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Fort Ruby

Fort Ruby is positioned on the largest body of fresh water in that particular area of Nevada. Two buildings remain standing, a sutler's store and a spring house. Water from the spring snakes along the grasses of the valley, helping to feed a seventeen thousand acre wetland. The long arid valleys characteristic of Nevada are here accentuated by the almost overwhelming chorus of birdsong and the reflective pools of life giving water. For the people who lived here, the Wat-a-duca tribe of the Newe whom the European settlers call Western Shoshone, the valley provided all that they needed. The soldiers of the third California volunteer infantry who built and maintained Fort Ruby considered it bleak and inhospitable. Subsequent army divisions who occupied the fort referred to it as the worst post in the West.

The American Civil War had just begun, the US government needed the silver and gold from Nevada to help pay for the war, not to mention a fast and secure line of communication with the young state of California. Fort Ruby commanded the Overland Pass on the “Central Route” which was cut through pinion pine and sagebrush. On the Overland Pass when rains cease and thin strokes of silver sunlight falls on the land, aromas of sweet sage and juniper fills the air. Snow rests in the mountains almost year round lending to the Native name Dakha Doya, Snow Mountain. Here on the Central Route riders of the Pony Express carried titles for land, news of bloody battles and letters to miners from loved ones back home. Here on the Central Route wagon trains carried settlers west and minerals east. Mules drank from the cool water of the springs while on their journey to labor in the great twenty mule teams at the borax mines.

These activities were guarded by the one hundred soldiers garrisoned at Fort Ruby. Hunting and foraging grew challenging for the Newe as game and pine nuts grew scarce. The Newe fought against the invaders, for which several treaties were signed then broken. In 1863 the Treaty Of Ruby Valley was drafted by the United States of America and signed at Fort Ruby by 10 Shoshone chiefs along with the Governors of Nevada and Utah then witnessed by the US army and an interpreter. The army, built for war, acted as the arbiters of peace between two nations who hold fundamentally opposite views of land. The Newe call this place Newe Sogobia which translates to People Land, for that is what it is to them, a continuation of the people, comprised of their ancestors and the land itself an elder. Elders are to be respected. To people who sought the rich minerals here the land is to be managed as a commodity. These two world views were to be made square by the Treaty Of Ruby Valley.

The Treaty Of Ruby Valley opens with the words, “Treaty of peace and friendship” and was enforced by the military. The US army which in that year of 1863 was engaged in civil war and also engaged in conflicts with several native nations. The US army who's General Pope said in that year, “it is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so” were the ones chosen with the task of managing peace and friendship.

According to the treaty the land was not to be ceded by the Newe but rather permission granted to the European settlers to build forts and ranches and mines and routes of commerce in exchange for the end of hostility between the two nations, and $5,000 per year for twenty years. In time, the President of the United States had the right to place the Western Shoshone on reservations with continued permission granted to the USA for the use of the land and the practice of extraction. With the mines, with the routes of commerce, with the forts, came laws. The Newe became subject to the laws of a foreign nation. The Newe did not expect to be forbidden to hunt as they always had or forbidden to honor their deceased ancestors as they always had.

In 1862 Virginia's soil was slaked with the blood of men soldiering and also the transcontinental railroad was chartered by the US government. In 1869 the railroad was completed and The Central Route fell to disuse. The protection Fort Ruby offered had become unnecessary. The buildings of the fort were auctioned off to local ranchers and today wild birds and beasts drink water from the spring. Wind carries birdsong through tall grasses growing by the waters which forever flow, bearing witness to the eternal wheel of time.

In Newe Sogobia the military remained. The southern portion of the land of Peace and Friendship has become one of the most heavily bombed regions on Earth, bearing the impact of 930 nuclear explosions in the quest for the largest bomb, the biggest threat. Treaties to halt detonating nuclear devices have been drafted and moratoriums for testing implemented. The government of the US has signed but not ratified the latest and most binding treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Recently the US government made it clear that nuclear weapons testing may once again be conducted in the land of the twenty mule teams and the Newe ancestors.

~words and images by Edmond Deraedt copyright 2020

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