In the 1770s, Franciscan missionary Francisco Garcés, was the first European in the area. Nevada was annexed as a part of the Spanish Empire in the northwestern territory of New Spain. Nevada became a part of Alta California (Upper California) province in 1804 when the Californias were split. With the Mexican War of Independence won in 1821, the province of Alta California became a territory – not a state – of Mexico, due to the small population. Jedediah Smith entered the Las Vegas Valley in 1827, and Peter Skene Ogden traveled the Humboldt River in 1828. As a result of the Mexican–American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, Mexico permanently lost Alta California in 1848. As part of the Mexican Cession (1848) and the subsequent California Gold Rush that used Emigrant Trails through the area, the state’s area evolved first as part of the Utah Territory, then the Nevada Territory (March 2, 1861; named for the Sierra Nevada).
Nevada became the 36th state on October 31, 1864, after telegraphing the Constitution of Nevada to the Congress days before the November 8 presidential election (the largest and costliest transmission ever by telegraph). Statehood was rushed to help ensure three electoral votes for Abraham Lincoln‘s reelection and add to the Republican congressional majorities.
Nevada’s harsh but rich environment shaped its history and culture. Before 1858 small Mormon settlements along the border of Utah sustained their communities through faith, but the secular western section stumbled along until the great silver strikes beginning in 1858 created boom towns and fabulous fortunes. After the beginning of the 20th century, profits declined while Progressive reformers sought to curb capitalism. They imagined a civilized Nevada of universities, lofty idealism, and social reform. But an economic bust during the 1910s and disillusionment from failures at social reform and a population decline of nearly one-fourth meant that by 1920 Nevada had degenerated into a “beautiful desert of buried hopes.” The boom returned when big time gambling arrived in 1931.