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Humboldt County, Nevada


Humboldt County Courthouse is located at 50 West 5th Street, Winnemucca NV 89445; phone: 775-623-6343.

Beginnings [1]

The first white man to come across the Humboldt River was Peter Skene Ogden, a Canadian trapper for the Hudson Bay Company. He discovered the waterway in 1828 after stumbling through miles of barren landscape near present-day Denio at the Oregon-Nevada border. The river was known as Ogden's River until 1845 when John C. Fremont named it after Baron Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist, traveler and statesman much admired by Fremont, who never saw the river, the mountains or the county which now bear his name.

Mining was the activity that brought many settlers to Humboldt County. The first mining claim was made on the north slope of Winnemucca Mountain. At the time the mine began production, the railroad had not yet reached the state. The rich ore had to be hauled to the coast by teams of oxen then shipped to Swansea, Wales, for reduction. Most of the early mines reached the peak of their production before the Central Pacific Railroad was completed across the state in 1869. Most mines were played out or abandoned by the 1920s, however, mining continued sporadically until the late 1970s and early 1980s when it began to emerge again as an important industry in the region.

The City of Winnemucca was named after the famous Northern Paiute Indian "Old Winnemucca" by one of President Lincoln's mapmakers. When Winnemucca was young, before the discovery of gold in California, several white prospectors came into the area of the Humboldt sink from the Boise River country. When they first saw Winnemucca, he was wearing one moccasin with his other foot bare. In the Paiute dialect, "mu-cha" means moccasin, and the white men referred to him as "wan-ne-muc- cha" or "one moccasin." This name, part English and part Paiute, pleased Winnemucca, and he adopted it as his new name being referred to thereafter as Wan-ne-muc-cha by his tribe.

Winnemucca has always been an overnight stop on a variety of long-distance journeys. A traditional crossroads for Indians, mountain men, pioneers and miners, the site of Winnemucca was originally named French Ford after a Frenchman, Joe Ginacca. He began a ferry service across the river for pioneers along the Emigrant Trail who opted to take the secondary Applegate-Lassen Cutoff into northern California and Oregon. By 1885 minerals had been located throughout the region, a small hotel stood near the ferry stop, and a bridge was built to ease the crossing. French Ford kept growing as a supply center for the trail, local mines and ranches throughout the 1860s and was a logical stop for the Central Pacific Railroad in fall 1868. Company officials promptly renamed it Winnemucca. In 1873 it became the county seat of Humboldt County.

George Nixon, a Central Pacific telegraph operator, opened his first bank in Winnemucca and created a financial empire that extended as far as Tonopah and Goldfield. In September 1900 Butch Cassidy's gang rode into town and stole $32,000 from Nixon's bank.

Winnemucca sustained a tolerable level of prosperity in the early 20th century thanks to the railroad. In the 1950s gaming became a popular tourist attraction in town. The population stabilized at approximately 3,000 until the mid-1980s. At that time, Winnemucca's population and economy experienced a burst of growth in conjunction with a surge of mining activity in gold, silver, dolomite and specialty limestone.

  1. Humboldt County Regional Master Plan, www.hcnv.us, accessed January 2009