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History of Nevada/Early Statehood (1864-1912)

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From Territory to Statehood[edit | edit source]

Mexican-American War[edit | edit source]

Manifest Destiny was the nineteenth-century American belief that it was in God’s plan for the country to the expansion of the country and Americans’ violence against indigenous peoples and Mexicans.This idea of expansionism and its implications in the annexation of Texas were the cause of the Mexican – American war of 1846.

Map of North America before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848)

The United States annexed Texas in 1845 despite many Congressmen stating that this would incite war with Mexico. Mexico claimed ownership of Texas even though the state had gained its independence in 1836. The war’s fighting ended in 1847 when the American troops reached Mexico City but the war ended officially with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848. In the treaty, Mexico ceded 500,000 square miles of territory to the United States who had to pay Mexico $15 million in war damage and assume $3.25 million of claims against the country. The land ceded to the United States contained seven present-day states; California, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, parts of Wyoming, Colorado and the state of Nevada.

Carson City[edit | edit source]

In 1859 the area that is now Nevada came into the national consciousness with the discovery of a large silver ore deposit. People came from across the country to benefit from the production of the mines and several new towns were established. Investors from the eastern states got involved and the population in the area surrounding the mines exploded. New prospectors from California helped to expand the population of Nevada in its early statehood. With all the traffic from California coming to the mines a prospector named Abe Curry founded Carson City. Carson city was intended to become Nevada's state capital, which it would become in 1861.

Location of Carson City
James W Nye; the first territorial governor of Nevada appointed under Abraham Lincoln

The southern states objected to the admittance of any western territories that would not permit slavery. That hurdle was removed by the secession of the Confederate states in 1861 and three new territories were created as President James Buchanan left office, Dakota, Colorado, and Nevada. Carson City was established as the territorial capital of Nevada and President Abraham Lincoln appointed James W. Nye, one of his supporters, to be the territorial governor.

Convention to Discuss Statehood[edit | edit source]

Nye got to Nevada in October of 1861 and started the work to form a territorial legislature by allowing every settlement to choose a representative. William M. Stewart became a leader in the legislature when he negotiated the creation of Nevada’s nine counties as well as maintaining Carson City as the capital. Even though Nevada’s population was considerably small, when the territorial legislature met for the second time in 1862 they felt that the growing mining wealth warranted beginning the processes for statehood. The territory held a referendum on pursuing statehood in 1863, the vote was in favor 6,660 to 1,502 so a state constitutional convention was held in November of 1863. The first draft of the Nevada constitution was voted down by the populace for its proposal to tax mines and private property equally. As a territory that profited greatly from its silver mines the thought of unfairly taxing the mine owners was met with little support, the people thought that mines should be taxed based on production. When the constitution was defeated at the territorial level the process was adopted by the federal government.

Lincoln's Involvement[edit | edit source]

President Lincoln and the Republican party needed more states in the union to gain more votes. Lincoln was worried that he would not win the 1864 election and would then be unable to end the Civil War and he needed more votes to pass the proposed thirteenth amendment. The amendment to end slavery had passed through the Senate in April of 1864 but failed to get the two-thirds of votes necessary to make it through the House of representatives. Because of these needs, President Lincoln changed the process by which a territory became a state. He made it so that a territory would achieve statehood if the President authorized its constitution, this method did not include Congress as Lincoln thought that they would not admit Nevada. In 1864 President Lincoln authorized three territories to hold constitutional conventions and form state governments. Out of Nevada, Colorado, and Nebraska, Nevada was the only one to achieve statehood that year. The convention met and completed the Nevada constitution over 17 days in July of 1864, the decision was made to tax mines on their proceeds not their property and the constitution passed by a vote of 10,375 to 1,284. The document was quickly telegraphed to Washington and Nevada was declared a state by President Lincoln on October 31, 1864 – one week before the presidential election. Lincoln won the election and Nevada’s Republican representative helped to pass the Thirteenth Amendment in April of 1865.

Nevada's statehood was very important to Abraham Lincoln

The Federal Government and Landownership[edit | edit source]

Early Landownership[edit | edit source]

Agriculture has played a large role in Nevada's politics and economy despite the common perception of Nevada as a desert state. The federal government's land ownership began when Nevada was still a territory and resulted in a successful agricultural industry. To this day the federal government still owns 85% of the land in Nevada, owing to land ownership developments during the period between 1864 and 1912. Nevada's entry as a state in the United States of America and subsequent individual treaties and acts were the ways by which Nevada's land became federal land.

