Dennis Cassinelli: Panaca: One town, two states

Cathedral Gorge State Park near Panaca. (Photo: AdobeStock)

Cathedral Gorge State Park near Panaca. (Photo: AdobeStock)

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Several years ago, when I worked for the Nevada State Department of Transportation, a co-worker and I were doing some work in Caliente and other southeastern Nevada communities.
After work one day, we decided to stop by the nearby town of Panaca to see what the town was like and perhaps have a beer after work. After spending some time looking for a bar or a place to buy some beer, we were told that Panaca was only one of two towns in Nevada where the sale of alcohol was prohibited and gambling was not allowed.
The area that was to become the Panaca settlement was explored by Mormons in 1857. Brigham Young dispatched the explorers to locate a potential refuge in case of a U.S. military campaign against Utah. The location was selected due to the Meadow Valley oasis at the headwaters of the Muddy River.
Mormon scouts began digging irrigation ditches and starting fields, but the site was soon deserted after the feared violence never materialized. Panaca was the first permanent settlement by European Americans in southeastern Nevada. It was founded as a Mormon colony in 1864. It began as part of Washington County, Utah, but the congressional redrawing of boundaries in 1866 shifted Panaca into Nevada.
Coke ovens here once produced charcoal for the smelters in nearby Bullionville (now a ghost town), but the town's economy is predominantly agricultural. The name "Panaca" comes from the Southern Paiute word Pan-nuk-ker, which means "metal, money, wealth.”
Mormon missionaries and settlers arrived in eastern Nevada in May 1864 with hopes of establishing a network of growing colonies in the area. This effort, led by Francis Lee, was responsible for establishing the town of Panaca.
William Hamblin, a Mormon missionary to the Native Americans, was shown a location where “panacker” was found in abundance. The Panacker Ledge (Panaca Claim) was staked and the town of Panaca was born.
When Panaca was first settled, the area was a part of Utah. Upon a request by the Nevada Legislature, in 1866 the boundary was revised and Congress allowed an additional degree of longitude to be added to the eastern border of Nevada. The Mormons who declined to recognize this change refused to pay taxes to Lincoln County and the state of Nevada.
After much conflict and extensive surveys, in 1870 the Mormon settlers were declared to be residing in Nevada. Many of them left the state leaving only a handful in what had been planned to be the foundation of the Latter-day Saints. Panaca remained as an outpost with its population of a few hundred.
Panaca sold produce to surrounding miners who had no time to grow their own food. Another source of revenue was the cutting of timber to supply the Pioche mines and housing of the area. Much of the timber of the surrounding hills was reduced by this enterprise.
In 1873, a narrow-gauge railroad line ran from nearby Pioche to Bullionville. A Western Union Telegraph office was also built in Pioche, and messages could be forwarded to Panaca on the train or by horseback. A standard gauge railroad was constructed, later, a spur of the SP,SL & LA line which became Union Pacific Railroad.
From its early pioneer roots, the town featured a school, small grocery and mercantile stores, a church and a few modest homes. For the most part, present day Panaca has remained virtually unchanged.
Dennis Cassinelli is a Dayton author and historian. You can order his books at a discount on his blog at


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