Wilbur S. Shepperson Series in Nevada History
Series Editor, Michael Green (UNLV)
Nevada is known politically as a swing state and culturally as a swinging state. Politically, its electoral votes have gone to the winning presidential candidate in all but two elections since 1912 (it missed in 1976 and 2016). Its geographic location in the Sun Belt; an ethnically diverse, heavily urban, and fast-growing population; and an economy based on tourism and mining make it a laboratory for understanding the growth and development of postwar America and postindustrial society. Culturally, Nevada has been associated with legal gambling, easy divorce, and social permissiveness. Yet the state also exemplifies conflicts between image and reality: It is a conservative state yet depends heavily on the federal government. Its gaming regulatory system is the envy of the world but resulted from long and difficult experience with organized crime. And its bright lights often obscure the role of organized religion in Nevada affairs. To some who have emphasized the impact of globalization and celebrated or deplored changing moral standards, Nevada reflects America and the world; to others, it affects them.
This series is named in honor of one of the state’s most distinguished historians, author of numerous books on the state’s immigrants and cultural development, a longtime educator, and an advocate for history and the humanities. The series welcomes manuscripts on any and all aspects of Nevada that offer insight into how the state has developed and how its development has been connected to the region, the nation, and the world.
Charcoal and Blood: Italian Immigrants in Eureka, Nevada and the Fish Creek Massacre
A Great Basin Mosaic: The Cultures of Rural Nevada James W. Hulse
The Baneberry Disaster: A Generation of Atomic Fallout Larry C. Johns and Alan R. Johns
THE SAGEBRUSH STATE NEVADA’S HISTORY, GOVERNMENT, AND
MICHAEL W. BOWERS
UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA PRESS Reno & Las Vegas
University of Nevada Press | Reno, Nevada 89557 USA www.unpress.nevada.edu Copyright © 2018 by University of Nevada Press All rights reserved Cover photographs: (background) iStock/FierceAbin and iStock/btgbtg; (inset)
iStock/DenisTangneyJr; (bottom) Allen Leo Svec
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA Names: Bowers, Michael Wayne, author. Title: The Sagebrush State : Nevada’s history, government, and politics / Michael Wayne
Bowers. Other titles: Nevada’s history, government, and politics Description: Fifth edition. | Reno, NV : University of Nevada Press,  | Series: Wilbur S.
Shepperson series in Nevada history | Includes bibliographical references and index. | Identifiers: ISBN 978-1-943859-74-0 (pbk. : alk. paper) | ISBN 978-1-943859-75-7 (e-book) |
LCCN 2018004689 (print) | LCCN 2018005551 (e-book) Subjects: LCSH: Nevada—History. | Nevada—Politics and government. Classification: LCC F841 .B593 2018 (print) | LCC F841 (e-book) | DDC 979.3—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018004689
Manufactured in the United States of America
Preface to the Fifth Edition
Chapter 1. Nevada—Origins and Early History
Chapter 2. Nevada Territory and Statehood
Chapter 3. Civil Rights and Liberties in Nevada
Chapter 4. Political Parties and Elections
Chapter 5. Interest Groups and Lobbying
Chapter 6. The Nevada Legislature
Chapter 7. The Nevada Executive
Chapter 8. The Nevada Judiciary
Chapter 9. City and County Governments
Chapter 10. State and Local Finance
Chapter 11. Nevada—Past, Present, and Future
Appendix. The Constitution of the State of Nevada
Illustrations and Tables
Figures 2.1. Territory and State of Nevada
3.1. Racial Diversity in Nevada, 2010 Census
3.2. Asian Population of Nevada, 2010 Census
3.3. Hispanic and Latino Population of Nevada, 2010 Census
8.1. Structure of the Nevada State Judicial System
10.3. Nevada General Fund Revenue, Adjusted Economic Forum Forecast, 2015– 2017 Biennium
10.4. Nevada General Fund, Legislature-Approved Appropriations, 2015–2017 Biennium
Tables 4.1. Voter Registration in Nevada by Party in Presidential Election Years, 1960–
5.1. Lobbyist Growth in the Nevada Legislature, 1975–2017
6.1. Party Control of the Nevada Legislature, 1961–2017
6.2. Standing Committees in the Nevada Legislature, 2017
6.3. The Nevada Legislature, Famous Firsts
7.1. Governors of Nevada, 1864–2018
7.2. Party Control of the Executive Branch, State of Nevada, 1864–2017
7.3. The Nevada Executive, Famous Firsts
8.1. Judicial Districts in Nevada, 2018
8.2. The Nevada Judiciary, Famous Firsts
9.1. Nevada Counties
9.2. Nevada’s Incorporated Cities
10.1. Nevada General Fund Revenues by Source, 1977–2017
10.2. Nevada General Fund Appropriations by Type, 1977–2017
11.1. Population of Nevada, 1860–2016
Preface to the Fifth Edition
Since the publication of the fourth edition of The Sagebrush State in 2013, the state of Nevada has undergone an incredible recovery from what were in some cases debilitating changes politically and economically. At the same time, many other good changes have occurred as well. In addition to the elections that have taken place since the fourth edition and the new officeholders who have taken their seats, there have been two regular and four special sessions of the legislature.
In the preface to the third edition, I noted that “the Democrats appear to be quickly losing ground in the Sagebrush State,” given electoral successes by the Republicans in the 1990s and early 2000s. But in the fourth edition, I remarked that “it is the case that the Republicans seem to be on the ropes, with Tea Party, Libertarian, and more traditional factions battling for the soul of the party.” Although the latter part of that statement remains true in 2018, it is the case that the Republicans made stunning victories in the 2014 elections, capturing both houses of the legislature and all six constitutional offices. And although the Democratic Party organization put together by now-retired Harry Reid continues to dominate that party’s politics, it is arguably not as strong as it was now that Reid is no longer majority leader of the U.S. Senate. In 2016, the Democrats won back both houses of the state legislature and Hillary Clinton won the state’s six electoral votes. All of that says that (1) the author is perhaps not the seer he believed himself to be and that (2) both major parties remain competitive in the state with election outcomes very much dependent upon individual candidates and voter turnout. The state senate remains closely divided, as it has for several years (with Democrats holding a two-seat majority), but the state assembly appears to be almost permanently in Democratic hands with the loss in 2014 a rare anomaly likely resulting from low turnout.
As most observers know, the state of Nevada was among the hardest hit by the Great Recession of 2007–2011. Unemployment rates and home foreclosures were the highest of any state. When the housing bubble burst, the bottom fell out of the construction industry, and many of these workers left the state to find jobs elsewhere. With national unemployment high and job security nonexistent in virtually every sector of the economy, tourists either did not have dollars to spend in Nevada or were too cautious to do so. As a result, the economy in the Sagebrush State tanked. Politically, the bad economy led to multiple special sessions of the legislature to balance the budget, conflict over raising taxes and cutting spending, and difficult relations between Governor Jim Gibbons and the
legislature. In 2010 Gibbons became the first governor in Nevada to be denied renomination by his party. Since publication of the fourth edition, the state has come roaring back. Tourism has returned to and even exceeded levels prior to the Great Recession; airport traffic is up; unemployment is at a low five percent compared to over twelve percent in 2011; construction is booming; the economy is diversifying; and major sports leagues have come to the state in the National Football League (Raiders, set for 2020), the National Hockey League (Golden Knights), Major League Soccer (Lights), and the Women’s National Basketball Association (Aces).
On a further positive note, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and, later, the U.S. Supreme Court declared laws banning same-sex marriage (such as the one in the Sagebrush State) unconstitutional in 2015, thus allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, entitling them to all the same rights as straight married couples had always been given. And in 2013, the legislature added transgender Nevadans to the list of hate crimes for which enhanced penalties may be given. In 2017, the legislature added “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to all of the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
In addition to the economic recovery in the state, perhaps the biggest change since the fourth edition has been the increasing political power of the Sagebrush State’s Hispanic population. As that population continues to grow, register to vote, and participate in various ways in numbers unseen before, Hispanics have become an important political force and one that officeholders cannot ignore.
I am very pleased to provide this updated version of a book that first came out in 1996. I hope the reader will find it to be educational and, if not entertaining, well, then, at least not boring. I am, as always, tremendously grateful to Brian Davie, formerly of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, for his assistance in tracking down even the most elusive and obscure information. This book is certainly the better for his efforts.
And, of course, I must once again thank all of the great folks at the University of Nevada Press for their helpfulness, cheerfulness, and assistance in creating all five editions of this work.
When I first began discussing this book with Nicholas Cady and Thomas R. Radko of the University of Nevada Press some years ago, I had in mind a relatively short work that would provide readers with an overview of Nevada history and government. I thought then, as I do now, that many Nevadans and non-Nevadans would be interested in a concise work that would allow them to understand Nevada’s intriguing past and its effects on the present and future direction of the state. A work of that type could be utilized as a supplementary text in the state’s universities and community colleges and would, perhaps, also find a niche among high school students and members of the general public.
These thoughts and discussions brought about The Sagebrush State. Throughout the writing of this book I have attempted to be true to my original intent to provide a concise work that could be revised on a regular basis to reflect changes in the state and its politics. Certainly this work does not pretend, nor was it ever intended, to be a comprehensive volume on every detail of Nevada history and politics; for that degree of thoroughness, the reader is directed to the bibliography. A great debt is owed by this author and all others in the field to those pioneering historians and political scientists who have taught us what we now know about the state: Hubert Howe Bancroft, Eleanore Bushnell, Don Driggs, Russell Elliott, James Hulse, Effie Mona Mack, William Rowley, Elmer Rusco, and many others too numerous to mention.
In addition, I would like to specifically thank Eugene Moehring of the History Department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Michael Green of the Community College of Southern Nevada for their assistance and counsel during the research and writing process. Were it not for their insights, this book would be the poorer. Brian Davie of the Legislative Counsel Bureau and Sidney Watson of the Government Documents Division of the James L. Dickinson Library at UNLV provided regular assistance in my quest for obscure facts and figures. I would also like to thank Leonard E. “Pat” Goodall for providing me with a draft of his forthcoming omnibus book with Don W. Driggs, Nevada Politics and Government: Conservatism in an Open Society. I am grateful to Trudy McMurrin of the University of Nevada Press for her unflagging devotion to seeing this work in print and her regular phone calls to ask, “So, how’s the book coming?”
I would also like to thank Dean Guy Bailey of the College of Liberal Arts and the staff of the Dean’s office (Joyce Nietling, Leslie Marsh, Judy Ahlstrom, Jeremy Wirtjes, and Mike Comstock) for all they have done to ease my burdens as an administrator. Without them, I would be unable to pursue the joys of
research, writing, and teaching. Any errors to be found within these pages must, of course, remain mine alone.
Nevada Origins and Early History
Early Exploration Although recent archaeological excavations indicate the migration from Asia of prehistoric peoples to the area now known as Nevada as early as 15,000 years ago, the state’s written history can be said to have begun in 1776, the same year the American colonists in the East launched their war for independence against the British Crown. In the spring of that year, a Spanish Franciscan missionary, Father Francisco Garcés, and two Indian guides broke off from the second expedition of Captain Juan Bautista de Anza at the present-day site of Yuma, Arizona, to discover a shorter, more direct route between Santa Fe and the Spanish military presidio at Monterey (on the central coast of what is now California). During the course of his exploration, it is believed, Father Garcés crossed the southernmost tip of what is today the state of Nevada.1 It is also possible that a Spanish expedition of fifty-five soldiers led by Gabriel Morara entered the southern portion of what we now call Nevada in 1819. Morara’s aims, however, were not quite so benevolent as those of Father Garcés. Morara’s party set out to the northeast from the San Gabriel Mission (what is now present-day Los Angeles) in an unsuccessful attempt to wreak revenge against a band of Mojaves who had raided one of the Los Angeles–area missions.2
The Spanish, however, had little interest in exploring and developing the vast, barren region that eventually came to be identified as the Great Basin. In 1822 the area was transferred to Mexican possession when Mexico gained independence from its Spanish conquerors, thus following the earlier course of the American revolutionaries in throwing off the yoke of European imperialism. Within five years, however, British and American commercial interests were routinely violating Mexico’s sovereignty in the furtherance of fur trapping and trading, concomitantly beginning the first serious explorations of the Great Basin. As one noted Nevada historian has observed, “Nevada’s written history [began] with a struggle to exploit the resources of land as rapidly as possible. . . . [It is a] struggle [that] has recurred several times throughout Nevada’s history.”3
In 1826 two fur-trapping expeditions entered the Great Basin, one American and the other British. Although the two parties entered the region from different directions, they both had the same goals: to trap as many fur-bearing animals as they could and lay claim to the area for their own companies. The first English- speaking person known to have crossed into the Great Basin was the leader of the British expedition, Canadian-born Peter Skene Ogden. Ogden and his party, representing the Hudson’s Bay Company, most likely ventured slightly into the northeastern corner of Nevada in the spring of 1826. Ogden’s major explorations of Nevada, primarily in the north, did not occur until his later ventures into the territory in 1828 and 1829. He is generally credited as the first Anglo to discover and explore the Humboldt River.
The first American expedition, which started out in present-day Utah in August 1826, was a fifteen-member team led by twenty-seven-year-old Jedediah Smith, one of three co-owners of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Smith’s party entered the area from the east and traversed present-day Clark County, in the south, reaching San Gabriel Mission in November. Mexican authorities, understandably anxious about new colonial threats so soon after they had gained independence from Spain, requested that Smith leave Mexican territory by the same route on which he had entered. Instead, he turned north, taking his party to an area along the American River in central California. The inhospitable nature of the snow-covered Sierra mountains made Smith decide to leave most of his party in California and attempt the mountain passage with only two other members of his expedition. Smith’s three-person party successfully crossed not only the Sierras but also central Nevada, eventually reaching the Great Salt Lake. Smith’s place in history is secure as the first Anglo to actually cross the hostile Nevada landscape. Although he retraced his original path through southern Nevada in 1827 to meet up with the members of his expedition whom he had left behind in California, Smith did not afterward return to the Great Basin.
