Nevada, one of the Rocky Mountain states of the United States. A stark and arid land, Nevada is a region of rugged, snow-capped peaks, desert valleys green with sage, and sparsely populated expanses that still retain the vestiges of the Old West. But the state is also known for its glittering cities, where luxurious casinos draw visitors from around the world. Carson City is Nevada's capital. Las Vegas is the largest city.

Nevada entered the Union on October 31, 1864, as the 36th state. The first European settlers of the state came for its mineral wealth, and the gold and silver labored out of Nevada's famous mines created the state's first boom period. Vast ranches were developed in the north, where rainfall was sufficient to provide grazing for cattle and sheep. Later the state's gambling casinos and scenic landscapes would attract millions of tourists. By the mid-1990s, however, Nevada had developed a relatively diversified economy. Tourism, mining, and ranching remain important, but manufacturing and construction are growing rapidly.

The state's name is taken from the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range shared by Nevada and California; nevada is Spanish for "snow covered." Nevada is called the Silver State for its many silver mines, the Sagebrush State for its abundant sagebrush, and the Battle Born State because it was admitted to the Union during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Physical Geography

 

Nevada's area is 286,367 sq km (110,567 sq mi), of which inland waters make up 1971 sq km (761 sq mi). It ranks seventh in size among the states. From north to south, at its maximum, the state measures 777 km (483 mi) and from east to west, 517 km (321 mi). The mean elevation is about 1680 m (about 5500 ft).

Natural Regions

 

Almost all of Nevada lies within the Great Basin, which is part of the larger physiographic division known as the Basin and Range province. The Great Basin is located between the Sierra Nevada of California and the Wasatch Range of Utah. Actually, it is not a single basin, but rather a vast realm without drainage to the sea in which there are hundreds of north-south oriented valleys separated by mountain ranges.

A small part of Nevada lies within another physiographic region, the Sierra-Cascade province. Here a section of the Sierra Nevada extends across the state's western edge. The mountain slopes reach down from Lake Tahoe toward Reno and Carson City. Mount Rose, located in a spur of the Sierra known as the Carson Range, rises to 3285 m (10,778 ft).

Southern Nevada contains part of the Mojave Desert, another section of the Basin and Range. Although the appearance of the land is similar to that of most of the rest of the state, this region, bordering the Colorado River, is lower than the surrounding area. Nevada's lowest elevation, 143 m (470 ft), is found where the Colorado River leaves the state.

In the northeast, Nevada shares two sections of the Columbia Plateau with Oregon and Idaho. These sections, the Owyhee Uplift section and the Snake River Plain, contain a number of rivers that drain north and belong to the Columbia River watershed.

The mountain ranges of Nevada are long rugged ridges. There are about 100 such ranges, most of them from 80 to 120 km (50 to 75 mi) long and from 10 to 24 km (6 to 15 mi) wide. They rise 900 to 1500 m (3000 to 5000 ft) above the surrounding basin surface and reach elevations of 4000 m (13,000 ft) above sea level.

Some of these ranges were created when huge sections of the earth's crust were thrown up on their edges above the surrounding land. These are called fault-block ranges. In western Nevada, particularly, the fault scarps, or zones along the faces of the mountains where uplift took place, are clearly visible. In other parts of the state, clear evidence of mountain-building processes has been obscured by erosion. Small earthquakes are common in western Nevada, indicating that the mountains are still being uplifted gradually. The earth's crust below the Great Basin is believed to be thinner than at any other place in North America. At the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada there have been eruptions of volcanic rock, and hot springs occur at the bases of many other Nevada mountain ranges. Mineral deposits, including gold and silver, are widespread in Nevada's mountains. The larger and higher ranges are the Shoshone Mountains, Toiyabe Range, Toquema Range, Monitor Range, Ruby Mountains, Quinn Canyon Mountains, Shell Creek Range, Snake Range, and the Spring Mountains. Near the Nevada-California boundary in the White Mountains is the state's highest summit, Boundary Peak, at 4005 m (13,140 ft). Wheeler Peak (3982 m/13,063 ft) is at the eastern edge of Nevada.

Sinks and Deserts

The valleys between Nevada's mountain ranges are not drained to the sea by streams, but are instead so-called closed basins. These basins are slowly filling up with the sand, gravel, and soil washed down from the mountains, most often by rain. The mountain canyons are seasonally dry, although a few have permanent streams and others have flows when the snow melts in the spring.

The more permanent streams flow into lakes in the closed basins. These lakes are often shallow and salty, and in dry years become completely waterless. The low parts of the basins, where the lakes collect, are known as playas, and the lakes themselves are called playa lakes. In Nevada the playas are often called sinks, or dry lakes. At those times when the sinks have water in them they are known as salt lakes. Their water evaporates to leave barren, level expanses of baked mud and salts.

The largest sinks, found in the northwestern part of the state, are the Black Rock Desert and Smoke Creek Desert. Black Rock Desert, between the Black Rock Range and the Jackson Mountains, is about 110 km (about 70 mi) long and about 8 to 30 km (about 5 to 20 mi) wide. Smoke Creek Desert is somewhat smaller. Other playas and playa lakes include Humboldt Sink and Carson Sink. Yucca Flat and Frenchman Flat, with playa lakes of the same names, are well known as the locations of nuclear weapons tests. Numerous other sinks and lakes are known only by such general names as Alkali Flat and Dry Lake.

Rivers, Lakes, and Resevoirs

 

Two areas in Nevada do have drainage to the sea. In the northeast, Salmon Falls Creek, the Bruneau River, the East and South forks of the Owyhee River, and the Little Owyhee River drain into the Snake River and reach the Pacific Ocean through the Columbia River. The Muddy River, Meadow Valley Wash, and the Virgin River run into Lake Mead on the Colorado River, which drains into the Gulf of California.

The principal rivers of Nevada are the Humboldt, Truckee, Carson, Walker, Owyhee, and Colorado. The Humboldt River, Nevada's longest, is located entirely within the state. It begins in the desert ranges of the northeast and flows west from one basin to another until it finally ends in Humboldt Sink. The flow of this river constitutes about one-fifth of the state's water runoff.

The Truckee, Carson, and Walker rivers flow out of the Sierra Nevada, thread their way around several of the desert ranges, and also end in closed basins. The Walker flows into Walker Lake, the Carson into Lahontan Reservoir. The major part of the Truckee's flow is now diverted to Lahontan Reservoir, although as required by law some of it empties into Pyramid Lake. Because these three streams flow constantly, the lakes into which they empty never dry up. Winnemucca Lake formerly received overflow waters from Pyramid Lake, but it is now dry, as is Carson Lake. The Colorado River is Nevada's most voluminous river. However, because of its position along the state's southern boundary and the fact that its waters are shared by several states, the river has not been of primary importance to Nevada until recently. Las Vegas and nearby communities have tried to increase their intake of the Colorado River's water, but have so far been contractually prohibited from doing so.

Nevada's other permanent lakes include Washoe Lake, a few tiny lakes in the higher mountains, and Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe is located along the state boundary with California, at 1897 m (6225 ft) above sea level, in the Sierra Nevada.

Nevada's reservoirs include Rye Patch Reservoir on the lower Humboldt; Lahontan Reservoir, into which the Carson River is diverted; Wild Horse Reservoir on the East Fork of the Owyhee; Lake Mead, created by Hoover Dam on the Colorado; and Lake Mohave, created by Davis Dam on the Colorado.

