On that date, Nevada became a state.
Nevada’s story, however, began even before that.
When Europeans reached what would become Nevada in the early 1800s, there were already four main Native American tribes living there. They were the Paiute, Shoshone, Washoe, and Walapai tribes and they had inhabited mountainous territory for millennia and called it home.
After the Mexicans declared independence from Spain in 1821, the territory known as Alta California became part of Mexico. Its sparse Mexican population meant that it would not become a formal state within the Mexican federation, and as the years went by, they sought autonomy from Mexico. Many Americans also traveled and explored the area, including Jedediah Smith, an explorer and traveler of the Old West who was the first American to walk the Las Vegas valley.
In 1848, the US-Mexican war broke out over control of the northern Mexican territories, including Alta California. The US won, and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo gave Alta California to the United States. It continued to be run as a territory of the United States, first under the name “Utah Territory” and later as the “Nevada Territory.” However, the main inhabitants were a group of fifty Mormons and non-Mormon ranchers who loosely ran the unorganized territory due to the lack of interest the Federal government showed in their area.
For a long time, Nevada remained lightly populated by Americans, and was used mostly as a route to California during the California Gold Rush. The Emigrant Trails cut through the Nevadan mountains, and many settlers were simply eager to get through the dry, mountainous territory quickly so they could strike it rich in the California gold mines. The Mormon settlements were the main stopping points along those trails.
Religious tensions were high in the early years between Mormons and non-Mormons, and there were frequent fights between the Native American tribes and the American settlers over territory. Non-Mormons wanted to see the territory annexed into California but the Mormons wanted their independence. Federal troopers came into the territory in 1857 and the Mormons left.
Once the non-Mormons were in charge, they seconded the claims requesting a separate territorial status from Utah, and the Nevada territory was formalized March 2, 1861. It was named after Sierra Nevada Mountains. At that time, Carson City became the capital city of Nevada.
One of the biggest events in early Nevada history was the discovery of the Comstock Lode. Prior to its discovery, the state was little more than a thoroughfare for miners traveling to California, or home to cattle ranchers, Mormons, and drifters of the Old West. The Comstock Lode was discovered by James Finney in Carson County in 1859 and quickly changed the nature of Nevada’s population almost overnight.
The Comstock Lode attracted thousands of miners back from California into Nevada, drawn by the prospect of becoming rich at the silver mines. A year later, gold was discovered in Aurora, sparking another gold rush, this time in Nevada. But the Apex Law, used to determined property and mining claims, was ill-suited for the deep mines of the Comstock region, and that threw the legal turmoil of Carson City into stark relief.
The push for statehood came first from the people of Nevada. In September 1863 voters in the territory approved the concept of statehood by 6,660 votes for vs 1,502 votes against. A statehood committee and congress was formed to create a constitution, largely based on the California constitution. It was rejected, but taken up almost immediately on a national level.
The Civil War was in full force, and Congress wanted the pro-Union Nevada in as quickly as possible. It was also a pro-Republican state, and the Republican Congress knew that it may tilt the House of Representatives in their favor, especially if the presidential election had three candidates and wound up being decided there. Plus, Nevada would help pass the 13th Amendment banning slavery, which was another political goal for the Republican Party.
The Enabling Act passed just before the 38th congress went into recess, and President Lincoln signed it on March 21, 1864. It said that Nevada would be accepted into the Union when it had an acceptable constitution, which would go to the president for review and approval. That was unusual, because it bypassed Congress, but also put Nevada on the fast track for statehood. They wrote up a new Constitution, it passed, and within seven months, on October 31, 1864, Nevada was a state.