Patayan and Anasazi Native Americans inhabit the Colorado River area in the region that becomes known as Nevada.
The area is populated by substantial groups of Native Americans. Mojave Natives plant crops along the riverbanks. The Washoe tribe inhabits the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range that forms the border between present-day Nevada and California. The Paiute reside in northern and southern Nevada, while the Shoshone occupy the northeastern region.
1500–1799 EARLY EUROPEAN EXPLORATION
Spain claims the area, naming it Alta California, but makes little to no exploration of the region.
Spanish Franciscan missionary Father Francisco Garces crosses the Colorado River at the modern-day site of Katherine Landing near Lake Mojave.
1800–1847 WESTWARD EXPANSION
The Adams-Onis Treaty defines the northern extent of Spanish land claims to the 42nd parallel. This north latitude line serves as Nevada’s northern border with Oregon and Idaho.
(September) American explorer Jedediah Smith leads an expedition to Meadow Valley Wash and is purportedly the first white explorer to enter Nevada.
Fur trappers, the first white men officially recorded to reach the Nevada area, begin trapping beaver in the Elko area.
(November 9) Peter Skene Ogden, an employee of the British Hudson’s Bay Company, discovers the Humboldt River on his fifth Snake Country expedition.
Spanish explorer and merchant Antonio Armijo leads a party of 60 along the Old Spanish Trail across the Las Vegas Valley to Los Angeles. They group finds an abundance of artesian spring water that allows travelers to cut directly through the vast desert. The traders name the desert oasis Las Vegas, Spanish for "The Meadows."
The earliest organized immigrant party passes through Nevada from Independence, Missouri. The group crosses Nevada by way of the Humboldt, Carson Sink, and Walker Rivers.
American explorer and military officer John Charles Fremont leads the first thorough exploration of the Great Basin, which includes most of Nevada. His expedition names Pyramid Lake and is the first non-native group to see the world’s largest high mountain lake, Lake Tahoe.
Explorer Joseph Walker leads the first immigrant wagon party across the Sierra Nevada Mountains through what becomes known as Walker Pass. More than half the 22,000 prospectors who head to California after 1849 use the trail.
1848–1863 AN EMERGING TERRITORY
(July 4) The U.S. acquires Nevada from Spain in the Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo.
Gold and silver prospectors begin combing the desert lands of northern Nevada. The first recorded discovery of gold in Nevada is in Gold Canyon near present-day Dayton.
Mormons found the first permanent white settlement in Nevada at Genoa, then called Mormon Station.
A trading post is established at the intersection of Thompson and Fifth streets. Dubbed the Eagle Station, the post marks the beginning of the future state capital, Carson City.
(June 14–15) Mormon prophet Brigham Young sends a group of 30 men to the Las Vegas Valley to establish a mission. They build a 150 square foot adobe brick fort, part of which still stands today as the oldest structure in Nevada. It is named Mormon Fort, although no military troops are ever stationed there.
James Morgan discovers the Potosi Mine 43 miles southwest of the Mormon mission. The quicksilver and zinc mine is the first lode mine in Nevada.
The Pioneer Stage Line becomes the first stagecoach to navigate the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It soon moves passengers and mail from Placerville, California, to Genoa, Nevada, once a month.
Fort Mojave is established at the southern tip of Nevada, and soldiers discover gold in El Dorado Canyon. The mines are among the most consistent producers of gold until World War II.
Nevada is made famous by the discovery of silver at the Comstock Lode. In addition to silver, mines produce large quantities of gold, copper, lead, zinc, mercury, barite, and tungsten. Prospectors flock to the area and scramble to stake their claims. The area becomes a bustling center of great wealth as horse-drawn wagons haul the ore from the Comstock Lode over Donner Pass to San Francisco.
(May 12) Paiute Native Americans battle white settlers near Pyramid Lake. The Pyramid Lake War is preceded by a series of increasingly violent incidents on settlers in northwestern Nevada. In retaliation, a force of 754 volunteers and U.S. Army troops engage Native Americans in battle. Sixty-six whites and 46 Natives die. Federal troops build a small fort at the southern end of Pyramid Lake to deny the area to the Paiutes.
(Aug 11) The first successful silver mill in the country begins operation near Virginia City.
President James Buchanan signs the 1861 Act of Congress establishing the Nevada Territory.
Author Samuel Clemens adopts the pen name Mark Twain for the first time while writing in Nevada for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in Comstock.
1864–1899 STATE OF NEVADA
(October 31) Nevada becomes the 36th state.
The Nevada state constitution is sent from Carson City to Washington, D.C. by Morse code telegram. It is the lengthiest and costliest telegram in U.S. history.
Nevada legalizes gambling. Today, resort areas like Las Vegas, Reno, and Laughlin attract gamblers from around the world, contributing much to Nevada’s economy.
(May 10) The tracks for the Central Pacific Railroad meet the Union Pacific Railroad at Promontory Summit.
The U.S. Mint is established in Carson City to take advantage of local precious metal deposits, especially silver. The branch closes in 1893.
The right to vote for political candidates is extended to non-whites, excluding Native Americans.
Sarah Winnemucca, the first Native-American woman to publish in the English language, establishes Nevada’s first school for Native Americans.
