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Who are Nevada’s towns named after?

Updated October 31, 2023 - 11:59 am

From Winnemucca to Laughlin, towns across Nevada are named after a range of individuals from casino moguls to humble pioneers involved in the state’s mining and ranching history.

Here is the origin for many of Nevada’s town names:

Beatty

Beatty is named for an early settler and first postmaster in the town who moved to Oasis Valley, where the town is located, in 1896. Montillus “Old Man” Beatty was known to open his home to miners passing through the area on the way to Death Valley.

Beatty also served as the town’s first postmaster in addition to running his ranch, according to the Beatty Chamber of Commerce.

Bob Montgomery, who bought a large plot of land that would become the future town site of Beatty, named the town after Montillus. Montgomery wanted the town to serve as a stop with water for miners and businessmen, unlike the neighboring mining town of Bullfrog.

The town has also been known as “The Gateway to Death Valley” since 1933 when Death Valley was declared a national monument, Beatty’s Chamber of Commerce said.

Fremont, seated, recognized Kit Carson, standing, for the unlettered genius he must have been a ...
Fremont, seated, recognized Kit Carson, standing, for the unlettered genius he must have been after their first chance meeting on a steamer. Both men played key roles in the exploring accident that put Las Vegas on the maps. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Carson City

Kit Carson was a frontiersman who was known for being a successful hunter, trapper and guide in the 1820s and ‘30s. Carson traveled with Lt. John C. Fremont (the namesake of Fremont Street) to map California in 1842, and mapped previously uncharged portions of Northern Nevada, according to Carson City’s website.

Carson served in both the Mexican-American and Civil wars before his death in 1868.

Related: Why don’t we observe Nevada Day on its actual day?

Ely

Historians disagree on who is the true namesake of Ely — or if it is even named after a person at all.

According to the White Pine Historical and Archaeological Society, Ely is either named for Vermont Native Smith Ely, or Illinois native and frontiersman John Ely who lost and gained his mining fortunes throughout his life spent in Nevada and Utah.

Reporter Dan McDonald wrote that A. J. Underhill borrowed $5,000 from John Ely to buy land that is now the townsite of Ely and named the town after John.

But, the town may have been named after another town, instead of a person.

An issue of the 1906 White Pine News states that in 1878 that J. W. Long, one of the settlers of the mining camp that would become Ely, named the town Ely after his hometown of Ely, Vermont. This name theory was once supported by an associate of Long named F. F. Thomas, but Thomas later wrote that Smith Ely was the true source of the name.

The true origin of the town’s name remains unknown, according to the historical and archaeological society.

Fallon

Not much is known about Fallon’s namesake Michael Fallon, other than that he owned a ranch and post office in the 1890s with his wife, Eliza.

Michael later sold his ranch to Warren Williams who then sold off the land in lots that would become the west side of the town, according to the Fallon Chamber of Commerce.

According to “Origin of Place Names-Nevada,” a book created by the Works Progress Administration that was published in 1941, Fallon was named in Michael’s honor since the town was established on his ranch’s land.

Gerlach

The town of Gerlach, located near the Black Rock Desert with a population of 130 people (as of 2020), was named for Louis Gerlach, who owned the Gerlach Land and Livestock Company, according to Gerlach’s website.

The town today, along with nearby Empire, serve as host communities for the Burning Man music and art festival.

Goodsprings

Goodsprings’ Pioneer Saloon claims the town was named after Joseph Good, who lived in the town in the late 1800s who hoped to take advantage of mining opportunities in the area.

Hawthorne

William Hawthorne was a justice of the peace and pioneer in Hawthorne who died in 1904 in San Francisco after being “injured by a street car,” according to the now-defunct Carson City newspaper the Morning Appeal.

The paper states that Hawthorne invested much of his money prospecting Tonopah silver ore, but was unsuccessful in finding it. Hawthorne also lost his right arm “early in his life” but “in spite of this disadvantage he went through life and managed well for himself and family,” the paper said.

Charles Belknap Henderson (Library of Congress)
Charles Belknap Henderson (Library of Congress)

Henderson

Henderson is named for former Sen. Charles Belknap Henderson, who served as U.S. senator for Nevada from 1918 to 1921.

Henderson was called the Basic townsite until 1944 before it was incorporated as a town, but was changed to Henderson after the townsite got a post office named after the former senator, according to historian Mark Hall-Patton.

Henderson never visited the town of Henderson, and died in San Francisco a year after the town was incorporated in 1954, Hall-Patton said.