Thousands of years ago a large lake called Lake Lahontan covered a substantial area in northwestern Nevada. The level of its waters stood as high as 160 m (530 ft) above the present level of Pyramid Lake, as shown by wave-cut terraces on the mountainsides. Walker, Carson, and other lakes are mere remnants of the former lake. Black Rock Desert and Smoke Creek Desert were also once occupied by the lake.

Climate

 

 

Nevada has an arid climate and receives the least precipitation of all the states. Skies are clear, sunshine is abundant, and relative humidity is low. There are wide ranges of temperature between day and night. The climate pattern, however, is complicated by differences in elevation. Mountainous areas are far damper and cooler than low-lying areas.

Temperature

Mean annual temperatures vary greatly within Nevada because of the comparatively long distance from north to south within the state. In the south, summers are extremely hot and winters are short and mild. The average July temperature at Las Vegas is 32° C (90° F), and the highest temperature ever recorded there was 48° C (118° F). Las Vegas' January average high temperature is in the lower 10°s C (lower 50°s F), and average lows are near freezing. The growing season, the period from the last killing frost in spring to the first in fall, in this area averages more than 230 days per year.

In the northeast, winters are long and cold and summers short and hot. San Jacinto's average temperature in January is -4° C (24° F), but it has recorded readings as low as -46° C (-50° F) in the winter. The July average at San Jacinto is 19° C (66° F), and the average growing season is about 80 days per year. Reno, in the west-central part of the state, has mean temperatures that fall between the averages at San Jacinto and Las Vegas. The growing season is about 155 days. Night-to-day temperature changes are sharp throughout Nevada because the clear dry air permits both the rapid gain of heat in the day and its rapid loss after dark.

Precipitation

Most of the precipitation comes in winter, and in the mountains much of it is snow. Summer rainfall is generally slight. However, heavy thunderstorms occasionally occur, bringing cloudbursts that in a few minutes drench an area with as much rain as would normally fall over a period of several months.

Precipitation over the state as a whole averages less than 230 mm (9 in) annually. It is lowest in west central and southern Nevada, where the average drops to less than 100 mm (4 in) a year in some localities. Annual precipitation at Elko, in the northeast, is 230 mm (9 in); at Reno, about 180 mm (about 7 in); and at Las Vegas, just under 100 mm (4 in). Mountain areas above 1800 to 2100 m (6000 to 7000 ft) receive more than 380 mm (15 in) of precipitation annually. The greatest annual precipitation, 690 mm (27 in), occurs at Marlette Lake, on the lee slope of the Sierra Nevada.

The scarcity of precipitation in Nevada is due largely to the state's location on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, which is a barrier to moisture-laden air. Nevada is said to lie in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada. As eastward-moving air rises against the Sierra Nevada, most of its moisture is condensed and falls on the western slopes. Major storms will cross the Sierra, however, and some summer storms come from the Gulf of California up the east side of the Sierra. They occasionally produce large rainfalls.

Soils

For the most part the soils of Nevada are so-called gray desert soils, developed from material washed down into the valleys from the mountains. Where the desert vegetation is thin, the ground often has a layer of gravel and small stones, called desert pavement. However, in the low areas of the basins and along the rivers there are narrow belts of alluvial soils that are of finer texture. The better of these soils, such as Fallon fine sandy loam, are farmed successfully under irrigation. Others, such as Lahontan silty clay loam, are too salty to be used for agriculture, although they produce brush and grass suitable for grazing. In southern Nevada the soils are pinkish in color and are known as red desert soils. The mountains contain much rough and stony land without soil covering. Almost all Nevada soils are low in nitrogen and organic matter.

Plant Life

 

The most widespread form of vegetation in Nevada is sagebrush, especially big sagebrush. Sagebrush grows in most of the nonsalty soils of the northern basins, especially between altitudes of 1500 and 2100 m (5000 and 7000 ft). Most of the state's northern portion, therefore, has a low, bushy cover of these silver-gray plants and grasses, making up what is generally considered the typical Nevada landscape. Most of the sagebrush plants are widely spaced, occupying only a small part of the land surface. In some places, however, the sagebrush grows 3 m (10 ft) high.

Several other shrubs, such as winter fat, and ephedra, commonly called Mormon tea, are often found together with sagebrush. Rabbit brush grows where the land is too saline for sagebrush. In the north there are also numerous kinds of grasses. Cheat grass, introduced from Asia near the beginning of the 20th century, is becoming increasingly common in Nevada. The grass takes moisture and nutrients from native species, causing their decline, and has been associated with an increased occurrence of wildfires since the 1950s.

The drier and hotter parts of the state, in west central and southern Nevada, have a vegetation of shadscale, saltbush, greasewood, and Nevada ephedra. These bushy plants have a maximum height of about 30 cm (about 12 in), and are widely spaced. In the hottest parts of the state, in the desert areas extending south from Logandale, Las Vegas, and Beatty, the vegetation is composed largely of creosote bush and burroweed, or white bur-sage. Also in this area are several species of cactus and yucca. One interesting type of yucca is the Joshua tree, with oddly shaped branches and waxy flowers.

Many of the lower mountain ranges, where rainfall is heavier than in the basins, have woodlands of pińon and juniper. They are low shrublike trees that are well adapted to semiarid conditions. The pińon pine is noted for its sweet edible nuts. The higher mountains of Nevada, where rainfall is heaviest, are densely forested. Ponderosa pine, also called western yellow pine, and Douglas fir grow on the higher mountain slopes, especially on those around Lake Tahoe. These forests also contain numerous small flowers and such shrubs as elderberry, currant, and snowbush. Near Lake Tahoe are some stands of sugar pine and lodgepole pine. The high peaks of some mountain ranges, such as Wheeler Peak and Mount Moriah in the Snake Range, reach above the timberline. Here there are a few small areas of mountain tundra. These meadowlike areas have short curled grasses and tiny wildflowers.

Animal Life

The mountain forests are the home of mule deer, beavers, foxes, muskrats, porcupines, bobcats, lynx, cougars, and several varieties of squirrels. The mule deer inhabits almost every part of the state. The abundance of deer has led to an increase in the population of cougars, for which deer are an important food. There are small numbers of elk in the mountains of White Pine County. Bighorn sheep are found in southern Nevada. A great variety of small animals inhabit the desert areas, many of them active at night. These include kangaroo and pack rats, rabbits, coyotes, ground squirrels, badgers, skunks, numerous species of lizards, desert tortoises, diamondback and sidewinder rattlesnakes, scorpions, beetles, velvet ants, centipedes, tarantulas, and Gila monsters. Herds of pronghorn live under government protection on an antelope range in northwestern Nevada.

Desert birds include the cactus wren, mockingbird, nighthawk, and roadrunner. Game birds include the quail, chukar, sage grouse, pheasant, dove, and duck. Anaho Island, in Pyramid Lake, is a major breeding ground for white pelicans. Nevada's fish include trout, channel cats, bluegills, black crappies, black bass, and Sacramento perch.

Conservation

In such an arid territory as Nevada the land must be used carefully to prevent soil erosion and to maintain forests and range grasses. Many conservation programs are federally operated, since the federal government owns 86 percent of the land in Nevada.

The introduction of domesticated animals like horses, sheep, and cows in the late 19th century largely destroyed the natural cover of vegetation. The vegetation of Nevada was not adapted to grazing because Nevada had no large plant-eating animals such as buffalo or elk. Therefore the arrival of large domesticated animals doomed many tiny, delicate native plants. Without this cover the land could not hold moisture, and serious soil erosion resulted. Since 1934 and the passage of the Taylor Grazing Act, Nevada has, like other Western states, placed much of its land in grazing districts. In these districts, grazing rights are leased to ranchers and are carefully controlled. One of the by-products of this policy has been the preservation of wildlife. The Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service are among the agencies that manage federal lands. Government agencies also advise farmers and ranchers about the best use of their own private lands. The state has its own departments of Natural Resources and Agricultural and Mining.

