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The history of any particular region or state is commonly made up or three different kinds of information. True stories of people who have researched the area of interest compile the first category. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but when researching the settlement of the old west, the most common themes are hard work, hard ships, hard winters hard heads, and hardy people. The true stories of those who settled the state of Nevada are filled with stories of these types of experiences.
The second type of information compiled when researching history are those storied which are loosely based on truth, but have been significantly embellished over the years. When settlers headed west during the gold rush, tales of huge riches awaited them which could be produced by little work.
Many of the 49'ers died enroute to their riches, and many more settled in the towns working the same kind of jobs which they left back east after finding out that the gold rush was more rush and less gold.
Finally, when investigating a region's history, there will be general principles which come to light which help the student understand the overall picture, social, economic, and political trends which help shape a region or states identity. These trends are generalities, not necessarily hardened scientific facts. The trends help explain migration, and eventual settlement of the west, and give the student a means to understand the larger picture, and directions to consider when learning about a state.
What is known about Nevada's progress toward statehood is a combination of these three pools of information. When Frederick Jackson Turner wrote at the turn of the 19th century, he was looking ahead to the future and back to the past in order to give a growing nation tools with which to understand itself. Turner's general perspective on the west's settlement broke down the process in to four periods, which were:
period of Native American Indian dominance.
A period of exploration period of settlement period of big business which ultimately established a reason for large numbers of people to permanently call the area their home.
There are those who argue with Turner's theories. They pick wholes in the process, and say that his view is too general, and does not accurately represent the process. Although these staged overlap at times, Turner accurately identified the process which brought Nevada from a barren wasteland to bustling statehood.
Turner conceived of the West not as a particular geographic place, but as a frontier process - as a series of 'Wests' on a receding frontier line - the point where savagery meets civilization. For Turner, American history was largely a tale of people leaving settled areas for the frontier, and their struggle to survive in new lands. According to Turner, this epic struggle explained American development. The frontier reproduces American democracy and individualism - the frontier requires Americans to develop new institutions and "free land makes free men."
Ultimately, Turner claimed that in 1890 the frontier had closed, ending the first stage of American development. Turner argued that civilization is a process in which society becomes ever more complex. As complexity increases, opportunities become more limited, and civilization inevitably subordinates individuals to society.
Native American Dominance
Prior to the appearance of Jedediah Smith, Nevada was a barren wasteland, fit for a few wandering Indian tribes which followed animal herds in and out of the low foothills. The land is described by author Robert Lexalt this way.
Sagebrush that rolled over the vast plateaus and brutal desert mountains like an endless gray sea, ringing the few scattered hamlets and town of Nevada so that they were like islands in that sea. Sagebrush growing down to the banks of rare streams and rivers so that water seemed to be captive to the bigger (desert) sea" (Lexalt, 1977)
During this time, the Mojave, Hopi, and Paiute Indians, along with indigenous peoples who had ventured north from Mexico called this barrenness their home. A few scattered monks, such as Fray Francisco Garces, who in 1776, along with another monk, set out to create a trail to the colonies which had been established along the west coast between California (est. 1769) and Monterey (est. 1770). Garces established the westward route from the Colorado River,…[continue]
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