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The following is a brief history of the Sierra Nevada Union.
Prior to Doomsday, Nevada had been the 36th state, gaining statehood in 1864 during the Civil War in order to throw support behind the election of President Abraham Lincoln. Originally part of the larger Utah Territory, Nevada had separated three years earlier due to animosity between non-Mormons and the Mormons who controlled the rest of the region. From statehood and well into the 20th Century, Nevada’s history was shaped and dominated by mining, especially of silver, and would become known for one of the largest silver strikes in American history, the Comstock Lode. With the 1930s, Nevada began to undergo a series of changes which would transform its future, with the legalization of gambling; the establishment of easy marriage and divorce laws; and the construction of Hoover Dam, the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. The decades following World War II, would also see the transformation of the city of Las Vegas, located in the southern Nevada, into the state’s population center as it became the premier destination for entertainment and gambling. Although the seventh largest US state, 80% of the land was directly controlled by the US government.
At the time of Doomsday, Nevada had a long relationship with the US military and was home to a number of military bases, mostly in the southern part of the state. This included Nellis AFB near Las Vegas; Indian Springs AF Auxiliary Field; the mysterious USAF test site at Area 51 in Groom Lake; Fallon Naval Air Station; and the Hawthorne Army Ammunition Plant, the largest US army ammunition storage site in the nation. Southern Nevada was also home to the Nevada Nuclear Test Site operated by the Atomic Energy Commission, where both above and underground nuclear test had been conducted since World War II.
Nevada became aware of the impending Soviet attack through radio and television reports at about 5:52 PM (PDT) on the afternoon of September 25, 1983. The initial reaction of shock, confusion, and disbelief, quickly generated into chaos and panic as thousands of tourists fought to escape the cities along with local residents. Governor Richard Hudson Bryan, who had taken office nine months earlier, was in the state capital when he received the news. Working quickly, he called for the immediate evacuation of the major cities of Las Vegas, Reno, Carson, and Fallon. Additionally, he issued a series of directives declaring a state of emergency; imposing martial law and dusk to dawn curfew for everyone not involved in emergency operations; and activating the National Guard. He ordered the National Guard and Highway Patrol to work together in maintaining order; securing the border; and assisting with evacuations. Governor Bryan's instructions were immediately sent throughout the state shortly before electricity and most communications, including computers, televisions, radios, and telephones, abruptly failed at 6:14 PM severing internal and external links.
Beginning at approximately 6:30 PM, a number of Soviet warheads began to detonate across the southern region of the state. The hardest hit region was the Las Vegas Valley, where it was later estimated at least three one megaton warheads exploded, destroying Nellis AFB; the cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, and Henderson; and several smaller communities. The mountain ranges ringing the valley helped to contain much of the destructive force. This, along with the massive firestorms which were generated, resulted in the total destruction of the area. Although several thousand people were able to escape via Routes 15, 93, and 95, most were trapped within the valley due to traffic jams and congestion, and as a result perished. A pilot, who escaped the North Las Vegas Airport, later described: "As I flew over the famed strip I saw nothing but chaos. Flames and smoke were billowing from some of the buildings, including the hotels. The roads were packed with cars, trucks, and buses, all filled with people trying to escape. Some vehicles had collided, others overturned, and some had even caught fire. Everywhere it seemed as if thousands of people were running every which way, unsure of where to go or what to do. Many had abandoned their vehicles and were running on foot in a frantic effort to escape. It was a terrible sight I have never forgotten all these years later."
Smaller warheads targeted other sites, including one which exploded 45 miles outside Las Vegas over Area 51 at Groom Lake. Since no communication has ever been received from the site, it is believed all personnel perished. [An SNU expedition in the late 1990s reported the area to be a small lake, with the dry lake bed having filled with water due to increased rainfall.] The town of Mercury, home to AEC scientists and personnel of the Nevada test site was also destroyed, with most of the population of 10,000 perishing. To the northwest a 550-kiloton warhead, struck the Hawthorne Army Ammunition Plant. Although a large portion of the population from the town and depot managed to flee before the strike, heading north along Route 95, at least 1000 perished when the warhead exploded over the depot. It was later determined a second device aimed at the site missed and detonated in the desert near the Excelsior Mountains.
As of Doomsday, the total population of Nevada stood at just over 800,000 people, with more than half, approximately 463,000 people, concentrated in and around the city of Las Vegas. It would later be estimated, that nearly 60% of the state’s population, or just over 500,000 people, along with approximately 10,000 tourists, perished in the initial attacks and within the week from injuries and radiation exposure. By mid October 1983, the total population, concentrated mainly in the northern part of the state, would stand at approximately 300,000.
The morning of September 26, 1983, brought thunderstorms and heavy rain throughout Nevada, helping to dampen fires burning from the strikes and reduce fallout. In Dayton, which had become the temporary state capital, Governor Bryan and other key members of the government did their best determine conditions throughout the state. Working with still functioning emergency and citizen band radios, contact was established with highway patrol commands in Reno, Carson, Elko, and National Guard armories in Winnemucca, Yerington, Reno, Carson, and Elko. Together, they confirmed no evidence of any strikes in their areas. With his communication network limited, Governor Bryan felt it was critical to try and ascertain the condition of the entire state and assure citizens their government still existed in Carson. To this end, he ordered the highway patrol and National Guard to assemble and equip several small expeditions to travel to the state's respective borders and carry out these tasks. They were to report back in person, or if possible, by radio. On September 27, the governor returned to Carson under police protection to re-establish the state government and begin emergency operations.