Water conservation in Nevada is also a pressing problem. The relatively small amount of water available from streams is used almost to its maximum extent. There is also available, however, some groundwater, or water beneath the earth's surface. To conserve this supply, comprehensive state water laws regulate well-drilling and the pumping of groundwater. Most irrigation works in the state are small and have been privately built, but Lahontan Dam on the Carson River and Rye Patch Dam on the Humboldt River supply water to medium-sized federal irrigation projects. The Newlands Project, under which Derby Dam and later the Lahontan Dam were constructed, were the first government irrigation-and-reclamation projects. Hoover and Davis dams on the Colorado River benefit Nevada and the other Southwestern states by providing water storage, hydroelectric power, irrigation, flood control, and recreational resources for tourists.

Areas set aside for wildlife protection include eight federal wildlife refuges and a number of state refuges. Many are set aside to help in the recovery of aquatic wildlife, and there is also a refuge set aside for wild horses.

In the early 1990s Nevada spent 2.6 percent of its annual budget on the environment, ranking it among the upper one-third of the states. In the mid-1990s the state had only one hazardous waste site placed on a national priority list for cleanup due to its severity, the fewest sites of any state. The state, however, has been proposed as the only site for storage of high-level nuclear waste. Nevada was one of only four states in the nation in which the discharge of toxic chemicals into the environment was increasing, growing by 41 percent in the four years prior to 1992. Also, while air quality was improving in most of the nation's cities, the Las Vegas metropolitan region had an increasing number of days in which the air failed to meet federal standards for carbon monoxide.

Economic Activities

Nevada has both the fastest growing economy and the fastest growing population in the 1990s. Boom and bust has been the traditional economic cycle, although the boom in the 1990s has been without precedent in the state. Mining was the traditional cornerstone of the Nevada economy. The initial mining boom began with the discovery of the great silver and gold deposits of the Comstock Lode in 1859. Other discoveries led to the establishment of small mining communities throughout the state. Agriculture, especially cattle ranching and other livestock raising, developed as the second most important aspect of the economy. The legalization of gambling in 1931 led to growth of the tourism and entertainment industries, which today dominate the state's economy. Manufacturing has expanded since the 1960s. A rapidly growing population, in part due to the increased job opportunities in the tourism-driven service sector, has in turn made the construction industry an important employer. The federal government employs many people in Nevada and is a significant contributor to the state's economy. Perhaps the most important federal facilities in the state are Nellis Air Force Base and the U.S. Department of Energy's Nevada Test Site. Other sites test some of the federal governments most secret military equipment, particularly aircraft.

About 822,000 people held jobs in Nevada in the early 1990s. By far the largest share of them worked in the service industries, particularly jobs catering to tourists such as ski resort or casino workers. Some 20 percent worked in wholesale or retail trade; 12 percent in federal, state, or local government, including those in the military; 7 percent in construction; 7 percent in finance, insurance, or real estate; 5 percent in transportation or public utilities; 4 percent in manufacturing; 2 percent in mining; and 1 percent in farming (including agricultural services), forestry, or fishing. In the mid-1990s, 18 percent of Nevada's workers belonged to unions.

Agriculture

There were about 2400 farms and ranches in Nevada in the mid-1990s. Only about one-third had annual revenues of more than $10,000; many of the remaining farms were secondary employment for operators who held other jobs. Farms and ranches covered 3.6 million hectares (8.9 million acres). Less than one-tenth of the farmland was used to grow crops, and nearly all of it required irrigation. Most of the state's farmland is used to grow forage for livestock. Because of the arid conditions and sparse vegetation, livestock need a great deal of land on which to graze. Ranches in Nevada are correspondingly large, with the average farm size in the state the third largest in the country, behind only Arizona and Wyoming.

Cattle and sheep ranching in Nevada provide almost two-thirds of the income obtained from agriculture. Much of the remaining agricultural income is from hay, alfalfa, and other crops that are fed to livestock in winter. Most of the ranching is done in the less arid northeastern parts of the state: near the Humboldt Valley in Elko, Eureka, and Humboldt counties, and in White Pine County. Almost all the livestock graze on public lands at least part of the year. In parts of southern Nevada, much of the land is too dry for grazing.

There are a few small areas where dry farming is practiced, but most of Nevada's crops are produced on irrigated land. The irrigated croplands are concentrated mainly in the Humboldt Valley; in the Carson River area near Fallon; in the central part of the Walker Valley; and in the central Truckee Valley.

Natural hay and alfalfa are valuable fodder crops. Other fodder and field crops, including wheat, barley, and oats, are grown. In the western part of the state, dairy farming is important. Lesser crops include potatoes and onions. There are also a number of fruit and vegetable farms in the southern part of the state. In all these crops, however, Nevada ranks low in terms of total U.S. production.

Mining

Mining was long the most important industry, and the state was world-famous for its rich gold and silver output. In the 1960s gold mining was revived, and in the 1990s Nevada was the nation's leading producer of gold, the state's chief mineral, and silver. Mineral production is more important than agriculture and manufacturing combined in Nevada's economy.

In 1859 the Comstock Lode was discovered at a site near Virginia City, and this vein of ore, which yielded both gold and silver, gave its name to the booming Comstock Era of the next 20 years. The mineral wealth of this area was vast enough to lead to Nevada's admission to the Union as a state in 1864, despite its small population. So sizable was the Comstock boom that the Lake Tahoe basin was virtually stripped of trees, which went to make mine support timbers, charcoal, and houses. Production from the Comstock Lode declined in the latter part of the l9th century, because of falling silver prices and the exhaustion of the finest-grade ore. Silver, lead, and zinc had been found at Pioche, and lead and silver were discovered at Eureka at the time Nevada was admitted to the Union. Subsequently other mineral discoveries were made in Nevada. Silver mines were opened at Tonopah, and gold mines at Goldfield and Rhyolite after 1900. Some of the old mines in the vicinity of Virginia City still produce gold and silver because of modern, more efficient refining techniques.

In the late 1970s, important deposits of disseminated, microscopically-fine gold were discovered near Elko. These deposits, known as the Carlin Trend, are the largest source of gold found in the United States since California's Gold Rush in the late 1840s. Six Nevada counties are heavily involved in its production, which is possible primarily through a technological process known as heap-leaching. For most of the 20th century copper was the most important mineral in Nevada's economy, accounting for as much as one-third of total national output. However, falling copper prices forced several large mines to close in the late 1970s.

In 1975, with the opening of the McDermitt mine in Humboldt County, Nevada became the nation's leading producer of mercury. Today Nevada produces almost all of the nation's mercury supply. In tungsten output, Nevada ranks third among the states. Tungsten is mined near Winnemucca and Tempiute. Low-grade iron ore, found especially in the western counties, is also mined. Lithium and magnesite are also extracted.

Nevada leads the nation in the production of barite, which is used as a pigment, and is second in the mining of diatomite, a chalky stone formed from the fossilized skeletons of diatoms and often used as an abrasive or as a material for filtering water. Other nonmetals produced include clays, sand and gravel, cement, gypsum, stone, lime, perlite, salt, fluorspar, and gemstones. Small amounts of petroleum are also produced.

Manufacturing

Manufacturing is heavily concentrated around the Las Vegas area and in the Reno-Sparks area. The most important industries are those engaged in printing and publishing; the makers of industrial machinery, such as engine parts and machines for service industries; firms making products for the construction industry, such as cement; food processing, particularly the makers of candy and frozen desserts; manufacturers of plastic items; and firms making instruments. Although manufacturing employment was growing in the early 1990s, the sector still provides a relatively small portion of Nevada's gross product.

