Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Nevada

Plate III. NEVADA, one of the most western of the States of the American Union, was formed from a portion of the territory acquired by the United States from Mexico by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The boundary line commences in the centre of the Colorado river, where the 35th parallel of north latitude crosses that stream (near Fort Mojave); thence it runs in a direct north-westerly line to the point where the 39th parallel of north latitude intersects the 120th degree of longitude west from Greenwich (near the centre of Lake Tahoe), thence north on that meridian to the 42d parallel of latitude, thence east on that parallel to the 37th meridian west of Washington, thence south on that meridian to the Colorado river and down that stream to the place of beginning, enclosing an area of 110,700 square miles. The State is bounded on the S. and W. by California, N. by Oregon and Idaho, and E. by Utah and Arizona. At the time of the discovery of the silver mines (1858-59) what is now the State of Nevada was a part of Utah. By Act of Congress of March 2, 1861, Nevada became a Territory; and, with a modification of its boundaries, it was admitted as a State on October 31, 1864.

By the upheaval in past ages of the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, there was enclosed an ancient sea, several hundred thousand square miles in extent. The draining off and evaporation of the waters so enclosed left an immense plateau, having a general elevation of 4000 to 6000 feet above the present sea-level. Although this table land is spoken of as a “basin,” yet throughout its whole extent it is traversed by ranges of mountains rising from 1000 to 8000 feet above the general surface, and having the same northward and southward trend as the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. The surface of the country as a whole presents a very barren, rocky, and mountainous appearance, yet between the parallel ranges are valleys from 5 to 20 miles in width, all having about the same altitude above the sea. Where traversed by rivers or creeks these contain considerable areas of arable land, the amounts usually being proportionate to the size of the streams. They are timberless, except for a few cotton-wood trees found along the rivers. Upon the mountains the quantity of timber depends upon the altitude. The lower ranges are bare, or contain only a scanty growth of piñon, cedar, or mountain mahogany, of very little economic importance. Several of the higher ranges contain small bodies of valuable timber, while the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada is well-clothed with forests of conifers, which have proved of inestimable value to the people of the State.

Rivers, lakes, and springs. The river system is peculiar, only two of the streams of the State finding their way to the sea: the Owyhee, which rises in the northern part, empties into the Snake, and thence passes through the Columbia river to the Pacific Ocean; and the Colorado river, on the southern boundary, flows into the Gulf of California. All the other streams either sink in the sand of the interior valleys or terminate in lakes that have no outlet. The Humboldt river, about 300 miles long, empties into Humboldt Lake or “Sink”; Truckee river, which drains Lakes Tahoe and Donner (in the Sierra Nevada), after a course of 125 miles, falls into Pyramid and Winnemucca Lakes. Walker river, 100 miles long, rises in the Sierra and discharges into Walker Lake; Carson river, 180 miles long, also rises in the Sierra Nevada, and empties into the “Sink of the Carson” or Carson Lake. Reese river rises in the Toyabe Range (within the basin region), and after a course of about 150 miles disappears in the sand; Quinn river, in the northern part of the State, after a course of 80 miles, similarly disappears in the soil; the Amargosa (bitter) river, in the southern part of the State, is 150 miles long, and, after sinking and rising several times, finally loses itself in the sands of Death Valley just over the line in California. Such of the creeks as are not tributaries of the rivers either sink in the sandy plains or end in small pools. Most of the lakes are merely sinks for the scanty streams. Of these, as already mentioned, are Humboldt, Pyramid, Winnemucca, Walker, and Carson Lakes, which, with the beautiful Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada, complete the enumeration of the bodies of water of any considerable magnitude in the State. In many places on the sides of the mountain ranges are to be seen well-defined water-lines of the ancient sea or of extinct lakes, indicating a far greater extension of water surface and a much moister climate than at present. Hot springs, many of which have medicinal virtues, are found in all parts of Nevada. The most noted are the Steamboat Springs, in Washoe Valley, on the line of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad.

