Using the Past to Make the Future Better

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A Brief History of the Nevada/Utah Border Area

The National Park Service has defined themes that are important to our understanding of the history of the United States.  Some of these themes as relevant to Nevada are presented below.


Although the eastern and southern periphery of the Great Basin was visited by the Spanish as early as the 1770s, Euro-Americans did not enter the central region until the 1820s, when British and American fur trapping companies expanded into this area. In 1827, Jedediah Smith passed to the south during one of his fur trapping explorations, as he likely crossed the Schell Creek Range at Connors Pass. The fur trapping ventures were not very profitable, but interest in exploration remained and the federal government sponsored various surveys of the region. The most important of these was headed by Captain John C. Frémont, who led five expeditions between 1842 and 1854. His third expedition in 1845 concentrated on the Great Basin, and his route carried him through northern Nevada. Frémont also passed through the region during his last expedition, when he set out to explore a possible railroad route along the 38th parallel. In 1859, Captain James H. Simpson headed an expedition through Nevada to find a feasible military route between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Genoa, Nevada. They likely crossed the Schell Creek Range at SchellbournePass. During the 1870s, when tensions between miners and local Native groups ran high, Lieutenant George M. Wheeler headed a survey party in the region to explore potential military routes. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the US Coast and Geodetic Survey sent expeditions into the region to construct a mapping grid along the 39th parallel. Surrounding mountaintops were used to triangulate fromSalt Lake City to San Francisco.

Transportation and Communication

The early history of southern Nevada is tied to the major transportation corridors that were linked to major settlements outside ofNevada. Early settlements in the area developed astride these transportation corridors. Trails, roads, and later railroad lines, were the initial conduits for importing the foods and supplies necessary to survive in this harsh environment. Later, these same corridors carried food and mineral resources out of the area.

From the late 1840s until the introduction of the railroads in the late 1860s, the California Trail was an emigrant route that crossed from Missouri to California. It was used by more than 250,000 farmers and gold-seekers to reach the California gold fields and farm homesteads in California. The original route had many branches and encompassed more than 5,000 miles of trails. Many miles of the rutted traces of the trail remain throughout the Great Basin as evidence of the migration westward. Portions of the trail are now preserved by the National Park Service as the California National Historical Trail. The main route of the California Trail is well north of the current study area. The route followed by the Bidwell-Bartleson Party and the Hastings Cutoff are much closer to the northern terminus of the proposed railroad alternative. A sub-route may have crossed the northern end of this project area.

The Gold Rush of 1849 in California spurred the formation of transportation and communication routes through Nevada. These routes generally ran east-west across the state. The Oregon-California Trail was the most important of these corridors until the arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. The segment which led to California was first traveled by the Bidwell-Bartleson party in 1841. Their route wound south from Soda Springs in Idaho and followed the Humboldt River west through Nevada to the Carson River. Immigrant travel until the Gold Rush favored the Oregon Trail segment to the north, but the route through Nevada became the preferred route afterward, when thousands of people poured into California’s gold fields.

These burgeoning population centers created a market for express mail services and stimulated additional exploration in Nevada. The first of the express services in Nevada began in 1851.

From 1851 to 1858 the overland mail service followed either the Humboldt River route which linked Salt Lake City to northern California, or the Mormon Trail route which linked Salt Lake City to southern California (San Bernardino). In 1855 Major Howard Egan, a Mormon pioneer, laid out a third trail through northern Nevada. This became known as the Egan Trail, and eventually became the Pony Express Trail. In Elko and White Pine counties this trail went to the western edge of the RubyMountains then northwest to the Humboldt River near Gravelly Ford. US Highway 50, the Loneliest Road, roughly follows Egan’s Trail, except for the segment within eastern Nevada.

George Chorpenning, the operator of the “Jackass Express” who had the postal contract, shifted his operations south to Egan’s Trail in 1858 through RubyValley, to avoid inclement weather as well as increasing Native American tensions along the river, although he still operated a coach line along the original river corridor. This route shortened the trip by about ten days, from 39 to about 30 days. He also delivered mail through southern Nevada, stopping at Las Vegas Springs. He may have built the first Euro-American building which was subsequently torn down by the Mormon settlers in 1855. Early in 1860, through no fault of his own, Chorpenning’s mail contract was terminated by the postal service and awarded to the gigantic western freighting firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell. Chorpenning had not been paid for much of his work, so he spent the next several years pursuing claims against the federal government.