The Roll in Early Statehood[edit | edit source]

In 1864 Nevada became a state. The United States government was acting on an agenda of expanding over the continent by purchasing the land of territories as they became states . This was done by the Lincoln administration, motivated to secure a second term in his presidency after facing the challenges outlined earlier. As a territory became a state, the Federal Government purchased all of the land it had claimed. The Federal Government would then transfer this land to either individuals or the State Government. In this case, the Federal Government also claimed parts of Utah and Arizona to add to Nevada. This increased the land mass and extended its border down to meet the Colorado River, which provided an essential water source for Nevada . This increased the appeal of Nevada to citizens in hopes of attracting migration to the state.

Nevada's borders before statehood
The Homestead Act, initially implemented in 1862, was the first act to outline land ownership in Nevada.

Treaties[edit | edit source]

Various treaties and acts were implemented at the same time as altering Nevada's border, all in the hopes of increasing the state's appeal. This was first done through the creation of the Homestead Act, which outlined the ideal process by which Nevadian land was to be attained. The act continued to gain status as it was enriched in 1909. Each act had its own intentions in bringing development to the West. Each was met with issues that rendered them ineffective.

Desert Lands Act[edit | edit source]

The desert lands act was passed in 1877 and was the first act to give westerners access to more than 160 acres. Ranching requires a lot of land and this act was the first to recognize this key feature. The lack of public land laws also left citizens unable to gather the supplemental land they needed . The act was designed to give arid land to settlers, with proof that land had been irrigated, as well as a strategic location that would make continued irrigation a possibility. However, the land allotted was too large for individual homesteaders to take on and too small for ranchers to viably operate. It also resulted in monopolies in the water market as parties figured out ways to restrict the water at certain points of the irrigation canals.

The Problem this Creates[edit | edit source]

Nevada was more appealing to newcomers with this increase in public land. With little personal investment and responsibility it provided a relatively safe opportunity for ranchers. Over time ranchers created their own associations to secure use of this public land, they hoped to create boundaries to protect their ranges. The federal government allowed boundary creation for a period of time but faced issues with preventing the escalation in disputes between individuals. The disposal of the land acquired in Nevada also became an issue for the federal government. The environment was arid, rocky and generally challenging to incorporate into an agrarian lifestyle. The most ideal land had already been settled earlier. This left mainly land for pasture, which had to compete against the public use land. Congress had struggled with public lands from the beginning. In 1879 congress created the Interior department that was responsible for classifying public lands and yet that same year the ignored reviews on how to “rationalize land policy” .

Tragedy of the Commons[edit | edit source]

The economic response to the public lands, which are an example of a common-pool resource, is called the tragedy of the commons. It is a situation where a resource became depleted because of an inability to exclude or limit individual use. Instead of maximizing the utility of the resource, individuals chose to maximize their personal utility. The strain of the individuals using the resource was beyond the point of maximum utility and the resource’s integrity was threatened. For the public lands of Nevada this happened through over grazing as individuals wanted to have as large of a herd as possible on these lands This maximized their utility from the free land and as a result, the grasses of the fields were consumed and trampled down to the point where they could no longer support the people who depended on them.

Theodore Roosevelt, the rough riding twenty-sixth president of the United States of America.

Continued Support[edit | edit source]

Despite the obvious economic and environmental downfalls this type of land holding had, the government maintained the use of these public lands for use by rancher. This was the result of a developing romanticization of the West and its cowboy keeper. With common-pool goods, to regulate them effectively you must have three things, unified interest, easy communication and a way to make these agreements binding . The ranchers that were dependent on these lands, while they had little political power, had considerable support of various political groups . President Theodore Roosevelt, who held office from 1901 to 1909 is known for his overt masculinity that he felt, was echoed by the cowboy lifestyle. This political notion was pushed forward in the early years of his administration through the romanticization of the western cowboy and rancher lifestyle that is still evident today. Many supporting this movement argued that allowing individuals to capitalize on public lands would encourage them to develop the west, as it acted as an incentive to adapt to its inhospitable climate . The individuals who seized this opportunity would then transfer to private ownership because of their desire to establish something of their own and public land became too crowded. However, this was not the result. Given that it was the late 1800’s to early 1900’s communication was limited, especially in Nevada where basic infrastructure was yet to be established. As one would expect, in the wild West there was little federal policing. Why would you buy what you need, when you can continue to get it for free? As the pioneering individuals chose to continue in the public lands, the federal government was left owning more than they had imagined.

The Silver Party[edit | edit source]

The growing silver industry in Nevada and the other newly acquired western states turned the American West into a new political force to be reckoned with. These new states wanted jurisdiction over their own political and economic policies. As such, they formed their own political party to properly represent their views, which became The Silver Republican Party.

