History of Nevada/Nevada from US Territory to Statehood (1848-1864)

Nevada Prior to Territorial StatusEdit

The End of the Mexican-American WarEdit

First Page of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

As of 1848, the area of desert that is present-day Nevada was an unexplored passageway traveled primarily by new European arrivals to the Americans emigrating towards the western coast. The massive section of land became part of United States territory in 1848 after Mexico's surrender in the Mexican-American war in 1847. The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was drawn up ending the Mexican-American war that occurred during the previous two years, containing ramifications that the Mexican Republic relinquish control of a substantial amount of land in exchange for a monetary fee. With the conflict between the United States and the Mexican Republic ended, the accessibility of western territories by migrants became the main route of travel to the western seaboard. Following the discovery of gold within the Californian territory in 1849, the western province would witness an enormous influx of emigrants comprised of a wide variety of race and cultures. Established only one year later, the Compromise of 1850 included the creation of the state of California, as well as the territory of Utah that encompassed Nevada at the time. The breakthrough of the Californian gold rush would serve as a tidal wave in the development of Nevadan territory into becoming recognized as more than just an empty desert in the territory of Utah.

Effects of the California Gold RushEdit

1850 Woman and Men in California Gold Rush

Within only five years following the discovery of gold in California, its population expanded from a mere 10,000 to over 250,000. The desire to earn riches quickly through discovering gold was a primary driver to emigrate for many of these pioneers. The supply system of gold was not great enough to support the tens and thousands of prospectors, who combed anywhere, rumored to be rich with gold while abandoning camps to go to the next. Production of gold mining steadily declined in each year, forcing miners to return home or attempt to uncover precious metals elsewhere. Mining in the Sierra-Nevada territory was not prominent during the California gold rush, but the presence of gold was noted during a prospector’s emigration to California in 1849. As the excitement in California surrounding the gold rush subsided, so begun what would initiate launching the Nevadan area into its eventual statehood.

Early Immigration to NevadaEdit

Initially, the potential mineral wealth of the Comstock Lode attracted miners. However, not all people who immigrated to Nevada at this timer were miners, there were a number of diverse occupations arriving due to the increased population of the town. Many people in Virginia City were merchants, mechanics, teachers, seamstresses, laundresses, milliners, dance hall girls, prostitutes, and saloonkeepers, who followed the miners to Nevada. This is because the wealth of the miners attracted saloonkeepers, gamblers, and prostitutes who would “mine the miners” for their newfound wealth. Miners died daily from diseases, accidents, or murderous fights because violence and dueling were commonplace in this time period. Therefore, the men whose job it was to extract the silver and gold needed a way to escape the harsh realities of everyday life through entertainment. Entertainment in Virginia City was confined to drinking, gambling, and prostitution: all of which could be found in the local saloons. Of the first 100 commercial buildings erected, twenty-five were saloons, this demonstrates how commonplace saloons were.

The Demographics and Politics of Territorial NevadaEdit

The Mormon PeriodEdit

Brigham Young (President of the Church of Latter Day Saints from 1847 to 1877)

Prior to 1860, Nevada was a relative backwater in the American west, so far as citizens of the Union were concerned. Little interest existed in extracting minerals, as the California Gold Rush still presented an attractive prospect to entrepreneurial gold-seekers. During the early to middle phases of the Gold Rush, Mormon colonization constituted the most significant influx of Union citizens to the Territory.

Nevada attracted Mormon settlement primarily due to the potential profits in supplying Gold Rushers. In 1850, a delegation was dispatched from Salt Lake City in the Utah Territory with the objective of locating an opportune area for the establishment of a trading post, and doing so; eventually, Carson City was selected for settlement by the delegation. The economic premise of this mission coincided with the fulfillment of the expansionist political aims of the Church, a product of Brigham Young himself. Once a formal structure of governance was established in Carson County in 1855, Mormons swept local elections; all political offices in the County but one went to Mormon candidates.

Tensions between Mormons and gentiles came to a head when, in 1853 and 1855, gentile settlers petitioned for annexation by California, and failed to do so. Further conflict emerged between the two communities in 1857 when president Buchanan exercised executive power to dismiss nearly all of Utah’s government officials, including Young (then the governor of Utah Territory), from service, following which he installed a non-Mormon governor and dispatched 2,500 soldiers on a “Mormon Expedition.” Young and other Church leaders, believing this to be a threat to their continued political and religious existence, recalled all Mormon settlers to Utah to defend the faith. This outflux of settlers from the County (in all, 450 Mormons departed, reducing its population by approximately two-thirds, which implies a post-exodus population of 225) made room for newer settlers and encouraged the formation of apparatuses of government which looked to D.C. in hopes of incorporation into the Union.