Led by Captain James Simpson in 1859, soldiers followed Egan’s Trail to the RubyMountains. Here he explored a shorter and more direct trail west to California. This route became known as Simpson’s Trail and was eventually used by the Pony Express. Then on April 3, 1860 the Russell, Majors and Waddell firm started the Pony Express mail service. These pioneer mail operators established a business subsidiary known as the Central OverlandCalifornia and Pikes Peak Express Company (COC&PP), running stage coaches and freight wagons along the route. Way stations for the express company were built along the route. By 1865, there were 36 Overland Mail stations between Austin and Salt Lake City which supported 60 wagons, 190 horses, and 22 drivers. The Pony Express shared some of these stations, including one in Spring Valley, and built more so that they were spaced about 10 to 15 miles distant. Near the project area, Pony Express stations were located on the east and west sides of SteptoeValley: one near Schell Creek, the other southwest of Cherry Creek. In 1866, Wells, Fargo and Company took over the Overland Stage Line and continued to operate it until the arrival of the Central Pacific Railroad to the north along the Humboldt River in 1869.

The Pony Express lasted a short 19 ½ months until November 20, 1861. By this time, the telegraph was being constructed along the side of the trail. The combination of the telegraph, the Civil War, and other economic factors caused the downfall of the Pony Express.

The Central Pacific Railroad was the western half of the first intercontinental railroad. Construction began in Sacramento and continued eastward until it reached the Union Pacific Railroad in Utah in 1869. Its route coursed through northern Nevada, generally following the Humboldt River. The railroad dramatically changed settlement, transportation, and commerce patterns in Nevada, particularly for eastern Nevada. Various towns were established along the railroad, the most important of which in eastern Nevada was Elko. While some freight and stage lines were abandoned, others were established to connect far-flung mining districts to the railroad. Several lines ran between the major communities, such as the systems linking Wells via Ely to Pioche to the south, and Ely to Eureka to the west.

The Central Pacific line was leased by Southern Pacific in 1884, and it provided the only rail service in the HumboldtBasin until the completion of the Western Pacific Railroad in 1909. This latter rail line linked Oakland to Salt Lake City and generally paralleled the Central Pacific route across Nevada along the Humboldt River. The two railroads divided at Wells, where the Western Pacific dipped southward and tunneled under the PequopMountains before heading east into Utah.

The next major transportation route through southeastern Nevada was the San Pedro, Los Angeles & SaltLake (SPLA&SL) Railroad, which was constructed in fits and starts over a period of decades by a variety of companies. By 1880, the Utah Southern Railroad connected Salt Lake City to Milford in Utah. In 1889, the Oregon Short Line (OSL), a subsidiary of Union Pacific Railroad, began to extend the line south of Milford toward Nevada. The work was abandoned one year later due to a national depression, and although the roadbed had been completed, the tracks weren’t laid. In 1893, LincolnCounty assumed ownership of the roadbed, and despite county efforts to work with other companies to finish the line, the project stalled. This changed in 1899 when the Oregon Short Line extended tracks to Uvada, on the Nevada-Utah line.

The incomplete Oregon Short Line roadbed proved to be a sticking point between two powerful railroad tycoons vying for control of the potentially lucrative route from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. E. H. Harriman controlled the Union Pacific, while W. A. Clark, senator from Montana and copper millionaire, incorporated the SPLA&SL. In 1901, Clark worked to extend his California line to SaltLake by pursuing title for the Oregon Short Line roadbed from LincolnCounty. The Oregon Short Line reasserted its claim to the line by citing an 1890 claim it had filed with the federal government for the land along the roadbed. Protracted legal battles were paralleled by battles between rival construction crews working for each company. An injunction permitted the Oregon Short Line to lay track in Clover Valley, and the San Pedro men responded by laying track in Meadow Valley Wash, hoping to head off the Oregon Short Line. A compromise was reached later that year, and there soon was regular service to Caliente from Utah. Parallel tracks were built by the rival factions in Meadow ValleyWash south of Caliente, but in 1903 a compromise was reached and the project was completed by the San Pedro line. Its construction catalyzed major land-use changes in southeastern Nevada: Las Vegas grew into a major rail town, homesteads and settlements were established all along its route, and large-scale mining of industrial materials became feasible. In 1921, the Union Pacific Railroad assumed the route, and has continuously operated, maintained, retro-fitted, and upgraded the right-of-way since that time.