Henry Moore Teller, founding member of the Republican Silver Party

The Silver Party was an offshoot of the Republican party, despite their singular political platform. The Party was established by Senator Henry Moore Teller. Teller was a founding member of the Republican party from Colorado in 1892. Silverites were primarily concerned with “free coinage of silver” and institute and continue the free coinage of silver in the United States. However; their remaining political platform and beliefs were characteristic of the Republican party during the early 20th century. The Party also criticized the wealthier eastern states of the United States, as well as Europe and Asia. The Silver Party hoped that by establishing silver as the sole coinage of the United States, any debt would be settled and a surplus of money would be created. As such, in the early 20th century, The Silver Party Republicans were seen as a more progressive political party. This political party was important because it not only provided a voice for the newer western states, but it’s creation also marked the first decade of equal representation in American politics. Furthermore, the bimetallic question became an important and polarizing topic in the United states in 1890.

Well known Silver Party members in congress included numerous governors and senators from Nevada, such as William M. Stewart and John P. Jones. The Silver Party’s members were described as being split into three distinct groups, The En Masse, Day to day people concerned with “super abundant and cheap money,” and The Bimetallists. The En Masse Group were the residents of the states that produce the silver, they had a powerful influence. They were concerned with the prices of products within their communities. Senator John P. Jones of Nevada is included as a member of this group. The second group was only involved in the party’s cause with the hope that silver would become cheaper than gold. The Bimetallists, hoped to create a stable value for money by including silver along with gold as currency, thereby creating a “par of exchange.” A variety of radical political groups in the 20th century also rallied around the polarized, bimetallist cause. Socialists, Suffragists and prohibitionists all joined forces, with other groups to support the progressive bimetallist cause.

Portrait of William M. Stewart, notable Silver Party Member

The Silver Party’s platform was to legitimize silver as the sole currency of the United States and in doing so, eliminate any economic problems that were previously associated with the previous monetary system. Silverites wanted to government legislation to officially determine the value of silver to be a ratio of 16:1 compared to the value of gold. Smaller offshoot Silver Republicans also lobbied for the free production of silver in addition. The Silver Party wanted to implement a tariff to protect the basic industry of the states involved in the production of silver coinage, many of which had underdeveloped economies during the party’s active years. The Party’s foundational doctrines were based on the failure of gold as a currency and a world wide standard. The economy in Nevada had undergone a series of economic slumps since the 1880‘s with silver mining being the sole industry.By placing tariffs on silver, as well as utilizing it for coinage, Nevada, as well as the other western states, would be able to reestablish themselves economically. The party and its platforms were formed to solely protect the interests of western states, as silver coinage became a symbol for hope for the American economy, after the 1890 depression. The silver republicans were not well informed on how the economy of the eastern states and how the monetary system worked, which became the major downfall of the party. Silver Party supporters wanted to distance themselves from the “gold standard” as they themselves had been previously dependent on it and Wall Street. As previously mentioned, the party itself was primarily controlled by regular citizens of these states, not the political elite. These people had taken out gold loans from east coast bankers to help cultivate the new state and became inherently dependent on gold and the east coast bankers on wall street who controlled it. Teller, who established the party even went as far as to claim that the current monetary system in place was as oppressive as slavery was.

Many easterners hoped the idea of silver coinage would disappear once the economies in these states had time to further develop. Silver as coinage was first rejected in 1896 following the German demonetization of Silver in 1873. In 1896, congress revised the coinage laws of the United States and in 1900 passed the Gold Standard Act. This act legally ensured that all other metal currencies values would be based off of gold, as well as officially stating that gold was the only accepted currency in the United States.

The Party’s political hold began to falter when the economy began to recover after the various depressions of the late 19th century. The price of gold began to rise again, as did the supply of it, similar to what the Silver Party had hoped would happen with silver. The discovery of new gold deposits, world wide, as well as the discovery of new methods of refining were attributed to the rising price of gold and did not help the Silverites cause. At the Republican Convention in 1896, The Silver Party, realizing that their policies were more progressive than their parent group, left. They combined forces with the Democrats in 1900 and remained allied with them till 1911 when they were formally dissolved.

The Comstock Lode[edit | edit source]

A sample of the silver found in the Comstock

Not only was the Comstock lode one of the largest silver finds in American History, but it was also the first time that silver had been discovered on American soil. This silver mine was the heart of the Nevada economy for more than three decades and was largely responsible for attracting settlers to Nevada. While it did create some jobs, the Comstock Lode was really only beneficial to the rich Californian financiers who funded its creation. The primary mineral in the Comstock was silver, and as such, the findings in the mine were coveted after by many Californian businessmen who were so close to Carson City.

Depiction of shaft locations at the Comstock Lode

Economic Interests[edit | edit source]

The large mineral strike brought problems of corruption and capitalist greed. Wealthy business interests from California were able to monopolize the entirety of the Comstock Lode and its profits by exploiting political actors of the new state. The lode was not prosperous for the few people who lived in Nevada at the time of its discovery, and most of the profits left the state to California.

