PERMANENT GALLERY – NEVADA HISTORY
Nevada: Prisms & Perspectives, the latest version of the Nevada Historical Society’s Wilbur S. Shepperson Nevada Gallery. All of the interpretation and collections—artifacts, photographs, and maps—come from the Nevada Historical Society. Nevada: Prisms & Perspectives utilizes the Historical Society’s collections to tell five crucial stories about life in the Silver State. Each story is complete in itself, but all five are intimately related to each other.
Living on the Land
Although the eastern Sierra Nevada, the Great Basin, and the Sonoran Desert of southern Nevada appears to be a hard place in which to survive, people have been taking their living from the land here for more than 10,000 years. Native Nevadans learned to live easily on the land, taking only what they needed.
Riches from the Earth
The Great Basin has been the source of fabulous mineral wealth for hundreds of years. Native Nevadans for centuries mined salt and turquoise. More recently, prospectors heading back east from the first wave of the California Gold Rush found traces of the yellow metal in streams on the eastern slope of the Sierra. The real excitement began in 1859, however, with the “Rush to Washoe,” as thousands of former 49ers headed to the booming Comstock Lode camps of Virginia City, Gold Hill, and Silver City.
For decades, people have been passing through what is now known as Nevada on their way to somewhere else. In fact, Interstate 80, just about a mile south of here, is the latest version of U.S. 40, which was the Victory Highway, which was built along the route of the Central Pacific Railroad, which was along the path of the old wagon road the Donner Party took to get to California, which was also the route into the Sierra Nevada that took John C. Frémont and his party to Lake Tahoe, which was the path the Washoe used to move into the mountains for the summer season. Located east of Reno and the Forty-Mile Desert this modern superhighway follows the old Humboldt River route that brought so many pioneers to the Far West.
Everyone knows the truth about Nevada. It is a land of enchantment offering fun, food, and instant wealth. The Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight in 1897 brought notoriety to the Silver State. Then speedy divorce—”Renovation”—as well as quickie marriages, kept the state’s racy reputation alive. Gambling was made legal in 1931 in order to support tourism and business in the face of the Great Depression.
The Federal Presence
Although Nevada is the seventh largest state in the Union, the federal government owns 87 percent of the land. That simple fact has made the federal presence central to the development of the Silver State in the twentieth century.