Mining and NevadaEdit

The Comstock LodeEdit

Throughout the early to mid-1850s, miners struggled to find a breakthrough in the Sierra-Nevada with many living on a meager three to four dollars per day. It was not until 1859 that the central aspect of Nevada’s mining prosperity would be made publicly known. In January of 1959 a small group of miners composed of notable individuals such as Henry Comstock, and James “Ol’ Virginny” Finney, John Bishop, Alexander Henderson, and John Yount made what seemed to be encouraging ground on top of a hill by the Six-Mile Canyon. The men who found the site immediately established a camp named Gold Hill. The group had unearthed what would be one-half of the remarkable mining foundation that would propel Nevada forwards. With further exploration of the area neighboring Gold Hill, the collection of miners made another finding, which unbeknownst to them would reignite the craze of a mining rush equivalent to the severity of California’s gold rush. On June 8, 1859, Patrick McLaughlin and Peter O’Riley started working a new site, which was even higher than Gold Hill. This site would later be referred to as Ophir site or Virginia City. Silver mining would be the second half of the Nevadan mining system, as Virginia City was rich in the precious metal, not as common as gold at the time. On June 10 Henry Comstock arrived at Ophir site and realized that McLaughlin and O’Riley had made a significant discovery. He then declared his right to the area, and began negotiations with McLaughlin and O’Riley. Detailed records of the ore deposits show that on June 10, 1859, Penrod & Company, which was later renamed to Comstock and Company, found the load in Ophir. Even though O’Riley and McLaughlin discovered the site, Comstock was more vocal about the discovery, which is why his name was fixed to the lode.

Virginia City during the period of migration spurred by the discovery of the Comstock Lode

Political Consequences of the Comstock LodeEdit

On June 11, 1859, after the Comstock Lode was discovered, resolutions were passed which called a constitutional convention of settlers to appoint five delegates of this district, to be elected by the people. At this time the people in the Gold Hill District voted to adopt a set of laws. Many of these laws were modeled after California’s mining customs, because of the large number of pioneer Comstock miners who came from California. The first four articles provided a justice of the peace, constable and district recorder for a term of six months. The following six sections dealt with crimes and their punishment, for example, death by hanging was the punishment for murder. The final fourteen articles outlined rules for mining, for example, the maximum size of land claims was 300 feet, so that people would only claim what they were able to mine. All citizens of the district, signifying their agreement to comply with these laws, signed the rules and regulations. In 1861, in an act of congress organizing Nevada into a territory of the United State, the district mining rules and customs were recognized as valid and binding under the territorial legislature of Nevada. Thus, after the discovery of the Comstock Lode came the beginnings of established legislation, which allowed for the growth of an organized legal system. Due to the discovery of the Comstock Lode, immigration to Nevada increased. What occurred in the towns surrounding the Comstock Lode, such as Virginia City and Gold Hill, can be described as a boomtown, which is a town that has grown rapidly as a result of sudden prosperity. From mid-1849 to 1860 the territory around Sun Mountain, where the Comstock Lode was discovered, drew a steady stream of immigrants from California. This is because many people were seeking work after the California Gold rush. By the end of 1859, 500 silver seeker has arrived in Nevada, doubling its’ population. By the end of 1860 the shabby mining camp, with crude accommodations had become a metropolis of 700 people. In what could be considered a domino effect, it took only two years from the beginning of the Comstock Lode for then President James Buchanan to declare the territory of Nevada for the 6,000 residents incorporating it on March 2nd, 1861.

The Pyramid Lake MassacreEdit

Rock formations for which Pyramid Lake was named

In the state of Nevada, The Pyramid Lake Massacre was a defining moment in White-Indian relations. The battle marked the first major Indian resistance to encroaching Union settlement. Reports from newspapers of the time could be unabashedly sensational and were rarely unbiased in their portrayal of Indians.

On May 13th, 1862 at six o’clock in the morning, the New York Times tells of a Mr. C.T. Lake arriving in Virginia City, Nevada to recount what he knew of the event. A soldier of the militia, he had been ordered by the commanding major to guard the route of retreat. Successfully completing his assignment, he and six other men escaped. The massacre came in the wake of a recent series of excitements in the region, beginning with the news of an Indian uprising reaching California on May 8th of the same year. On Monday, May 7th, a large band of Indians from various tribes attacked Miller’s Station, a recently commissioned relay station for the Pony Express, killing nine and raiding what stock they could in the process. Estimates by locals placed the number of warriors at five hundred strong. On May 10th, settlers at Smith’s ranch on Walker’s river in Genoa reported a band of four hundred Indians led by white men. They communicated their intentions to descend upon the Carson valley as the purpose of their gathering, threatening to drive the livestock out of the region and subsequently attack nearby towns. In response to these disturbances, a company of white responders had already been forming, beginning with the tenth company of thirty men and eventually growing to one hundred troops by the time of the massacre. When Major William Ormsby led this company towards Pyramid Lake on the trail of the natives, he and his men were ambushed by a number of warriors judged by Mr. Lake to be two thousand strong. The Major ordered his men to charge, at which point they were surrounded and roundly defeated. Some whites escaped, though Lake judged the majority of the men to lay dead on the field. Later estimates judge roughly sixty-six of the hundred men to have been killed or unaccounted for including Major Ormsby himself.

