Nevada History
by John C. Evanoff

Visitreno.com is excited to present this series of articles by noted author and poet, John C. Evanoff. John will tell us about Nevada history and cover some of the more remote and unusual things to see and do in Northern Nevada.

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Northern Nevada was Nevada

March, 2009
By John Evanoff

The Shoshone and Paiute Tribes who lived in the region below what is now Oregon/Idaho all the way south to Tonopah, east to Elko and west to Tahoe were the only inhabitants of this high desert land for thousands of years. In the 1770’s, a few Spaniards moved through the southern portion of the region south of Tonopah, but it wasn’t until the 1820’s that Mountain Men wandering around looking for beaver pelts, started to talk up the area to easterners and other Europeans. Traveling through the Humboldt-Pershing-Churchill County areas in 1826, looking for fur bearing critters along the Humboldt, Jedediah Smith was one of those few spirited Mountain Men who liked mountains and this state has more than any other on the continent. He had a peculiar liking for this land and spread word to his brethren back in Missouri which at that time was the far western frontier of the United States. Not a lot of folks moved into this land but rather moved through it to the promised land of California. Some Mormons ignored the easterner’s vigor for the riches of the far west and instead moved their families into the Salt Lake Valley and created the territory of Deseret which then became the Utah Territory. In 1849, Mormon Station was built at present day Genoa as an outpost for those bands of Mormon families expanding the territory of Deseret, but until 1850, Nevada was still part of Mexico. With the creation of more Mormon trails and settlements in the Carson and Minden Valleys and into California, the Utah Territory took over all this land in 1854 and called the area Washoe. Then in March of 1861, due to some entrepreneurial mining barons moving mountains of money from silver and gold in Virginia City and an enterprising land owner in the Honey Lake Valley, an act to organize the Territory of Nevada was approved by President James Buchanan, just two days before President Abraham Lincoln took over and almost immediately appointed officers to fill the needed positions in the new territory. Nevada did not look like it does today though. The western boundary of the territory extended into Roop’s Valley all the way north past Fort Bidwell into the Modoc at the southern edge of the Oregon border. Despite decades of realignment, court hearings and mapping, Tahoe was bitterly fought over as the western edge of Nevada until the early 1900’s. Most historians of the time believe Tahoe to be divided from the outlet of the Truckee River at the north and inlet of the Truckee River at the south, the area around Markleeville, Ebbetts Pass, Sonora Pass, Bodie, and even Mono Lake were all part of the then Nevada Territory for some length of time. North of Tahoe all the way into the Honey Lake Valley along the eastern edge of the Sierra was also part of the Nevada Territory. The first Provisional Governor of the Nevada Territory was Issah Roop, a strong willed and dedicated rancher and land owner who built Rooptown almost single handedly which he later named after his sister Susan (Susanville). On the eastern side of the territory was Eureka, which sat right on the boundary line of the Utah Territory and new Nevada Territory. At the south end of the territory was a hand full of mining camps just north of present day Beatty. Abraham Lincoln appointed James Nye the new Nevada Territory Governor to replace Provisional Governor Roop, but it took Nye almost three months to prepare and move from his home in Madison County, New York to his new position in Eagle Valley. In the meantime, Orion Clemens was appointed Secretary of the Territory and traveled from Iowa to a new home near Genoa along with his brother Samuel who joined him in anticipation of the work and riches to be had in this new territory. Both of the Clemens brothers had a vast experience in letters and journals, Orion once part owner and Samuel a printer/writer of a well read tri-weekly journal in Iowa. The rest of the list of Justices, Judges and Attorneys were a political who’s who of legal practitioners loyal to Lincoln’s candidacy and the relatively newly formed Republican Party. The Nevada Territory immediately became important to Lincoln who led the country through the bitter Civil War. In October of 1864, Nevada became a state primarily because of its wealth and position as a northern sympathizer to Lincoln’s Reconstruction efforts. There were fewer than 40,000 residents in the territory, 20,000 less than needed, but the new constitution written in Carson City was hurried to Washington in anticipation of statehood and for the benefit of further financing the War Between the States. Always in Nevada during the early years between 1864 and 1929, the standard for state and local government has been, “the less government is the best government.”

Along the way, the Nevada Territory grew south and east eventually taking a line eastward to the border of the Great Salt Lake and south along the Colorado River and away from Arizona. Arizona fought for its right to keep the land, but because of it leanings towards the Confederacy, lost in its battles to Nevada expansion. Utah was just happy to keep what land it had and up to its final acceptance as a state in 1896 the Deseret community would flourish only as a begrudged religious curiosity. Years of Mormon aversion by the federal government kept Utah from being the dream Brigham Young once boasted as the land of the pure and innocent.

Today, more than 110,000 square miles make up Nevada. That’s 70 million acres of which almost 90% is federal land controlled by the BLM, Forest Service, the U.S. Military and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Scattered across the state are a number of fascinating towns and remarkable geography. More pictures have been taken by environmentalists and geographers of Nevada Mountains, lakes and deserts than any other state in the lower 48. Only Hawaii and Alaska have been photographed more of the entire 50 states. John Muir had a particular fondness for Nevada and spent a long portion of his life climbing the desert peaks of central and eastern Nevada. Kit Carson, the famous guide for John C. Fremont who mapped the western trail to California, often told journal writers of the amazing geography of Northern and Western Nevada. Samuel Clemens who became internationally known as Mark Twain, not only wrote articles about Western Nevada life but also a book specifically on the trials and tribulations of “Roughing It” in Nevada. For a time, between 1864 and 1939, Nevada was the wealthiest state in the union, per capita. Nevada is still the wealthiest in gold and silver mining in the United States and is second only in the world to South Africa in gold mining. More politically influential and financially solvent entrepreneurs called Nevada their home than anywhere else in the west between 1865 and 1929. Between 1946 and 2008, Nevada took the name of prosperity to new heights with the expansion of casino resorts in Las Vegas, Tahoe, Reno and Laughlin.

I’ve written about big chunks of this land and some historically provocative bits and pieces of where my family and I explored through two generations. One thing I will always proclaim is that I am a Nevadan by birth and soul. It’s one thing to be proud of where you’re from, but most ‘Native Nevadans’ admire Nevada history and places, speaking of them with thrill and pride for they are truly the reasons we come to love Nevada more and more with each passing day we explore it. Whenever we leave Nevada, moving to other states or countries which we would rather not do, Nevada remains on our minds as our true home.


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