Caliente was first settled as a ranch, furnishing hay for the mining camps of Pioche and Delmar. In 1901, the famous Harriman-Clark right-of-way battle was ended when rancher Charles Culverwell, with the aid of a broad-gauge shotgun, allowed one railroad grade to be built through his lush meadows. Harriman and Clark had been battling eleven years building side-by-side grades, ignoring court orders and federal marshals.
The population boom began with an influx of railroad workers, most of them immigrants from Austria, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire. A tent city was settled in August 1903.
With the completion of the Los Angeles, San Pedro, and Salt Lake Railroad in 1905, Caliente became a division point. In 1906-07, the Caliente and Pioche Railroad (now the Union Pacific) was built between Pioche and the main line at Caliente. The large Mission revived style depot was built in 1923, serving as a civic center, as well as a hotel.