From the 1860’s to 1880’s the Comstock Lode was referred to as “the centre of Nevada’s economic life”[1]. The Lode suffered considerably from the fact that the majority of the profits from mineral extraction were going to California. As such the Lode did little to help the people living in Nevada. Those who ran the profits from the Lode were known as the Bank Crowd. The Bank Crowd was a group of wealthy bank representatives who managed the assets of the Union Mill and Mining Company. They held the monopoly over the Comstock for the entirety of the time between the 1860’s and 1880’s . They were able to maintain their monopoly by pressuring local and federal political actors. This political power held by Californian business men would allow them to maintain control over the Lode for the entirety of its profitability.

Economically Disadvantaged[edit | edit source]

As unconventional as Nevada's economy is, it is one that developed out of necessity. The silver state's economic system has historically been one that is largely reliant on gambling and mining, both finite entities that are not reliable long term solutions. As problematic as this is, it is in many ways an instance of making the best out of a bad situation. Simply put, Nevada consists of economically unproductive natural resources, as the states landscape, largely composed of deserts and mountains, make for a difficult environment to allow prosperity. This also relates to a lack of agriculture occurring in the state, as its rangelands are the driest in the entire country. Even Aboriginals, who relied on natural resources to survive, had difficulty extracting materialistic value from Nevadian natural sources. Given a lack of intrinsic sustainable resources Nevada was ultimately forced into a corner whereby the only way that its economy may thrive is in a situation of unconventionality.

Mining Culture and Class Dynamics (1860-1900)[edit | edit source]

A miner in the Comstock. Note the small amount of space. Mining conditions like this were common in the Lode

The establishment of the Comstock Lode drastically changed the culture of Nevada. Because of the nature of the mining monopoly and working class citizens needing jobs people working in the mine became exploited by the Bank Crowd. Miners risked their lives everyday and were paid very little. Virginia City and Gold Hill were two mining towns in Nevada that housed people who worked in the Comstock. Problems with inequality grew in these areas. While there was a small middle class more than 40% of people were miners. The middle class was mostly comprised of business owners and proprietors who enjoyed a better living than those working in the mines for the most part. While miners were a huge section of the population they only held an estimated 12% of the total wealth in the areas working the Comstock.

Mining in the 19th and early 20th century was extremely dangerous as well and death was quite common. One particularly lethal event was known as the Yellow Jacket fire. This event decimated a mine in 1869. It was responsible for killing more than forty workers. The fire was extremely hard to stop as it was underground and as such the section which the fire was in was forced closed for three entire years while the fire cooled. There were many other dangers associated with working in mines as well and hundreds lost their lives in the mines between the period of 1863 and 1880. However those who were unskilled, single and young had few other job prospects in the area following the economic depression of 1863.

This theme of inequality and a large, underpaid working class would persist in the Comstock area for the entire time that the lode was being used. The Union Mill and Mining company was able to solidify their control of the mine. As such, the inequality between the elites and the working class would persist until tensions grew and a miners union was created.

Mining Union Rising and Downfall[edit | edit source]

One of the most worrying instances at the Comstock Lode was the creation of a Union in 1863. This union was created following the depression and amid concerns that wages would fall from $4 to $3.50 a day. Regardless of the safety concerns, the primary force driving workers towards unionizing was a wage drop. However, the positivity and success surrounding the union would be short lived. The Union Mill and Mining company, as mentioned before, had powerful political influence. As such, they were able to convince local government officials that soldiers needed to be sent in to squash what mine bosses described as rebellion. This, coupled with low levels of union membership, resulted in a lowering of wages to $3.50 per day. From this point forward, the common theme of inequality and corruption of mine bosses would persist in Virginia City and Carson City as well as the whole of Nevada. Workers were unfairly treated and poorly compensated for such risky work. The continual inequality is really the narrative surrounding the Comstock Lode, as rich and powerful members of society were able to prosper while workers received very little in return. By the end of the Comstock Lode’s glory days, it had produced around $400 million worth of minerals, most of which would only be seen by wealthy businessmen. However, it was still able to become a very strong force in the Western economy of, not only Nevada, but also California. It even led to a mutually beneficial relationship between the two states, as railways constructed for the purpose of mineral transportation would eventually be used to serve a similar purpose for cattle, which remains a noteworthy market today for each state. The Comstock Lode is ultimately a striking example of economic inequality in the United States, as it portrays the flaws of capitalism and its associated greed.

Mining Economy[edit | edit source]

The discovery of silver played a big part in the economy of the state of Nevada. From 1860 to 1882 the Comstock produced $292,726,310 in precious metals. Miners made $4 a day throughout the 1860s and 1870s. Subsequently, the majority group in this population were male miners, although women migrated to the community as it grew. As silver was mined, there was an increasing stratification of personal wealth and land ownership in Virginia City. A small number of people made a lot of money off these economic ventures, but it involved many risks.

