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Reno Nevada Culture and History

Step Back into Reno-Tahoe's Storied Past

Planning a cultural expedition? Take a trip here first

minor and dogNorthern Nevada's story is a story worth telling. With our region's outstanding natural beauty, its wide variety of cultural activities and our excellent hotel casino-resorts, we provide the cultural tourist with an ideal destination. A distinctive experience awaits our visitors; an experience associated with people, places, learning and ideas; places and activities that authentically represent the rich western heritage of Northern Nevada.

Discover how northern Nevada uniquely captures the spirit of The West by exploring the following links:

cowboy history
Nevada Historical Society
Nevada State Museum
Nevada State Railroad Museum
W. M. Keck Museum
Sparks Heritage Museum
Virginia City Historic Sites
Carson City's Kit Carson Trail

Northern Nevada History 101

A special thanks to the Nevada Historical Society for the following historical information and photographic images. The Nevada Historical Society, located just north of downtown on the UNR Campus, is Nevada's oldest museum. Their exhibitions accurately tell the incredible story of Nevada and their research library comprises the largest collection of books, photographs, maps and manuscripts about Nevada to be found.

Native Cultures

numagaHumans have been in this geographic region called the Great Basin for at least 10,000 years. Paleo-Indians were the first inhabitants followed by the four contemporary tribes, the Washoe, Northern Paiute, Southern Paiute and Western Shoshone. The cultures of these great Nations have no separation between the sacred and the ordinary in their lives. Life is spiritual and fluid, with a sense of balance, harmony, beauty, and completeness.

Cowboys and Ranch Life

The earliest cattle ranches in Nevada were established in the Carson Valley in the 1850s, first to supply wagon trains following the Carson River route, and then to provide meat, fruit and vegetables to the mining towns of the Comstock Lode. Sheep raising followed cattle ranching. By the turn of the twentieth century, Nevada ranchers were importing sheepherders from the Basque provinces of Spain and France. These Basque people prospered and flourished here in the Great Basin, and their cultures and traditions live on today.

Just Passing Through...

old reno archMany notable journeys have been traversed through Nevada. One could say you have to pass through "here" to get to "there". From the route that brought the pioneers, to the path the Washoe people used, to the route John C. Fremont and his party used, to the old wagon road the ill-fated Donner Party took, to prospectors and the Pony Express, to the transcontinental railroad, to today's Interstate 80 - Northern Nevada has met many on their journeys.

The Comstock Lode

In 1859, only miles from the Carson Valley trail used by so many Forty-Niners a decade earlier, came the fabled Comstock Lode. The rush to the Comstock in 1859 virtually shut down the mines of California. A new era dawned, scientifically, economically, and socially. By the late 1850s, thousands of gold seekers were doubling back from California, through the Western territories. Many were professional prospectors by now, roving from one small strike to the next. Others belonged to a new wave of novices, fleeing a severe financial depression back East. But they didn't find so much gold as silver. The "blasted blue stuff" that they found was actually a fabulous silver strike, the legendary Comstock Lode, probably the greatest single mineral strike in history. During the next year, 17,000 swarmed into the Washoe region of what is now the state of Nevada.
Today, Nevada, The Silver State, is the largest gold-producer in the nation, and the third largest in the world, behind only South Africa and Australia.

harolds club 1950

Neon Nights

Nevada is known the world over as a land of enchantment; a world of bright lights, architectural innovation, first-class entertainment, instant fortune, and fabulous cuisine. Traffic to the state increased in the 1920s due to the state's liberal residency laws, when unhappy husbands and wives made the trek to Reno for "Renovation", i.e. an easy divorce. To accommodate this influx of visitors, hotels, dude ranches, casinos, bars and restaurants began increasing at an incredible rate. This became the foundation for the state's fabulous tourist industry. Casino gambling was sanctioned by the state legislature in 1931 as a business move, designed to protect and bolster the tourist trade in the face of the Great Depression.