Nevada’s first inhabitants were the Paiute and Ancestral Puebloan people. Though claimed by Spain, Nevada was scarcely touched by Europeans until the 1820s, when trappers ventured into the Humboldt River Valley. Most 19th-century emigrants passed straight through Nevada to the California goldfields. But in 1859 the Comstock Lode – the largest silver deposit ever mined – was discovered south of Reno.
As the Comstock Lode was mined out, Nevada’s population declined. In the early 20th century, new mineral discoveries temporarily revived the state’s fortunes, but the Great Depression brought an end to those dreams. So in 1931 the state government legalized gambling and created agencies to tax it, turning an illegal activity into a revenue source and tourist attraction. Today the state thrives on tourism, with most revenues coming from the ubiquitous casinos.