Nevada is a state in the Western, Mountain West, and Southwestern regions of the United States. Nevada is the 7th most extensive, the 35th most populous, and the 9th least densely populated of the 50 United States. Nearly three-quarters of Nevada's people live in Clark County, which contains the Las Vegas–Paradise metropolitan area where the state's three largest incorporated cities are located. Nevada's capital is Carson City. Nevada is officially known as the "Silver State" due to the importance of silver to its history and economy. It is also known as the "Battle Born State", because it achieved statehood during the Civil War; as the "Sagebrush State", for the native plant of the same name; and as "Sage hen State".
Nevada is largely desert and semiarid, much of it located within the Great Basin. Areas south of the Great Basin are located within the Mojave Desert, while Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada lie on the western edge. Approximately 86% of the state's land is managed by various jurisdictions of the U.S. federal government, both civilian and military.
Prior to European contact, Native Americans of the Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe tribes inhabited the land comprising the modern state. The first Europeans to explore the region originated from Spain. They gave the region the name of Nevada (snowy) due to the snow which covered the mountains at winter. The area formed part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, becoming part of Mexico when that country gained independence in 1821. The United States acquired the territory in 1848 following its victory in the Mexican-American War, and the area was eventually incorporated as part of Utah Territory in 1850. The discovery of silver at the Comstock Lode in 1859 led to a population boom that became an impetus to the creation of Nevada Territory out of western Utah Territory in 1861. Nevada became the 36th state on October 31, 1864, as the second of two states added to the Union during the Civil War (the first being West Virginia).
Nevada has a reputation for its libertarian laws. With a population of just over 40,000 people, Nevada was by far the least populated state in 1900, with less than half the population of the next least-populated state. However, the establishment of legalized gambling and the adoption of lenient marriage and divorce proceedings in the 20th century transformed Nevada into a major tourist destination. Nevada is the only U.S. state where prostitution is legal, though it is illegal in Clark County and in Washoe County, which contain Las Vegas and Reno, respectively. The tourism industry remains Nevada's largest employer, with mining continuing as a substantial sector of the economy: Nevada is the fourth-largest producer of gold in the world.
Francisco Garcés was the first European in the area, Nevada was annexed as a part of the Spanish Empire in the northwestern territory of New Spain. Administratively, the area of Nevada was part of the Commandancy General of the Provincias Internas in the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Nevada became a part of Alta California (Upper California) province in 1804 when the Californias were split. With the Mexican War of Independence won in 1821, the province of Alta California became a territory - not a state - of Mexico, due to the small population. Jedediah Smith entered the Las Vegas Valley in 1827, and Peter Skene Ogden traveled the Humboldt River in 1828. As a result of the Mexican–American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, Mexico permanently lost Alta California in 1848. The new areas acquired by the United States continued to be administered as territories. As part of the Mexican Cession (1848) and the subsequent California Gold Rush that used Emigrant Trails through the area, the state's area evolved first as part of the Utah Territory, then the Nevada Territory (March 2, 1861; named for the Sierra Nevada).
Separation from Utah Territory
The 1861 southern boundary is commemorated by Nevada Historical Markers 57 and 58 in Lincoln and Nye counties.
Eight days prior to the presidential election of 1864, Nevada became the 36th state in the union. Statehood was rushed to the date of October 31 to help ensure Abraham Lincoln's reelection on November 8 and post-Civil War Republican dominance in Congress, as Nevada's mining-based economy tied it to the more industrialized Union. As it turned out, however, Lincoln and the Republicans won the election handily, and did not need Nevada's help.
Nevada is one of only two states to significantly expand its borders after admission to the Union. (The other is Missouri, which acquired additional territory in 1837 due to the Platte Purchase.)
In 1866 another part of the western Utah Territory was added to Nevada in the eastern part of the state, setting the current eastern boundary.
Nevada achieved its current southern boundaries on January 18, 1867, when it absorbed the portion of Pah-Ute County in the Arizona Territory west of the Colorado River, essentially all of present day Nevada south of the 37th parallel. 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.
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, both mining and population declined in the late 19th century. However, the rich silver strike at Tonopah in 1900, followed by strikes in Goldfield and Rhyolite, again put Nevada's population on an upward trend.
Gambling and labor
Unregulated gambling was commonplace in the early Nevada mining towns but was outlawed in 1909 as part of a nation-wide anti-gambling crusade. Because of subsequent declines in mining output and the decline of the agricultural sector during the Great Depression, Nevada again legalized gambling on March 19, 1931, with approval from the legislature. Governor Fred B. Balzar's signature enacted the most liberal divorce laws in the country and open gambling. The reforms came just eight days after the federal government presented the $49 million construction contract for Boulder Dam (now Hoover Dam).
The Nevada Test Site, 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 of desert and mountainous terrain. Nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site began with a 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 having the highest concentration of 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).
Note: Nevada was acquired from Mexico in 1848 and included in Utah and New Mexico Territories. It was established as a territory in 1861 from Utah Territory, and was admitted as a State on October 31, 1864. Nevada acquired essentially its present boundaries after annexation of the southern tip from Arizona Territory in 1866. In 1850 present-day Nevada had no census coverage. The population for 1860 is for the enumerated portions of Utah Territory that were included in Nevada Territory the following year. In 1870 coverage included the entire State. The 1870 population includes Rio Virgin County, enumerated as part of Utah although located within Nevada.. Areas shown for 1860 were then in Utah Territory. Total for 1870 includes population (450) of Rio Virgin County, enumerated as part of Utah although within Nevada. Total for 1890 includes population (1,594) of certain Indian reservations not reported by county.. Total for 1860 includes 2,118 persons in areas not organized by county, including Fort Randall (pop. 353) and other scattered forts and settlements in present-day Wyoming and the Dakotas west of the Missouri River. Total for 1870 includes 235 persons in areas not organized by county; total for 1880 includes 2,913 persons in such areas. Total for 1890 includes population (3,746) of certain Indian reservations not reported by county.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
Outstanding guide to Nevada family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.
Historical anecdotes and personalities of Nevada and the west can be found at Howard Hickson's Histories, a website created by the Director Emeritus of the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko, Nevada.