Rancher and miner Absalom Lehman discovers the limestone Lehman caves. The caves are made a National Monument in 1922 and in 1986 become part of Great Basin National Park.
During what becomes known as the "white winter," nearly 100 inches of snow fall on Nevada, the heaviest snowfall in the state’s history. Roughly 90 to 95 percent of the state’s livestock die during over the course of the season.
Soldiers find garnets in the mountains of eastern Nevada and name the area the Ruby Mountains.
1900–1949 EARLY TO MID 20TH CENTURY
Dave Bourne discovers gold in the isolated area of Jarbidge in Elko County. The discovery makes Jarbridge one of the last gold rush towns in the West. A total of $9 million worth of gold is produced before mines are closed in 1932.
Gambling is abolished in Nevada, although the state ban is largely ignored.
Women in Nevada are granted the right to vote six years before the passage of the 19th Amendment.
Clara Dunham Crowell becomes Nevada’s first female sheriff, after her husband, the previous sheriff, dies of illness. After being appointed, she serves the remaining two years of her husband’s term in Lander County.
(February 7) Nevada becomes the 28th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, granting women nationwide the right to vote.
Congress gives Native Americans the right to vote.
Governor Fredrick Bennett Balzar signs the six-week divorce law, which reduces the residency required to obtain a divorce in Nevada to six weeks. In 1942 the U.S. Supreme Court rules that all states must recognize divorces granted in Nevada.
Neon lights first come to Las Vegas. Today the Las Vegas Strip is considered the neon capital of the world.
Nevada legalizes gambling a second time to raise tax revenues and stabilize the state’s economy. Casino gambling is also legalized. The Pair-O-Dice Club is the first casino to open on Highway 91, the future Las Vegas Strip.
Work starts on the Boulder Dam (now known as the Hoover Dam), and the population of nearby Las Vegas subsequently explodes.
(May 28) Construction of the Hoover Dam is finished.
(October 26) The Hoover Dam begins generating electricity. At the time it is the world’s largest electric-power generating station and its largest concrete structure (surpassed by the Grand Couleee Dam in 1945).
Funded mostly by organized crime, major development of the Las Vegas Strip occurs throughout the decade. In 1941 Thomas Hull opens El Rancho Vegas, famously the site of the first Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet. Later, gangsters Bugsy Segal and Meyer Lanksy open the first major resort hotel, the Flamingo, in December 1946, and the mafia becomes entrenched in Vegas gambling and hotel operations for decades.
Nevada becomes the nation’s leading producer of tungsten, a metal used mainly in electrical applications.
1950–PRESENT MODERN NEVADA
(September) Frank Sinatra makes his Las Vegas singing debut at the Desert Inn. Over the following two decades, he and other members of the "Rat Pack"—Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford—become Vegas Strip entertainment staples, drawing sold-out crowds and helping create the city’s storied allure.
Nuclear testing begins at the Nevada Test Site, located 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Over the next 40 years, 928 nuclear devices are exploded at the site. State residents are assured there will be no ill effects from the test explosions, even though the highest amount of concentrated nuclear detonations in the U.S. occur at the site.
The NAACP threatens Las Vegas casinos with legal action for their policies of racial segregation. The group’s action results in citywide casino desegregation.
(July 6) At 10 a.m., the most powerful hydrogen bomb to date is tested 650 feet below the Yucca Flats.
Billionaire Howard Hughes moves to Las Vegas, eventually spending about $300 million on hotels, other real estate, and media outlets and becoming one of the most powerful area businessmen.
Elvis Presley marries Priscilla Beaulieu in Las Vegas at the Aladdin Hotel. They divorce in 1973.
The Mustang Ranch becomes the state’s first legal brothel, eventually leading to the legalization of brothel prostitution in 10 of the 17 counties in the state.
Fire rages at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, killing 87 and injuring 785 in the worst single disaster in Nevada history. The hotel is sold in 1985 and renamed Bally’s.
Junk bond dealer Steve Wynn opens the Mirage, the first Vegas Strip resort opened with Wall Street money. It signals the arrival of the "megaresort" era, and paves the way for the construction of giant and luxurious landmark hotels throughout the strip.
The MGM Grand is rebuilt at a new site on the Las Vegas Strip. With a total of 5,005 rooms, it is the world’s largest hotel.
(November) Voters approve the medical use of marijuana with a 59 percent "yes" vote on legalization.
President Bush signs legislation designating Nevada’s Yucca Mountains as the nation’s nuclear waste repository. Nevada residents protest, and Governor Kenny Guinn vows to fight the plan.
(September 14) Arizona, California, and Nevada join with the federal government to undertake a 50-year project to restore wildlife habitat along 342 miles of the lower Colorado River.
Click to enlarge an image
900 BCE: Drawing of Paiute daily life
1828: Peter Skene Ogden
1843: John Charles Fremont
1843: Pyramid Lake
1848: Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo
1855: Brigham Young
1859: Comstock miners
1861: James Buchanan, 15th president of the United States
1863: Mark Twain
1869: Promontory Summit meeting of the tracks
1870: The Carson City mint mark ("CC") on a Liberty Half Eagle
1884: Statue of Sarah Winnemucca
1885: Great Basin National Park
1931: Boulder Dam architectural plans
1940s: Flamingo Resort hotel construction site
1940s: New York Police Department mugshot of Bugsy Siegel