In the 1860s, most of the mines on Comstock Lode were owned or financed by the Bank of California and two men named William Sharon and William Ralston. This dominant force meant that most of the wealth of the area went outside the state (in particular towards San Francisco). Weak governmental institutions in the early years of Nevada state meant that it was easy for one economic source to become dominant. This is what happened with mining under the Bank of California, and it would continue with the construction of railroads such as the Virginia and Truckee (VT) Railroad. In the 1860s the bank controlled the price of stocks on mines, often driving the price up so high that no one else could compete. By 1867, four hundred mining companies were operating on the Comstock and had issued stock. Investing in the mine by buying stock was not without risk though. Of those four hundred mining companies in 1867, only three paid dividends on the stock they issued.

By the 1870s, the mines on Comstock Lode were much less productive and unemployment rose in Virginia City and other boomtowns surrounding it. It was around this time that the balance of power changed in Virginia City from the Bank of California to the so-called “Silver Kings”. These were John W. Mackay, William S. O’Brien, James C. Flood and James G. Fair. This period was also called the “Big Bonanza” for new silver ore discovery in the area. The Silver Kings had been mine workers who then worked their way up to become speculators, building a mining syndicate. They controlled most of the mining operations on the Comstock and made a lot of money for themselves through the 1870s. This shift in power meant that the economy of Nevada was more homegrown, with less money going towards California.

Unfortunately, this period of prosperity would be short-lived.The decline in production from the Comstock had begun in the late 1870s. Miners lost their jobs which effected other parts of society. Construction slowed down on new buildings and restaurants and saloons closed. The end was signaled in 1880 when the VT Railroad owners tore up new track that had been laid heading towards Silver City in favor of a different route. The boom was over and there was no point in new railroads being sent towards depleted economies. This decline was slow, but by 1895 dividend payments to investors in the mines had stopped. The Silver Kings sold their remaining shares and retired. Banks in the area had stopped issuing coins in 1893 and the Territorial Enterprise newspaper that covered the area ceased publication with the words, “For sufficient reasons we stop.” There were several smaller booms in places such as Tonopah and Goldfield in the early twentieth century, which allowed the mills in Comstock to keep operating as long as possible. However, none of the silver ore found could match the Comstock at its height. By 1900, the population of Storey County was only 3,560, where forty years earlier it had been over 25,000.

Carson City Population[2]
Census Pop. % Change
1850 714 -
1860 714 0%
1870 3,042 326.1%
1880 4,229 39%
1890 3,950 -6.6%
1900 2,100 -46.8%
1910 2,466 +17.4%
1920 1,685 -31.7%
1930 1,596 -5.3%
1940 2,478 +55.3%
1950 3,082 +24.4
This table shows the fluctuating populations

of Carson City from 1850-1950

Early Mining Settlements and Boom Towns[edit | edit source]

During the mid-1800’s to early 1900’s Nevada was discovered to be rich in gold and silver, giving Nevada the nickname of the Silver State. Mining townssprung up around these gold and silver deposits attracting many people from California and the Midwest. These towns were referred to as boom towns. Mining in Nevada had two phases, the Comstock Bonanza and the discovery of silver in 1900. The Comstock Bonanza took place from 1859 to 1878, Nevada then faced a depression after the decline of Bonanza until 1900 with the discovery of silver in Tonopah. These mining booms pushed the borders of the state both eastward and south creating instability at the speed in which the mining companies found and lost their luck. Those who migrated to these towns settled in either the busy boom towns or ranches in the valleys nearby.

Phase One: The Comstock Bonanza

Virginia City was one of the most famous mining towns in Nevada. Deep ore bodies were found along the Comstock in 1871, which sparked interest in the City. These developments allowed Nevada to become the leader of national mineral production in the United States at that time. Virginia city was home to many fine mansions, opera houses and saloons. C street was considered the main strip which included brothels, a railroad station as well as Chinese and Indian communities. The years between 1870 and 1880 were the most prosperous for the boom town with a population of about 20,000 during that period. Women were greatly outnumbered in Comstock Towns, wives of the wealthy worked to create a social standard and helped to establish churches and schools. Many who lived in these boomtowns took part in the gilded age, with a growing economy came more consumption and lavish lifestyles.

Phase Two: Silver in Tonopah

The Tonopah Mining District was first discovered in May 1900 which helped bring an end to a long period of decline that had been plaguing the state for about 19 years. The lack of mining discoveries from 1881 to 1891 left the population of Nevada desperate for income over the next 10 years. Tonopah's isolation was the cause for its late discovery, it wasn't until a man by the name of James L Butler strayed from his destination taking samples to only find a wealth of silver in the area. Over the next couple years the population of the area exploded and railroads were built to maximize the shipping of the ore.