Electricity

 

Of the electricity generated in Nevada in the mid-1990s more than 90 percent was produced in steam-driven power plants burning fossil fuels, mainly coal or natural gas. The rest was produced in hydroelectric power plants. The state's southern portion is supplied by power plants at Hoover and Davis dams on the Colorado River, and the Reno area receives electricity chiefly from nearby power plants and other plants in California.

Nuclear Research

 

An important boost to Nevada's economy came from the research and testing operations conducted originally by the United States Atomic Energy Commission and then by the United States Department of Energy. On its Nevada Test Site, northwest of Las Vegas, experiments were conducted in the detonation of nuclear weapons, detonation of conventional high explosives, and operation of nuclear rocket-propulsion systems. These tests ceased in the late 1980s, but the effects of accidental irradiation from escaped gases and above-ground test detonations have developed in populations east of the test site. Only in the 1990s did the government begin to acknowledge the effects on the so-called "down-winders." Yucca Mountain in Nevada is also a candidate for a storage site for nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel from around the nation, although the proposal has met opposition from many Nevada residents. The Department of Energy also operates the Tonopah Test Range, at which smaller weapons are tested. Nellis Air Force Base and a secret Air Force test facility sometimes known as Area 51 are also located in Nevada.

Tourist Industry

Tourism is the state's most important economic activity. Major tourist attractions are legalized casino gambling and many nightclubs, which are centered in the resort areas of Las Vegas, Reno, and Lake Tahoe. The Lake Tahoe region also has a number of popular ski resorts. Some visitors were once attracted by the liberal divorce laws, which made it possible to obtain a divorce after only six weeks' residence in the state. In addition, no waiting period is required to get married.

Transportation

Two historic routes of travel across Nevada are still followed by modern interstate highways and railroads. One of these routes was the old California Trail from Salt Lake City to San Francisco, which extended down the Humboldt River and up the Truckee River into the Sierra Nevada. The second route, the Mormon Trail, extended from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles, crossing southern Nevada through what is now Las Vegas.

In the mid-1990s Nevada had 73,671 km (45,778 mi) of highways, including 877 km (545 mi) of the federal interstate highway system. U.S. Highway 50, which follows the route of the Pony Express of the 1860s, has been called "The Loneliest Road in America" because of its passage through some of the state's most unpopulated landscapes.

Nevada's large distances makes air transportation attractive, and the state had 124 airports in the mid-1990s. McCarran International Airport, in Las Vegas, was the 13th busiest in the nation, serving more than 10 million passengers a year. The airport in Reno was also busy by national standards.

The state had 1931 km (1200 mi) of railroads in the early 1990s. More than two-fifths of the tonnage of products originating in the state were nonmetallic minerals.

Trade

Reno is a trade center for northwestern Nevada and a part of northeastern California. Las Vegas is the major southern center. Smaller centers in the state are Ely and Elko. The commerce of all Nevada, however, is closely tied in with the major population and trade centers of California.

The People of Nevada

 

According to the national census, Nevada had 1,201,833 residents in 1990, making it the 39th most populous state. With an average density of 4 persons per sq km (11 per sq mi), the state is the third least densely populated in the nation, behind only Alaska and Wyoming. Still, Nevada has for many years been the fastest growing state in the country.

Population Patterns

Nevada's population increased by 78.2 percent during the 1950s, by 71.3 percent during the 1960s, by 63.8 percent during the 1970s, and by 50.1 percent during the 1980s. The population was only 160,083 in 1950 and had reached an estimated 1,530,000 in 1995.

Population distribution is very uneven. In 1990 about 88 percent of Nevadans were classified as inhabitants of urban areas. Most of the urban population was concentrated in the Las Vegas and Reno areas. In 1990, three-quarters of Nevada residents were born in another state or country, the highest proportion by far in the United States.

Whites comprise the largest share of the population, about 84.3 percent, in 1990, while blacks were 6.6 percent of the people, Asians and Pacific Islanders 3.2 percent, Native Americans 1.6 percent, and those of mixed heritage or not reporting ethnicity 4.4 percent. Hispanics, who are counted among other groups, were 10.4 percent of the people. Many Native Americans live on reservations, which are scattered widely over the state. Some Native Americans own individually allotted grazing lands.

Principal Cities

 

Las Vegas and Reno were originally minor stops on the historic routes to California, but both have been growing rapidly. Gambling and resort activity, stimulated by the growing population of southern California, by rapid transportation, and by the development of air conditioning, have given both places a cosmopolitan appearance. Las Vegas has a downtown gambling area and a newer development of luxurious hotel-casinos on Las Vegas Boulevard.

The Las Vegas metropolitan area, which includes a portion of Arizona, had a population of 853,000 in 1990, or more than two-thirds the population of Nevada. The city of Las Vegas had 258,295 residents. Other cities in the Las Vegas metropolitan area include Henderson (64,942), North Las Vegas (47,707), and Boulder City (12,567).

The Reno metropolitan area had 255,000 residents, of whom 133,850 lived in Reno and 53,367 in Sparks.

Carson City (40,443) is the state capital. Other cities with more than 4500 people include Elko, the hub of the northeastern cattle-ranching area, Winnemucca, a transportation crossroads, and Ely, the chief city of the copper-mining region. Many old mining towns have lost most of their population.

Religion

The Roman Catholic church is the largest religious group in Nevada, claiming nearly one-quarter of those attending a church. The largest Protestant denominations are the Baptists and the Methodists.

Education and Cultural Institutions

Education

Nevada has been confronted with unusual problems in providing education for its widely scattered population. The public school system is directed by the state department of education, which is headed by a superintendent of public instruction. Attendance is compulsory for children from the ages of 7 to 17. About 4 percent of the state's children attend private schools.

In the mid-1990s Nevada spent about $4550 on each student's education, compared to a national average of about $5310. There were 18.7 students for every teacher, giving the state a class size larger than the national average. Of those older than 25 years of age in the state, about 79 percent had a high school diploma, better than the national norm.

Higher Education

Nevada had six public and three private institutions of higher education in the mid-1990s. Among these were the University of Nevada, with campuses in Reno (1874) and Las Vegas (1957) (see Nevada, Las Vegas, University of); Great Basin College in Elko (1967); and Sierra Nevada College (1969), in Incline Village. The University of Nevada is a land-grant college, originally established at Elko. Its well-known Mackay School of Mines is part of the College of Engineering. The Desert Research Institute, with campuses at Reno and Las Vegas, is a world-renowned research institution affiliated with the university system.

Libraries and Museums

 

Most Nevada libraries are small; there are 26 systems in the state. Each year the libraries circulate an average of 5 books for every resident. Statewide services are provided by the State Library in Carson City. In addition to lending books by mail, it has historical and legislative reference material and an outstanding law collection. The Nevada Historical Society and the libraries of the University of Nevada and the Mackay School of Mines are in Reno. Museums operated in conjunction with these libraries display objects and materials of historical or geological interest. The old United States Mint in Carson City has been converted into the Nevada State Museum. The tunnels in its basement show a mine in replica. Harrah's Automobile Collection in Reno includes 200 historic vehicles. There is also a planetarium in Reno and a natural history museum in Las Vegas.

