Nevada became the 36th state of the Union on October 31, 1864, but under much contention. The law required a territory to have a population of at least 60,000, but at that time the Silver State only had about half that number. It was during the campaign to re-elect Abraham Lincoln, and the Republicans wanted the extra three electoral votes the new state would bring to the table. There wasn’t much time, so the Constitution of Nevada was telegraphed to Congress just days before the November 8 election. It was the largest and most expensive message to be sent by telegraph. Since Nevada was one of two to reach statehood during the Civil War, it was nicknamed the “Battle Born State.”
Before European settlers started exploring the area, the land was occupied by Native American tribes including the Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe. Nevada was named after the “Sierra Nevada” mountain range, the name given to the area by Spanish explorers, which means “snowy” even though it is the driest state in the nation. In the 1700s, Spanish friar Francisco Garces was the first to explore the area until nearly a century later when Jedediah Smith, a fur trapper, made his way through what is now Las Vegas Valley in 1827 on his way to California. He mapped out his journey for others interested in the area.
In 1846, a wagon train of families left the Midwest on its way to California. The group of 81 started their trek later in the year than they should have and made the mistake of listening to the fraudulent guide who suggested a shortcut that turned out to add an extra month to their journey. As a result, the Donner Party, as the wagon train was called, found themselves very low on supplies and stuck in the Sierra Nevada mountains during a particularly bad snowstorm. Without food, shelter, or other supplies, people started to die of starvation and exposure to the elements. Some, desperate for sustenance, even resorted to cannibalism to survive. It took more than two months for rescue parties to reach them and nearly half of the travelers perished.
Nevada was first part of Spain and then later Mexico until the United States acquired the land after the Mexican-American War in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In 1850, it was part of the Utah Territory until it became its own territory in 1861. A couple of years before, in 1859, the Comstock Lode was discovered near today’s Virginia City. This mine produced about $36 million of silver ore each year until it ran dry in 1882. By that time, it had produced more than $300 million in both gold and silver, earning Nevada the nickname The Silver State.
- The Hoover Dam, built during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration between 1931 and 1936, was dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world.” It was constructed on the Colorado River at the Arizona-Nevada border. Boulder City is a federal town, built by the government, to house the workers of the dam.
- Construction hats were invented specifically for men working on the Hoover Dam.
- In the 1950s, Nevada was a test site for nuclear weapons with more than 1,000 nuclear bombs being set off in the desert.
- Area 51 was created in a remote desert northwest of Las Vegas to test covert military projects. Some people are convinced the facility houses aliens.
- Since 1912, Nevada has voted for the winning presidential candidate 96% of the time.