A group of Shoshone Indians posing several years later by the nearby Ruby Valley

Early exaggerations of the still-significant events provoked state and private entities to react immediately. Private citizens in Placerville and Sacramento raised three thousand dollars and outfitted a company of well-armed and outfitted volunteers to defend Virginia city.The state responded in similar manner, promptly dispatching two hundred of its own troops. The federal government issued large quantities of ammo and ammunition dispatching all available soldiers in central California to the area. Between state action in California and the federal response elsewhere, it was estimated that no less than three thousand two hundred sixty troops were raised for the counter-effort within a single month. Further attacks by the offending warband were broadly anticipated. Settlers from locales in the surrounding region such as Carson, Black Rock county, Honey Valley, Honey Lake Valley and Genoa vacated the region out of fear, whilst others such as Colonel Lander, an experienced Union officer stationed in the region, remained unfazed, skeptical of the verifiability of some of the accounts. The coalition of Shoshones, Honey Lake, Smoke Creek, and Paiute warriors that formed in this instance was unprecedented in the region, as the Paiute in particular were thought to be a fairly peaceable collection of tribes. Even at the time many Americans were aware of the desperate situation many Indians faced, driving them to such extreme measures. The military response to the uprising regardless proved effective and swiftly crushed any threat of further attacks by the group.

Gender and EmploymentEdit

Despite the presence of prostitutes and dancing girls, not all women living in Virginia City had these occupations. From a census collected in 1860, one year after the Comstock Lode was discovered, it was found that of the 111 women living in Virginia City, 83 were living with husbands. This indicates that a family-based community was growing soon after the discovery of the Comstock Lode. As families grew so too did the population, and a need for more businesses and institutions, such as schools. This process led to the further growth of surrounding cities and contributed to the process of Nevada gaining statehood in 1864.

In 1860, the majority of Nevadans were: white, male, and employed in skilled labour. Men represented roughly ninety percent of the population of the Territory, two-thirds of which were employed in a skilled trade, with minor subsections in agriculture, commerce, and military occupations. The female demographic, representing roughly ten percent of the population, are for the most part unaccounted for with respect to their employment. This implies either domesticity or employment in less than reputable pursuits according to the morals of the time. Contrasting this with 1870, we see an increase in the percentage of women in the population, as well as in domestic employment. Furthermore, there was a small minority employed in education, implying the development of a settled society with intent to produce and raise subsequent generations in situ.

Counted Population, NV, 1860-1870, by Gender
Percent Breakdown of Employment, NV, 1860-1870, by Gender

Race and EmploymentEdit

An overwhelming majority of Nevadans were white in both 1860 and 1870, but 1860 presaged an influx of Chinese immigrants, presumably attracted by the prospect of economic opportunity in mining or railroads within the state-to-be. This attraction bore less fruit in 1860 than 1870, as Chinese immigrants, though there were much fewer of them, worked primarily in commercial enterprises or foodservice. By 1870, Chinese immigrants worked primarily in skilled labour positions, though roughly the same proportion worked in foodservice as had previously, indicating either immobility or lack of desire to shift employment preferences. Black and white Nevadans showed remarkable parity with respect to employment distributions by 1870, while native Nevadans were employed primarily in services or had unknown sources of employment.

Percent Distribution of Counted Persons, NV, 1860-1870, by Colour
Percent Breakdown of Employment, NV, 1860-1870, by Colour

A Brief Note of ThanksEdit

The data in these censuses have been dutifully and painstakingly transcribed by a team of scholars, beginning with Ronald M. James in 1991, and transferred into formats compatible with the crafting of visualizations and numerical analyses from the data. It is from these data that the preceding figures and tables have been created; therefore Dr. James and his team are owed a substantial debt of gratitude for facilitating this research. As a means of demonstrating the substantial growth that 1860 presaged in Nevada, 1870 is included in the following figures, so as to offer context regarding the growth of the state past incorporation.

Becoming a StateEdit

James W. Nye

Just two days after Nevada had become its own territory, Abraham Lincoln took office as president of the United States. Lincoln appointed James Warren Nye as the territorial governor of Nevada. the idea of statehood came from the residents of the territory, who held a vote without authorization from congress. A constitution was drawn up with the Californian constitution used as a draft, but citizens voted against the final version. Citizens in the Nevadan territory were mainly concerned with not being challenged by heavy taxing on mining, and after one failure for ratification in 1863. Three years after Nevada had been declared its own territory, President Lincoln signed an enabling act stating that once Nevada came up with a constitution, that congress would review it and grant it statehood. Delagates met from July 4th to 27th, 1864 to write a new constitution, adding in the outlawing of slavery in the state and giving public land to the federal government. The constitution was approved by citizens on Nevada and on October 31st, 1864, Nevada was granted statehood, becoming the 36th state to enter the Union.