The Ogden and Smith expeditions were the first to explore the region now known as Nevada, but they were most assuredly not the last. Other fur-trapping parties, originating in Santa Fe and traversing the southern part of the state, were led by Ewing Young (1829), Antonio Armijo (1829–1830), and William Wolfskill and George C. Yount (1830–1831). The path blazed by these hardy trappers eventually established an overland route known as the Old Spanish Trail.
One of the last fur-trapping expeditions, and one of the most famous and significant, was the Walker-Bonneville party of 1833 to 1834.4 Although the group was putatively on a fur-trapping expedition, some evidence suggests that its leader, U.S. Army Captain Benjamin L. E. Bonneville, sent some members of the party, led by Joseph Walker, on an excursion into California to spy on the Mexicans.5 During their trek through central Nevada, Walker’s party killed thirty to forty Native Americans, establishing an unfortunate precedent that would haunt later relations between the region’s oldest and newest inhabitants. Walker is
perhaps best known for the “discovery” of the Yosemite Valley in California and Walker Pass over the Sierra Nevada, although native inhabitants had clearly known of these for many years.
Explorers and Immigrants Spurred by the desire for land and the American creed of Manifest Destiny (that is, that the United States had a duty and an obligation to inhabit all land lying between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans), emigrants on their way to California began to cross, but not settle in, the Great Basin. Unlike their forebears, who traveled in this region to pursue fur trapping, these individuals were interested in establishing a new life for themselves and their families in the Far West. The first group to do so was the Bidwell-Bartleson party in 1841. As head of the Western Emigration Society, twenty-year-old-schoolteacher John Bidwell organized the six-month journey from Missouri to California’s San Joaquin Valley; John Bartleson served as the group’s captain. In addition to its distinction as the first of the emigrant parties, the Bidwell-Bartleson party is noteworthy for including Nancy Kelsey and her young daughter, the first Anglo woman and child to cross the Great Basin. While the Bidwell-Bartleson party crossed the Nevada frontier in the north, a second emigrant party in 1841, the Rowland-Workman party, traveled through the Las Vegas Valley, following the Old Spanish Trail and the 1826 route of Jedediah Smith from Santa Fe to San Gabriel.
The hardship of the terrain and desert conditions along the Old Spanish Trail, however, led later emigrant parties to cross the Great Basin through the north along what became known as the Humboldt Trail. The discovery of the latter trail is credited to the aforementioned Joseph Walker, who led the 1843 Walker-Chiles party along the northern Nevada route he had discovered during his 1834 journey out of California. Other emigrant parties followed that route through the Great Basin over the next several decades, including one in 1844 led by Elisha Stevens, Martin Murphy, and John Townsend—an expedition famed for its successful crossing of the forbidding and deadly summit that would tragically become known a few years later as Donner Pass.
The Donner party left Missouri in the spring of 1846 to pursue dreams of land ownership in California. Following generally the path of the Humboldt Trail, the party took an ill-advised cutoff in northeastern Nevada that put them woefully behind schedule. Their tardiness caused them to reach the Sierras in October after winter storms had dumped snow on the mountains, which were difficult to cross even under better weather conditions. Trapped at Donner Lake, slightly more than half—forty-seven—of the eighty-seven people who began the trip survived, but only by allegedly cannibalizing the remains of their less fortunate companions. The misfortune of the Donner party caused a temporary slowdown in emigration to California, a hiatus that would end with the discovery of gold in California in January 1848 and the February 1848 cession of what is now the southwestern
United States by Mexico at the end of the Mexican War. In addition to the informal and unofficial explorations of the Great Basin area
by fur trappers and immigrants to California, a number of official expeditions were launched by the U.S. government in the early 1840s into what was then still Mexican territory. The leader of these expeditions was a member of the U.S. Army’s Topographical Engineers, Captain John C. Frémont, whose destiny was most assuredly not harmed by the fact that his wife, Jessie, was the daughter of influential Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, one of the most fanatical of the Manifest Destiny zealots. Frémont headed two expeditions into present-day Nevada, the first from 1843 to 1844 and the second in 1845. The former traversed the western edge of northern Nevada to central California and back along the Old Spanish Trail in the south. The latter expedition, on which he was accompanied by Joseph Walker and Kit Carson, explored the central portions of the state. The lasting significance of the Frémont expeditions can be seen to this day. Although Frémont “discovered” little that had not already been explored by others, his parties, unlike their predecessors, painstakingly and accurately mapped the area and gave names to its features, names that adhere today: the Humboldt River, the Walker River, the Carson River, Pyramid Lake. Indeed, it is Frémont who first identified this vast area of interior drainage as “the Great Basin.”
Settlement of Nevada The fur trappers, California immigrants, and explorers who visited the Great Basin in the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s had no intention of settling in the region now known as Nevada. To them it was merely a place where they hunted or passed through on the way to a new land or to an adventure, respectively. Permanent settlement of Nevada would not come until the latter part of the 1840s. Political scientists Eleanore Bushnell and Don Driggs, among others, have noted that the settlement of Nevada came as a result of three contemporaneous events:
(1) the cession by Mexico of vast territories to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848; (2) the migration of the Mormons into the Salt Lake area and later into much of the region that now comprises Nevada; and (3) the discovery of gold in California.6
None of these momentous events had much to do initially with Nevada. No Mexican War battles were fought here, the Mormons first settled in what is now Utah, and the first discovery of gold came in California. Like the fur trappers, California immigrants, and explorers who had traveled the land before, few among the next groups of travelers through the Great Basin saw it as an area of inherent desirability. Yet these three milestones ultimately conjoined to lead to the permanent settlement and eventual statehood of Nevada.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) was founded in
western New York State in April 1830 by Joseph Smith, who claimed to have received from the angel Moroni a set of golden plates containing scripture and the Urim and Thummim to interpret them. Conflict with and persecution by more traditional Christian groups led Smith to move the Mormons to Ohio, Missouri, and Nauvoo, Illinois. The murder of the Mormon prophet in a Carthage, Illinois, jail led his successor, Brigham Young, to move the group once more. The journey, from 1846 to 1847, of 15,000 men, women, and children eventually came to rest at the Great Salt Lake, an area still within the sovereignty of Mexico. By March 1849 Young had proclaimed the independent State of Deseret, a region encompassing present-day Utah, Nevada, southern California, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, and Colorado.
While the Mormons were on their way to the Great Salt Lake, the United States was engaged in a war with Mexico for control of California and what is today the southwestern United States. Following the doctrine of Manifest Destiny to its logical, if bloody, conclusion, President James K. Polk launched the war in 1846, a war that ended successfully for the Americans in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The treaty gave the United States control over California, Utah, Nevada, and portions of Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Colorado. The Great Basin was now firmly and legally ensconced in the hands of the United States.
Simultaneous to the end of the Mexican War, gold was discovered in California at Sutter’s Mill on the American River near Sacramento. Beginning in 1849, thousands traveled from the east to California in search of riches; some came by sea around South America (the Panama Canal was yet to be built), while others traveled overland along the routes used by earlier California immigrants through the northern Great Basin.
As already noted, none of these three events initially had anything to do with Nevada. However, each in its own way contributed to the region’s development. After 1848 the Great Basin was no longer foreign territory, the Mormons aggressively moved into its northern and southern regions to proselytize and establish settlements, and the influx of California gold seekers through the region created a need for supply stations along the overland route, including the area now known as Nevada.
The cession of California and the southwestern United States in 1848 by Mexico forced the U.S. government to deal with political issues of statehood and territorial boundaries. Rejecting Brigham Young’s massive State of Deseret, Congress approved the Compromise of 1850 to establish some order in its newly acquired territory. That act, debated by Congress for two years over the heated issue of slavery, established California as a free, that is, nonslave, state (even though it had, unlike other states added after the original thirteen colonies, never been a territory) and divided the remainder of the Mexican Cession of 1848 into the territories of New Mexico and Utah, which could, upon statehood, determine for themselves whether to allow slavery. New Mexico Territory included not only
New Mexico but also most of Arizona and the southern 10 percent of present-day Nevada. The newly created Utah Territory included all of present-day Utah, small parts of Colorado and Wyoming, and the northern 90 percent of present-day Nevada. Congress thus not only changed the name of the Mormon territory from Deseret to Utah but also included only half of the area Young and his followers had earlier claimed. It is doubtful that the Mormons would have achieved even that but for the death of President Zachary Taylor in July 1850. Taylor opposed the Mormon cause and was unsympathetic to state or territorial status for them. His successor, Millard Fillmore, however, was favorably impressed by the Mormons and their representative, Dr. John M. Bernhisel, who had been dispatched to Washington, D.C., in 1849 to lobby (unsuccessfully) for congressional recognition of the much larger State of Deseret. Not surprisingly, Fillmore appointed the Mormon leader, Brigham Young, as Utah’s first territorial governor.7
Mormon settlement in the western Utah Territory (now Nevada) began that same year, 1850, when a party led by Joseph DeMont established a temporary trading post in Carson Valley near Utah Territory’s western border with California.8 The post, named Mormon Station, served the needs of emigrants and gold seekers crossing the Great Basin on their way to California. Although abandoned with the onset of winter, the post became a permanent settlement the following year when a party led by John Reese sought to establish a farming and trading community and fort. In 1856 the name of this first permanent settlement in Nevada was changed to Genoa.
Once the Mormons had established the feasibility of survival, agriculture, and commercial enterprise in the Carson Valley, they were joined by non-Mormons (“gentiles”) who also opened trading posts in Carson, Eagle, and Jacks Valley and Truckee Meadows. Gentile population in the area was augmented by the discovery in 1850 of gold in Gold Canyon just east of the California border. Gold miners from California and new gold seekers from the East soon established residence in the region as well, although they generally had no intention of making the place a permanent home. The combination of Mormons and non- Mormons in the Carson Valley was from the beginning a volatile one and was partially responsible for Nevada’s eventual separation from Utah Territory in 1861.
The area that is now southern Nevada was also being settled during this time. Although the development of the south did not have the same profound effects on Nevada’s becoming a territory and, later, a state that the development of the north did, the settlement of both areas exhibited many of the same characteristics. Settlement of the Las Vegas Valley (part of New Mexico Territory since 1851) began in 1855, when Brigham Young sent a group of Mormons led by William Bringhurst to establish the Las Vegas Mission. The mission was to serve a dual purpose: establish supply stations along the Old Spanish Trail (just as Mormon
Station had in the north) and convert the Native Americans, primarily Southern Paiutes, to Mormonism. Their task was, in many ways, a hard and thankless one, performed in a hostile environment. One of the missionaries, John Steele, observed in an 1855 letter that “the country around here looks as if the Lord had forgotten it.”9 Later in that same letter he noted that there was a “general weakness” among the Mormon missionaries because
the weather is very hot; and not having light, suitable clothing fit for the season; and the last and principal reason is, they have nothing (with a very few exceptions) to eat but dry bread, as the cows are mostly dry. But we still are not discouraged, for we hope for better times ahead; and if we don’t live to see it, maybe our children will.10
The Las Vegas Mission eventually was abandoned as a result of a split in the community between Bringhurst and Nathaniel V. Jones, whom Brigham Young had sent to the mission in 1856 to mine lead ore in the area. This division was part of a larger conflict within the Mormon community over whether its primary purpose was to proselytize or mine. By 1858 most of the missionaries had returned to Utah, leaving only a small band under the authority of Benjamin R. Hulse. Hulse’s group soon followed, and the Las Vegas Valley was left to its Native American inhabitants until 1861, when small traces of silver were found in the old Mormon lead mine and a large gold strike was made near the current site of Hoover Dam. A permanent settlement in Las Vegas (named Los Vegas Rancho) did not take root until 1865, when Octavius Decatur Gass took ownership of the Old Mormon Fort and established a station to supply Las Vegas Valley miners and the settlers passing through to California.11
Establishing a Government From the first moments of their arrival in the Carson Valley in 1851, the settlers agitated for separation from the Mormon-dominated Utah territorial government. Separated as they were by five hundred miles from the territorial capital, first in Fillmore City and later in Salt Lake City, and ignored by Brigham Young, who concentrated on organizing that part of the territory that was nearest to him, the western settlers were left with no established government and no protection from bandits and Indian attacks. In response to this lack of law and order and Utah’s de facto policy of benign neglect, settlers held three meetings in Mormon Station on November 12, 19, and 20, 1851, to establish order.
During the course of these meetings, the settlers created a squatter government to establish bylaws and regulations for the community and to create public offices. Ten resolutions were adopted dealing with the survey and recording of land claims, while an eleventh established a committee of seven officers to act as the region’s governing board. In addition, a magistrate’s court, made up of a justice of the peace and four others, was to serve as the area’s judicial body;
appeal could be taken to a court of twelve citizens who had final say on matters brought to them. Notably, the group also adopted a petition to Congress seeking “a distinct Territorial Government” for the western Utah Territory.12
Displeased by the Carson Valley settlers’ petition, Brigham Young intervened and attempted, at last, to establish territorial control over the area. Seven Utah counties were extended to the California border in order to include the western Utah Territory. County seats remained in present-day Utah, however, and with such a distance between them, county officials persisted in their failure to exercise any authority over their newly acquired western lands. The ineffectiveness of the squatter government in achieving law and order, combined with the objections by many non-Mormons to the possibility of control by Salt Lake City, led forty-three settlers in 1853 to sign a petition to the California Legislature requesting annexation by California “for judicial purposes until congress [sic] should provide otherwise.”13
Although the settlers’ petition was ignored by California, Utah took great note of it and attempted once more to bring its western territory into the fold. In January 1854 the territorial legislature created Carson County, an extremely large new county in the western Great Basin. It encompassed what is today Carson City, Washoe, Douglas, Storey, Lyon, and Mineral Counties and parts of Nye, Esmeralda, Churchill, and Humboldt Counties. Once again, however, no immediate attempts were made by the Utah authorities to exercise control over their newest creation.