W.A. Clark

One of the most prominent figures associated with this economic boom is W.A. Clark. Though most of his noteworthy actions were made with sole consideration to how he as an individual may benefit, many of his decisions actually had a very positive impact on Nevada. For instance, he was a major contributor to railroad construction during both the 19th and 20th centuries. In addition to self profit, he assisted in kick-starting Nevada's economy by continuously transferring minerals between communities. Given the unsustainable and unreliable nature of Nevada's economy financial disparity occurred to the extent that many towns became deserted. These were commonly known as ghost towns. The railways built by Clark were largely responsible for the revival of such communities, along with economic stimulation resulting in all participating parties benefiting.

Mining Districts and Towns

Perhaps one of Nevada's most prosperous mining districts was located in Goldfield, founded by Harry Stimler in 1902. Their gold and silver discovery jump started a mining rush in the area which soon became a major contributor of these precious metals. Goldfield was on the rise with its peak production being reached in 1910 where the mines in the area produced 539,000 ounces of gold and 118,000 ounces of silver. The Goldfield Mining District was estimated to be worth 100 million dollars but its many years of prosperity were met by a long period of decline just after 1910 where many mines were shut down. However, this opened the door for companies to start leasing the land which supplied a majority of the ore produced thereafter. Eureka Mining District This mining district is located within Central Nevada and was first discovered in 1864 by a few prospectors from the near by town Austin making it one of the older mining districts in western Nevada. Eureka was known for its large quantities of silver and lead ore with its 2 major deposits that located in the Ruby Hills and Adams Hills. Eureka celebrated its most prosperous years throughout the late 1800's and was one of the first mining towns to introduce the leasing system in 1878 allowing for maximization of mining in the area.

Pioche Mining District was located at the base of the Ely Range the mining town of Pioche first started its production after silver was discovered by local Indians. Its first year of production was in 1869 and quickly reached its peak production just three short years after in 1872. It reached a population of 6,000 in 1872-73 and was a major contributor of silver chloride ores. Its only flaws were its lack of infrastructure and available water which was a huge hindrance for the development of mining companies. This forced them to exclusively work the high-grade ore as the only means of transportation in the early period was by wagon. Also with the lack of water in the area the development of mills were forced into the neighboring towns of Meadow Valley and Dry Valley.

Austin Nevada went through a transformation after the discovery of silver as well. Before the silver strike Nevada was unexplored with uninviting mountains. The discovery of silver led to a population increase of over 10,000 people within one year. With the population boom came an increase of huts, tents, log cabins and businesses that included bakeries, barber shops, breweries and hotels. Another example of a successful boomtown was Hamilton. Hamilton Nevada could be described as having harsh climate and poor living conditions. By the end of 1869 after the discovery of silver Hamilton’s population increased by 20,000 residents and was home to 195 mining companies. The increase of popularity of the town brought with it skating rinks, dance halls, auction houses, theaters and soda factories. Virginia City, Austin and Hamilton are examples of cities that basically transformed overnight after mining resources were discovered there.

The Northern Saloon

Excessive consumption was popular in Nevada boomtowns. These towns were home to many saloons. The town of Hamilton had 101 businesses that sold liquor and Eureka had 100 saloons for a population of only 10,000. Towns such as Virginia City became increasingly popular and gained international attention, people from all over the world began to visit the boomtowns creating a more diverse community. With the changes of culture and diversity came changes to the saloons which worked to cater to specific ethnicities. For example Virginia City became home to both exclusive Irish establishments as well as a diverse German beer garden. Prostitution was recognized in Comstock towns and considered a standard part of frontier towns. Some boomtowns had their own red light districts as well. Saloons and prostitution are what comes to mind for many when thinking about the culture of boomtowns.

Not all mining towns had lavish living conditions, those who lived in Aurora faced hardship. In 1860, prospectors traveled northward and east in search of ore and ended up discovering Esmeralda the greatest bonanza in that part of the Basin. In the spring of the next year more promising deposits were found to the North and the town was relocated and named Aurora. Aurora was an isolated mining town which made it hard to supply the community with food, fuel, lumber and tools. Life for many in Aurora was full of daily struggles, much different than the lives of those in Virginia City. Miners complained of suffering from scurvy due to lack of vegetables and proper nutrition. The town of Aurora eventually faced a decline in mining. By 1865 many mines and mills were closed leading to the departure of many. The town was on its way to becoming a ghost town, the term used for those towns left abandoned after the decline of silver, gold and other resources. By 1870, half of the towns houses were left empty and major mills and buildings were either dismantled or relocated.

