The Great Basin of North America has long been inhabited and enjoyed for its beauty. The area, which covers nearly all of Nevada, most of Utah and Oregon and even parts of California, Wyoming, and Idaho, has known the presence of people since at least 10,000 BC. Native American tribes, notably the Paiute, the Shoshone, and the Ute had likely been there for thousands of years before Spanish and European explorers began to settle the area in the 18th century.
During the expansion of the Spanish rule into the Americas, the Great Basin was prime grazing land for the vaqueros who brought their horses and their ranching skills from Spain. The conquistadors and Spanish missionaries who came before them had explored much of the area but found it to be too arid and dry for much other than cattle grazing land.
In the 19th century, American immigrants began to migrate from the east coast, particularly Mormon settlers who were seeking their promised land and the gold seekers headed to California. Jedediah Strong Smith was the first of these immigrants to cross the Great Basin in 1827. He was an explorer and cartographer who played a large part in forging the path west that would later be known as the Oregon Trail. There were other expeditions that explored regions of the area throughout the early part of the 1800’s as more people began to move west.
At that time, the Great Basin was still under the control of Spain until 1819, when the Adams-Onis Treaty was signed giving the US control of the area north of the 42nd parallel. In 1846, the US acquired more territory with the Oregon Treaty, when Britain gave control of the Oregon territory over. Then in 1848, with the advent of the Mexican Cessation, the US had finally gained control of most of what was left of the Great Basin area of North America.
In 1849, the Mormons settled in northern Nevada and Utah, claiming the area as the State of Deseret. This quasi-state was only a proposed state from the leaders of the LDS church and was never officially recognized by the US Federal government, and it existed for only slightly longer than two years before territories began to be drawn up by the government.
Of course, with the gold rush in 1848 and 1849, more and more settlements began to pop up, some catering specifically to those who went seeking their fortune in the eastern parts of California, headed west along the California Trail which took them directly through the Great Basin.
Some twenty years later, in 1869, the Great Basin became the completion point to the First Transcontinental Railroad. Having been finished at Promontory Summit, this railroad connected the eastern rail lines to those of the west coast and provided the first true coast to coast rail service. Rail lines to Las Vegas were added in the lower basin to provide service from California to the budding oasis that Las Vegas was becoming.
All in all, the Great Basin and its wide open spaces played an integral part of the expansion into the west in the days of the wild west, hosting many historical events and seeing much history happen in its arid climate.