A long, twisted chain of seemingly unrelated events created a vast basin in western North America and the silver in its mountains and the slot machines in between them.
This is Nevada, a place unlike any other in the world.
We are a state where the student bodies in some elementary schools are bigger than the population of some counties. Where the lights of its largest city and economic engine shine across the world. Where less rain falls than in any other state.
Nevada is the only place in the world where a man can drive past the most nuked site on Earth on his way to visit a perfectly legal prostitute, gamble away the money he made working in some of the world’s most lucrative precious metal mines, and encounter wild horses by the hundreds.
Beginning today, the Review-Journal will showcase our home state to comemmorate Nevada’s 150th birthday.
“The idea is to have a yearlong celebration, really,” said the newspaper’s publisher, Bob Brown, who is also a member of the state’s Nevada 150 planning committee. “We want to focus on the history of Nevada.”
For the next year, the newspaper will publish 150 stories — about one every three days, and always one on Sunday — that will explore the state’s unique history, its often strange geography, and the sites and people that make Nevada what it is.
We’ll tell you about the state song, the state bird, the state tree, all that stuff.
We’ll also tell you stories about the deepest mine shaft, the highest peak, the oldest settlement and the biggest casino floor.
FROM BATTLE TO BOOM
Nevada’s origins rest in the politics of the waning days of the nation’s bloodiest war.
Eight days before the presidential election of 1864, on Oct. 31, Nevada became the 36th state in the union. It was thought at the time that the newly created electoral votes would help ensure Abraham Lincoln retained the presidency, but he ended up winning handily. As former state archivist Guy Rocha has pointed out, the long-told tale that Nevada was granted statehood because its vast repositories of silver were needed to win the Civil War is but a myth.
That silver, though? It created a boom. More booms followed.
By the early 20th century, we had arrived.
But soon, things took a turn. Mining wasn’t enough. The Great Depression loomed, and it hit the state hard.
What to do?
Why, vice, of course. Gambling was legalized, again (it had been so until 1909), and the nation’s most liberal divorce laws were put into place.
Boom. Nothing would ever be the same again.
We got people and more people, and then more people came.
Casinos began to sprout up in that little railroad town down south called Las Vegas. More people came. In 1910, Clark County contained 4 percent of the state’s population. By 1950, it was 30 percent. By 1980, it was 58 percent. Today, it’s 73 percent.
A STATE PERSONALITY
There are weird stories all over the place here. We’re a state that drew hardscrabble miners and independent sheepherders in the early days. The towns they founded still exist, and the people haven’t changed much.
But we also are a state that grew faster over the last three decades than any other, drawing people from across the world. We’ve got a bunch of new Nevadans, a bunch of old-school Nevadans, and a mix of both.
We’re going to tell you those stories, the ones involving strange facts, forgotten people and the stuff that hasn’t happened anywhere else.
“That’s what I’m really looking forward to,” said Michael Hengel, the newspaper’s editor.
He said the goal of the series is to help teach Nevadans about their state’s history, its compelling stories, whether they be big or small.
Neena Laxalt, vice chair of the state’s Nevada 150 planning committee, said teaching the state’s history to its diverse population can help bring them together.
“This is a way to unify the state and to bring some perspective,” she said.
Laxalt, a lobbyist and the daughter of former longtime U.S. senator and governor Paul Laxalt, said the state still retains the independent personality it grew up with.
“That’s the soul of Nevada,” she said. “We have always loved to be self-sufficient.”
There will be events throughout the year to celebrate the birthday. but Laxalt said they all will have the same goal: To bring Nevadans together.
“People love to hear that there’s a party going on,” she said. “A yearlong party is a great event.”
Contact reporter Richard Lake at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0307. You can find him on Twitter at @richardlake.