Communications

The first newspaper printed in Nevada was the Territorial Enterprise, which was founded by Alfred James and W. L. Jernegan in 1858 and began publication at Genoa. Shortly thereafter, the paper was moved to Carson City, and later to Virginia City. American author Mark Twain was a reporter and editor of this paper in the 1860's, and his book Roughing It (1872) describes his experiences in Nevada. Other literary figures who wrote for the paper were Bret Harte and William Wright, under the pseudonym Dan DeQuille. In the mid-1990s Nevada had six daily newspapers. Influential dailies included the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Sun, in Las Vegas, and the Reno Gazette-Journal.

The state's first radio station, KOH in Reno, was licensed in 1928. KOLO-TV in Reno and KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, Nevada's first television stations, began operation in 1953. In the mid-1990s Nevada had 20 AM and 41 FM radio stations and 11 television stations.

Recreation and Places of Interest

Bright neon lights lead the way to Nevada's gambling and entertainment resorts, Las Vegas and Reno. Both cities have numerous luxury high-rise hotels and glittering gambling casinos. In addition, Nevada has many historic and scenic attractions. Scores of ghost towns stand as reminders of the past. Nevada's deserts contain spectacular scenery and much of scientific interest, such as the fossils and multicolored canyons. Recreation in Nevada is largely associated with its mountains, rivers, and lakes, where opportunities for seasonal sports are numerous. Deer hunting and trout fishing are popular, as is skiing, particularly at the Slide Mountain-Mount Rose area and Charleston Peak. Facilities for water sports and other activities have been well developed at Lake Tahoe and Lake Mead. Lake Tahoe, perhaps Nevada's best known scenic attraction, is also a popular winter sport area.

National Parks and Forests

 

The federal government administers two national parks, two national forests, and a national recreation area, as well as wildlife and game refuges.

Great Basin National Park, in eastern Nevada, contains more than 31,200 hectares (77,100 acres) of rugged mountains, sagebrush deserts, and limestone caves. The former Lehman Caves National Monument has been incorporated into the park. Nevada shares Death Valley National Park with California. Lake Mead National Recreation Area, in the southeastern part of the state, includes Mead and Mohave lakes and Hoover Dam and covers parts of both Nevada and Arizona. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, located west of Las Vegas, features multicolored formations of the Red Rock escarpment, the Le Madre Mountains, and the Calico Hills.

Humboldt National Forest, the only national forest entirely within Nevada, encompasses more than 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres). This forest contains six wilderness areas, including the 26,000-hectare (65,000-acre) Jarbidge Wilderness, which contains rugged, glaciated terrain. Other wilderness areas are Mount Moriah, Currant Mountains, Quinn Canyon, Santa Rosa-Paradise Peak, East Humboldt, and Ruby Mountains. In the forest, Native American pictographs (drawings) and stone tools are uncovered at archaeological sites in caves where ancient peoples dwelled. In addition there are many caves of interest to spelunkers and scientists. The mountainous Toiyabe National Forest, in central Nevada, is the largest national forest outside of Alaska. Part of the forest is in California.

State Parks

The state maintains 23 parks and recreation areas. It operates beach facilities at Sand Harbor Beach at Lake Tahoe. Two of the monuments maintained by the state are of historical interest: Mormon Station State Historic Park, located in Genoa, the earliest settlement in the state, and nearby, the ruins of an Army post, Fort Churchill State Historical Park, built in 1860. At Ward Charcoal Ovens, near Ely, the state preserves the beehive-shaped ovens that once produced charcoal used for smelting ores. Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park near Gabbs has fossils of ancient fishlike reptiles. The striking desert scenery in the southeastern part of the state is featured at Valley of Fire, Cathedral Gorge, and Beaver Dam state parks, and at Walker Lake State Recreation Area.

Other Places to Visit

 

Other places of interest include Pyramid Lake, named for the strangely shaped island within it, and the active geysers and hot springs near Beowawe. Faults, or cracks in the earth's surface, can be seen near Fallon. They resulted from an earthquake in 1954. Lunar Crater, a large basin near Lockes, was formed by the collapse of a mountain peak in ancient times. Other well-known attractions in Nevada are its ghost towns. Virginia City, founded when the Comstock Lode was discovered, boasted a population of 20,000 at its peak in the 1870s but now has only about 800 people. The nearby towns of Gold Hill and Silver City have also languished. The Berlin-Ichtyosaur State Park also features a ghost town. There are many other such places scattered throughout the state.

Annual Events

The history of Nevada is highlighted by many local festivals, such as the Virginia City International Camel Races, in September, which includes a parade with camels, ostriches, and water buffalo. Las Vegas revives the spirit of the Old West with rodeos, costumes, and pageants during Heldorado Days and Rodeo in May. Frontier traditions are also upheld during Basque festivals in Reno, in August, and Elko, in July; the All Indian Rodeo in Fallon; and at many fairs and rodeos elsewhere. Reno hosts the livestock events and popular midway of the Nevada State Fair in August. Ely also hosts the Nevada Rally International motorcycle race in August. Sky diving and other stunts are performed at the National Air Races in Reno in September. Among the major cultural festivals, the Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which convenes each January at Elko, regularly draws thousands of poets and poetry admirers.

Government

 

Nevada is governed under its original constitution adopted in 1864, as amended. An amendment to the constitution may be proposed by a constitutional convention, by the legislature, or by initiative. In the latter two cases, the amendment must be approved by a majority of the people voting on the issue in a general election in order to be ratified.

Executive

The executive branch is headed by the governor and lieutenant governor, who are elected for four-year terms, as are also the secretary of state, attorney general, controller, and treasurer. There are about 20 other elected officials.

Legislative

The legislature consists of an Assembly and a Senate. There are 21 senators, elected for four years, and 42 assembly members, elected for two years. Regular sessions of the legislature convene in January of odd-numbered years. The governor has the power to call the legislature into special session. The governor may not serve more than two consecutive terms.

Judicial

The judiciary is headed by a supreme court composed of a chief justice and four associate justices, who are elected for six years. In addition, there are district judges, elected for six-year terms, and a number of justices of the peace, also elected for four-year terms. There are municipal courts in some cities. All judges in Nevada are elected on a nonpartisan basis.

Local Government

In Nevada the 16 counties are important instruments of local government. Each is administered by a small board of commissioners. Unincorporated cities and towns are governed by the county officials. Most of the state's incorporated cities and towns have the mayor-council form of municipal government.

National Representation

In addition to its two U.S. Senators, Nevada elects two members to the House of Representatives, giving the state a total of four electoral votes.

Politics

Since 1900 roughly equal numbers of Democratic and Republican candidates have been elected governor. In presidential elections, Nevada favored the Democratic Party in the 1940s but has favored the Republican Party increasingly since that time. Among registered voters, Democrats outnumbered Republicans as the 1990s began. As the 104th Congress of the United States took office in 1995, Democrats held both of Nevada's seats in the U.S. Senate, while Republicans held the state's two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. A Democrat was governor.

History

 

Original Nevadans

 

The first peoples in Nevada probably arrived about 12,000 years ago. Dart points made of stone, called Clovis points, have been found in the state that are at least 10,000 years old. Early inhabitants lived in rock shelters or caves, and gathered most of their food. People who lived in Lovelock Cave near Lake Lahontan about 3000 years ago hunted animals with darts rather than bows and arrows. Archaeologists have even found decoy ducks that were used to attract birds.

About 300 BC people of the Anasazi culture appeared, living in pit houses around the Muddy and Virgin rivers. The Anasazi built their houses with adobe and rocks, mastered pottery and basketry, and may have mined salt. Between about AD 700 and 1100 the Anasazi began raising corn, beans, and squash, and also developed irrigation. Before the migrating Paiutes pushed them out of Nevada, the Anasazi had domesticated dogs and begun growing cotton.