Prior to the construction of what is now the Union Pacific Railroad, the cost of transporting minerals such as magnesite and gypsum and low-grade metal ores to mills, made these mining endeavors unprofitable. The railroad allowed these minerals to reach the rapidly expanding markets in southern California with relative ease. However, industrial mining activities throughout the desert west went through a series of boom-bust cycles, often linked to national if not international economies.  Aside from the railroad, the major thoroughfares through the region became improved following the creation of the Nevada State Highway Department in 1917. Early twentieth-century interstate travel tended to focus on east-west routes that led to California, and stimulated the development of such routes as US 50, which approximates the old Central Overland route of 1860.

Important to the state’s economic development was federal and state funding to build a road and highway infrastructure. As early as 1895, Governor R. K. Colcord recognized the need for a good highway system. Unfortunately it was not until more than 20 years later in 1911 when Governor Tasker Oddie campaigned all over the state that the legislature provided funding for road-construction projects between Carson City and Reno. Two years later this early program was stopped due to massive costs overruns. By 1916 the federal government provided funding under the Federal-Aid Road Act. Nevada gained additional benefits in 1921 from further federal legislation, and a state gas tax provided yet more funding in 1923. By 1926, approximately $10 million had been spent on our state’s highways. Nevada and other states joined forces to build the main transcontinental highway, the road now known as the Lincoln Highway. Survey work began in October 1927, and construction started two months later and was completed on April 17, 1930. An event dubbed “Lincoln Highway Days” was celebrated June 4 through 7, 1930 in Ely, commemorating completion of the road. The route today closely matches US 93 north from Ely to Lages Station and Alternate 93 north to Wendover. Unfortunately, a more direct route between Salt Lake City and San Francisco was ultimately built along what is now Interstate 80. This essentially cut out towns in this part of the state, such as Ely, Ruth, McGill, and Austin.


Mining was probably the largest catalyst for settlement in this region. The first mining district in the area to be organized was the Eagle District in 1859, located in present-day White Pine County near the Utah border. Nearly a decade later, a silver strike at Treasure Hill in 1868 spurred the formation of the White Pine District, and formation of White Pine County, with the county seat at Hamilton. This mine peaked in 1870, and experienced only sporadic success afterward. The Ely Mining District was first organized as the Robinson District soon after the Treasure Hill discoveries. This district included the towns of Ely, East Ely, Kimberly, Reipetown, and Ruth.

By 1870 Elko had became the entry point for commerce from the east. Rail lines and roads led from Elko southward, to mining districts in Steptoe Valley such as Duck Creek in 1869, Schellbourne in 1871, Ward, and Cherry Creek in 1872. Gold was discovered in Ely Canyon in 1867, but little was recovered. In 1887, the White Pine county seat was moved from Hamilton to Ely.

Throughout the end of the nineteenth century, the Ely Mining District enjoyed only moderate success. By the start of the twentieth century, copper was king, thanks to a rich copper deposits discovered in Ruth in 1902. The owner of the nearby Eureka & Palisades railroad, Mark Requa, purchased the Star Pointer and Ruth mines, combining them into the White Pine Copper Company. Other local persons of consequence, including A. C. Clealand and William McGill, teamed up with Requa to fund and initiate the planning and construction of the Nevada Northern Railway, linking the Southern Pacific between Wendover and Wells, to Ely, 140 miles to the south. On June 1, 1905 the Nevada Northern Railway was formally incorporated. Grading started at the north end at Cobre 10 days later. For the next couple of years, construction was on and off due to financing, politics, and weather. Finally, the first train ran on May 22, 1906 on the first section completed between Cobre and Currie. The 77 miles between Currie and Ely City was covered by road. That portion of line was completed on September 29 and 30, 1906, and the town celebrated its first Ely Railroad Days. The line's completion created friction between Ely and nearby Ely City. Residents of Ely were afraid, among other things, that their town name was being stolen. After a court battle, the railroad was obliged to build a depot in the town of Ely itself. Ultimately, the line was pushed farther up canyon, to the west, to the Robinson Mine.