Climate. The climate of Nevada is characterized primarily by its extreme aridity. The air currents from the Pacific are thoroughly drained of their moisture before reaching the borders of the Great Basin, and pass over it as dry winds. In the southern part of the State, where the elevation above sea is least and the temperature highest, the rain fall averages not more than 5 inches per annum, while evaporation is extremely rapid. In the northern part the rainfall is greater, averaging not far from 15 inches in many localities. Nowhere, however, is it sufficient for the needs of agriculture, and consequently irrigation has to be universally resorted to. The mean annual temperature in the habitable portions of the State ranges from 70° Fahr. in the south to 45° in the north. This, however, expresses but a part of the conditions of temperature. The range between summer and winter, and between day and night, is very great. At several meteorological stations in the State the maximum temperature is quoted at from 100° to 111° Fahr., while the minimum temperature ranges as low as -23° Fahr. The temperature varies greatly according to altitude. In the lower valleys snow seldom lies more than a day or two in winter. The weather in winter as a rule is dry, bright, and pleasant. In summer the nights are everywhere delightfully cool.

Fauna and flora. The fauna of the State is poor, and illustrates, with the flora, the aridity of the climate. Coyotes, badgers, and rabbits are perhaps the most abundant animals, as they certainly are the most characteristic. In the more northern valleys are to be found, in the winter, herds of antelope, and occasionally a few deer and elk. In the Sierra, except where driven away by the encroachments of civilization, large game, consisting of elk, deer, and black and grizzly bears, are still to be found in greater or less abundance. The flora is also scanty, and is characterized by Artemisia, so that Nevada is often nicknamed the “Sage-brush” State. In the southern valleys even this fails, and the sterility is relieved by little save Yucca and various species of Cactus. In the northern valleys, and particularly upon the lower mountains and hills, the bunch grasses replace Artemisia to a considerable extent, although not sufficiently to give the interest of meat-production great prominence in the State.


Nevada offers an attractive field of study for the geologist, not only on account of its great wealth of precious metals, but because of the great complexity of geological phenomena there presented. The valleys are everywhere covered to a great depth with most recent deposits, out of which rise the ranges, as long, narrow islands from the sea. These ranges bring to the surface rocks of all the geologic ages, even to the Azoic, while here and there are intrusions of volcanic rock. In the north-western part of the State the great lava field of southern Oregon has overflowed the State boundary, and extends over a considerable area.


The State is rich in mineral productions of all kinds. Silver is, however, the leading mineral product, and the mines of the Comstock at Virginia City and Gold Hill have been among the richest in the world. Since the discovery in 1859 these mines have yielded over $200,000,000 in silver and gold, and the product of the whole State hitherto has been about $300,000,000. Two mines alone on the Comstock, the California and the Consolidated Virginia (known as the bonanza mines), have yielded over $130,000,000 in silver and gold,—the bullion of the Comstock being about one-third gold and two-thirds silver. The rich deposits of the vein, known as “bonanzas,” have, however, now been exhausted as far as discovered, and since 1880 the yield from the Comstock lode has been light. Explorations, however, are actively continued. In the Yellow Jack and Belcher mines the workings have reached a depth of 3000 feet, and in the Ophir and Mexican mines they are drifting at a point 3100 feet below the surface, the greatest depth to which mining operations have been carried any where on the American continent. At these great depths the lode is found to diminish neither in width nor strength of formation. The heat of the rock is intense in these levels, and it is possible for men to work only for very short periods, requiring frequent shifts. The Sutro tunnel, over 20,000 feet in length, drains all the leading mines of the lode to a depth of 1600 feet, thus saving much pumping. There are millions of tons of low-grade ore in the many mines of the Comstock which will be mined at no distant day, but which cannot be profitably worked at the present high rates of wages (miners get $4 per day) and great cost of transportation and reduction. In the eastern part of the State, at Eureka and several other points, are mines which produce smelting ores containing too much lead to be worked by mill process, as are the free chloride and sulphuret ores of the Comstock. Many of these “base metal veins,” as they are called by the miners, are very rich in silver, have been profitably worked for several years, and are still yielding well. The mineral production of Nevada for the year 1882 was reported by Wells, Fargo, & Co. to be:—gold dust and bullion, $752,506; silver bullion, 6,588,023; ores and base bullion, 3,022,847—making a total of $10,363,376. All the interior ranges of mountains in the State contain veins producing gold, silver, copper, lead, and antimony in paying quantities, but as yet little mining has been done except for gold and silver. The many rich mines of copper have scarcely been touched. Besides the metals mentioned, there are found within the borders of Nevada iron, platinum, zinc, nickel, cobalt, quicksilver, lignite, gypsum, kaolin, beds of pure sulphur, and in the plains and marshes deposits of pure salt, carbonate of soda, borax, nitrate of potash, and other minerals of a similar nature.