When the first European entered what is now Nevada, it was peopled chiefly by three native groups: the Paiute, the Shoshone, and the Washoe. Of these, the Northern Paiute were perhaps the best known. Their home territory included most of western Nevada, particularly the area from Pyramid Lake to Walker Lake. The Shoshone ranged mainly along the Humboldt River east of present-day Winnemucca. The Washoe lived in the Carson and Washoe valleys, the Truckee Meadows, and around Lake Tahoe. The Southern Paiute lived in the southeast.

The Great Basin environment forced all native peoples in Nevada to live a nomadic existence as hunter-gatherers. The continuous search for food was the dominant aspect of life in this harsh land, and the native inhabitants of Nevada demonstrated remarkable survival skills. While their material culture was limited, these Native Americans, particularly the Washoe, are known for their excellent basketry. One Washoe woman, called Datsolalee, achieved wide recognition for the intricate designs on the baskets she wove in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Arrival of Europeans

The Spanish founded no settlements in Nevada as they had in other parts of what became the southwest United States. In 1776 Father Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante attempted to find a route from Santa Fe (in present-day New Mexico) to California and may have entered eastern Nevada. They were convinced that a river they called the San Buenaventura must flow from the Rocky Mountains across Nevada through the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the Pacific Ocean, but they were unable to find it. That same year Father Francisco Garces tried to find a route from the upper Sonora settlements in Mexico to California. During his search he may have come through the Las Vegas meadows in southern Nevada.

Exploration

The territory that is now Nevada came under Mexican control when Mexico won its freedom from Spain in 1821. Exploration of Nevada began with two fur trappers, Peter Skene Ogden of the Hudson's Bay Company of Great Britain and Jedediah Smith of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, who were followed by others. Odgen and Smith entered at opposite ends of Nevada, seeking new beaver ponds and the elusive river, the San Buenaventura.

Jedediah Smith

On his way overland to California, Smith entered Nevada in August 1826 (near present-day Bunkerville) and his party arrived at San Gabriel Mission in California in November. Mexican authorities ordered Smith to leave immediately by the same route. Instead, he turned north, and in 1827 crossed the Sierra, accompanied by two of his men, and entered the central part of Nevada, following a route from Tonopah to Ely. Smith thereby became the first white man to cross Nevada, the first to be aware of the extent of what came to be called the Great Basin, and the first to trade with and report on the native peoples of the area. He, too, failed to discover the San Buenaventura River.

Peter Skene Ogden

Ogden probably preceded Smith into Nevada, going a short distance into the northeastern corner of the territory in the spring of 1826. Ogden's important expeditions, however, were in 1828, 1829, and 1830. He entered Nevada in November 1828 near the present town of Denio and proceeded south. He discovered a river, which he named the Unknown (the present-day Humboldt) River. The party did some trapping as it proceeded west, then it turned east along the river to buffalo country near present-day Ogden's Hole in Utah. In the spring of 1829, Ogden retraced his route into Nevada, this time following the Unknown River until he reached its sink, the point where the river, having no outlet toward the ocean, pools into swampy flats and evaporates. He then turned north, leaving Nevada at present-day McDermitt.

Returning to Nevada in the fall of 1829, Ogden again traveled to the Humboldt Sink, but then turned southward to Walker Lake and continued southeast into California. Ogden is generally credited with discovering the Humboldt River, and he was the first white man to follow it from its source to its sink. Ogden concluded that the San Buenaventura River did not exist.

Joseph Walker

Trapper Joseph R. Walker, attached to an expedition headed by U.S. Army Captain Benjamin Bonneville, led about 40 men to explore the Great Salt Lake. Whether he was ordered to proceed to the Pacific Ocean remains uncertain, but in August 1833 Walker and his men went west to California by way of the Unknown River. The trip included the first battle between native Nevadans and whites along the Unknown River. On the return journey in 1834 the Walker party left the Unknown near the site of present-day Wells. Moving northeast from there, Walker blazed a trail that later became a route for settlers from Fort Hall to the Unknown River.

Bidwell Trail

In 1841 an extraordinary band of emigrants passed through the entire Great Basin region. A young teacher, John Bidwell, helped to organize the Western Emigration Society in 1840 to publicize a journey overland to California. Of the 500 people who originally pledged to leave the following spring, only 69 appeared when the time for departure arrived. Under the leadership of Captain John Bartleson, and with Bidwell as secretary and historian, the party left Westport (now part of Kansas City), Missouri, in May 1841.

The group was able to travel to Soda Springs, Idaho, with Father Pierre De Smet's missionary party, which was guided by the experienced Thomas ("Broken Hand") Fitzpatrick. At Soda Springs the party split up. Thirty-two of the original Bidwell-Bartleson party continued on to Oregon with the De Smet party, while the others turned south to the Great Salt Lake and then directly west to cross Nevada, including the Sierra Nevada. They arrived at the home of John Marsh at the foot of Mount Diablo in California in November 1842. Despite the group's ignorance of the route they followed and their complete lack of experience, they all arrived in California, although without their wagons and animals.

John Charles Frémont

The first thorough exploration of the Great Basin was carried out by an explorer and future Republican candidate for president of the United States, John Charles Frémont. Frémont led three expeditions into the area, which were at least partly inspired by the growing idea of Manifest Destiny, the belief that the United States was destined to occupy all the lands between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The first Frémont expedition into Nevada was made in 1843 and 1844. The party entered the northwestern corner of the state and proceeded south to the large desert lake that Frémont named Pyramid after an island in the middle of it. It then continued south and then west to cross the Sierra near Carson Pass. The party arrived at Sutter's Fort (present-day Sacramento, California) in March 1844. In his report and on his excellent maps, Frémont called this land the Great Basin.

Frémont again explored the Great Basin in 1845. This time he entered Nevada from the east near Pilot Peak and proceeded southwest, splitting the party twice, first in the Ruby Mountains and again at Walker Lake. On the way Frémont, seeing the Unknown River from a distance, named it after the prominent German geographer and scientist Alexander von Humboldt. The information gathered on these two journeys was widely circulated and greatly helped settlers crossing the Great Basin on their way to California. The information also helped the Mormons in planning their migration to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.

Emigrant Trails

The hope of a bright future in California lured settlers west in the 1840s. The Bidwell-Bartleson group was followed in 1844 by the Stevens-Murphy party, which blazed a trail over Truckee River pass. In 1846 the Donner party tried to use this route but became stranded by heavy snows. Forty of its 87 members died of starvation and cold, and the survivors were reduced to eating the dead bodies to remain alive. Emigrant travel across the northern Great Basin slowed after the tragedy.

However, the end of the Mexican War and the discovery of gold in California, both in 1848, spurred further emigration, and by 1849 the Humboldt River had become an important link in the trail west to California. Temporary way stations grew up along the emigrant trails to sell supplies to the travelers. Mormon Station (present-day Genoa), a trading post built in 1850 by Mormon traders from Salt Lake City, became Nevada's first permanent settlement. Although they abandoned the unfinished outpost in 1850, John Reese purchased the site in 1851 and built a store that became the center of Mormon Station. Other Mormons came to the region to farm and a few settlers on their way to California decided to stay, increasing the size of the settlement. By the end of 1851, about 100 settlers were living in Nevada's western river valleys.

