Eastern Nevada was home to Native Americans for thousands of years before European exploration. The early Basketmakers and later Fremont people lived in the well-watered valleys, where they grew crops of corn, beans and squash, and built permanent “pueblos.” The more nomadic Southern Paiute started appearing in the area around 900 A.D., building no permanent dwellings, but – instead – moving with the seasons to hunt and gather the ripe nuts, berries, seeds and roots. The Fremont people disappeared from the archeologic record by 1200 A.D., reducing the competition with the Paiutes for the same game species which at one time included bison.
The next documented exploration of the area occured in 1849, when several groups of California-bound families and prospectors split away from the “Old Spanish Trail” near present-day Enterprise, Utah. The various parties, with 27 wagons and untold numbers of pack mules, wove their way over nearly all the mountain ranges and valleys in Lincoln County, and eventually wound up crossing and naming Death Valley. One of these parties, Asahel Bennett, converted to the Mormon faith several years after the journey, and he brought a group of Mormon pioneers to Meadow Valley in 1858 to establish a place of refuge for the Mormon Church leaders, should it prove necessary as a result of animosities between the United States Government and the Mormon Church. These few men, the “White Mountain Missionaries,” stayed only long enough to break ground, plant a few acres of grain, and build irrigation ditches to water the crops. The invasion by “Johnson’s Army” was forestalled, and the missionaries were re-called to Utah.
In 1863, Missionary William Hamblin was again scouting new areas for settlement, and while he was in Meadow Valley, a Paiute Indian showed him some rocks which he called “panagari” or “panacker”. In March, 1864, Hamblin brought some men with him and established claims on the “panacker ledge,” which was located eight or ten miles north of the valley itself. A specimen of the silver ore was sent to Salt Lake City, and it was deemed worthy of more exploration. J.N. Vandermark and Stephen Sherwood undertook the first expedition and along with Hamblin they organized the meadow Valley Mining District in April, 1864. A group of soliders under the command of Gen. Patrick Connor’s California Volunteers visited the discovery site in the summer of 1864. They staked a number of claims which later led to litigation. Trouble with the Indians along with the lack of means to process the silver ore restricted the amount of work that could be done on the claim in 1865 and 1866, although some prospectors apparently remained in the vicinity to prevent other persons from jumping their claims.
In May, 1864, Francis Lee and six other families moved from Santa Clara, Utah, to Meadow Valley, where they established an agricultural settlement that they called Panaca. The town struggled for the first several years, building a fort for protection against Indian raiding and theft. In 1865, Clover Valley (to the southeast) and Eagle Valley & Spring Valley (to the northeast) were also settled by L.D.S. pioneers. These small communities found ready outlets for their produce and dairy products in the growing number of prospectors heading through the valleys.
Approximately 60 miles west of Meadow Valley, the Pahranagat mining District was formed in 1865, and William H. Raymond moved a mill from Los Angeles to process the ores. Success was not to be his, despite considerable investment in processing equipment As the ores dwindled, Raymond went into partnership with another Pahranagat Valley miner, John H. Ely, and they moved their mill to Meadow Valley. They established a millsite near Panaca, which processed ores from the panacker ledge, and this became known as Bullionville.
Also in 1869, a new owner bought out some of the claims of the Meadow Valley Mining Company. Francois L.A. Pioche was a San Francisco businessman who invested a substantial amount of money in equipment and hired a metallurgist who was experienced in the chemical extraction of silver from its ore. A town sprang up around the claims on the ‘panacker ledge,’ which became known as Pioche’s City, or – simply – Pioche. Because the County Seat was still located at Hiko, problems erupted. With more prospectors drifting into the area and staking claims, sometimes these overlapped prior claims. Mine owners resorted to hiring guards, and gunfighters to protect their mining claims. Guns were the only law, and Pioche made Bodie, Tombstone, and other better known towns pale in comparison with its violence. It has been claimed that seventy-five men died “with boots on” before anyone in Pioche died of natural causes.
When first settled in 1864, the area was still a part of Utah Territory. Nevada officially became a state in October, 1864. Upon a request by the Nevada State Legislature in 1866, the boundary was revised, and Congress allowed an additional degree of longitude to be added to the eastern border of Nevada. This became Lincoln County, and its boundaries changed three more times over the course of the next 43 years. In 1867, all the land north of the Colorado River was transferred from Arizona Territory to Nevada, and a strip ten miles wide on the western boundary was ceded to Nye County. In 1865, some territory was received from Nye County along the northern border. In 1908, an act of the State Legislature split Lincoln County into two: Clark County was created out of the southern half, with the growing population of the railroad town, Las Vegas. The County Seat likewise made several moves: initially it was decreed as Crystal Springs, but in 1867 was changed to Hiko. In 1871, with the abandonment of the mines in Pahranagat Valley, the County Seat was moved to Pioche, where it remains today.
The population has varied over the past century, with the surges and downturns in mining, railroad activity, and tourism. Today, the County population is over 5,000 people, with primary occupations in agriculture and cattle ranching, railroad, small-scale mining, and government services (Federal, State, and County). We welcome you to come and experience the small-town atmosphere and enjoy the many scenic and historic attractions of the area.