Utah’s lack of action led the squatters to once more endeavor to establish an organized government in what was now Carson County. In 1854 they hired attorney William A. Cornwall to write a constitution for the Carson Valley. Very little is known about the Cornwall Constitution, and most Nevada history books fail even to mention it. What we do know is that the powers of government were to be exercised by an elected group consisting of a sheriff, a president, a secretary, and a three-member court. The Cornwall Constitution was, apparently, never adopted, and “there seems to be no evidence that it was ever presented for a vote.”14
In January 1855 the Utah Legislature took several actions that indicated a serious desire to maintain territorial control over the Carson Valley. It established Carson County as Utah’s Third U.S. Judicial District, and George P. Styles was assigned as presiding judge. Orson Hyde, a member of the church’s governing board, the Twelve Apostles, was appointed as probate and county judge to organize the county. In response to the settlers’ complaints that they were without representation in the territorial legislature, Carson County was also given one vote in the Utah Territorial Assembly.
In May, Hyde, Styles, and thirty-eight others left Salt Lake City to once and for all establish territorial (and Mormon) control over Carson County. In those terms, Hyde was incredibly successful. Arriving in Carson Valley in June, Hyde
first commissioned a survey to ensure that Mormon Station and Carson County were within the boundaries of Utah. Determining that they were, he called for county elections to be held at Mormon Station on September 20. All but one of the victorious candidates in the 1855 contest were Mormon, thanks to the immigration of Mormons into the area.
Not surprisingly, non-Mormons in the area were displeased with the now- realized Mormon domination of the Carson County government. The gentiles were convinced that the law was not administered fairly to Mormon and non- Mormon alike and were particularly dissatisfied with the practice of polygamy exercised by Hyde and others. They looked “with disgust upon the prospect of raising their daughters among such associates, and they ardently desired that their homes in their pleasant valley shall not be ‘defiled’ by the horrible favoritism and deception of Mormonism.”15
Mormon domination of the Carson County government led non-Mormons in the area to petition once more, in November 1855, for annexation to California. Unlike its February 1853 predecessor, this petition was looked upon favorably by the California Legislature. Unfortunately for those seeking annexation, Congress failed to act on their plea. Hearing of the settlers’ continued attempts at secession, Brigham Young ordered fifty to sixty more Mormon families into the Carson Valley. “By the middle of 1856 Carson County was organized politically, economically, and socially in the firm and able hands of the Mormons.”16
Territorial and Mormon control over the western territory, however, was not destined to last. Probate Judge Hyde left Carson County to return to Salt Lake City in November 1856; whether he was frustrated with his position or recalled by Young is open to dispute. In January 1862 he illustrated his contempt for the people of the Carson Valley when he wrote to seek compensation for the sawmill he had left behind in his hasty departure:
You shall be visited of the Lord of Hosts with thunder and with earthquakes and with floods, with pestilence and with famine until your names are not known amongst men, for you have rejected the authority of God, trampled upon his laws and his ordinances, and given yourselves up to serve the god of this world; to rioting in debauchery, in abominations, drunkenness and corruption. You have chuckled and gloried in taking the property of the Mormons, and withholding from them the benefits thereof. You have despised rule and authority, and put God and man at defiance. If perchance, however, there should be an honest man amongst you, I would advise him to leave; but let him not go to California for safety, for he will not find it there.17
Hyde’s departure from Carson County left the area once more bereft of organized government and law and order. He was followed to Salt Lake City by a large party of Mormons in July 1857, and all of the faithful were officially called back to Salt Lake City by Brigham Young in September of that year to fend off what Young believed was an imminent invasion of Utah by federal troops in what
became known as the Utah War. Although characterized by some historians as a series of misunderstandings and miscommunications,18 there were real causes for the federal government to be concerned with goings-on in the territory, including antagonism between Mormons and gentiles in the Carson Valley and an incident in 1856 in which a federal judge had been “driven from the bench” in eastern Utah by “an armed mob of Mormons.”19
The official beginning of the Utah War came in July 1857 when President James Buchanan removed Brigham Young as territorial governor and appointed a new, non-Mormon government headed by Alfred Cumming. The anticipated arrival of the new territorial government, accompanied as it was by 2,500 federal troops led by General Albert Sidney Johnston, struck fear into the hearts of the Mormons. It was then that Young called upon all Mormons, including approximately 1,000 in the Carson Valley, to return to the capital to fend off the anticipated federal invasion. In addition, Young issued an order prohibiting an armed force from entering the Salt Lake Valley and declared martial law. The Mormons prepared for war, but the federal forces eventually were allowed to enter the valley peacefully after successful negotiations between Young and Buchanan’s representative, Colonel Thomas L. Kane, who had made friends with the Mormons when they had lived in Nauvoo. In April 1858 the Utah War, such as it was, officially ended when Buchanan granted amnesty to all who swore allegiance to the Union. Although the returnees were, thus, not ultimately needed, they did not go back to the Carson Valley, and the land, homes, and businesses they had spent years building into profitable enterprises were often simply taken by the remaining settlers—a situation that led to Hyde’s curse upon them.
In apparent anticipation of the September call by Young for all adherents to return to the Salt Lake Valley, the Utah Legislature in January 1857 repealed the act creating Carson County and put the area under the nominal control of Great Salt Lake County, headquartered in Salt Lake City. Although no doubt happy to see the Mormon exodus, the western settlers were once more left without any organized government, and the Carson Valley was again in the grip of the same lawlessness it had suffered prior to the Mormons’ arrival in large numbers in 1856.
The period between 1857 and 1861 has been described as an “era of anarchy and confusion.” The phrase is an apt one. In 1857, after the Utah Legislature’s dissolution of Carson County and Judge Hyde’s return to Salt Lake City, the settlers held a series of mass meetings in which they once more petitioned Congress for status as a separate territory within the shortest time possible. The settlers’ representative to Washington, D.C., James M. Crane, predicted in a letter to his constituents that Congress would act favorably on the petition in order “to compress the limits of the Mormons and defeat their efforts to corrupt and confederate with the Indian tribes.”20 Crane’s optimistic prediction was wrong. A bill granting territorial status, which included a change of name from Sierra
Nevada to Nevada, passed the House Committee on Territories, but the full Congress adjourned before acting on the petition. The congressional failure to act was based in part on the pre–Civil War sectional strife over slavery that was even then dividing the nation: the territorial bill was held up in the House by Speaker James L. Orr of South Carolina, who feared that the new territory would not support slavery and who had a strong personal dislike for the bill’s sponsor, Representative William “Extra Billy” Smith of Virginia. Of lesser, but still significant, importance, the federal government hoped that the newly appointed non-Mormon government of Alfred Cumming would resolve the antagonism in the western territory between Mormons and gentiles.
In addition to petitioning for separate territorial status, the settlers attempted to establish a more immediate mechanism for protecting law and order in the region. A committee of twenty-eight men was created during the 1857 squatters’ meetings to serve as a provisional government. The committee proved ineffectual, and in March 1858 the settlers met again, this time to establish a vigilante committee to maintain law and order. The vigilantes were equally unsuccessful in holding the criminal element in check, although they did try, and sentence, several people. One of those, the ironically named William “Lucky Bill” Thorrington, was a prominent member of the community who had served on the twenty-eight- member provisional committee of 1857. Thorrington was hanged for being an accessory after the fact to murder, although substantial evidence supports his innocence.21 Thorrington’s hanging had the unfortunate consequence of creating a serious rift in the Carson Valley community between those convinced of his guilt and those who believed him innocent.
Once again, Utah Territory attempted to establish control over its wayward western province, this time by appointing, in 1858, John S. Child as probate judge to reorganize local government in the Carson Valley. Child called for new elections in October, elections noted for such intense conflict and voter fraud that the results in four of the six precincts were discarded because of charges of fraudulent voting. In January 1859 Utah officially reestablished Carson County, gave it a single representative in the territorial legislature, and combined it with two other counties to form the Second U.S. Judicial District. John Cradlebaugh was appointed as the district’s judge.
The failure of Judge Child to effectively reorganize Carson County led the settlers to call for a mass meeting in Carson City on June 6, 1859, to take up once more the issue of separate territorial status. At that meeting an election was called for July 14 to choose a delegate to represent the interests of the Carson Valley in Washington, D.C., and to select fifty delegates to attend an unauthorized constitutional convention.
Nevada Territory James M. Crane was again elected to serve as the settlers’ representative to the
nation’s capital, although his election was surrounded by more charges of voter fraud. The convention delegates met in Genoa on July 18, 1859. Again, support for separation from Utah Territory appeared to be based primarily upon a desire to be freed from the Mormon authorities, who, according to the settlers, “so [mixed] together church and state that a man [could not] obtain justice in any of its courts.”22 Illustrating the point was a letter written in January 1859 by Crane to Representative William Smith in which he opined that
The only remedy for this unnatural war, now raging between the Mormons and the Anti- Mormons in Utah, is to be found in the immediate separation of these people under two distinct governmental organizations. One thing is inevitable,—the Mormons and Anti- Mormons will never, and can never live together in peace, under one government.23
A nine-day convention, presided over by Colonel John J. Musser, voted to secede from Utah Territory, produced a territorial constitution modeled upon that of the state of California, and adopted the name Nevada. A ratifying election was held on September 7 concurrent with elections for a governor and territorial legislature.
Support for the 1859 constitution was substantial. The election returns were not preserved, but “there is evidence that the majority for the constitution was about four hundred,. . .although the board of canvassers failed to meet to canvass the votes, and the certificate of the president of the board, J. J. Musser, alone testified to the result.”24 Musser’s certificate of election did not issue until December, three months after the election, leading to doubts about the veracity of the reported results. In any event, Isaac Roop was elected territorial governor and the legislature was to meet on December 15. The legislature did meet on that date but was unable to act for lack of a quorum; only four members attended. After an address by “Governor” Roop, the group adjourned, never to meet again. Roop, however, did continue to act as governor for some time.
Undeterred by the unauthorized actions of the settlers, U.S. District Court Judge John Cradlebaugh arrived in Genoa in the summer of 1859. Although not a Mormon, Cradlebaugh was a representative of the Utah territorial government, and Carson County residents refused to work with him. In yet one more attempt to establish control over the western settlers, Probate Judge Child attempted unsuccessfully to hold court in September and also called for new elections on October 8. In protest, only three of the county’s ten precincts opened for the election. Under those rather disconcerting and unsupportive circumstances, the winning candidates refused to take office. Child could finally enjoy some sense of achievement in August 1860 when elections were successfully held to select various officeholders, including a representative to the Utah Territorial Assembly.
Attempts by the western settlers to achieve separate territorial status and some measure of law and order were exacerbated by three significant, contemporaneous events. In September 1859 James M. Crane, the settlers’ delegate to Washington,
D.C., died of a heart attack in Gold Hill. He was replaced by the aforementioned John J. Musser, who was unable to persuade Congress during its 1859–1860 session to establish an independent territory in Carson County. Complicating matters further was President Buchanan’s appointment of R. P. Flenniken as the new judge of the Second U.S. Judicial District to replace Judge Cradlebaugh— and Cradlebaugh’s refusal to leave his position. Thus was created the unworkable situation of two federal judges attempting to enforce the law. Conflict between the two only increased the judiciary’s impotence in the face of escalating lawlessness. The ineffectiveness of any government authority to maintain law and order was further exacerbated by a third event: the discovery of gold and silver in what became known as the Comstock Lode. The Comstock Lode brought with it a huge tide of humanity, including miners and the tradespeople who sought to supply them. New towns sprang up overnight, and thousands of people rushed to make their fortunes. In addition to dealing with the general lawlessness to be expected with the sudden, unplanned influx of so many fortune seekers, the western territory now had a new problem with which to cope: conflict between various parties over ownership of lucrative mining claims.
Thus, the years 1857 to 1861 were marked by anarchy and confusion, without any strong authority to establish law and order and without an effective government. Confusion was at an all-time high, with at least three governments in operation: the provisional government of Isaac Roop, the Utah territorial government of Probate Judge John S. Child, and the divided federal court authority exercised by warring U.S. District Judges John Cradlebaugh and R. P. Flenniken. A San Francisco newspaper of the time noted that
There is no government. Nominally the Mormon government bears sway over that portion of the territory as well as over Salt Lake City. But practically Mormon laws are a nullity, they are not enforced, nor could they be. Should a Mormon judge or justice of the peace attempt to hold his court at Carson City or Virginia City, he would not only find that he possessed no power to execute the mandates of his court, but also that all attempts to do so would endanger his personal safety. . . . Politically, the people are in a chaotic state, without law and without a Constitutional [sic] government. . . . The present position of the people is deplorable. The evils to which they are exposed are terrible to contemplate and the coming season it is to be feared, will witness scenes of anarchy and bloodshed, fearful to behold, as the rich silver mines will attract thither a large crowd of desperate and abandoned men, who, in the absence of law and a well-established government will give full scope to their vicious inclinations.25
Nevada Territory and Statehood
In 1861, the settlers’ representative, John J. Musser, finally persuaded Congress to establish a separate territory in western Utah. Musser was aided by the election of Abraham Lincoln as president and the resulting secession from the Union of the southern states. With the pro-slavery states no longer represented in Congress and unable to block the territory bill, passage was virtually guaranteed. And it certainly did not hurt the settlers’ cause that the influx of population and the increase in lawlessness in Carson County as a result of the discovery of the Comstock Lode had shown that the non-Mormon territorial government of Governor Cumming was no more effective than Brigham Young had been in assuring law and order and in quelling the desire for separate territorial status among the western Utah residents. On February 26, 1861, the U.S. Senate passed legislation entitled An Act to Organize the Territory of Nevada; the House of Representatives followed suit on March 2, and President Buchanan signed it into law later that day. Thus, after ten years of uninterrupted pleas and petitions, the western Utah settlers achieved their goal: the establishment of Nevada Territory.
Two days after Buchanan signed the act establishing Nevada Territory, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president of the United States. So it was his responsibility to name the territory’s first officers. On March 22, President Lincoln announced the appointment of James W. Nye of New York as territorial governor and Orion Clemens (brother of Samuel, better known as Mark Twain) as territorial secretary. Both were patronage appointments: Nye was a good friend of Lincoln’s secretary of state, William H. Seward, and the two had campaigned in the West for Lincoln during the 1860 election; Clemens had studied law in the St. Louis law offices of Edward Bates, Lincoln’s attorney general.
