On December 29, 1868, representatives of the Central Pacific Railroad started laying out lots for the future town of Elko. By 1870, the thriving town had 5,000 people. There was an immense volume of freight and passenger traffic over the stageline roads north and south from the railhead at Elko to mining areas.
The University of Nevada was located in Elko in 1874, and remained here until 1885, when it moved to Reno.
By the early 1870s, Elko became the marketing and economic center for northeastern Nevada’s range-livestock empire. In the 1870s and 1880s, great ranching principalities were built on Elko county’s vast rangelands. These ranches were ruled over by such powerful and colorful cattle kings as L.R. “Broadhorns” Bradley, Nevada’s second governor and its first “cowboy” governor; the French Garat family; the Spanish Altubes; and John Sparks, governor of Nevada in the early years of the twentieth century.
Elko remains the economic hub of Nevada’s greatest range area. At the same time, it has also become a recreation tourism center in northeast Nevada and home to the internationally-famous Cowboy Poetry Festival.