While Nevada is not a country to attract the farmer, there is still a considerable amount of arable land within its borders. At present there are under cultivation only about 344,423 acres. Wherever water for irrigation can be procured good crops of most kinds of grain, hay, and vegetables may be grown. It has been estimated that by a full utilization of the streams for irrigation possibly 3 per cent. of the area of the State can be brought into cultivation; of this (some 2,000,000 acres) only about one-sixth has as yet been reduced to the service of man. It is not probable, however, that Nevada will ever attain to a high rank as an agricultural State. The principal products during the census year 1880 were—barley, 513,470 bushels; oats, 186,860 bushels; wheat, 69,298 bushels; wool, 655,012 1T>; hay, 95,853 tons; and potatoes,

302,143 bushels. The grazing interest is not, and probably never will be, a very extensive one. The following figures give the amount of live stock in the State:—horses, 32,087; cattle, 172,212; sheep, 133,695.

Manufacture. Railways.

The manufacturing interests of Nevada are not extensive, and are confined mainly to the smelting and reduction of ores.

There are several railroads. The Central Pacific crosses the whole State, and has within its limits a length of 452 miles; the Virginia and Truckee runs from Keno, on the Central Pacific, through Carson to Virginia City, and is 52 miles long; the Carson and Colorado leaves the Virginia and Truckee near Virginia City, and running southward through the State taps a rich and extensive mineral and agricultural region. This road is now completed to Benton, California, 193 miles, and will eventually connect with the Southern Pacific at Mojave, California. The Nevada Central, 93 miles in length, connects the towns of Austin and Battle Mountain; and the Eureka and Palisade, 20 miles long, connects the places named. There are several shorter lines completed, and a considerable number projected.

Education. Churches. Newspapers. Property.

There are in the State 185 common schools, 12 high schools, and a State university at the town of Elko. In all the large towns are churches of the leading religious denominations, and many of the church edifices are fine and costly structures. Thirty-seven newspapers are published, the majority being dailies.

The returns of the tenth census place the assessed valuation of the real estate of Nevada at $17,941,030, and the personal property at $11,350,429, a total of $29,291,459. The true valuation is estimated at $69,000,000 in 1880.


The State government is similar to that of the majority of the western States. Nevada has two representatives in the United States senate and one in the house of representatives.


The first settlement in Nevada was made at Genoa, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, in 1850, though as early as 1848 the Mormons, travelling between Salt Lake and California, had established a temporary camp at that place. The Mormons made two or three small settlements in the valleys along the base of the Sierra, and until 1859, when the silver mines of the Comstock were discovered, they were the principal white inhabitants. The discovery of silver caused great crowds of miners of all nationalities to pour over the Sierra Nevada from California, and in that year and 1860 several towns were laid out and rapidly built up. In a few years new mineral belts were discovered to the eastward, and soon there were founded many interior towns and camps.


In 1870 the population was 42,491. In 1880 it had increased to 62,266 (1 to 1¾ square miles), again of 46.5 per cent. In 1883 it had not greatly increased over the number in 1880. The population shows a great disproportion of males, as is every where the case on the frontier, especially in a mining region. Of the total number 42,019 were males and 20,247 females. There was also a disproportionately large number of the foreign born, 36,613 being natives and 25,653 foreigners. With the Pacific coast States, Nevada has received a comparatively large accession of Chinese, these numbering 5416, or more than one-eighth of the whole population of the State. The main body of the population is congregated in the extreme western portion of the State, in Storey and the adjacent counties. A second but much smaller body of population is about Eureka. The balance is dispersed very sparsely. The population of the principal towns in 1880 was as follows:—Carson City, the capital of the State, 4229; Eureka, 4207; Virginia City, 10,917; Gold Hill, 4531; Reno, 1302. The population is now (1883) about the same for all these towns except Reno, which has probably 3000 inhabitants. There are several other towns and camps containing from 300 to 1000 inhabitants. There are comparatively few Indians in the State, and these, known as Pah Utes or Diggers and Shoshones, are theoretically upon reservations in the western part. Their number is estimated by the Indian office at 3377. They are, as a class, both mentally and physically below the average of the North American tribes. (W. WR.)

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W. & A. K. Johnston. Edinburgh and London.