Territory of Nevada

 

The United States acquired Nevada, as well as California, Arizona, Utah, and parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming, from Mexico under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Two years later, the Congress of the United States created the Territory of Utah, which included much of Nevada, or Western Utah, as it was then called. The southern region of modern Nevada was included in the New Mexico Territory. Mormon leader Brigham Young was named governor of the territory, but his government was located in Salt Lake City and could not assert authority in Western Utah. Settlers there wanted to establish law and order and escape Mormon rule by joining California. To prevent this, Young created Carson County in 1854, which included most of Western Utah, and sent Orson Hyde to organize the county government. Hyde arrived at Mormon Station in June 1856 and made it the county seat. The establishment of Franktown in Washoe Valley and a Mormon mission in Las Vegas far to the south extended Mormon control in the area. Two years later, however, Young summoned all Mormons back to Salt Lake City to help repel a federal army sent to punish the Mormons there for allegedly ignoring the orders of federal judges. Mormon influence in Western Utah ended.

The settlers who remained petitioned Congress unsuccessfully for their own territorial government in 1857 and again in 1859. Representatives were sent to each session of Congress to plead the cause. On March 2, 1861, outgoing President James Buchanan signed a bill creating the Territory of Nevada. An important reason for congressional approval was the newly discovered Comstock Lode, a rich source of gold and silver that was first tapped in 1859.

Struggle for Statehood

James W. Nye, appointed territorial governor by Buchanan's successor, Abraham Lincoln, arrived in Nevada early in July 1861. He organized the new territory and called an election in which members of the territorial legislature and a delegate to Congress were chosen. A referendum showed overwhelming support for statehood, and a constitutional convention met in 1863 in Carson City, although without congressional approval, and drafted a constitution.

The contest over ratification of the new state constitution was bitter. To vote "yes" meant the automatic approval of a slate of candidates for state offices, as well as a property tax on mines. Opponents denounced the proconstitution candidates as being too friendly to large mining interests. They also argued that powerful San Francisco mining corporations, which owned many Nevada mines, wanted an elected judiciary instead of the appointed territory judiciary because they believed elected judges would be easier to manipulate. A territorial judge had recently ruled against a large mining corporation in an important claims case. A prominent mining lawyer, William M. Stewart, who was associated with San Francisco mining interests, led the fight for the constitution, but small mine owners and workers were largely against it. In January 1864 voters rejected the constitution, and consequently statehood, because they believed it would largely benefit San Francisco mine owners. A severe depression then gripped the Comstock when the San Francisco corporations withdrew their investments.

Congress and the Lincoln administration, however, saw Nevada statehood as additional support for the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution (which outlawed slavery) and for Lincoln's upcoming reelection. The U.S. Congress quickly passed the Nevada Enabling Act in March 1864 and by summer a new constitutional convention was convened.

The second constitutional convention met in the summer of 1864 with J. Neely Johnson as its president. The 1864 constitution was largely the same as the earlier one, with one major exception: Mine proceeds, not property, were to be taxed. A large majority ratified this constitution and the document was telegraphed to President Lincoln, who signed it. Nevada became the 36th state on October 31, 1864.

Republicans dominated the first state election, installing Henry G. Blasdel as governor. The legislature, meeting at Carson City in December 1864, selected two other Republicans as U.S. senators, the mining lawyer Stewart and the former territorial governor, Nye.

When Nevada joined the Union, it was smaller than it is today. The state's eastern boundary had been extended east in 1862. It was extended again in 1866; in 1867 Nevada obtained its southern tip from the Arizona Territory.

Mining Boom

The Comstock Lode

The history of Nevada from 1860 to 1910 is largely a story of two mining booms separated by a 20-year depression from 1880 to 1900. The Comstock Lode began the first boom. Peter O'Riley and Patrick McLaughlin in 1859 discovered silver and gold on Sun Mountain (later named Mount Davidson), starting a rush to the so-called Washoe Diggings. Within a short time thousands of people arrived in the area. Immigrants composed a large portion of those who came to Nevada: Chinese immigrants helped build the Central Pacific Railroad across Nevada in the late 1860s; Italians and Swiss worked in smelters; and Irishmen worked deep in the mines. French-Canadians also lumbered the areas around Lake Tahoe, Germans farmed the Carson Valley, and later Basques and Scots tended sheep. Most of those working in the mining business were living in three new towns: Virginia City, Gold Hill, and Silver City. People lived in all types of buildings, and their diggings littered the landscape for miles around. Virginia City, especially, was a combination of industrial city and frontier town, with mine and mill buildings, foundries, and railroad yards alongside gambling houses, saloons, and dance halls.

The mineral wealth from the Comstock Lode financed hotels, foundries, banks, the Central Pacific Railroad, the mansions of San Francisco, and the trans-Atlantic cable; it was also responsible for some of the great American family fortunes. By 1877 production was decreasing, and by 1880 most of the Comstock ore had been mined. Until the next mining boom began in 1900, Nevada's economy rested primarily on the other industries that had appeared. Raising livestock and maintaining the railroad were especially important in this period.

Nevada Politics and Silver

The economic depression that followed the Comstock's decline was blamed on the Coinage Act of 1873, which ended the minting of silver dollars. Due partly to this act the price of silver dropped dramatically. Proponents of silver money called the act the "Crime of '73," and campaigned to restore bimetallism, the coining of gold and silver dollars. Some sought the unlimited coining of silver, called free silver. Between 1892 and 1894 free silver was the dominant issue in Nevada politics. Although the government slowly began coining silver dollars again in 1878, the gold dollar remained the monetary standard of value in the United States.

The decline in Nevada's mining industry caused the state's population to decrease. This in turn undermined Nevada's cattle-raising industry in the 1880s because it reduced Nevada's market for beef. Many of the ranchers who had survived were ruined by the hard winters in the late 1880s.

By 1900 the state had a population of only 42,335. National newspapers and magazines began to ridicule the lack of population in Nevada. One report suggested that Nevada should be deprived of statehood because it was a "rotten borough," an area with representation in Congress but virtually no population.

Second Mining Boom

The state's economic fortunes turned around early in the 20th century. In the spring of 1900 Jim Butler discovered rich silver ore at Tonopah, in southwestern Nevada. Again prospectors spread out and found silver at other places, including Goldfield in 1902 and Rhyolite in 1904. The 1900 revival also included the exploitation of the Ruth mines, an extensive body of low-grade copper ore in eastern Nevada, in White Pine County. In 1902 investors from New York built a mill and smelter for copper at McGill and a railroad north to the Southern Pacific transcontinental line.

Native Americans in the 19th Century

Tensions between whites and native peoples in Nevada had begun with the early fur trading expeditions of the 1820s and 1830s. Settlers traveling to California disrupted the nomadic habits of the native peoples and exhausted food resources along the Humboldt River route. Later, miners' demands for fuel to process ore destroyed many of the pińon pines from which native inhabitants gathered pine nuts for their winter food supply.

Clashes between Native Americans and whites occurred sporadically until the mining rush to Virginia City sparked the Pyramid Lake War in 1860. The U.S. government had created the Pyramid Lake Reservation in 1859 to provide Native Americans with land away from white settlers. The next year local native inhabitants killed two white prospectors after they had kidnapped two young native women. When news about the killing of the whites reached towns around the Comstock Lode, a volunteer army formed and set off to take revenge. Paiutes on and near the Pyramid Lake Reservation had not been involved in the original attack, but they had determined to defend their land against the constant encroachment of whites.

When the disorganized army of whites reached Pyramid Lake, the Paiutes attacked, killing 76 men and wounding most of those who escaped. United States cavalry troops from California were called and exacted revenge in a second battle at Pyramid Lake in which perhaps 160 Paiutes were killed; the rest was forced to return to the Pyramid Lake Reservation. Some chose to live on the margins of white society providing ranch, farm, and domestic labor. Others joined groups of Paiute and Shoshone that continued to raid farms and isolated way stations into the late 1870s.