Jean Fayle and her daughter, Jean Nevada Fayle. (UNLV Special Collections and Archives, Fayle F ...
Jean Fayle and her daughter, Jean Nevada Fayle. (UNLV Special Collections and Archives, Fayle Family Photographs)

Jean

Jean got its name in 1905 from its founder and former Clark County Commissioner George Fayle’s wife, Jean Fayle. George built the Fayle Hotel in 1916, which burned down in 1966, and the Pioneer Saloon in 1913, which still stands today in nearby Goodsprings.

George died in 1918 during the influenza epidemic at age 37. Jean married O.C. Boggs, a retired Las Vegas police chief, 10 years after George’s death. She died in 1950 at age 66, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Don Laughlin, owner of the Riverside Resort, sits near a bank of slot machines during the 50th ...
Don Laughlin, owner of the Riverside Resort, sits near a bank of slot machines during the 50th anniversary party for the resort in Laughlin in August 2016. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Laughlin

Don Laughlin was a casino mogul who took an empty bar and motel near the Colorado River and turned it into the Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino in 1966.

Laughlin got his start in Southern Nevada in Las Vegas with the 101 Club, which he bought in 1954 and sold 10 years later.

Laughlin told the Review-Journal in 2016 that the name of the town came from the U.S. Postal Service, which named its office at the Riverside Resort the “Laughlin substation” in 1968.

Laughlin also funded the Laughlin Bridge and the Laughlin/Bullhead City International Airport.

Laughlin died at the age of 92 on Oct. 22.

Lovelock

Lovelock got its name in 1868 from George Lovelock, a pioneer who moved to the town in 1866.

Lovelock, Nevada, is the second town named after George after Lovelock, California, which was founded by George.

George was known for his successful prospecting and for giving 85 acres to the Central Pacific Railroad to establish a town site, according to the Review-Journal’s archives. He also served as the town’s postmaster.

“George Lovelock developed more mines and did more real prospecting than almost any man who ever lived in Nevada,” the Oroville Daily Register wrote in his obituary. “He acquired a fine knowledge of the art and traveled constantly for years from one range to another, always with an eye for the secrets of the hills. He discovered cobalt, nickel, tin, borax and almost every known metal in his search and brought many good investors into the State.”

George died in 1907 at age 83 of pneumonia.

Nelson

Nelson was named after Charles Nelson, a prospector who was murdered by a Paiute man named Ahvote in 1897, who killed 10 men in one spree before being killed by his brother, the Boulder City Review and Las Vegas Age reported.

The town was originally called Eldorado after being settled by Spanish explorers in 1775. The canyon where the town is located is still called Eldorado Canyon today.

Primm

Originally called State Line, Primm got its name changed in 1996 after Ernest Primm, who purchased 400 acres of land in the town in the early 1950s.

Ernest built Whiskey Pete’s in the mid-1970s; the Primadonna, now Primm Valley Resort and Casino, in 1990; and Buffalo Bill’s in 1994. Primm died in 1981.

Rachel Jones and her mother and father, published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on June 1, 19 ...
Rachel Jones and her mother and father, published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on June 1, 1980. The caption reads: "HAPPIER DAYS - Rachel Jones, after whom a town was named, is held by her mother, Debbie, as dad, John, looks on." (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Rachel

Rachel, Nevada’s youngest town, was named for Rachel Jones, the first baby born in the town. Rachel was born in 1977, and the town was founded a year later.

Rachel was originally named Sandy after the area’s large swaths of sand, according to the Lincoln County Authority of Tourism.

Rachel died in 1980 at age 3 from a respiratory problem aggravated by ash from Mount St. Helens, Review-Journal archives state.

Reno

Reno is named after Jesse Law Reno, a Union Army general killed in 1862 by a Confederate sniper. Jesse never visited the town of Reno, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Reno was originally going to be named Argenta, but two weeks before lots in the town was set to be auctioned off amid the construction of the Central Pacific railroad, the town name was changed for unknown reasons.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that one theory on how the name Reno was chosen was that it was a name drawn by railroad officials from a box containing names of cities, but that is unconfirmed.

Ruth

According to White Pine County, Ruth, a small town of just over 200 people northwest of Ely, is named for Ruth McDonald, the daughter of the first owner of the mining claim in the town.

Ruth was founded as a company town near a large open-pit copper mine. During the Great Depression, the town had almost 2,300 residents. The town stopped being a company town in 1955 but continues to be a mining hub today.

Winnemucca

Winnemucca is named after Chief Winnemucca, the father of Sarah Winnemucca — who spent her life advocating for better conditions and education for the Paiute people.

Sarah traveled from San Francisco to Washington to talk with lawmakers about how the Paiute people’s needs were ignored in Nevada.

Chief Winnemucca, who later went by Old Winnemucca toward the end of his life, died in 1882.

Contact Taylor Lane at tlane@reviewjournal.com

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