The Anasazi were a sophisticated culture known for their fine pottery and elaborate mud and clay dwellings. These people thrived in southeastern Nevada, southwestern Utah, western Colorado, and northern Arizona for centuries before they mysteriously disappeared around 700AD. The word Anasazi means "Ancient Ones." In Nevada they inhabited the banks of the Virgin River where they practiced "three-sisters farming" of corn, beans, and squash. The Anasazi were by far the first "people" who lived in Nevada. Photo above: Mesa Verde Nat'l Park in western Colorado showcases the most extensive history left by the Anasazi. (c) Paul Sebesta
Alta California and what would become the western United States were first explored and claimed for Spain in 1542 by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. The Spanish were sent to the New World to bring back one thing only - gold. They established Santa Fe (New Mexico) as their headquarters in the New World where they were thwarted further west by the promise of the "Rio San Buenaventura" - a mythical river that supposedly led to "El Dorado" (the city of gold). The first Spanish explorers landed on the Guld of Mexico and ventured north into today's southwestern states from Mexico around 1520 before discovering the California Coast. Is it coincidence that it was the Spanish who brought the many taboo concepts of drinking and gambling to this region? Photo above: (c) Paul Sebesta
At a time when colonists were battling England for their independence in the east, the western wilderness was barely being discovered by Spanish missionaries. On this day in 1776, the first missionaries arrived in what would become southern Nevada. A tall, young man in particular was Father Francisco Garces who crossed the Colorado River at a spot known as Katherine's Landing. Garces, on a mission from God, crossed the Great Basin en route to California in search of the San Buenaventura River, unknowingly going down in history as the first white man to enter Nevada.
Jedediah Smith, born in 1799, was sent out west by the Hudson Bay Fur Company of Massachusetts. He arrived in Nevada on this day in 1826, leading his expedition south to Meadow Valley Wash (present-day Lincoln County). He didn't find much fur in this dry landscape, but he did open up a new region for exploration. Smith would return to the Great Basin six times in his life en route to the British-controlled Pacific Northwest and catalogued more of the American map than any other person in history!
British-born Peter Skene Ogden discovered the Humboldt River, the longest river in Nevada on his fifth Snake Country Expedition from 1828 to 1829. Ogden and his men came across a wide, brackish river just west of present-day Elko ... "salty and odorful in the desert air." Compelled to follow the river to its end, he and his men were struck down when the Humboldt suddenly disappeared into a salty sink - the site of today's Forty Mile Desert. Ogden's expedition opened up the region's first through route by placing the "Humbolt" (sic.) as the centerpiece of the region.
The first pack train to pass from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Los Angeles, Alta California also became the first pack train to cross Las Vegas Valley. Antonio Armijo, a Santa Fe merchant, commanded the train and its 30 drovers on what was to become the Old Spanish Trail. The successful completion of the journey officially opened a dangerous trade route between the two Mexican provinces of New Mexico and California. One of the only dependable water sources along this desolate route was "Las Vegas," a series of freshwater springs.
Explorer John C. Fremont and his party of forty two men discovered an enormous body of water north of present-day Reno on the winter evening of January 10th, 1844. Fremont christened the inland sea after the pyramid-shaped island on its eastern shore. He and his men dined on the lake's massive Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, a hardy meal after months of harsh travel across the Great Basin.
Barely one month later, Mr. Fremont, the first white man to discover Pyramid Lake, also became the first white man to see Lake Tahoe on his secondary expedition out west on this day of 1844. Fremont was bewildered by the lake's immense size and beauty as he descended down from what is today Spooner Summit. He and his men befriended the native Washoe people who showed them how to catch fish and even make boats out of willow and pine bark. Photo above: (c) Paul Sebesta
On this day in 1844, just four months after the goings-on in northern Nevada, the first Mormon wagons arrived in Las Vegas Valley. The wagons were ordered by Brigham Young to find a land where Mormons could settle without religious prosecution. The Mormons found their first new home at "Las Vegas," the same springs and eden-like oasis first named by the Spanish in the middle of the harsh Mojave Desert. Photo above: Brigham Young, founder of the Mormon faith, circa 1842.
