced us to all present, and supplied us with the latest newspapers and news. The camp was Teetotalist, and avoided cards like good Moslems. We were not however expected to drink water except in the form of strong waters, and the desert had disinclined us to abstain from whiskey. Finally, Mr. Byrne, the sutler, put into our ambulance a substantial lunch, with a bottle of cocktail and other of cognac, especially intended to keep the cold out."Source: Mason, The Pony Express in Nevada, 1976.