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Dayton's history begins with Nevada's first gold discovery in July 1849. It started with a California-bound pack train, led by trail guide Abner Blackburn, setting up camp at the mouth of a canyon that drained into the Carson River. While waiting for the snow to melt in the Sierra, Blackburn went prospecting and dug gold from the creek bed. The news of his discovery spread, and prospectors rushed to the site they called Gold Cañon--today's Dayton. In May 1851, diarist Lucena Pfuffer Parsons, traveling with a wagon train, camped at the site and reported about 200 miners living in the canyon. She noted that they were finding enough gold to trade for supplies. In 1859, after working their way up the canyon, miners discovered a large silver and gold deposit known as the Comstock Lode. This discovery led Nevada to statehood in 1864.

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