Nevada History

Nevada became a state during the Civil War. On October 31 1861, the Nevada Territory separated from the Utah territory and adopted its current name, shortened from Sierra Nevada (Spanish for “snowy range”). President Abraham Lincoln appointed James W. Nye as Territorial Governor, and Orion Clemens, brother of author Mark Twain, as Territorial Secretary.

Eight days prior to the presidential election of 1864, Nevada became the 36th state in the union. Union sympathizers were so eager to gain statehood for Nevada that they rushed to send the entire state constitution by telegraph to the United States Congress before the presidential election and they did not believe that sending it by train would guarantee that it would arrive on time. The Nevada state constitution remains the largest and costliest transmission by telegraph. Statehood was rushed to the date of October 31 – coincidentally Halloween – to help ensure Abraham Lincoln’s reelection and post-Civil War Republican dominance in Congress. As Nevada’s mining-based economy tied it to the more industrialized Union, it was viewed as more politically reliable than other Confederate-sympathizing states such as neighboring California. It is a common misconception that one of the reasons Nevada was granted statehood was its large deposits of silver and gold. This is merely a myth, however, and would have been illogical in that Congress had unlimited control over these resources when Nevada was a territory and only limited control after Nevada became a state.

The eastern border of Nevada was moved 53.3 miles (85.7 km) east on May 5, 1866, when the area of the Territory of Utah between the 38th meridian west of Washington and the 37th meridian west of Washington was annexed to the state. Nevada achieved its current boundaries on January 18, 1867, when the area of the Territory of Arizona west of the 37th meridian west of Washington and the Colorado River was annexed to the state. This annexation included all of the present State of Nevada south of the 37th parallel north. The transfer was prompted by the discovery of gold in the area, and it was thought by officials that Nevada would be better able to oversee the expected population boom. This area includes most of what is now Clark County

Nevada in the American Civil War

During the American Civil War, Nevada’s entry into full statehood in the United States was expedited. Union sympathizers were so eager to gain statehood for Nevada that they rushed to send the entire state constitution by telegraph to the United States Congress before the presidential election and they did not believe that sending it by train would guarantee that it would arrive on time. The constitution was sent on October 31, just eight days before the election on November 7, 1864. The Nevada state constitution remains the largest and costliest transmission by telegraph. It had less than 40,000 inhabitants when it gained statehood (territories needed 60,000 to petition for statehood), far fewer than the initial population of any other state. President of the United States Abraham Lincoln wanted an additional Northern state that would presumably vote for his reelection, and help force pro-Northern ideas into new amendments to the United States Constitution.

In total, Nevada sent 1,200 men to fight for the Union. However Nevada’s main contribution to the war was the Comstock Lode, whose silver totaling $400 million financed the Union Civil War effort to defeat the southern states. A common belief is that Nevada achieved early statehood due to its silver, but as the Union already had Nevada’s silver due to Nevada being its territory, its statehood was due to political concerns, not economic.

There were several sympathizers to the Confederate States of America in Nevada during the War; in fact, of the “Pacific Coast” states, none had more southern supporters. In Virginia City, in particular, sentiment towards the warring sides was split evenly. However, in strict military fashion any strong sentiment that was pro-Confederate was struck down as Union army soldiers arrested the sympathizers and jailed them at Fort Churchill. The only time a Confederate flag was flown in the state was at a stone saloon, and defended by gunpoint by one of the saloon’s owners until the owner’s partner convinced him to change the flag to the United States flag before troops from Fort Churchill forced the matter, causing the commander of Fort Churchill to feel additional paranoia about pro-Confederate sympathies in mining camps, and throughout the war Nevada would be under martial law.

One organization particularly pro-Union was the Virginia City Fire Department. Many of them were originally from New York, and had strong feelings for the New York Fire Zouaves, who many had known when they lived back east. When news arrived of the Union defeat at the First Battle of Manassas, with the New York Fire Zouaves in particular suffering heavy casualties, it was determined by the Virginia City firemen that they would book no celebrations by pro-Confederates, and they bullied any southern sympathizer they met that day by fist and weapons.


Mining shaped Nevada’s economy for many years (see Silver mining in Nevada). When Mark Twain lived in Nevada during the period described in Roughing It, mining had led to an industry of speculation and immense wealth. However in the late 19th century, Nevada found it increasingly more difficult to compete with states such as Colorado and Utah in the mining industry. There was even talk of stripping away statehood, the only time in American history such an action was discussed in Congress[citation needed]. However, the rich silver strike at Tonopah in 1900 is thought to have saved the state from near collapse.[citation needed] This was followed by strikes in Goldfield and Rhyolite, lasting well into the 1910s and making Nevada a dominant player in mining once again.

Gambling and labor

Unregulated gambling was common place in the early Nevada mining towns but outlawed in 1909 as part of a nation-wide anti-gaming crusade. Due to subsequent declines in mining output and the decline of the agricultural sector during the Great Depression, Nevada re-legalized gambling on March 19, 1931, with approval from the legislature. The Northern Club received the first Nevada gaming license in 1931 which was issued by Clark County. At the time, the leading proponents of gambling expected that it would be a short term fix until the state’s economic base widened to include less cyclical industries. However, re-outlawing gambling has never been seriously considered since, and the industry has become Nevada’s primary source of revenue today.

In 1935, construction began on Hoover Dam, located outside Las Vegas near Boulder City. Thousands of workers from across the country came to build the dam, and providing for their needs in turn required many more workers. The boom in population is likely to have fueled the legalization of gambling, alike present-day industry. Both Hoover Dam and later war industries such as the Basic Magnesium Plant first started the growth of the southern area of the state near Las Vegas. Over the last 75 years, Clark County has grown in relation to the Reno area, and today encompasses most of the state’s population.

Nuclear testing

The Nevada Test Site, 65 miles (105 km) Northwest of the City of Las Vegas, was founded on January 11, 1951 for the testing of nuclear weapons. The site is composed of approximately 1,350 square miles (3,500 km2) of desert and mountainous terrain. Nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site began with a one-kiloton of TNT (4 terajoule) bomb dropped on Frenchman Flat on January 27, 1951. The last atmospheric test was conducted on July 17, 1962 and the underground testing of weapons continued until September 23, 1992. The location is known for the highest amount of concentrated nuclear detonated weapons in the U.S.


Over 80% of the state’s area is owned by the federal government. The primary reason for this is that homesteads were not permitted in large enough sizes to be viable in the arid conditions that prevail throughout desert Nevada. Instead, early settlers would homestead land surrounding a water source, and then graze livestock on the adjacent public land, which is useless for agriculture without access to water (this pattern of ranching still prevails). The deficiencies in the Homestead Act as applied to Nevada were probably due to a lack of understanding of the Nevada environment, although some firebrands (so-called “Sagebrush Rebels”) maintain that it was due to pressure from mining interests to keep land out of the hands of common folk. This debate continues to be argued among some state historians today.


Nevada’s flag has a deep blue color in the background. There is a yellow ribbon on the top left corner that says the words “Battle Born”. There is a five-pointed silver star represents the first and largest silver and gold mines found in Nevada(that’s why Nevada has the nickname: The Silver State). Under the star, “NEVADA” is printed in yellow letter. surrounding that is Sagebushes and yellow flowers (the sagebush is Nevada’s state flower. That’s why it also has the nickname “The Sagebush State).