There were ten sidings or stations on this line. At the north end was Cobre, where the Nevada Northern met the Southern Pacific Line. Then Shafter, Dolly Varden, Currie, Greens, Cherry Creek Station, Steptoe, McGill, Ely, and Veteran were built. Dolly Varden was the only preexisting settlement, having been inhabited since 1872.

The use of smelters to process ore in the region required large amounts of charcoal. A specialized charcoal industry developed in the mid- to late-nineteenth century to meet this demand throughout the west. Pinyon-juniper forests were exploited all over the Great Basin, and in Nevada this industry has been archaeologically documented in the Cortez Mountains, the Roberts Mountains, and the Mt.Hope area in Eureka County, and in the Pine Nut Mountains in Douglas County.

Earthen ovens were commonly used to process pinyon. Juniper and mountain mahogany woods require temperatures hotter than what could convert wood to charcoal in these temporary ovens. Where significant stands of trees and mountain mahogany existed, beehive-shaped kilns, such as those still standing at Ward and Bristol, were typically constructed out of rock or baked mud. Thompson and West noted in 1881 that the Schell Creek Range contained “considerable” pine fit for lumber, and that the mountains in White Pine County were well covered with nut pine and mountain mahogany, which are excellent for charcoal and fuel.


The growing mining settlements across most of Nevada opened up opportunities for farmers and ranchers. Although cattle were first brought to the region with the Bartleson-Bidwell party of 1841, and large cattle and sheep herders moved livestock along the Humboldt Trail west into California during the 1850s and 1860s, local ranching efforts were not established until shortly after the Civil War, when Texas longhorns were brought to Elko. The Ruby Valley became an important cattle holding area, where large herds would spend the winter before being driven to far-flung mining camps. Elko became an important livestock shipping and trading center following the arrival of the railroads. Difficult weather and continuing access disputes with homesteaders stimulated changes in the industry, as ranchers began cultivating hay crops.

Although mining was a catalyst for most of the settlements in Nevada, Mormons from Utah began to colonize eastern Nevada in the early 1850s. Yet more Mormons immigrated to southeastern Nevada in response to overcrowding in Utah, beginning in the late 1870s and continuing into the early twentieth century. Sustained settlement and colonization occurred by 1864 in the vicinity of Panaca in Meadow Valley. This area was purposefully colonized in response to initial mining forays by non-Mormons in the Pioche area 10 miles north, and was part of a larger Mormon strategy to establish distant communities as a barrier to gentile settlement. Early Mormon farming settlements usually followed the “farm-village” pattern, with nucleated towns and outlying fields, and this distinctive settlement pattern persists in the region today. The interaction of Mormon agriculturalists and “gentile” miners was not without conflict, as evidenced by court disputes over taxes and property boundaries. Still, the factions largely coexisted in a symbiotic relationship. Successful miners produced income that allowed them to become a principal market for the Mormon farmers. The Mormons supplied most of the miners’ subsistence needs, and hauled freight as well. This coexistence represents a departure from the self-imposed isolation of Mormon communities in Utah from the rest of American society, and also from the pattern of persecution by the larger society that had followed Mormons from their inception in the early nineteenth century.

By the turn of the nineteenth century, Steptoe Valley had become White Pine County’s largest producer of agricultural products. Once the railroad between Elko and Ely was completed, agricultural products could be moved by rail to other parts of Nevada and to other states.

