Why Nevada Became a State
You’ve probably seen the Nevada Flag (pictured) with the state motto “Battle Born” across the
top and wondered about the context of those particular words. Perhaps you even searched online
and found the usual explanations; the Civil War, silver in the Comstock, the need to ensure a
victory over the rebellious Confederate States, preventing those same states from getting their
hands on the Comstock wealth.
To some Nevadans, the Silver State was forged in the flames of war, born of a righteous cause,
and emerged into the world on the correct side of history.
Perhaps that’s true to an extent. And no, you’re not about to read some secret shocking history
revisionist screed revealing the dark truth behind the birth of the 36 th state (take THAT,
Nebraska!), rich in conspiracy and minerals as well as the home of Area 51.
The truth is actually somewhere between the noble causes and the smoky, back parlor politics.
The interesting story is not how Nevada became a state, but why.
The first Europeans to settle permanently in Nevada established the tiny town of Mormon Station
in 1850, the year after gold was discovered in California and fortune seekers began moving out
west in droves. John Reese, a merchant, set up a trading post in town while the members of his
settlers party began raising livestock and crops in the immediate area (they also took to soaking
their tired bodies at day’s end in what would later be known as Wally’s Hot Springs). Reese
figured he could sell that livestock and those crops to the miners and their families heading for
Gold Country, and he figured right. The trading post soon became a supply stop, and soon after,
a mail stop, on the way to Hangtown – later renamed Placerville by more civilized folk – which
was close to the Sutter gold discovery site.
Reese and the members of his group were Mormons, and in those days, members of the Mormon
Church had some measure of difficulty getting along with, well, just about everybody else. When
the church was first established by Joseph Smith in Western New York, they sought to make for
themselves a permanent home in Ohio. That didn’t work out, so they moved to Missouri. That
actually worked out even less favorably as the Mormon War of 1838 resulted in Missouri
Executive Order 44 which declared members of the Mormon Church to be illegal in the state of
Missouri and thus they were forcibly removed.
So they tried Illinois. It worked for a time, but the neighbors were getting agitated and one of the
church members had gone west then come back with stories of an earthly paradise situated at the
base of the Wasatch Mountains near the shores of a vast lake which would surely irrigate many
farms and fields. And the best part: no neighbors. So once again, the Latter Day Saints picked up
and moved and perhaps it may be understandable that by this time, they’d had enough of
relocating and were beginning to feel a bit cranky. Also, the fact that no one bothered to check
the consistency of the lake, which turned out to be salt water, didn’t help matters.
Determined to make it work anyway, the church founded Salt Lake City and then promptly
claimed all the land between there and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Which brings us to Mormon Station. Not long after the original settlers established themselves,
additional farmers and ranchers began moving into the area, but they were not members of the
Mormon Church and did not particularly care for the manner in which they were governed by the
By 1857, word had gone out that United States federal troops were about to invade Salt Lake
City in response to a declaration that the Utah Territory, which included most of what is now
Nevada, was going to be its own independent nation and not part of the U.S. Since California had
already been a state for 7 years, and the South was openly calling for secession, the idea of an
independent nation (intended to be called Deseret) situated between states was not looked upon
favorably in Washington DC. Reese and his party left to help defend Salt Lake, and those who
remained behind promptly changed the name of the town from Mormon Station to Genoa.
Then came talk of statehood, which did not sit well with Salt Lake, who sent its own appointed
governors and sheriffs to Genoa in an attempt to demonstrate and retain authority of the territory.
But silver ore was discovered in the Virginia City Comstock and by 1859, a whole lot of non-
Mormon settlers moved into the area, dug up the ore, converted it to money, which was quickly
converted into power. Legends persist that the church-appointed governors and sheriffs who did
not leave voluntarily were dealt with by hired guns.
Residents living east of the California state line declared themselves the Territory of Nevada in
1860, distinct and separate from the Territory of Utah, and began electing their own governors
and sheriffs. Salt Lake was furious at the idea of losing the land along with the newly discovered
wealth buried under it, but decided it did not have the will for yet another armed conflict with the
neighbors and gave up all its claims.
In Washington DC, congress had been reduced by the number of representatives from the states
which had broken off to form the Confederacy, and 1864 was an election year. Abraham Lincoln
was nominated for a second term with the newly formed National Union Party, but he faced
strong opposition from George McLellan, a pro war Democrat and a former army general who
promised to end the conflict sooner than Lincoln could. The race was a tight one, with many
favoring McLellan simply because they were tired of the war and wanted it overwith. Some even
spoke of suing for peace with the Confederacy. Lincoln stuck to his beliefs that the Union
needed to be preserved, but as Election Day drew near, it seemed less and less likely that he
would get that second term.
On October 31 st , 1864, Congress held a special vote to grant statehood to the Territory of
The election was 9 days later.
It just so happened that the residents of the newly formed state of Nevada voted overwhelmingly
in favor of Abraham Lincoln for a second term as President of the United States.
It also just so happened that Nevada’s 2 electoral votes would ensure a solid victory and a second
term for Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States.
When all was said and done, the electoral count was 212 for Lincoln, and 21 for McLellan.
One might conclude that Nevada’s electoral votes weren’t needed in this particular election. One
might also conclude that Nevada was now a state, forever out of reach from those who would
govern the region and its residents from the City of Salt Lake.
And perhaps, one might conclude that statehood was a mutually beneficial outcome for all
“Battle Born” indeed.