Governor Nye arrived in Nevada on July 7, 1861. He chose Carson City as his site of operation and later instructed the first territorial legislature to meet there, indicating the town’s ascendance in the territory over the previously dominant Genoa. Nye soon issued three proclamations: the first named his appointees to various territorial offices (July 12); the second announced the creation of a judiciary (July 17), and the third called for elections to be held on August 31 for the purpose of selecting a delegate to Congress and members of the territorial legislature (July 24).
Nye’s July 17 proclamation establishing a judiciary was one of the most important actions he took in this early organizational period. The lawlessness that characterized Nevada demanded the creation of courts to enforce law and order; indeed, aside from the Mormon question, the absence of legal authority was the major reason the settlers had lobbied for separate territorial status. Following the dictates of Section 9 of the Territorial Act of 1861, Nye established a supreme court, three district courts, probate courts, and justices of the peace. Three Lincoln-appointed territorial judges each heard cases on original jurisdiction in one of the district courts, and all three sat en banc as the supreme court to hear appeals. The lower-court judges were appointed by Nye until such time as elections could be held. In a letter to Secretary of State Seward, Nye confirmed the importance of establishing a judiciary in the territory when he noted that there was “no such thing as law or order existing in the Territory” and that there was, in particular, a great need for a court system to establish mining rights.1
In the August election, Judge Cradlebaugh was chosen to serve as the territory’s first delegate to Congress. Also elected were nine members to serve in the Council and fifteen to serve in the House of Representatives, the upper and lower houses, respectively, of the territorial legislature. The legislature met only three times: in 1861, 1862, and 1864. The first session convened on October 1, 1861, at Abe Curry’s Warm Springs Hotel two miles outside of Carson City, a site purchased later by the territorial government for $75,000 that served as the Nevada State Prison until 2012. During this first session the legislature passed 107 pieces of legislation organizing the territory. Some of the more noteworthy acts were those adopting the common law of England, forming nine counties in the territory to be governed by three-member boards of commissioners, and establishing a system of common schools. And in marked contrast to what Nevada’s future would hold, some of this early legislation made divorce difficult except under the most extreme circumstances and prohibited gambling, which Governor Nye had referred to in his address to the legislature as “the worst” of “all the seductive vices,” which “captivates and ensnares the young, blunts all the moral sensibilities and ends in utter ruin.”2
Two of the most controversial issues facing this first legislative session were the permanent location of the capital and the generation of revenue for supporting the territorial government. The question of where to locate the territorial capital was, apparently, a difficult and emotional one, resulting in charges of underhanded dealing and a barroom brawl in the Ormsby House Hotel between a Virginia City councilman and a Carson City representative. By a vote of 15 to 9, it was decided that Carson City, and not Virginia City, would be the capital. The issue of how best to raise revenue in the territory was a precursor of the events that would disrupt and derail later attempts to write a state constitution. Governor Nye proposed a tax on the gross proceeds of mines, at that time the major source of the territory’s wealth. The mining-dominated legislature vehemently objected
and eventually passed a general property tax measure of forty cents per one hundred dollars valuation on property in the territory. Counties could, in addition, adopt a levy of up to sixty cents more per one hundred dollars valuation on all property within their jurisdictions. The mines and their products would be untaxed. This battle over the taxation of mining property was only the first of many to come, leading one Nevada observer to note, “The background of Nevada politics for thirty years was a fight of mine operators against paying taxes.”3
Statehood Although Nevada had been a territory for little more than a year when the second session of the legislature met in 1862, an election was called for September 1863 to determine support for statehood and, assuming support, the selection of thirty- nine delegates to a convention to draft a constitution for the State of Washoe. Support for statehood in the fledgling territory was overwhelming, with a vote of 6,600 in favor and 1,502 opposed.4 Even though Congress had authorized neither the election nor statehood for the territory, a convention met in Carson City for thirty-two days in November and December of 1863 to draft a constitution for the state they chose to name Nevada rather than Washoe, as the 1862 legislature had wished, or Esmeralda or Humboldt, as some of the delegates had proposed.
The 1863 Constitution The delegates to this unauthorized convention were optimistic not only that Congress would grant statehood but also that their handiwork would be as overwhelmingly supported by the citizens as the question of statehood had been in the September election. In that, they were sadly mistaken. Except for an unprecedented clause in which the state’s citizens pledged “paramount allegiance” to the federal government, the constitution coming out of this body was itself rather unremarkable, based as it was on California’s and New York’s constitutions. This constitution’s lack of originality is not surprising when one considers that of the thirty-nine delegates, “all but 5 had come from California, all but 5 were under 50 years of age, and all but 2 had been in the territory less than 5 years.”5 In addition, a plurality of the delegates listed New York as their place of birth. Although many issues divided the delegates during the course of their deliberations, two of the most controversial spelled overwhelming defeat at the polls for the constitution they had so carefully and painstakingly crafted.
Just as mine taxation had led to a dispute between Governor Nye and the 1861 legislature, so it disrupted the 1863 convention. The move from territorial to state status would eliminate the federal government’s subsidy of the Nevada government, creating a need for additional revenue to support it. Indeed, the additional cost to be borne by a state government, as opposed to a territorial one, was a common concern among some members of various anti-statehood
movements in the West during the later nineteenth century.6 One faction, led by convention president John W. North, proposed that mines should be taxed the same as other property, arguing that “all property should bear alike the burdens of society.”7 A second faction, led by the powerful mining lawyer William M. Stewart, objected that such a tax would “mean the death of the mining industry” by “impos[ing] a burden upon the miners which would be heavier than they could bear. It would mean a tax on the shafts, drifts, and bedrock tunnels of the mines whether they were productive or not.”8 Stewart noted ominously that taxing unproductive mines, ninety-nine out of one hundred by his calculation, would stop the mining industry dead in its tracks and lead to economic disaster for the state. Instead the Stewart faction favored taxing only the net proceeds of the mines. The North faction prevailed, however, and the convention adopted a provision requiring the legislature to “provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation and [to] prescribe such regulations as shall secure a just valuation for taxation of all property, both real and personal including mines, and mining property.”9
The second issue responsible for the 1863 constitution’s defeat at the polls involved the election of officeholders to serve in the new state government. Convention delegates decided to offer a single slate of officeholders on the ballot with the constitution; thus, in voting for the constitution, one would also vote for a particular slate of candidates. This proved deadly. Even though the mining-tax issue created a serious rift in the territory, it is possible that the constitution, voted on by itself, could have been ratified. Indeed, Stewart, defeated as he was in the convention on the tax issue, supported the constitution’s adoption and fought mightily for ratification. But the slate of candidates, to the chagrin of many, had been handpicked by Stewart in a pair of rather nasty Union Party conventions, first in Storey County and later at the territorial convention in Carson City.10 Stewart’s domination of the Union Party proceedings led to a split in the party and the defeat of territorial supreme court justice John North, his nemesis from the constitutional convention, in his bid for the party’s gubernatorial nomination. Much of Stewart’s vigorous support for the 1863 constitution, including as it did the mining-tax provision he opposed, was a result of his desire to be rid of the territorial judges, including North, whom he hated as much as, if not more than, the mining tax, and his belief that his chosen candidates for “the First State Legislature would amend the new Constitution to provide taxation only of the net proceeds of productive mines.”11
The split in the Union Party had a twofold, negative impact on the quest for ratification. First, North and his followers, who supported the constitution itself, were in no mood to vote for its ratification if that meant, as it did, the concurrent election of Stewart’s slate of candidates. North and other disappointed office seekers, “and their names were legion, became hostile to [the constitution’s] adoption.”12 Second, small mining companies were unwilling to take a gamble
that the legislature would, in fact, repeal the mine tax, especially if that meant turning control of the state government over to Stewart and the large San Francisco mining companies he represented. As historian David A. Johnson has noted, much of the opposition to the 1863 constitution was “based upon a widespread conviction that Stewart intended to control the new state government as a means to further his own interests and those of the mining corporation officials he represented.”13
The unlikely combination of disappointed Union Party office seekers, small miners, merchants, farmers, and a few Democrats residing in the territory—who supported the Confederacy and wished, therefore, not to become a Union state— was large enough to ensure the overwhelming defeat of the constitution in the January 1864 election. The four-to-one vote against the constitution, 8,851 to 2,157, was ironically similar to that which had favored statehood earlier. In a letter later that year to his old friend Secretary of State Seward, Governor Nye noted that the chief reason for the constitution’s defeat was a “dissatisfaction with some of the State ticket, and the proceedings of some of the county conventions [that] caused its opponents to act in concert, and all combined they were strong enough to defeat it.”14 A delegate to the second constitutional convention in 1864, John A. Collins, shared Nye’s belief and laid blame for the constitution’s defeat on “efforts to introduce a certain set of delegates into the State Convention.”15 Yet there were those who disagreed, including Charles E. DeLong, also a delegate to the 1864 convention, who noted colorfully that the mining-tax provision, which had “stunk in the nostrils of the people,” was the true cause for the failure of the 1863 constitution to be ratified.16
The defeat of the 1863 constitution, however, did not entirely quell Nevadans’ desire for statehood; the four-to-one vote in favor of statehood in the September 1863 special election was evidence enough of its force in the territory. But for the mining-tax provision and the Union Party split engendered by Stewart’s political legerdemain, the 1863 constitution might well have been ratified. Nonetheless, as will be discussed later, the mining depression that gripped Nevada Territory in mid-1864 reduced statehood desires within the territory itself. What ultimately provided the impetus for Nevada’s statehood came quite outside the young territory’s borders; national issues were quickly coming to a confluence that would give Nevada its cherished prize. Within twenty days after the defeat of the 1863 constitution, a bill was introduced into Congress allowing the territories of Nevada, Colorado, and Nebraska to hold constitutional conventions and establish state governments. The bill, introduced on February 8, 1864, by Senator James R. Doolittle of Wisconsin, a Republican, easily passed both houses of Congress and was signed by President Lincoln on March 21.
The driving force behind Doolittle’s bill had four components. First, Lincoln desired additional votes in Congress to assure the two-thirds vote he needed in both houses for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which would abolish
slavery and thereby place a constitutional imprimatur on his Emancipation Proclamation. Second, Lincoln expected that he would need Nevada’s three electoral votes to win the 1864 presidential election. Third, the Radical Republicans, already at odds with their own party’s president over the coming Reconstruction of the southern states, had their own reasons for supporting Nevada statehood: they sought additional Republican votes in Congress to support congressional, rather than presidential, policies on such matters. Finally, with the third-party candidacy of John C. Frémont, it was thought (until his withdrawal in September) that the 1864 presidential election might be so close that no candidate would win a majority in the Electoral College and the decision would thus be thrown into the House of Representatives; an additional Republican vote from Nevada in that body would help to assure selection of Lincoln, the Republican nominee.
The 1864 Constitution Acting quickly, Governor Nye on May 2 called for an election to be held on June 6 for the purpose of choosing thirty-nine delegates to attend a second constitutional convention. Unlike the gathering in 1863, this convention was legally authorized by Congress and, ultimately, successful.
The convention, presided over by J. Neely Johnson, former governor of California, met in Carson City on July 4 and concluded its work on July 27; thirty-five of the thirty-nine elected delegates attended. The demographic makeup of the convention was similar to that of its predecessor: ten members had served in the 1863 convention; most were from California; lawyers and mining interests dominated; and all but one, Francis Proctor, a Democrat from Nye County, were Union Party members. Unlike the 1863 convention, antagonists John W. North and William M. Stewart were not delegates.
The Nevada Enabling Act established a number of limitations on the type of constitution the convention delegates could draft. Those restrictions, to which the delegates faithfully adhered, included the following:
(1) The new State Constitution must be republican in nature and not repugnant to the Federal Constitution or the Declaration of Independence; (2) there shall be no slavery or involuntary servitude other than for punishment of crimes, without the consent of the United States and the people of Nevada; (3) the Constitutional Convention must disclaim all rights to unappropriated lands in Nevada; (4) land owned by U.S. Citizens outside Nevada must not be discriminated against in taxation; and (5) there must be no taxation of federal property in the state.17
There were a great many areas of dispute among the delegates at the 1864 convention; some of the most interesting and significant included the naming of the state and the ever-present issue of mine taxation.18 The convention as a whole supported the move to statehood but debated vigorously the state’s name. Among
the suggested appellations were Washoe, Humboldt, and Esmeralda, all of which had also been proposed at the 1863 convention, and Bullion, Oro Plata, and Sierra Plata. Because the territory’s name was Nevada and the area was, therefore, known throughout the nation by that designation, and because the congressional Enabling Act had used that name, the convention agreed to call the new state Nevada. The delegates also agreed early in their proceedings to use the failed 1863 constitution as the basis for its new draft. Although some of the members had urged abandoning the rejected document and starting anew, utilizing the California Constitution as a base, it was agreed that the 1863 constitution “owed much of its substance to the California Constitution, [so] there was no point in starting all over again.”19 In addition, by using the 1863 document as a starting point, the convention saved considerable time and expense, since several hundred copies of it were already in print.
A statistical analysis of twenty-eight significant issues voted upon in the 1864 convention has shown that, to no one’s surprise, the delegates’ voting behavior was much the same as it had been in the 1863 convention. The chief division among them came along “economic and geographical lines,” particularly in regard to variations in voting between mining and agricultural/ranching interests. Given that all except Francis Proctor were members of the Union Party, party affiliation was “largely meaningless” in explaining any of the divisions among the delegates.20
The 1864 constitution differed in two major respects from its failed 1863 predecessor. On the divisive issue of mine taxation, the delegates had apparently learned their lesson. Delegates from the non-mining “cow counties” continued to support the language of the 1863 constitution that allowed for the taxation of mines at the same rate as other property. Their strong feelings on the question were generated by at least two complementary issues: equity and colonization. In regard to equity, the cow-county delegates thought it unfair that mines be taxed only on the basis of their net proceeds, as some had suggested, while all other types of property were taxed on their assessed value. George A. Nourse, an attorney from Washoe County, argued that if mines were to be taxed solely on their net proceeds, then the constitution should also provide that “farms, and sawmills, and other property shall be taxed only on their net proceeds”; only then would there be “some degree of fairness.”21 In pursuing an exemption from taxation, the mining interests were clearly exhibiting one of history’s oldest political axioms: additional costs are fine (in this case, the higher expenses of statehood)—as long as someone else picks up the check.
