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On March 5, 1869, the Nevada State Legislature created Elko County. With its 17,181 square miles, it is the 6th largest county in the United States.

Fur trappers led by Peter Skeene Ogden were the first recorded white men in northeastern Nevada. Emigrant wagons passed through the area beginning in 1841. The '49ers' and others, including the ill-fated Donner Party, followed during the next two decades. Metal-rimmed wheels cut tracks so deep over the routes that they can still be seen today.


During the last week of December 1868 the Central Pacific Railroad established the town of Elko on its eastward push to connect with the Union Pacific Railroad on its westward push. On New Year's Day, 1869, tents situated among the sagebrush marked the townsite. Two weeks later lots were selling for $300 to $500 each. From that beginning, the town grew as a freight terminal to supply mines and ranches to the north and south.

In May 1869 the Golden Spike was driven at Promontory, Utah, linking the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railraods. The Chinese rail workers were laid off and some settled in the Elko area. In the town of Elko, they planted large gardens and sold their produce to area mines and local merchants. The Chinese built the first water system here. They dug a ditch to carry the water from Osino, east of town, (about eight to ten miles) to a reservoir in Elko.

Soon a courthouse, school and Presbyterian Church were built. In 1874, the University of Nevada was founded in Elko. Eleven years later it was moved to Reno. In 1896, Elko's High School became the first public high school under state law.

While the mining booms have come and gone, the cattle industry has always been principal. For more than 100 years cattle and sheep drives from northern Nevada ranches were brought into town to the stockyards to be shipped to market. Silver, lead, copper, and gold mining in the area began in the 1870's. Today, microscopic gold mining is the mainstay with the northeastern Nevada region producing about 7 percent of the world's gold.

How Elko's name originated has been lost in time; however, several stories have been handed down through the years. The most likely story is that Charles Crocker of the Central Pacific Railroad preferred to name new towns founded on the railroad after animals. He presumably added an 'O' to 'Elk', and thus named the new town "Elko."

Elko, as the county seat, continues to grow and continues to be an unique mixture of old and new West. With its majestic Ruby Mountain backdrop, this is the perfect location to enjoy the West as it really is. We offer one bit of advice, please take your time when you visit.

(Adapted from information provided by the Northeastern Nevada Museum, 1515 Idaho St., Elko, NV)