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The history of Nevada from 1860 to 1910


Mining town in Nevada
Mining town in Nevada

The history of Nevada from 1860 to 1910 is largely a story of two mining booms separated by a 20-year depression from 1880 to 1900. The Comstock Lode began the first boom. Peter O’Riley and Patrick McLaughlin in 1859 discovered silver and gold on Sun Mountain (later named Mount Davidson), starting a rush to the so-called Washoe Diggings. Within a short time thousands of people arrived in the area. Immigrants composed a large portion of those who came to Nevada: Chinese immigrants helped build the Central Pacific Railroad across Nevada in the late 1860s; Italians and Swiss worked in smelters; and Irishmen worked deep in the mines.

French-Canadians also lumbered the areas around Lake Tahoe, Germans farmed the Carson Valley, and later Basques and Scots tended sheep. Most of those working in the mining business were living in three new towns: Virginia City, Gold Hill, and Silver City. People lived in all types of buildings, and their diggings littered the landscape for miles around. Virginia City, especially, was a combination of industrial city and frontier town, with mine and mill buildings, foundries, and railroad yards alongside gambling houses, saloons, and dance halls.

The mineral wealth from the Comstock Lode financed hotels, foundries, banks, the Central Pacific Railroad, the mansions of San Francisco, and the trans-Atlantic cable; it was also responsible for some of the great American family fortunes.

By 1877 production was decreasing, and by 1880 most of the Comstock ore had been mined. Until the next mining boom began in 1900, Nevada’s economy rested primarily on the other industries that had appeared. Raising livestock and maintaining the railroad were especially important in this period.

Nevada Politics and Silver


The economic depression that followed the Comstock’s decline was blamed on the Coinage Act of 1873, which ended the minting of silver dollars. Due partly to this act the price of silver dropped dramatically. Proponents of silver money called the act the “Crime of ‘73,” and campaigned to restore bimetallism, the coining of gold and silver dollars. Some sought the unlimited coining of silver, called free silver. Between 1892 and 1894 free silver was the dominant issue in Nevada politics. Although the government slowly began coining silver dollars again in 1878, the gold dollar remained the monetary standard of value in the United States.

The decline in Nevada’s mining industry caused the state’s population to decrease. This in turn undermined Nevada’s cattle-raising industry in the 1880s because it reduced Nevada’s market for beef. Many of the ranchers who had survived were ruined by the hard winters in the late 1880s. By 1900 the state had a population of only 42,335. National newspapers and magazines began to ridicule the lack of population in Nevada. One report suggested that Nevada should be deprived of statehood because it was a “rotten borough,” an area with representation in Congress but virtually no population.

Second Mining Boom


The state’s economic fortunes turned around early in the 20th century. In the spring of 1900 Jim Butler discovered rich silver ore at Tonopah, in southwestern Nevada. Again prospectors spread out and found silver at other places, including Goldfield in 1902 and Rhyolite in 1904. The 1900 revival also included the exploitation of the Ruth mines, an extensive body of low-grade copper ore in eastern Nevada, in White Pine County. In 1902 investors from New York built a mill and smelter for copper at McGill and a railroad north to the Southern Pacific transcontinental line. "Nevada" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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