On the issue of colonization, resentment had festered for some time in Nevada over the fact that large, wealthy mining companies from California controlled most of the area’s mineral wealth. The Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, for example, had editorialized in 1862 that “the interests of no parent country and colony could possibly be more closely united than are those of California and
Nevada. The colony has untold wealth of gold and silver, and the mother country manages. . .to get it all as fast as it is dug out.”22 This resentment was echoed at the 1864 convention by A. J. Lockwood, a mechanic from Ormsby County, who noted, “I am in favor of taxing the mines, because I want to make those gentlemen who are rolling in wealth in San Francisco, pay something for the support of our government, for the support of our common schools, and for the support of our courts.”23 Indeed, even now, San Francisco is still referred to by some as the “city Nevada built.”
At the other end of the spectrum were those who did not want the mines taxed at all. E. F. Dunne, a lawyer from mining-dominated Humboldt County, warned that a tax on mines would “encumber the mining interest, which shall destroy it, or thwart its development, and. . . strike a ruinous blow” to the state’s other economic interests.24 More explicitly, delegate Charles E. DeLong from Storey County threatened that “but for the mines, all your stores would be removed, your farms would dry up, and be abandoned, and your wagons would stop in the streets or be turned elsewhere.”25 In addition to their superior numbers at the convention and the ghost of the 1863 constitution’s failure, the miners held one other important card: the legality of taxing mining property. As noted above, the Enabling Act passed by Congress prohibited the state’s taxation of unappropriated public lands within Nevada. Convention president Johnson, a lawyer from Ormsby County, concluded that this provision of the Enabling Act rendered the state powerless to tax the mines, which were situated on unappropriated federal lands.
The mining-tax debate was a long, divisive one in the convention; several proposals were offered and rejected by both sides. The unlikely alliance of small miners, farmers, and disappointed office seekers who had defeated the 1863 constitution now fell apart, victim of its own internal disagreements.26 Eventually, however, in order to prevent the total collapse of the convention, the delegates agreed by a vote of 23 to 10 to a compromise proposal stating that “the legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation,. . .excepting mines and mining claims, the proceeds of which alone shall be taxed.”27 It was left to the legislature to determine whether these taxable “proceeds” would be net or gross. The compromise was not without cost, however. The mining exemption from taxes marked a turning point in the convention; thereafter, the small miners, who had previously supported positions taken by the cow-county delegates, began voting uniformly on the side of the large mining interests.28 At the end of the convention, the “odious and unjust discrimination between different kinds of property” led George A. Nourse and Israel Crawford, an editor from Ormsby County, to vote against the constitution.29
The second significant distinction between the 1864 constitution and its 1863 predecessor was in the election of the state’s first officers. This time the constitutional ratification vote and the election for state officials would take place
separately, the former on September 7 and the latter on November 8. Thus, in the 1864 ratification election, the voters would be free to support statehood and the constitution without necessarily voting for a particular slate of candidates they might find unacceptable.
Support for the 1864 constitution was overwhelming. At the convention it received a positive vote of 19 to 2, and in the September 7 election it was decisively supported by a popular vote of 10,375 to 1,284, a margin of more than eight to one.30 In its haste to admit Nevada as a state before the 1864 national elections, Congress, in the Enabling Act, waived the right to inspect and approve the constitution and allowed Nevada Territory to become a state upon acceptance of the constitution by President Lincoln. On October 17 the territorial government wired the entire text of the state constitution to the nation’s capital at a cost of $4,303.27, making it the “longest and most expensive telegram ever dispatched in the United States up to that time.”31 Finding the constitution acceptable, on October 31, 1864, President Lincoln issued the proclamation making Nevada the thirty-sixth state in the Union.
Thus, in the course of approximately one year, the residents of Nevada had made a complete turnaround from rejecting to accepting a state constitution. Clearly the 1864 convention’s decisions to tax only the proceeds of the mines and to separate the ratification ballot from that for state officers are critical in explaining this reversal. Two other issues, however, bear brief mention here. The first of these was a mining depression that hit the territory hard in 1864. It had two effects on the acceptance of the 1864 constitution. The depression’s impact upon the region’s economy was so immense that six of the eight delegates at the convention who had also served in the 1863 convention and who had previously voted against the tax exemption for mining property supported it in 1864. With the mining economy now fallen upon hard times, the tax-exemption compromise was more acceptable to them, since “concern over economic survival supplanted [their] fear of domination by outside interests.”32 In short, Nevadans had come to believe, accurately, that the day of the solitary miner was over and that mining could survive only with the infusion of capital from other places and the
“corporatization” of what had previously been an individual labor. The California capital they had so feared and distrusted in 1863 had come to be seen as crucial to the mining industry’s, and thus the state’s, survival.33 The depression also had the effect of strengthening statehood desires among the general populace. This sentiment was evidenced by an editorial in the Territorial Enterprise: “The only hope we have of effecting a speedy and absolute cure of our crushing ills is in the adoption of a state government. . . . Better to pay even double taxes, if by doing so we can make our property ten times more productively valuable, than to pay even less and let property continue to depreciate. . . . If we should have flush times again, we must vote for the State Constitution.”34
The second issue, to be noted again in chapter 8, was the sad and disreputable state of the territorial judiciary. The residents of Nevada Territory were now as resolute in ridding themselves of the federally appointed territorial judiciary as they had been in 1858 in ridding themselves of the Mormon-dominated judiciary emanating from Utah. Indeed, DeLong noted at the 1864 convention that “many are going to vote for the Constitution in order that we may be released from the present judiciary system.”35 The territorial judges were accused of being corrupt and of worsening the mining depression by failing to move mining cases along quickly enough. Although the judges had behaved in a sometimes-unprofessional manner, much of the opposition to them was politically motivated and engineered by William M. Stewart. As historian Hubert Howe Bancroft has noted:
Probably the first federal judges would have been able to hold their own against the criminal element in Nevada; but opposed to the combined capital and legal talent of California and Nevada, as they sometimes were, in important mining suits, they were powerless. Statutes regarding the points at issue did not exist, and the questions involved were largely determined by the rules and regulations of mining districts, and the application of common law. Immense fees were paid to able and oftentimes unprincipled lawyers, and money lavished on suborned witnesses.36
Stewart could certainly be counted among the “unprincipled” lawyers to whom Bancroft referred. At a time when “cases were to be won through the bribing and browbeating of witnesses, juries, and justices,” it has been observed, “Stewart had no equal on the [Comstock] lode.”37
Stewart’s attacks on the alleged corruption of the territorial judges disguised in a cloak of good government his continuing desire to control the state government and to remove from the bench his old enemy, John North. Stewart’s dispute with North, which had begun over the mining-tax provision in the 1863 convention, had now reached a boiling point with Judge North’s decisions in several mining cases that were adverse to the financial interests of Stewart’s California clients.
On August 22, 1864, North and the other two territorial judges, Powhatan B. Locke and Chief Justice George Turner, resigned, giving (unwarranted) credence to Stewart’s claims of corruption and bribe taking. That they did so was in no
small part due to attacks upon them and a petition signed by more than 3,500 voters in Virginia City and Gold Hill demanding their resignations.38 Stewart and his supporters took the opportunity to push for ratification of the constitution on the grounds that statehood would be the only remedy to ensure justice in the region. The Nevada Transcript editorialized, for instance, that “[Nevada] can never prosper while the judiciary is suspected. Capital will refuse to go there for investment unless at heavy premium for risk, and men of families will decline to make a spot for their homes where vice instead of virtue reigns.”39 Although there is no proof the three judges were corrupt, it is hard to imagine that the intense campaign impugning their integrity had no effect on those voting on the constitution slightly more than two weeks after their mass resignation. As Robert M. Clarke, Nevada’s second attorney general, later observed, “Nevada became a state to escape the deadfall of her Territorial courts. Her Temple of Justice had been transformed into a den of iniquity.”40
After their territory became a state on October 31, Nevadans’ first duty was to hold elections for state officials and for their representative to the U.S. House of Representatives (at that time, prior to the Seventeenth Amendment, U.S. senators were selected by the state legislatures). “Battle Born” and loyal to Lincoln and the Republicans who had given them the statehood they had desired, Nevada voters lived up to congressional expectations. Republicans won the presidential ballot, all executive and judicial seats, and all but two of the legislative contests. Republican H. G. Worthington was elected to the House, and when the legislature met in December, Republicans William Stewart and James Nye were selected as the state’s first U.S. senators. Worthington voted in favor of the Thirteenth Amendment, but Stewart and Nye were not sworn into office in time to join him; the state ratified it in 1865. Nevada’s three federal representatives were not needed, however, to ensure Lincoln’s reelection; the 1864 presidential and vice- presidential elections were not, as had been widely expected, thrown into the House and Senate, respectively. (Of perhaps minor interest is the fact that only two of Nevada’s three electors voted in the 1864 Electoral College; the third, A. S. Peck, was stuck in a snowstorm in Aurora and could not attend the convocation to vote.) Thus, the state’s first elections not only put Nevada firmly in the Republican fold but also began the domination of the state’s politics for years to come by the victorious William M. Stewart.
The Nevada State Constitution The State of Nevada continues to function under its 1864 constitution, although that document has been amended over 150 times since. Its contents are not particularly remarkable or unique, based as they are on the constitutions of California and New York. What does distinguish it most of all, perhaps, is that it is the culmination of a series of five “constitutions” proposed, sometimes ratified
and sometimes rejected, that sought to govern the area. From the 1851 squatters’ compact to the Cornwall Constitution of 1854, the ineffective constitution of 1859, and the rejected 1863 state constitution, Nevadans have shown an abiding interest in and respect for constitutional government. The 1864 constitution must, then, be seen as the successful product of those other attempts at constitution making and as the ultimate will of the state’s people.
The Constitution of the State of Nevada consists of nineteen articles that perform the functions of all such documents: creation of an organized government, distribution of government power among its divisions, and the protection of individual rights from government infringement. Because the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reserves to the states all powers not delegated to the federal government or prohibited by it to the states, state constitutions do not grant powers but seek to structure and limit those powers reserved to the states. Therefore, like the constitutions of the other forty-nine states, the Nevada Constitution tends to be longer and more specific than the federal Constitution, particularly in regard to express limitations on the power of the state. Daniel J. Elazar, the nation’s most prominent scholar of federalism, cites Nevada’s constitution as an example of the “Frame of Government” type of constitution, a type that is “found exclusively among the less populated states of the Far West” and characterized as a “business-like” document of moderate length reflecting “the relative homogeneity of the states themselves.”41
By the way of comparison, the U.S. Constitution contains 240 provisions and consists of only 7,500 words. The Nevada Constitution, on the other hand, has more than twice that number of provisions and more than three times as many words. Although lengthy by reference to the federal Constitution, the Sagebrush State’s constitution is actually shorter than the “average” state constitution, which encompasses 828 provisions and 34,000 words.42
In the chapters that follow, we shall examine various provisions of the state’s constitution in more detail as they relate to particular topics in Nevada’s post- 1864 political history.
Civil Rights and Liberties in Nevada
Civil rights are generally defined as those “positive acts of government designed to protect persons against arbitrary or discriminatory treatment by government, or individuals.”1 Civil rights include those we deem necessary for equality to prevail among and between citizens: the right to vote, for example, and the right to equal employment and housing regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, color, creed, or religion. Civil liberties, on the other hand, refer to “negative restraints” upon the government in its exercise of power.2 Included here would be those rights normally found in a bill of rights, such as the freedoms of speech, press, and religion. In this chapter we shall examine the past and present of Nevada’s record on civil rights and liberties, a record that is at times sad and at other times cause for jubilation.
Civil Rights Nevada, like most states, has a mixed and sometimes pitiful historical record in protecting the civil rights of its citizens. Indeed, for many years, the state was referred to as “the Mississippi of the West.” Although that sobriquet was neither entirely justified nor entirely wrong, the state’s treatment of minorities does not, unfortunately, always suggest the actions of an enlightened populace or government.
The roots of discrimination against ethnic, religious, and other minorities run deep in Nevada history. The Declaration of Rights that forms the first article of the Nevada Constitution states that “all men are by Nature free and equal and have certain inalienable rights.” Yet even the men who wrote those words did not necessarily believe that they applied to all men, and most assuredly not to women. For example, delegates to the 1864 constitutional convention, the very convention at which those awe-inspiring words were written and adopted, also agreed upon Article 2, which gave the right to vote to white males only. Indeed, Nelson E. Murdock, one of these delegates, noted during the convention’s deliberations over the issue of voting rights that “I think the Anglo-Saxon, the Celtic, or any other of the White or Caucasian races, is a far superior race of men to the Indian, the Negro, or any of the colored races. . . . Why should we condescend to make any
of the inferior races our equals?”3 The irony of the convention’s actions on the issue of voting rights in the face of both its previous high-sounding rhetoric and the fact that Nevada was born in the midst of a civil war over the issue of slavery apparently occurred only in passing to the delegates. For instance, in that same discussion over voting rights George Nourse suggested striking the word “white” from the suffrage article; his motion received neither a second nor discussion.
Although politically incorrect by today’s standards, Murdock’s speech before the convention delegates represented nothing more than a continuation of the attitudes that had existed in the territory for some time. In one of its first acts, the Nevada Territorial Legislature, meeting in 1861, provided that “no black person, or mulatto, or Indian, or Chinese” would be allowed to give evidence in court either in favor of or against any white person, presumably because they were considered untrustworthy. Similarly, the legislature prohibited cohabitation with “Indians, Chinese, or negroes [sic]” and made a breach of that law punishable by either a fine or a jail term. Things were little better after the granting of statehood, when the state legislature amended the law to allow blacks, but not Indians or Chinese, to testify against a white person.