The majority of mining towns across the United States experienced three phases of mining-town development. First, the rapid settlement phase which consisted of cabin or tents laid out at random, second was the camp phase which had a more permanent population living in communities with a typical American grid plan, and finally the town phase, which included stone and brick public buildings in the center of towns. Only some states experienced a fourth phase, abandonment. Places like Virginia city were left behind and buildings and homes were abandoned. The decrease of mining wealth was either due to ore bodies no longer being profitable due to lack of equipment or unfavorable finds that lured miners away. Possessions would be left behind in abandoned homes, merchants closed the doors to their shops and these once prosperous and booming towns became ghost towns. Nevada is famous for these ghost towns which many travelers still visit today.

Women in Nevada[edit | edit source]

Though legitimate equality was by no means present, women did play an important role in the shaping of early Nevada, often by filling various roles in the daily life of boomtowns. Although women’s roles outside of the home were increasing during the 19th and 20th centuries, they were still confined by sexism. In early Nevadan history it is evident that woman were assigned different roles than men, with the latter typically acting as the primary leader and decision maker. Despite a certain lack of liberty, and subsequent lack of opportunity, it cannot be said that women were insignificant in the context of Nevadian state history.

Life for White Women[edit | edit source]

Helen Stewart was a woman who lived in the late 1800s and made a journal of her life in early Nevada. Helen moved with her husband and children to Las Vegas Rancho, and in 1882 she gave birth to her fourth child. Two years later her husband was shot and killed by her neighbour. She courageously went and told the story of her husbands killing and the killer was charged with justifiable homicide. After her husbands death Helen managed her property with her sons and even became a postmaster. The story of Helen offers valuable insight into the lives of woman in early Nevada. Like Helen most woman didn’t have a choice in where they were to live, but rather they followed their husbands. Woman in the 1800s were also responsible for having many children. When looking at the life of Helen, it is also important to look at how woman’s roles were broadened during the 19th century. Helen was able to run her own land and even sold it for a profit of $55,000. Helen’s job as a postmaster was a common job for woman during the time as it was their responsibility to provide food for the men who worked in the mines. Helen's journals give historians valuable insight into what life was like for woman in the 19th century. Before this time period woman were generally unable to own land and participate in the trading and selling of land. Helen's experience is a great example of how rights and life were evolving for woman. It is also important to note that Helen was able to maintain a job and provide for herself. The fact that Helen was able to get a job and provide for herself is significant because historically woman were unable to work and provide for themselves, leaving them ultimately dependent on men. As it was rare for pioneers to write journals, Helen’s journal offers amazing insight into what life was like for the average white woman back in the late 1800s.

Anne Martin, Torchbearer of the Women's Suffrage Movement

Woman's Suffrage[edit | edit source]

The early 1900s was an ever changing political environment where woman were seizing opportunity. One woman who embraced this changing political environment was Miss Anne Martin. Miss Anne Martin spent 2 years in England working for suffrage. Anne Marin was a university graduate, a professor, and an aspiring politician. The goal of Miss Anne Martin was to get woman voting rights in Nevada. She became president of the State Equal Franchise Society, making her a torchbearer for the woman's suffrage movement. Later Miss Anne Martin would become the first woman to ever run for the United States Senate, however she never successful in obtaining the position. Although Miss Anne Martin never got a seat in the Senate, she played a great role in getting woman the right to vote. Her running for Senate marks the beginning of a long and trying history of American Woman getting involved in politics.

Native Women in Boomtowns[edit | edit source]

Native woman played an important role in the 1800s when it came to society, economics, and politics. Native woman were able to interact with white men in different ways than the native men could. Native woman were able to use their sexuality to establish relationships with white men. This was beneficial for native woman because they were able to obtain novel goods and opportunities in society from white men through their relationships. Most mining towns had a shortage of woman and thus many of the men living there were unmarried. Native woman were given sex-specific jobs and were allowed to participate in the formal social structure of the mining towns like their white counterparts. It is interesting to note that native woman in and around mining camps were treated very differently than natives elsewhere. In most places in America a white person could kill a native without punishment, however in mining towns a man would be charged and prosecuted for raping a native woman. The reason men would be punished for raping a native woman in a mining town was because the woman was seen as a woman first and her race was secondary. Punishing white men for assaulting a native woman is significant because it shows the beginning of equality and human rights being expanded. This can however be contributed to there being a shortage of woman in mining towns, making it essential to protect even the native woman.