Ranching and Grazing

Ranching in the west can be divided into two gross categories with several time periods and sub-themes. These categories are open-range grazing vs. government regulated and fenced ranching. The open-range grazing period was well-established in Nevada by the late 1870s after the introduction of cattle on the range, and continued until the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934. Cattlemen could obtain land through the 1862 Homestead Act which provided 160-acre parcels; the Timber and Culture Act of 1873, which increased the amount of land if the owner planted 40 acres of trees over time; and the Desert Land Act of 1877, which expanded acreage to 640, due to the lack of water in the west. The land had to be irrigated and a small per-acre fee was assessed. Along with these homesteading acts, land was “claimed” simply by its use. The rancher “owned” cattle-occupied lands. The lack of fencing until around the end of the nineteenth century created situations where more than one rancher’s cattle were using any given parcel. This open-range situation created a problem of overgrazing because each ranch put the maximum number of cattle there. Periodic round-ups moved the cattle to market.

The first known livestock in Nevada were brought along with fur trappers in 1826-27. Jedediah Smith and Peter Ogden brought in horses and mules for use during their expeditions. Although 150 head of sheep crossed the southern tip of what would become Nevada in 1841 by William Rowland and John Workman’s group of emigrants, it was not until 1851 that sheep were brought into the middle of the state by Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves. Genoa, Nevada was founded by Mormon settlers in 1847. Here they developed pasture, raised livestock, and farmed. These few sheep were to help feed his men on their effort to explore the 35th parallel. Farming and ranching of livestock, however, got its beginnings when John Reese entered the Carson Valley in June of 1851 from Salt Lake City. Reese was the first to bring cattle to Nevada. By the end of the year, as many as 100 others had joined him there (Elliott 1987). That same year Eagle Valley, adjacent to Carson, was also settled. These two valleys provided food to the mining community of Gold Canyon. The first sheep to enter on a permanent basis was in 1852 when C.D. Jones brought in several hundred Spanish Merinos into the Carson Valley.

That same year, many different groups herded sheep from Santa Fe to California via the Humboldt River route. Some of the men included Richen Lacy Wooten in 1852 with 9,000 head, Kit Carson and Lucien Maxwell who brought 13,000 the next year. It’s estimated that between 1852 and 1860 over a half-million sheep traveled this route to markets in California.

In the summer of 1855, a large number of Mormon settlers were led to the area by Orson Hyde. Each of the Mormon families brought several head with them. After establishing the communities of Carson, Eagle, and Washoe, they built canals and flour mills and plowed fields. Just as they became settled, in 1857, Brigham Young called all of his people from throughout the west back to Salt Lake City. Other non-Mormon settlers took over their lands and continued with settlement.

William Bringhurst brought cattle to southern Nevada when he and others founded the Las Vegas Mission in 1855. Henry Fred Dangburg initiated ranching that same year in the Carson Valley, and within a few years, was the most important rancher in western Nevada. After traveling through five years earlier N.H.A. Mason brought a herd of cattle into Mason Valley in 1859. His enterprise was very successful, helping him to become one of the more important cattlemen during the Comstock years. Also that same year, four men from Stanislaus County, California, S. Baldwin, J.A. Rogers, R.B. Smith, and T.B. Smith, drove a herd of cattle to what is now known as Smith Valley situated on the Walker River and west of Mason Valley.

It was not until after 1859 that the livestock industry began to flourish in Nevada. Its impetus can be contributed to several mineral strikes. In the1860s, thousands of people working the Comstock needed food and the many ranches in Carson, Eagle, Mason, Smith, and Washoe valleys were there to provide it for them. A drought in California in 1864 pressured many cattlemen from there to move their herds to the Carson area for pasture and for market to the mines. Gold in Humboldt County created the town of Paradise City. Water was to be supplied by the Humboldt Canal Company with via a canal from Golconda to MillCity, but it was never built. In other parts of Nevada other mining booms also stimulated farming and livestock raising. Peter Haws developed the first ranch in Elko County near Humboldt Wells. Haws, a Canadian convert to Joseph Smith, had trouble in Salt Lake City, so he settled in Nevada. His daughter married Carlos Murray and lived in ThousandSpringsValley. Haws and his son-in-law traded fresh cattle to emigrants for their worn out cattle from the travels west. After trading the cattle, the Haws clan may have stolen some of their cattle back. Unhappy travelers killed Carlos and his wife, but Haws escaped and fled the state. Not all of the ranchers who settled in the valleys around Elko were thieves. Many of them would become prominent. One was Lewis Rice Bradley who became the state’s second governor. He drove cattle to the Comstock in 1862. After developing ranches in several different valleys in northeastern Nevada, he ultimately settled in Mound Valley.