Native Americans Although virtually all minorities in the United States have been discriminated against at one time or another, Native Americans have arguably been the only group targeted for genocide. As noted in chapter 1, prehistoric peoples entered the
Great Basin as early as 15,000 years ago via a land bridge between Asia and North America at the present site of the Bering Strait near Alaska. Those who settled in present-day Nevada eventually came to be known as the Northern Paiutes (in northern and western Nevada), Southern Paiutes (in southern Nevada), Shoshones (in northern and eastern Nevada), and the Washos (in a small area of western Nevada).
One of the first encounters between these Native Americans and whites, as noted earlier, came in 1833, when at least thirty of them were killed by members of Joseph Walker’s trapping party; unfortunately for the Indians, it would not be the last hostile meeting between the natives and the new immigrants. The influx of new settlers and treasure seekers to the Great Basin led to numerous conflicts with the various tribes. One of the most noteworthy was the Pyramid Lake War of 1860. That episode involved Bannock Indians who were temporarily staying at Pyramid Lake after leaving their homes farther north for the winter. The Bannocks killed either three or five whites (accounts differ) at Williams Station after two Indian girls had been kidnapped by the men and reportedly held in a cave near the station. In retaliation, more than one hundred white settlers moved, mistakenly, against the Northern Paiutes, who had, in fact, refused the Bannocks’ invitation to join their raid on Williams Station. Prepared for the assault they knew would come, the Paiutes, led by Chief Sequinata, also known as Chiquito (“Little”) Winnemucca, killed seventy-nine whites and wounded another twenty- six before the defeated settlers-turned-militiamen returned to Carson City. More battles ensued, with the now-outnumbered Paiutes receiving the worst of it. The U.S. Army was called in to build a garrison at Fort Churchill, and thirteen military outposts were eventually established in Nevada to “control” the Native American population. The influx of troops and the coming of the railroad eventually made it clear to all that the Native Americans could not stop the increasing tide of white settlers and miners. Ultimately most of their land was taken and treaties with the federal government were routinely broken. In the 1870s, reservations were created to house these, Nevada’s first inhabitants: the Pyramid Lake Reservation and the Walker River Reservation in 1874 for the Northern Paiutes, the Moapa Reservation in 1875 for the Southern Paiutes, and the Duck Valley Reservation in 1877 for the Shoshones.
During the period after white settlement in Nevada, Native Americans quickly became foreigners in their own land, the object of both social and legal discrimination. Through various laws, first the territory and then the state of Nevada prohibited the sale of alcohol, firearms, and ammunition to the Indians, prohibited intermarriage between the tribes and whites, controlled fishing on the Walker River Reservation, sought to diminish the size of reservations in order to secure prime timber property, and prohibited Indians from attending public schools. During this early period of Nevada’s history, the Native Americans were exiled to live on the fringes of white society, performing unskilled labor. At one point, legislators went so far as to suggest that any Indians who could not be
“subjugated” should be “exterminated.”4 In the 1920s, Indian children were allowed to attend public schools, and in the
1940s Native Americans began to see somewhat better legislation as the state recognized the validity of Indian marriages, repealed laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol to Indians, and allowed the use of peyote in Native American religious ceremonies. In 1965 an Indian Affairs Commission was created by the legislature to study and make recommendations to the state government on issues relating to Nevada’s Native American population.5 At the federal level, Congress established the Indian Claims Commission in 1946 to place a monetary value on, and pay compensation to the tribes for, the lands taken. Although the amounts to be paid were in the millions of dollars, some tribes, most notably the Western Shoshone, refused the moneys. However, in lopsided votes in 1998 (1,130 to 53) and 2002 (1,703 to 230), tribal members voted to accept the money which, as a result of interest had by 2005 grown from $26.1 million to more than $145 million. Distribution of these funds began in 2011. Nonetheless, many of the tribe’s members challenge the decision and continue to lay claim to the lands, approximately one-third of the state of Nevada, which were promised to them in the Treaty of Ruby Valley in 1863.
In two separate cases during the Clinton administration the federal government turned over land to the Washo and Timbisha Shoshone tribes. In the former case, the Washo Tribe of Nevada and California is leasing 350 acres of U.S. Forest Service land on the California side of Lake Tahoe and has access to ninety additional acres near the lake, land upon which it built a cultural center for tribal ceremonies. Although the leases will run for only thirty years, the tribe hopes to make their status permanent before the expiration date of 2027. And, in 2000 the Timbisha Shoshone were granted a permanent homeland in the Mojave Desert consisting of 5,800 acres in Nevada and 1,900 acres in California. At one time, the Timbisha Shoshone occupied 15,000 square miles in the area around Death Valley.
The Chinese Chinese immigrants began arriving in Nevada after 1849 for the same reason their white counterparts had come: to find wealth in the area’s mines. Discrimination against them began almost immediately, and what the law could not accomplish, physical violence often did. Apparently not satisfied that the Chinese were prohibited by state statute from owning property, whites singled out Chinese miners as the subjects of frequent attack, and they were soon driven out of the industry and relegated to service occupations such as laundering and cooking.
The greatest increase in the Chinese population occurred from 1867 to 1869, during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad across the state. Because they were willing to work hard in dangerous situations for little pay, the Chinese were prized workers for the railroads. However, in spite, or perhaps because, of
this, they were despised by the local inhabitants, who saw them as a threat to their own livelihoods. Mining unions saw them as threats “to the union against the bosses” and “as tools of corporate monopolists.”6 They were excluded from union membership and thus were denied employment in the mines, which at that time were closed union shops. Discrimination against the Chinese was so intense that most left the state after the railroad’s completion. Various federal acts in 1882, 1907, 1921, and 1924 established strict immigration quotas and regulations, slowing to a trickle any further Chinese emigration to the United States.
Although the Chinese were allowed after 1881 to give testimony in court against whites, jurors often disregarded that testimony. In a case tried in 1903, more than twenty Chinese witnesses testified to the guilt of five white men who had beaten and killed two elderly Chinese laundry-men in Tonopah’s Chinatown. All five were acquitted.7 Various anti-Chinese organizations were created in the state, including one in Virginia City that passed a resolution stating that “the presence of the Chinese in Nevada ‘was injurious to the welfare of the State and a danger to the Republic.’”8 And in one of the most blatant and egregious acts of violence against the Chinese, most of Reno’s Chinatown, including private homes, was burned to the ground in 1908 by a mob acting upon the instructions of local officials.
Beginning in the 1940s, the federal government relaxed its laws limiting Chinese immigration to the United States. Employment prohibitions against the Chinese were repealed by the state legislature in 1959. In addition, as we shall see
later, various anti-discrimination laws enacted by the federal and state governments in the 1960s and 1970s worked to free the Chinese, as well as other minorities, from much of the discrimination that had impeded their progress over the years.
Of course, the Chinese are not the only Asians to have settled in Nevada. One will also find those whose heritage can be traced to India, Pakistan, Japan, the Koreas, Thailand, and a host of other nations, although the largest single group of Asians living in the Sagebrush State is Filipinos. In the decade of the 2000s, the Asian population in Nevada grew at a faster rate than did the state as a whole. In 2000 there were only 90,266 Asians in the state, approximately 5.7 percent of the population. By 2010 that number more than doubled to 195,436 or 7.24 percent of the statewide population. By comparison, during that same time, Nevada’s population grew by 32 percent.
African Americans The existence of a sizable community of African Americans in Nevada is a relatively recent phenomenon. Even though African Americans lived in the state in the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, their numbers were small. Fewer than 40 blacks lived in Las Vegas at the time of the 1910 census, and only 134 lived in the entire state at the turn of the century. African Americans in Nevada were discriminated against in various ways and never treated as full equals, but the worst discrimination against them did not begin in earnest until Nevada’s black population began to rise in the 1930s and 1940s. In the early period of statehood, Nevadans, like the inhabitants of other western states, expressed a “paternalistic—if condescending—interest in the few blacks who migrated to [the] state.”9 Indeed, Nevada, as a Republican-dominated state, easily and eagerly ratified the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments and was the first state to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibited denial of the right to vote on the basis of race.
Discrimination against African Americans certainly existed from the beginning, with prohibitions on their testimony against whites and their exclusion from public schools. A significant number of African Americans came to the Las Vegas area in the 1930s and 1940s as a result of the federal government’s construction of Hoover Dam and the creation of war-related industries and military bases. Perhaps because of the growing African-American population in the state at that time, discrimination against blacks began to increase in 1931 when the companies constructing the Hoover Dam near Las Vegas refused to hire them. Unlike the southern states, where statutes existed mandating separate and unequal treatment for blacks, Nevada had no laws requiring segregation; nonetheless, African Americans found themselves increasingly discriminated against by private segregation in housing and employment. In addition to their relegation to only menial jobs, they were not allowed to gamble, eat, drink, or
attend shows in casinos and restaurants; the state’s business owners did not want to offend their white clientele, many of whom were Californians who had migrated west from the southern states. Indeed, African-American entertainers such as Sammy Davis Jr. and Lena Horne were not even allowed to stay in the hotels in which they played.
With the looming threat by NAACP leader Dr. James McMillan of massive demonstrations and sit-ins such as those that had occurred in the South, Las Vegas mayor Oran Gragson announced in March 1960 that segregation in public accommodations in the city would end; the businesses on the Strip, outside city limits, soon followed suit. The state’s crisis in race relations, however, did not end there. A sit-in at Reno’s Overland Hotel and demonstrations at various Reno casinos and the state capitol building in Carson City occurred in 1961 to protest unequal treatment and to support creation of a state Equal Rights Commission. In 1969 and 1970, several riots occurred at Las Vegas schools over the race issue.
Even though discrimination against and segregation of African Americans in Nevada was the result of private actions, the federal and state governments were forced to come to grips with the issue, just as they had in the states of the former Confederacy. The U.S. Congress responded by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. In Nevada, the state legislature moved more slowly. At the urging of Governor Grant Sawyer, who had supported civil rights legislation since at least his election in 1958, the state legislature in 1965 passed a civil rights bill outlawing discrimination in public accommodations and employment on the basis of race, creed, national origin, or color (a prohibition on sex discrimination was not added to the law until 1971). Discrimination in employment did not end with the passage of civil rights legislation, however. Hotels and casinos continued to discriminate until 1971, when a consent decree was signed in Las Vegas in which the hotels and unions, without admitting that any discrimination had occurred, agreed not to engage in discriminatory practices.10 Also in 1971, under the threat of federal court action and with the support of Governor Mike O’Callaghan, the state legislature finally passed a fair housing act ending residential segregation.
Much more recently, attention has focused on disparities between blacks and others in education, employment, and the justice system. In the area of education, for example, the rate of failure on Nevada’s high school proficiency exams is higher for African Americans than for any other group of students. According to the State of Nevada Department of Education Annual Reports of Accountability for 2009–2010, statewide only 50 percent of blacks taking the mathematics exam were graded as “meets” or “exceeds” the standard. For whites that number was 82 percent, Native Americans 66 percent, and Hispanics 62 percent. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, statewide graduation rates show that same unfortunate trend. For the Class of 2015, 78 percent of white seniors graduated while only 56 percent of black seniors and 67 percent of Hispanic seniors achieved that distinction. For Asian/Pacific Islanders it was 83 percent.
Although it is unclear exactly why these disparities exist, many believe that they are the result of a lack of equal access to the classes necessary to learn these skills.
Although African Americans can no longer be legally discriminated against, it is the case that they are scarce in management and executive positions in the state. A March 2001 survey, for example, found that all twenty-one of Station Casinos’ (now Red Rock Resorts) top executives were white; these results are neither unique to Station Casinos nor are they surprising. As a result, many gaming companies, including MGM Resorts International, Red Rock Resorts, Caesars Entertainment Corporation, and others, have pledged to increase their attempts to diversify their executive suites and to patronize minority-owned suppliers and contractors. In a 1997 breakthrough, Hilton Hotels Corporation named the first African-American director of a major gaming corporation when Robert Johnson, founder of the Black Entertainment Network, took his seat on the board. In December 2001 Don Barden became the first African American to wholly own a casino in Nevada when he took the reins of Fitzgeralds (now The D Las Vegas) in downtown Las Vegas while, in 2002, Lorenzo Creighton took the helm of the Flamingo, becoming the first African-American president of a Las Vegas Strip hotel-casino. Still, U.S. Census Bureau data show that, although the percentage of African Americans in Nevada rose from 6.8 percent in 2000 to 7.7 percent in 2010, the percentage of black-owned businesses stands at only 3.9 percent.
African Americans also tend to fare poorly in the state’s justice system. A report in 1996 by the Nevada Supreme Court Task Force for the Study of Racial and Economic Bias in the Justice System found disturbing trends in the judicial system’s treatment of minorities. For example, based on 1994 data from the Clark County Family and Youth Services Division, the panel found that, in spite of their relatively low numbers in the population, 54 percent of detentions, 84 percent of transfers, and 62 percent of commitments involved minorities. The panel also found that black youths were more likely to face stiff penalties and transfer of their cases to adult court than were whites. According to a report by the Sentencing Project, nationally in 2005 blacks were nearly six times as likely to be incarcerated as whites and Hispanics nearly double the white rate. In Nevada Hispanics were incarcerated at the rate of 621 per 100,000, while whites came in slightly higher at 626 and the black rate for incarceration was 2,916 per 100,000. It is difficult to know whether these statistics are the result of racism or broader socioeconomic factors such as poverty and urbanization that hit minorities particularly hard (that is, minorities tend to have higher levels of poverty and live in cities, factors that correlate to criminal activity).
On an optimistic note, a study by the University of Georgia found that, between 1990 and 1997, the buying power of African Americans increased 54.2 percent. Nevada placed third in terms of its increase with a rise of 103.6 percent in the seven-year period. It was outpaced only by Idaho (160 percent) and Utah (136.9 percent). Although Nevada’s relatively small African-American population
easily allows for such large increases, it is significant nonetheless that the state’s increase was only slightly less than double the national average. In a follow-up study the UGA researchers found that black buying power nationally rose 98 percent between 2000 and 2016.