Sex and Race in Early Statehood Nevada[edit | edit source]

Throughout history women in Nevada have been put in numerous roles. During the 1800s and 1900s women were given different jobs and roles than men. Many women stayed at home and raised their children while other women worked. Some common jobs that woman had in 19th and 20th century Nevada were boarding houses, nurses, teachers, and working in restaurants. Since men were busy mining women were given these responsbilites. As mentioned before native woman were also given womanly jobs in society; however they were given jobs such as laundry. The reason native woman were required to do simple jobs like laundry was because the white women were often doing more important jobs such as food preparation and housekeeping. Like everywhere else black women in Nevada had fewer rights. A black woman would be punished far greater than a white woman would be. However black woman still had greater status than natives and were often times photographed and were allowed to participate in food preparation. It is evident that the roles of woman were extremely important to the development and sustainment of Nevadan camps and settlements. Without woman of all colours a wide variety of tasks and jobs would not have been able to be completed. With Nevada just achieving statehood in 1864 the role of women was increasing and becoming more important. Women of all races were given a wider range of jobs and opportunities, marking a new era for women.

Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight: Prizefighting in Nevada[edit | edit source]

The state of Nevada started out its sinful reputation with the legalization of prizefighting in 1897. Prizefighting is a professional boxing match which awards the winner with a sum of money. Nevada's poor economy and declining population needed a boost.Nevada turned to prizefighting in hopes that the fight would promote tourism and, in turn, boost the economy. Therefore, Nevada became the first state to legalize prizefighting. Most of the country criticized the people of Nevada for legalizing such a brutal sport. In March 1897, Reverend Levi Gilbert from a church in Cleveland was quoted in the New Haven Evening Register saying that “This state [Nevada], this deserted mining camp, revives brutality by an exhibition that must make its Indians and Chinamen wonder at Christianity…Such exhibitions promote criminality by feeding the bestial in man.” However, the state of Nevada faced very little resistance in passing the legislation to legalize prizefighting. This had to do with the hardworking and dangerous culture of Nevada mining towns. Therefore, the rough and often quite bloody sport of prizefighting was very popular in Nevada, as the traits linked to prizefighters—strength, courage and resilience—aptly reflected the lives of those in Nevada mining towns.

A picture taken by a reporter of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight

The fight that brought about the legalization of prizefighting was the long-awaited heavyweight championship between title-holder James J. “Gentleman Jim” Corbett and challenger Bob (Robert) Fitzsimmons. The fight took place on March 17, 1897 in Nevada’s capital, Carson City. It was no coincidence that March 17 was St. Patrick’s Day and Corbett was of Irish origin. The preparations for the event were extensive. The stadium for the fight was built, restaurants stockpiled food and saloons stockpiled alcohol. A state of nearly three thousand brought in about six thousand people to watch the spectacle. The fight even brought out famed lawmen, Wyatt Earp.Corbett started out as the aggressor, even bloodying Fitzsimmons in the fifth round to the point where he was almost knocked out.However, in the sixth-round Fitzsimmons began wearing Corbett down and by the 14th round all it took was his famous solid punch to the solar plexus to knock Corbett down for good. The fight was a success in all aspects, especially financially.It certainly helped to boost the state of Nevada’s economy. After the success in Carson City, Nevada, many other states followed suit in legalizing prizefighting. As for the state of Nevada, the fight between Corbett and Fitzsimmons signaled the beginning of the state’s long and successful relationship with professional boxing.

The prizefight brought about, however limited, equal rights for women. The host of the fight, Dan Stuart granted women the right to purchase tickets. Even though fewer than one hundred women watched the fight, it was still something that was unprecedented and highly controversial. One such woman that attended and watched the fight was Nellie Mighels Davis. Nellie was there to report on the fight for her husband who was out of town. Davis became the first woman to report on a prize fight when she was paid $50 for the story by a Chicago newspaper. Davis recalled how few women there were at the fight, most of them being prostitutes. Even though women had been given the right to attend the fight, it was looked down upon. Davis even decided to use her maiden name of Verrill for the story to avoid ‘disgracing’ herself and her friends by her acknowledgement of being present at the fight. Prizefighting did a lot for both the people of Nevada and the state itself.

Gans-Nelson and the Lasting Impact of Boxing in Nevada[edit | edit source]

The lasting impact of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight seems to be that it gave great exposure to the State of Nevada. Because, in 1906, less than a decade later, one of the most famous prizefights in boxing history happened, between Joe Gans and Oscar Nelson. This fight was witnessed by an astounding 100,000 people, and it is also the longest fight in modern boxing history, lasting 42 rounds. The fight took place in the mining town of Goldfield. With sports writers flocking from across the country to come. Even President Teddy Roosevelt's son, Kermit, attended. The fight was also the first fight to be filmed, which gave great media exposure to Nevada. This fight helped propel Nevada to become the Mecca of prizefighting it is renowned as today.

The legalization of prizefighting was the first step for the state of Nevada in pushing back against the nation's moral code. It paved the way for the future legalization of gambling, prostitution and quick divorce.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Rothman, Hal. 2010. The Making of Modern Nevada. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2010. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 13, 2016). Pp. 44
  2. http://www.webcitation.org/6G4J8TS75?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.census.gov%2Fprod%2Fwww%2Fdecennial.html