In the late 1880s Wovoka, a Northern Paiute, began teaching the ghost dance, which some Native Americans believed would enable them to recover their original land, to reunite them with their ancestors, and to make it possible for them to live in eternal peace and prosperity. The Plains peoples, especially in the Dakotas, soon performed the ghost dance nightly. The U.S. government tried to eliminate the dance, which they regarded as a sign of rebellion. On December 29, 1890, U.S. soldiers killed more than 200 Lakota (Sioux) men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

20th Century

The mining booms of the first decade of the 20th century lifted the Nevada economy as the Comstock Lode had done earlier. Newcomers supplied most of the labor, and the population expanded rapidly, but the boom also brought labor disputes.

Workers and Miners

The Goldfield mines had the biggest labor disputes. Miners often stole pieces of ore by hiding them in clothing designed specifically for that purpose. The practice, called high-grading, was widespread. The Goldfield Consolidated Mining Company tried to crack down on the practice in 1907 by ordering workers to change their clothing in front of company inspectors at the end of each day. After workers threatened to strike, union leaders and company officials agreed to a compromise which decreased, but did not stop, high-grading. When the company then tried to pay workers in scrip, or promissory notes, workers refused to work, although there was little violence. Governor John Sparks persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt to send federal troops to the area, and the company hired strikebreakers to force the workers back into the mines.

Early 20th Century

The labor disputes occurred just after Francis G. Newlands became a U.S. senator from Nevada. Newlands saw the future of Nevada not in mining, but in reclaiming the desert for agriculture by using irrigation. He believed agriculture could change Nevada's boom-and-bust mining economy. Newlands was instrumental in passing the National Reclamation Act of 1902, which devoted the money from public land sales in 16 states to the construction of irrigation in desert states. Early projects were scheduled for Nevada. During this period Nevada also banned gambling (in 1910) and tried to limit the Reno divorce business, which had gained national and international attention after the turn of the century after it became known that under Nevada law many grounds existed for divorce.

After World War I had ended in 1918, attempts to suppress what others called immorality gave way to the values of a commercially oriented, wide-open frontier society that permitted such behavior. Illegal gambling, legalized prostitution, easy divorces, and the sale of alcoholic beverages in violation of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States became features of life in Reno and the small railroad town of Las Vegas. These businesses grew after 1931 when construction work began on Hoover Dam. In 1931, early in the Great Depression, gambling was again made legal and state residency required to obtain a divorce was reduced to six weeks.

Social reform did not much interest Nevadans in the post World War I period. The death of Newlands in 1917 dealt a severe blow to progressive reform in the state. Leaders who had begun their careers in mining towns dominated the state for the next 40 years, when Nevada approved businesses (gambling and prostitution) that other states called immoral. George Wingfield, Key Pittman, and Pat McCarran all began their careers in these mining towns. Wingfield first emerged as the economic mogul who, along with U.S. Senator George Nixon of Nevada and New York financier Bernard Baruch, put together the enormously profitable Goldfield Consolidated Mining Company. Through his control of several Nevada banks, Wingfield influenced both parties in the state from the 1910s until 1932, when the Wingfield banking chain collapsed. McCarran was elected to the Senate in 1932 and remained influential in Nevada until his death in 1954. Critics have identified McCarran with the anti-Communist crusade of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. McCarran sponsored the controversial Internal Security Act of 1950, which required members of the Communist Party or Communist-front organizations to register with the government; allowed the internment of Communists during times of national emergency; prohibited the employment of Communists in defense plants; and prevented anyone who had been a member of a "totalitarian" government from entering the United States.

The federal government played an increasingly larger role in Nevada life after the beginning of the Great Depression in the 1930s. The recovery programs of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt included public projects such as the construction of the Hoover Dam. World War II (1939-1945) brought military air bases to Reno and Las Vegas. The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service managed much of the 86 percent of the state still owned by the federal government. During the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission chose a Nevada site to test nuclear weapons in the 1950s, bringing additional jobs and prosperity to southern Nevada.

Recent Developments

After World War II, the gambling and entertainment industries in Reno and Las Vegas expanded. The opening of the huge Flamingo Hotel in 1947 changed the character of gambling near Las Vegas. By 1951 there were five large hotel-resort casinos operating in Clark County, just outside of Las Vegas city jurisdiction and away from higher city taxes. During the late 1950s and 1960s low county tax rates encouraged a thriving resort economy based on the lure of legal gambling casinos that were open 24 hours a day, big-name entertainers, lavish food buffets, and bargain room rates. Although organized crime had initially funded much of the gaming industry, Congress pressured the state to tighten gaming-license regulations in the mid-1950s.

Since the 1960s Nevada has grown faster than any other state in the nation; most of the growth has been concentrated in Las Vegas. By 2000 the state expects a population of 2 million, with 75 percent in and near Las Vegas. California and Nevada agreed to form the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) to regulate population growth and property use in the Lake Tahoe area. Water resources are critical to sustain growth in both Las Vegas and Reno. Gold mining in eastern Nevada, near Elko, has made Nevada among the top producers of gold in the world.

The successes of the Nevada economy and the consequent increase in population have created environmental problems. Air pollution has appeared in Reno and Las Vegas. Gold processing techniques that employ cyanide leaching ponds threaten underground water supplies.

The gaming economy has also caused an increase in social problems. Crime has increased and people who live in a 24-hour economy serviced by minimum-wage jobs have problems with high teenage-pregnancy rates, divorce, alcoholism, drugs, gangs, and suicide.

Despite its wide open spaces Nevada is one of the most urban states in the nation. The population is concentrated along the California border, particularly in Reno and Las Vegas. In the 1990s the resort economy of Las Vegas built several huge casinos that used ancient Egyptian, medieval, and jungle themes to attract the public. Circus Circus Enterprises opened the Excalibur in 1990 and the Luxor in 1993. Mirage Resorts, Incorporated, opened the Mirage and Treasure Island resorts.

Nevada's economy includes the large gambling cities, ranches, and the new mining boom areas in the eastern counties. Despite their differences, all share an antipathy to federal government control. Since the 1950s the gaming industry has feared taxation and regulation; the ranching community is opposed to regulations controlling grazing on environmentally sensitive federal lands; and the mining industry fought any revisions of the Mining Act of 1872, which allows private companies to remove precious metals from federal lands with no charge or royalty fee. In addition, Nevada ranchers inspired what came to be called the Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement in several Western states during the late 1970s to regain state control over federal lands. Although the movement was defeated in court, sympathy for the issue of states' rights remained strong, and in December 1993 antipathy for federal government control in Nevada made headlines again when Nye County passed two resolutions that declared local public lands county property. The Nye County resolutions were only two of several county resolutions in Western states that were passed in an attempt to accomplish what the original Sagebrush Rebellion had failed to do: regain local control over local land currently administered by federal government agencies. On March 14, 1996, however, a federal judge declared the Nye County ordinance illegal and reaffirmed federal ownership of land not specifically claimed by Nevada when it became a state.

The gaming industry, however, has occasionally argued that the mining industry should pay more in state taxes to lift some of its own tax burden. Nevada gaming has consistently paid over 40 percent of the cost of state government. Its revenues have enabled the state to spend more on education and to support two major state universities and a community college system, but experts warn that the state's tax base is too narrow to support major increases in education. Nevada has the smallest percentage of college graduates of any Western state and has the smallest percentage of high school graduates who go to college.

The history section of this article was contributed by William D. Rowley. The remainder of the article was contributed by Paul F. Starrs.

 

Contributed by:

Paul F. Starrs

William D. Rowley