Also on an optimistic note, African Americans have generally fared well in Nevada’s more recent elections. In the 2017 legislative session, for example, there were four African-American members of the state assembly, including the speaker of the assembly and the chief deputy majority whip. There were three African-American members in the state senate, including the majority leader and the assistant majority leader, the most powerful individuals in that body. Thus, at a time when African Americans made up 7.7 percent of the state’s population, they held seven out of sixty-three seats in the legislature, or 11.1 percent.”11
The African-American population in Nevada is growing faster than the state as a whole, but at a smaller rate than other minority groups. Between 2000 and 2010 the state’s population grew by 35.1 percent. While the Hispanic population grew by 77.8 percent and the Asian population by 93.6 percent, the African-American population grew only 49.6 percent, to a total of 202,700.
Hispanics To speak of Hispanics as a single group can be somewhat misleading; in fact, Hispanics trace their roots to any number of Spanish-speaking countries and territories, including Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the various nations of Central and South America. It is important to bear in mind that these different groups often have disparate cultures, backgrounds, and political and social ideologies. Similarly, although some are new immigrants to the United States, others are native-born citizens whose families have lived in this country for many years. Some of the immigrants, such as the Cubans, have come to escape political oppression, while others, such as the Mexicans, have fled poverty and poor economies in their native homelands. Nonetheless, for purposes of simplicity, in this section we shall speak of Hispanics generally while observing those areas in which the various groups differ.
As noted in chapter 1, the Spanish and, later, Mexicans were the first nonnative explorers of the area now known as Nevada, although they did not settle here in large numbers. During the pre-statehood period of gold and silver mining, however, Hispanics were represented in large and important numbers; indeed, the Comstock mine was first discovered by Ignacio Paredes of Sonora, Mexico, who abandoned it prematurely. Miners from northern Mexico not only were responsible for the discovery of many of Nevada’s ore sources but also taught Anglos the methods of panning, placer mining, dry digging, and ore reduction.12 As was the case with other minorities on the western frontier, however, Hispanics were frequently treated as second-class citizens, receiving less pay than did their Anglo counterparts.
Hispanics began migrating to the state in large numbers in the 1860s for the same reason that other groups did: opportunity. They worked in the mines, in service occupations, and as sheep and cattle ranchers. In this early period, most of Nevada’s Hispanic population resided in the north. Hispanic migration into southern Nevada began in the early twentieth century with the construction of a railroad line between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City that passed through the Las Vegas Valley. Along with the Chinese, Mexican laborers performed much of the work on this and other railroads in the state. In the American Southwest as a whole, including Nevada, Mexicans made up 70 percent of the section crews and 90 percent of the extra gangs on the principal railroad lines.13
The most significant migration of Hispanics to the state began after World War II. Federal investment in the state in the form of capital and military expenditures brought Hispanics to Nevada in large numbers as construction workers and soldiers and to fill a number of other occupations. As had been the case with other minorities, however, these new residents frequently found themselves the victims of discrimination. In Las Vegas, for example, Hispanics, like African Americans, were concentrated on the Westside or in North Las Vegas as a result of restrictive covenants by white homeowners prohibiting the sale of property in most parts of Las Vegas to anyone other than whites.
Virtually all Hispanics residing in Nevada prior to the 1960s were of Mexican descent; that pattern changed somewhat with the communist revolution of Fidel Castro in Cuba. With casino experience derived from the gaming halls of Havana, many of these exiles settled in Nevada to continue the occupations they had known in their homeland. Many Hispanics from the East Coast, primarily Puerto Ricans, also began to migrate to the state during this period.14 As had African Americans, Hispanics in the 1960s began to demand equality in housing, employment, and education. The changes noted above in the discussion of African Americans in Nevada apply equally to Hispanics in the state. Civil rights laws passed during the 1960s did much to make Nevada a more egalitarian state for all minorities.
Unlike African Americans, however, Hispanics have often been at odds with one another over even the most basic issues. As sociologist Jim Frey has noted,
Cubans were class conscious and tended to look condescendingly at lower-class Mexicans and Chicanos, while some Chicanos viewed the Cubans as aggressive, arrogant, materialistic, overly rational, and motivated totally by self-interest and greed. These personality traits, combined with prior experience in Cuba’s pre-Castro gaming and tourism, helped them to gain employment in highly paid positions in gaming and tourism. Mexicans and Chicanos, on the other hand, continued to be relegated to low- paying jobs in the service industry, some blue collar positions, and general laborers.15
Although the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have seen unity among Hispanic groups on some issues, the community frequently remained
divided. This division and the small percentages of Hispanics who register and vote had the effect of marginalizing their political power even though they constituted the state’s largest minority. Historically few public officeholders in Nevada were of Hispanic origin. Prominent members of the Nevada Hispanic community, however, have been and are attempting to remedy this situation by recruiting quality candidates, actively participating in reapportionment to design districts friendly to Hispanic candidates, and registering new voters, especially in Clark County where three-fourths of the Sagebrush State’s Hispanic population reside. Clearly, these efforts have paid off in recent elections. In January 2011 Nevadans swore in the first and, to date, only Hispanic governor in the state’s history. And in the 2017 legislative session, two of the twenty-one senators (9.5 percent) were Hispanic, as were six of the forty-two members of the assembly (14.3 percent). Overall, then, 12.7 percent of the state legislature was of Hispanic origin, a better representation than in past sessions but still well below the 26.5 percent in the state’s population as a whole. However, of particular note was that the president pro tempore and majority floor leader of the assembly were Hispanic, thus ensuring that population a voice in the legislative leadership.
Continued growth in the Hispanic population of Nevada, as well as the United States in general, is likely to continue for some time. As anthropologist Tony Miranda has noted, Hispanics are on average younger than most of the state’s other residents, which means that they are approaching or have reached childbearing age. Thus, as a natural consequence of birthrates, there will be more Hispanics in the state in the years to come. A 2008 Census Bureau report noted that although the average U.S. woman produces 1.9 children, that number is 1.7 for Asian Americans, 1.8 for whites, 2.0 for blacks, and 2.3 for Hispanics. Also, Hispanic immigration is likely to continue as many Hispanics flee from California to Nevada. Additionally, many Hispanics outside the United States who speak little English find Nevada’s gaming and tourist economy one in which they can thrive in unskilled but relatively well-paying jobs. Those who are bilingual can find higher-paying jobs and are much in demand as Nevada markets itself to an increasingly international community.16
It should come as no surprise, therefore, to discover that while Hispanics made up only 6.8 percent of the state’s population in 1980 (54,130 out of 800,493) by 2010 they comprised 26.5 percent (700,293 out of 2,643,085). The difference between 1980 and 2010 represents an increase of an eye-opening 1,194 percent. The largest single group responsible for this growth is Mexicans and Mexican Americans, making Nevada one of the fastest-growing Mexican communities in the country. In 1990, Mexicans and Mexican Americans constituted 68.5 percent of the state’s Hispanic population; in 2010 that figure had grown to 78.4 percent. At the same time, the Puerto Rican community in the Sagebrush State was also one of the fastest-growing in the nation.
Although, to date, Nevada’s Hispanics have historically been less successful in the political arena than other groups, they have made gains economically. The University of Georgia study noted earlier found that Hispanic buying power is growing nationally at three times the rate of inflation. The 2016 update conducted by UGA researchers found that between 2000 and 2016, Hispanic buying power had risen by 181 percent. According to a 2004 study by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), Hispanics generated as much as $20 billion annually of Nevada’s gross state product, or approximately one out of every four dollars in the state.17 One area in which gains have been slow is in business ownership. A survey of Hispanic-owned businesses in the Sagebrush State between 2002 and 2007 found that such businesses had increased from 9,741 to 18,029, an increase of 85.1 percent. And between 2007 and 2012 that number jumped another 86.7 percent. Although this does represent growth, it is not at all reflective of the Hispanic community’s explosive growth during that period. On the other hand, the Census Bureau’s 2007 Survey of Business Owners
shows Nevada ranking eighth in the nation in the percentage of businesses owned by Hispanics, at 8.1 percent.
Clearly the Hispanic population will continue to grow in the state; what remains to be seen, however, is whether these numbers and the increased buying power that comes with them will continue to translate into a concomitant increase in political and economic power as they have in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
Women As in most other states, discrimination was applied in Nevada to virtually all minorities, in addition to those already discussed. It was noted earlier that women were not allowed to vote under the 1864 constitution. Unlike the state’s lag in guaranteeing equal rights for racial minorities, however, Nevada was among the first to grant women the right of suffrage. Whereas the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote was not added until 1920, women in Nevada had had suffrage rights since 1914. Women’s success in Nevada, at least on this issue, was due in no small part to the efforts of the untiring Anne Martin, president of the Equal Franchise Society in Nevada.
Economically, however, the struggle for equal rights for women was a different matter. Although women were sometimes employed in the lucrative fields of dealing and bartending in northern Nevada casinos, that was not true in southern Nevada. Indeed, the Las Vegas City Commission recommended as late as 1958 that women not be hired as dealers for fear that their lower salaries would undercut the men; only one of the city’s many dealers schools would even permit women to enroll. In 1959 the North Las Vegas City Council prohibited women from being hired as bartenders. Instead, women were more often to be found in the lower-paying jobs of waitress, cashier, and keno runner. Only a few southern Nevada casinos would hire women as dealers and bar-tenders. It was not until 1981 that Las Vegas’s casinos and unions signed an agreement to end discrimination against women in employment-related matters.18
In spite of legal protections against discrimination, women still often found themselves in a second-class position economically and politically in both the nation as a whole and in Nevada. Although women made up 49.1 percent of Nevada’s population in 2000, a Nevada Personnel Department study discovered that they held only 35.5 percent of administrative jobs, but 91 percent of lower- paid support, or secretarial, positions in state government. No doubt as a result of women’s predominance in these lower-paying positions in both the public and private sectors, a 2009 Census Bureau survey found that for every dollar earned by Nevada men, women earned only eighty-two cents. However, that was better than the national average of seventy-seven cents.
Women have, however, made some notable advances economically and politically. In spite of the differences in median pay between men and women, as
of 2016 Nevada ranks as the eleventh best state in wage disparities. The national figure indicates women make only seventy-six cents to every dollar made by a man whereas in the Sagebrush State that figure is eighty-four cents. Statewide, in 2016 women owned a majority stake in over 75,000 privately held businesses generating billions in sales and employing thousands of people. U.S. Census Bureau data show that between 1997 and 2011, the number of women-owned enterprises grew from 33,311 to 62,500, an increase of 87.6 percent, second highest in the United States, behind only Georgia, at 97.5 percent.19 In 2016 that number stands at 75,600. In addition, the percentage of women in poverty has historically been lower than the national rate. Whereas the national rate for women in poverty in 2009 was 13.9 percent, in Nevada it was 12.3 percent, tying the state of Washington for thirty-eighth place in the country. According to the National Women’s Law Center, in 2016, after the Great Recession, Nevada ended up worse than the national average with a U.S. rate of 12.8 percent of women in poverty while in Nevada that figure was 13.8 percent, tying for twenty-fifth place with Montana and Oregon. In other words, the Sagebrush State fell into the middle of the pack for the rate of women in poverty.
Women have also made strides politically. In 2005, a Reno resident, Cindy Kirkland, was named the first female adjutant general of the Nevada National Guard. In 1998, women held five out of seven seats on the Clark County Board of Commissioners, although by 2017 that number had fallen to three. In 2017 the Washoe County Board of Commissioners saw a majority of women, three out of five, serving. In the 2017 session of the state legislature, eight of the twenty-one senators were women (38.1 percent), as were seventeen of the forty-two assembly members (40.5 percent). At 39.7 percent total women legislators, Nevada’s 2017 legislature came in second only to Vermont (40 percent) in the percentage of women in the state house. Also of some note is that in the senate, two women served as co-majority whips and two served as co-caucus policy coordinators. In the assembly, women served as the speaker pro tempore, majority floor leader, minority whip, and both assistant majority whips. Although these figures are not proportionate to the percentage of women in Nevada’s population—49.1 percent, according to the 2010 census—they do represent gains over previous decades, especially in the number of women holding leadership positions. Also worth noting is that after the 2010 elections, women held exactly half of the six constitutional officer positions in the state’s executive branch (treasurer, controller, and attorney general) although by the 2014 elections that number had dropped to one (secretary of state). It is also notable that in 2017 the mayors of Nevada’s three largest cities were women: Carolyn Goodman in Las Vegas, Debra March in Henderson, and Hillary Schieve in Reno.
Nevada is also noteworthy as one of only 15 states that failed to ratify the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the federal Constitution by the 1982 deadline imposed by Congress. Proposals to ratify the ERA were defeated in the state senate in 1973 and 1975 and in the state assembly in 1977. Wishing to avoid
the heat and controversy created by the era issue, the legislature washed its hands of the affair and submitted the ratification issue to the voters. After heavy lobbying against the proposal by conservative women, some business interests, and the Mormon Church, the measure failed in a 1978 election by a two-to-one margin. However, in 2017 the legislature voted to ratify the ERA on the forty-fifth anniversary of its having been sent to the states by Congress in 1972. Even if Congress accepts that Nevada is the thirty-sixth state to ratify the ERA (in spite of the 1982 deadline), two additional states would be needed before it could be added to the U.S. Constitution.
LGBT The changes wrought by the state’s 1965 civil rights legislation worked to the benefit of all minorities in the state, not only African Americans. Asians, Native Americans, and Hispanics likewise have benefitted from its liberalization of employment, public accommodations, and housing. Several groups historically excluded from such civil rights protection, however, have been the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities. Until recently, the state’s estimated 200,000-plus LGBT individuals could be discriminated against solely because of their sexual orientation or transgender status. However, over the past two decades Nevada has shown a more enlightened perspective on issues surrounding discrimination against gays and lesbians. In 1993, the state legislature repealed its antiquated anti-sodomy law, a law aimed specifically at the state’s homosexual minority, and in 2013 it equalized the age of consent at 16 for both opposite sex and same sex couples. In 1995 the legislature added sexual orientation to the state’s hate crime statute that enhances penalties for crimes committed against an individual due to that person’s race, religion, color, nationality, or disability. And in 2013 gender identity and expression was also added to the list of hate offenses. The 1999 session of the legislature passed legislation that outlaws employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The law applies equally to homosexuals, heterosexuals, and bisexuals. In 2011 gender identity and expression was added to the list of characteristics for which one cannot be discriminated against. In 2003 the legislature unanimously passed a statute allowing hospital patients to designate who their visitors could be. Although the law is applicable to everyone in the state, its primary intent was to serve as a means to grant gay partners hospital visitation privileges that they were frequently denied on the basis that they were not a family member, no matter how long the two had been in their relationship. And, in the 2005 session the legislature passed a bill declaring it state policy that services provided by private establishments such as casinos, restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, and other places of public accommodation should not be denied to anyone on the basis of sexual orientation. Although the law did not provide penalties for discriminating, it did allow the Nevada Equal Rights Commission to investigate complaints. In 2009 the legislature expanded upon the law by allowing individuals to bring a
civil suit for damages against any business or other place of public accommodation that discriminates based on sexual orientation.