Minerals discovered in central Nevada prompted the founding of the town of Austin in 1864. Farms then sprouted up in Reese and Smokey valleys. Also, during this time farms developed in Meadow and Pahranagat valleys to provide food for the Pioche (1866) and Delamar Mines in south-central Nevada. Agriculture followed mineral development in Ione in 1863 and Belmont in 1865 in the Monitor Valley. Newark Valley provided meat and produce for the Eureka and Hamilton mining districts in 1866. Steptoe Valley was settled in 1868 after minerals were found in the Robinson District. Throughout the 1860s, Nevada’s population jumped six fold, from 6,900 to 43,000 by 1870.

By 1870, climatic and political factors started the migration of the livestock industry out of California and into Nevada. The result was a very rapid expansion of the livestock industry into the Silver State. It was during this period that this economic enterprise here developed distinct geographic regions: north of the Humboldt, the Central Region, and the Southern Region. Because trailing sheep to market was difficult, and reduced the profit margin, shipping centers were developed near the great ranches at Elko, Wells, Battle Mountain, Winnemucca, and Reno.

Willard “Billy” Smith Griswold, one of four brothers came first to Nevada in about 1872 and established a homestead. Alfred Morley followed in 1877 and family folklore reveals that he brought the youngest of the brothers, Chauncey, to Nevada around 1881.

The construction of the Central Pacific Railroad across the state in 1869 created access to markets that were previously much more difficult to reach. Ranches along its routes grew and new ones sprouted up. Dangburg in the Carson Valley and John Sparks in Elko County were among those who benefited greatly. In Spring Valley in White Pine County, Abner C. Cleveland developed a large ranch in the 1870s. No longer were ranches supplying just local mines, since now they had access to markets in California and the east.

By the 1880s, the decline in mining caused the livestock industry to readjust statewide. Many who had made a living from mining now looked at ranching as an alternative. The number of cattle and sheep skyrocketed during the decade while the price per head went down. It was not until mining again became lucrative in 1900 that livestock again became more profitable.

To compound the problem, a disastrous winter of 1889-1890 forced many of Nevada’s ranchers to switch from cattle to sheep who are more suited to the forage of the Great Basin. That extraordinarily harsh winter caused the die-off of hundreds of thousands of cattle throughout the west. After the extremely cold winter, vegetation that grew back first was substantially different than that of years before. This was due in part to overgrazing in the prior several decades, vegetation now unchecked by grazing, and an untypical wet period for the three years following that cold winter. Juniper expanded its range and big sage, toxic to cattle, grew where it had not before. The harsh winter of 1889 taught the cattlemen a lesson. The era of free range with unlimited cattle was over. They had learned that, in order to effectively raise cattle, they must supplement wild forage with hay. During the 1890s, many ranchers switched to sheep, causing friction between cattle and sheep ranchers to grow.

The landscape of the west had only begun to recover from the end-of-the-nineteenth-century damage wrought by drought and too many animals, when, rebounding herd sizes in the 1920 and 1930s yet again caused severe overgrazing. In response, the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 was signed by President Roosevelt. This legislation was intended to stop injury to the public lands by preventing overgrazing and soil deterioration; to provide for their orderly use, improvements, and development; and to stabilize the livestock industry dependent upon the public range. The passage of the Taylor Grazing Act heralded the era of government regulated and fenced ranching.

Before the passage of the Taylor Grazing Act, many different interests had pushed for either local or national control. Many in the federal government supported national control over these lands viewing them as a public asset. This position was strengthened with passage of the Emergency Conservation Work Act also in 1934 because administrators of this federal work program did not want to invest time, money, and manpower into lands not under federal control.

Other ranchers fought for local control, trying to keep the system as it had been. Some of the local people simply did not want anyone telling them how they should treat lands within the public domain. They had always treated these lands as their own. Others understood that the range had problems that did need to be addressed. They simply felt that local control was better suited to local problems.