Jesse and Lindsay Applegate headed south from Willamette Valley, Oregon seeking a less hazardous route from the east on this day in 1846. What they found was a route that was doubly-difficult and would eventually be known as "the death route" by future emigrants. Hundreds of livestock and emigrants died of starvation while trying to get through this hellish terrain. The Applegate Trail branches away from the Humboldt River at around present-day Imlay and heads northwest through the Black Rock Desert, High Rock Canyon, and the Warner Mountains of California.
Starting on the night of October 21, 1846, the ill-fated Donner Party spent five days in the Truckee Meadows, resting and grazing their weary animals before tackling their last obstacle - the Sierra Nevada. Before this day, it had taken the Donners two long months to cross the Nevada and knew full well they were already late in their journey. They were already plagued by a series of unfortunate incidents before one member of the party, William Pike, was accidentally shot, died, and was buried at the foot of Rattlesnake Mountain. The Truckee Meadows is symbolic as their last full rest before their ultimate fate was sealed by Sierra Nevada snows.
After their loss in the Mexican-American War, Mexico cedes what is now Nevada and other southwest states to the United States at a cost of $15 million on this day in 1848. Little did the Mexicans know that the states of California and Nevada alone would be worth far more than they received.
On this day in 1849, Mormon-born Abner Blackburn discovered gold ore along the banks of the Carson River near present-day "Day-town." Instead of keeping it a secret Blackburn spread the word across the region - officially thrwarting the "Rush to Washoe." This single event sparked interest in the entire region since the placer deposits were said to be worth much more than any of the gold discovered in California! It's ironic that thousands of emigrants completely passed Dayton on their way to the "more richer" California gold fields only to be disappointed and defeated by their destination. This fateful day marks the very beginning of Nevada's entire legacy.
Mormon settlers formed and organized a small community and squatter's government at the foot of the Carson Range - a spot that was located at the far western end of the newly-created Utah Territory. People named the settlement "Mormon's Station" where it became a remote outpost that serviced the abundant farms in the area. Included was a fort to protect against native American threats. It was on this day in 1851, a little over a year since the mining discovery at Day-Town, the town was renamed Genoa today said to be Nevada's first (and oldest) community. Photo above: (c) Paul Sebesta
Meanwhile in southern Nevada, Brigham Young sent his first group of 30 missionaries from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas Valley on this day in 1855. A few days after arriving, the men had built a 150-foot square adobe fort enclosing eight two-story houses and cultivated small gardens and fields, planted fruit and shade trees, and established friendly relations with the native Paiutes. This fort, built so many years ago, still stands as the oldest building in Nevada.
Back in the north as interest grew in the Gold Canyon area, the first Chinese laborers in Nevada completed a ditch from Gold Canyon to Dayton on this day in 1856. Although the Chinese weren't allowed to celebrate with the white men over drinks, they were given a day off as a reward. The completion of this ditch was the first official link from the lowlands of the Carson River to the canyons of the Flowery Range forming the altogether "Comstock Region."
Two brothers, Hosea Ballou Grosch and Ethan Allan Grosch, had been working in the upper reaches of Gold Canyon for about three weeks in 1856. Like the other miners working the canyon, they encountered the same obnoxious sticky blue mud that interfered with extracting any ore they came across. Unlike the other miners who threw the mud away, the brothers looked a little deeper - suspecting it might contain silver. They wrote letters to friends and family and even mentioned they might've found a "monster ledge" of silver - clearly indicated what they'd found. Unfortunately the brothers died before their names could be tied to the mysterious lode.
On the frosty morning of December 18, 1858, the first copy of the Territorial Enterprise was printed in a one-room newspaper shop in Genoa. This publication would eventually become famous five years later as the region's premier newspaper.
Virginia born, James "Virginny" Fennimore discovered the famous lode heard 'round the world, midday June 11, 1859 ... the very same lode discovered by the Grosch brothers only three years before. The drunken prospector was so elated at his find that he christened the ground "Virginia City!" with the remaining whisky in his bottle. His celebration was cut short by homesteader Henry Comstock who claimed Finney was "on his ranch." Fearing that Comstock would spread the word, Finney agreed to share the wealth with him. Over a night's drinking, the word spread and the rush was on. The "Rush to Washoe" brought as many as a thousand people a day to the area - two times more than the rush to the California goldfields. To this day the Comstock Lode is the greatest silver strike in American history. Click here. This begins the highlight of our state's lifetime!