With the passage of three bills, the 2011 legislative session was a particularly good one for those supporting the rights of transgender individuals. Those three bills essentially protected rights that had previously been protected for gays and lesbians: protection against discrimination in public accommodations, protection against discrimination in housing such as the sale and rental of homes and property, and protection from workplace discrimination based on gender identity or expression. A fourth bill that would have added transgender people to the state’s hate-crimes protections failed to pass, but, as noted above, was successful in 2013. In an omnibus one-fell-swoop way, the 2017 legislature passed and the governor signed a law that added “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” throughout all instances of Nevada statutes next to race, sex, religion, age, etc. In keeping with the notion of equality of treatment, Nevada in 2017 became the eighth state to ban conversion therapy for minors.
As with the other groups discussed in this chapter, legal protections alone have not ended all forms of discrimination and inequality for the LGBT community. A survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network in 1997 and again in 1998 gave the state’s largest school district, Clark County, an “F” for failing to protect the rights of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students. And, of course, marriage between same-sex couples is also prohibited by state statute. In the 2000 and 2002 general elections a ballot initiative to install this ban into the state constitution passed overwhelmingly. It is ensconced as a part of Article 1 of the Nevada Constitution, an article that is, quite ironically, the state’s “Declaration of Rights.” However, in a significant victory for supporters of LGBT rights, in 2009 the state legislature overrode the veto of Governor Jim Gibbons to establish domestic partnerships in Nevada. Under the law, gay, lesbian, and straight couples could register as domestic partners with the state and are entitled to all the same rights as married couples. The law passed not only because of support for equal rights but also with substantial lobbying by major gaming companies such as Harrah’s (now Caesars), MGM Mirage (now MGM Resorts International), and Wynn Resorts, which heavily market to gay and lesbian customers and their typically larger-than- average discretionary income.20
At the time of the 2010 Census, Nevada had over 9,000 same-sex couples listed as “head of household.” No doubt given the closeted nature of some in the LGBT community, that number is likely higher.
The largest and most significant victory for the LGBT community came when first various U.S. Courts of the Appeals and then the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional bans on same-sex marriage such as those in Nevada. As a result of those rulings Nevada’s ban could no longer be enforced and marriage was opened to same-sex couples in Nevada in 2015. In response to that, the state legislature in the 2017 session began the lengthy process to repeal the state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Civil Liberties As noted at the beginning of this chapter, civil liberties are those “negative restraints” upon government that define what it cannot do to its citizens. In general, these liberties are of the type found in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, the rights to counsel and a jury trial, and so on. In 1833, however, the U.S. Supreme Court held in the landmark case Barron v. Baltimore that none of the twenty-three provisions in the Bill of Rights applied to the states.21 That is, although the Bill of Rights prohibited the federal government from engaging in any of these violations of civil liberties, the state governments were not bound in any way by these provisions. Thus, the only protections that an individual had from the state government were those in his or her own state constitution’s bill of rights.
In light of that, the framers of Nevada’s 1864 constitution included as the document’s first article a Declaration of Rights to protect the state’s citizens from an overzealous state government. Included within Article 1 are the standard civil liberties protections we have come to know in the United States: freedom of speech, press, and assembly; trial by jury; religious freedom; habeas corpus; a prohibition on excessive fines and bails, cruel and unusual punishment, bills of attainder, ex post facto laws, unreasonable searches and seizures, and double jeopardy; and the right to just compensation for property taken by the government through its power of eminent domain.
The Nevada Constitution’s Declaration of Rights was far more significant in 1864 than it is today. At that time, it constituted the sole protection the state’s citizens had against intrusions into civil liberties by the state government. However, in a series of cases from the 1920s through 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a process known as incorporation, held that virtually all of the provisions in the U.S. Bill of Rights apply to the states via the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, today the state governments are held to the same federal constitutional standards as the federal government has always been; even if Nevada’s Declaration of Rights did not exist, Nevadans would now be protected in their civil liberties from both federal and state intrusion by the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
The process of incorporation, however, does not render state bills of rights obsolete. In some states (California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii), state courts have held that their state bills of rights grant civil liberties protections to their citizens even greater than those in the U.S. Constitution. The Nevada courts, however, have not followed the lead of their western counterparts and have traditionally interpreted civil liberties protections in the state’s Declaration of Rights to be parallel to similar clauses in the federal Bill of Rights. For that reason, any student familiar with the rights embodied in the Bill of Rights will also be knowledgeable about the rights protected by Nevada’s Declaration of
Rights. Nonetheless, there are a couple of areas in which the Declaration of Rights differs from the Bill of Rights, and they are worth discussing.
Although juries in both civil and criminal trials at the federal level must be unanimous, that is not the case in Nevada. Article 1, Section 3, of the Nevada Constitution allows a jury in civil cases to reach a decision by a three-fourths vote of its members (nine of twelve jurors). The rationale for what at the time was a departure from tradition and practice in the country can be found in Nevada’s unfortunate history with juries during the territorial period. During that period many a jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, and civil cases often ended in a mistrial with a split vote (a hung jury)—the result of the bribing of at least one juror by the mining companies that stood to win or lose fortunes, depending upon the verdict. Apparently believing that it was more difficult to bribe four jurors than one, the framers of the constitution, over the objections of the cow- county delegates, agreed upon the three-fourths requirement. Like their federal counterparts, however, juries in criminal cases in Nevada have always been required to reach unanimous verdicts.
A second distinction between the two constitutions is in the area of eminent domain. The Nevada Constitution, like the federal Constitution, allows the government to take private property for government use if it provides “just compensation” to the property owner. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, however, the Nevada Constitution requires that the compensation be made prior to the taking unless the property owner waives that right. As a result of an initiative in the 2006 and 2008 elections, the state constitution was amended to define fair-market value of such property as the highest price the property would garner on the market. This initiative further prevents the state, county, or city government from taking private property in order to transfer it to another private party; that is, the taking must be by the government and for the government’s use, not, for example, a private commercial developer. And, finally, the 2006–2008 initiative mandates that if the government has not used the property within five years for the original purpose it was taken, the original property owner has a right to the property upon repayment of the government’s purchase price.
Political Parties and Elections
Nevada has traditionally been a competitive, two-party state in which elections are fought more on the basis of personalities and issues than parties. Nevadans are notorious ticket splitters who take pride in the fact that they vote for the “person” and not the “party.” Nonetheless, it is possible to divide Nevada’s political history into five distinct periods of voting patterns.1
From the granting of statehood in 1864 until 1890, the Republicans dominated the state’s elections. That they did so is chiefly explained by the support of the national Republican Party for Nevada statehood and the lingering effects of the Civil War, which had been fought against the Democratic-dominated, proslavery states of the South. As noted in chapter 2, all of Nevada’s state and federal officers selected in 1864, with the exception of two legislators, were Republicans. Of the elections held during the twenty-six years of this period, Republicans won six of seven presidential races, eight of ten for the U.S. Senate, ten of thirteen for the House, four of seven for governor and lieutenant governor, seven of seven for secretary of state, five of seven for state treasurer, seven of seven for state controller, and five of seven for attorney general.
During the second period, 1892 to 1906, the state’s voters turned to the Silver Party for leadership. During that time, the national issue of free coinage of silver dominated the politics of Nevada and the other western mining states. In the first two elections of this period, the Silver Party won all but two statewide positions.2 In 1896 the Silver Party joined with the Democrats to become the Silver Democrats and dominated the state’s political landscape until 1908.
Between 1908 and 1930, electoral victories in the state were roughly equal between the Democrats and Republicans, with the Democrats winning more positions but the Republicans winning the top spots at the presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial levels. The fourth period of electoral dominance began in 1932 with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt to the presidency. From 1932 until the mid-1980s, Democrats tended to dominate state politics with an overwhelming number of registrants and control of the legislature and most of the executive offices.
Starting in the 1980s the Republican Party began a resurgence in the state that lasted through the 1990s and into the twenty-first century. During this fifth period,
no one party has dominated the state’s elections. As of 2017, for instance, elective positions in the state were fairly evenly divided. Although all six executive officers were Republican, Nevada’s federal delegation was split with one Democratic and one Republican U.S. Senator and three Democratic and one Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The 2017 state senate and the state assembly were majority Democratic. The resurrection of the Republicans in the state to the point that they were competitive with the previously dominant Democrats was due to several factors: increased voter registration activity by the Republicans, the popularity of Ronald Reagan, and the pattern of migration by upper-middle and upper-class retirees to the state.
By the end of 1995, Republican registrants had overtaken Democrats for the first time since 1930. As table 4.1 shows, this continued to be true in the presidential elections of 1996, 2000, and 2004 when Republicans had more registrants than did the Democrats. The pendulum swung back again, however, after 2004 as a result of a significant push by the Democrats, led by Senator Harry Reid, to register more voters to support Barack Obama’s campaign for president in 2008 and Reid’s reelection campaign in 2010. As a result of that push and the recruitment of many young or minority voters who might not otherwise have registered, the Democrats went from 40 percent of registered voters in 2004 to more than 43 percent in 2008, percentages they had not seen since 1992. It appears that 2008 may have been an anomaly. Democratic voter registration went down from 43.2 percent in 2008 to 42.3 percent in 2012 and, by the 2016 presidential election, it had declined to 39.7 percent.
At the same time, the split of the state’s congressional delegation in 2017 and the mix of parties in the constitutional, legislative, and local offices suggest that ticket splitting and the fact that most Nevada Democrats tend to be fairly conservative mean that elections, especially non-presidential ones, will likely continue to be highly competitive between the two parties.
One of the most interesting facets of Nevadans’ voting patterns is their almost unerring ability to vote for the winner in presidential elections. Of the thirty-nine presidential elections in which Nevadans have participated between 1864 and 2016, the state voted for the winning candidate thirty-two times; of the seven instances in which Nevadans voted for the losing candidate, they had supported the free-silver crusader William Jennings Bryan three times (1896, 1900, 1908) and had one time (1892) voted for the candidate of the People’s Party, who had been endorsed by the Silver Party. Since 1908 the state has voted for the eventual winner in all presidential elections except in 1976, when Nevadans voted for the Republican ticket of Gerald Ford and Robert Dole instead of Democrats Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, and in 2016 when the Sagebrush State went with Democrat Hillary Clinton instead of eventual winner Republican Donald Trump (although in Nevadans’ defense, Clinton did win the national popular vote by almost three million). Thus, in the twenty-seven presidential elections between 1912 and 2016, Nevadans have gone with the winner in twenty-five instances. Perhaps those figures indicate that Nevada is much more like the rest of the country than we have traditionally wanted to believe.
Political Parties Political parties in the United States have traditionally been much weaker than those in other parts of the world. That is particularly true in Nevada, where political-party labels have little meaning. Democrats and Republicans in the state tend to be rather conservative, and there exist few in either party who would describe themselves as liberal, much less radical. Nonetheless, it is possible to say that, as a general rule, Democrats are more supportive of education and labor issues, while Republicans support business and the conservative social agenda to a greater degree. Worth watching is that more recently the Sagebrush State seems to have followed the national trend and become more politically polarized. A study by the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, for example, found steadily declining levels of bipartisanship in the state legislature.
European political parties are “responsible” parties. That is, members of the party, once elected to office, are expected to support the party platform, defer from publicly criticizing party leaders, and vote with their party on each issue that may come forward. Failure to do so could lead to drastic consequences, including the loss of one’s position. In Nevada, and in the United States generally, elected officials win or lose based on their own personalities and stands on the issues, regardless of party affiliation. The parties have few measures available to discipline errant members and have little ability to keep them off the ballot. Candidates raise their own campaign funds, run their own campaigns, and owe little to the party with which they are nominally affiliated.
The chief function of political parties in Nevada and elsewhere is to select candidates to run in a general election against an opponent from the other party. Prior to the election of 1910, the method of selecting candidates was a generally close-knit affair. Members of the party would gather in precinct meetings to select delegates to county party conventions that in turn would select a smaller number of delegates to a state party convention. Party nominees would then be chosen by the state convention of each party. Typically, only a few party activists would participate in such meetings, leaving the vast number of voters out of the process. In 1909, the state legislature adopted a direct primary law mandating that parties select their candidates in primary elections held in September (now June) of each year in which a general election is to be held. Primary elections give the average party member more control over who his or her party’s nominees will be than did the old system. At the same time, however, primaries have reduced whatever hold the party’s leadership may have once exercised on its party’s slate of nominees; candidates now rely upon the voters, not the party elite who attend the precinct meetings and party conventions, for their place on the general election ballot.
Elections in Nevada Eligibility to Vote
As it was originally ratified in 1864, the state constitution allowed only white males of the age of twenty-one or older to vote. Even though Nevada, in 1869, was the first state to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1870) prohibiting the denial of the right to vote on account of race, the word white was not removed from this part of the state constitution until 1880. In 1914, six years before the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave women the right to vote, Nevadans amended their state constitution to extend the right of suffrage to them; nonetheless, Nevada was one of the last western states to do so. In 1971, the state’s voters barely approved (51–49 percent) a referendum to amend state law to reduce the voting age in the state to eighteen. Interestingly, the Nevada legislature never voted on ratification of the Twenty-sixth Amendment, which made this same change to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment, however, was ratified within one hundred days and did not require Nevada’s vote.