Because it changed the way the government managed federal land, the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 was probably the most significant federal legislation the West has seen to date. For one, it essentially ended the Homestead Act, and then, for the first time, the federal government asserted authority over the “Public Domain.” In the years leading up to this legislation, state and federal interests debated how to use and control western lands. This legislation ended that debate. Some feel that this is the time when the range was locked up, while others consider this as when the cattle industry “captured” the federal administration of the range, “protecting” neither the land nor the public interest. Livestock associations were encouraged to organize and seek local oversight. Rather than unorganized use, livestock interests capitalized on an informal form of oversight that pushed their agenda onto the lands over others.

The problem in the west with soil erosion and overgrazing was so bad that the federal government instituted a soil conservation program in the United States. The Civilian Conservation Corps. (CCC) employed thousands of men in dozens of camps to rectify it. Soils Conservation and Department of Grazing camps were located throughout eastern Nevada. Workers built roads, improved springs, constructed earthen tanks and soil erosion features, built fences, and reseeded.  They built new roads and bridges for access into the nations forests. From their camps across the west, such as DG-121 at Cherry Creek, CCC crews built campgrounds and cabins for recreation (Camp Inspection Reports). They took over stocking streams and lakes with fish, a continuation of what the Nevada Game Department had started in the 1880s.

With the construction of the railroads and highways travel for leisure and recreation was now possible for the public. After the Lincoln Highway was built resorts such as the one at Monte Neva sprang up. This short lived hot spring resort was built by Charles Osterlund after 1927 when he purchased the site. By the mid 1930s, the resort was abandoned.

Government and Politics

This theme crosses the other themes and can be expressed in a more ephemeral way. Governmental policies, or the lack of, played a role in the way the west was settled. For example, open grazing affected grazing methods and placement of features across the landscape. Policy also played a role in when and how the area was settled. Just a few of the significant laws that affected homesteading and ranching included:

1841       The Pre-emption Act—adopted by Congress making it possible for a “man” with possession of the land to file for it once the area had been surveyed. The cost was $2.00 an acre. The Pre-emption Act was repealed in 1891.

1862       Federal Homestead Act—allowed the head of a family to file on a parcel of 160 acres after living on it for five years. The land had to be surveyed first. (The first surveys in Nevada took place after the 1880s, other than two townships in the Gardnerville area in 1861).

1877       Desert Land Act—expanded homestead claims to 640 acres because 160 acres under the Homestead Act was not enough land to support a family out west. The act offered any person paying 25 cents an acre an entire section if he irrigated some part of his land claim within the next three years. If in that time he could prove irrigation of the land, he needed to pay only one more dollar per acre and the land was his. After 1890, the acreage was reduced to 320 acres.

1878      The Timber and Stone act is passed, permitting the cutting of timber on public land to increase the acreage of farm land. 

1895       Statutes of NV 1895 pg. 53—classified sheepmen according to the number of sheep that ran and taxed them accordingly. Exempted Nevada sheepmen.

1901       (Statutes of NV pg 64)—amended the above act to three sheep per acre, and is also known as the Grazing Fee Act.

1901       (Statutes of NV pg 37)—made it unlawful to herd sheep within three miles of a post office or a town of 50 or more.

1903       (Statutes of NV pg 47)—made it unlawful to graze sheep within one mile of a house or ranch. (Statutes of NV pg 241)—prohibited herding of any livestock at any spring or well.

1909       Enlarged Homestead Act—raised acres that could be filed on from 160 to 320.

1915       (Statutes of NV pg 241)—taxed out-of-state operators 15 cents a head.

1916       Grazing Homestead Act (Stock Raising Act)—raised acres that could be filed on from 320 to 640.

1919       (Statutes of NV pg 400)—revised the 1895 act and exempted a rancher’s first 500 animals but raised the taxes on the remainder dramatically.

1919       (Desert Land Reclamation)—similar to the Homestead Act, but had provisions for dry lands.

1925       (Statutes of NV pg 394)—made it a misdemeanor to water more than 50 animals on someone else’s water.


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