Given the average travel time across the state from west to east took only five to six hours some expeditions would return within days, while others took longer than a week. Able to reach locations such as Wells, Ely, West Wendover, McDermitt, and Tonopah, teams were able to confirm everything in the northern and central part of Nevada was intact, with the exception of electricity, phones, and most electronic equipment. They reported several trains were stranded and blocking railroad tracks, including the Amtrak California Zephyr near Wells, the solid state transistors of their locomotives burned out. Contact had also been made with Fallon Naval Air Station, where air force police were working with local authorities to patrol the city and surrounding area.
Reconnaissance units, who had traveled south, reported a far grimmer situation. They relayed by radio eyewitness accounts of mushroom clouds in the directions of Las Vegas Valley and Mercury and reported Hawthorne as being ablaze with Route 95 blocked. Thousands of refugees, many badly hurt and suffering injuries including flash burns and radiation sickness, were clogging roads heading north such as 95 and 93. A complete breakdown of law and order had occurred in many locations such as Pahrump, Beatty and Alamo, and citizen militias were trying to block roads. Especially troubling, Geiger counters were reporting the presence of heavy radioactive fallout. Upon receiving this news, the governor called for a complete evacuation of any survivors south of a line running east from Ralston to Caliente in the west. It is unknown how many headed this call, but it is believed at least 10,000 headed north.
At the same time these events were unfolding, refugees had begun to pour into Nevada from Utah, Oregon, and Idaho, but most from northern California. Although no firm figures were ever recorded, it was estimated an upwards of 40,000 people may have arrived. These survivors brought news of strikes in other areas, confirming the loss of Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Sacramento. To handle the influx, state and local authorities established several refugee camps, most in and around the Carson City-Reno-Sparks region. Reports of violence committed by refugees, as well as concerns remaining resources would be overwhelmed, Governor Bryan took the step of ordering the National Guard and Highway Patrol on October 4, 1983, to work with local officials in blocking off all major road and rail arteries into the state, including Routes 6, 80, and 319 from Utah; 93, 95, and 140 from Idaho; and 447 and 395 from California. In a blunt statement, the governor told them to use all reasonable force necessary to stop the refugees and turn them back. In some locations, armed civilian patrols would take up the slack, setting up and patrolling road blocks. In the absence of a state government, the adjacent California counties of Placer and El Dorado agreed to jointly work with Nevada in blocking routes out of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Highway 80, which allowed access through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, was blocked at the key Donner Pass outside of Truckee, CA, with National Guard tanks blocking the route and training their guns on anyone attempting to break through.
The Birth of the SNU
On October 24, 1983, nearly a month since Doomsday, Governor Bryan was finally able to hold an emergency conference in Carson City to discuss the crisis. He succeeded in bringing together many surviving key state leaders and legislators; mayors of a number of Nevada and adjacent California cities and towns; and community leaders. Governor Bryan briefed them on the situation and what they were facing. He stated bluntly, there was no evidence help was coming from anyone, least of all the federal government even if it still existed. They would have to take whatever steps were necessary to ensure they lived. He proposed a union of the surviving areas of Nevada and those parts of Placer and El Dorado Counties east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in order to coordinate resources and manpower. To emphasize this unification, it was named the Sierra Nevada Union (SNU).
The entire group agreed if no contact was forthcoming from the federal government within one year, the union would hold a convention to enact a more permanent form of government. For the time being though, an agreement was reached acknowledging Governor Bryan as being overall in charge and allowing Placer and El Dorado to send delegates to the state legislature. Emergency committees were established to oversee a number of areas, especially security, food, energy, refugees, and water, answerable back to Governor Bryan. Food and fuel rationing was implemented and all food and energy stocks and facilities were placed under the direct control of the union. A civil defense force consisting of elements of the California and Nevada National Guard, members of the US military, and former or retired military personnel would be created to ensure security for the union, enforce and protect the borders, guard food and energy sites; and patrol refugee camps. Highway Patrol and local law enforcement would handle matters internally. The union met with farmers over the next weeks to discuss ways of getting food to markets and increase production for the future. They offered the farmers whatever resources they needed to do this
1984-1989: New Challenges, New Dangers
By the end of March 1984, the SNU was doing its best to ensure its citizens would somehow survive. In most cases this meant while people were not starving, they were indeed hungry at times. The government in Carson City worked tirelessly with local and county representatives to coordinate food supplies to those most in need. At the county level, officials worked with farms and ranches in their areas to provide food assistance to local communities while at the same time trying to help expand existing farms and create new ones. Although the situation was tough throughout the SNU, most areas were doing okay, in large part due to their populations being smaller and more spread out.
The situation however was far more difficult in and around the Carson-Reno-Sparks region where the bulk of the post-war population was located. As of September 1983 the combined population of the region had stood at approximately 173,000 and because of the war, had grown by over 50,000 people in the form of displaced Nevadans, stranded tourists, and refugees. Despite the best of efforts, the continued rationing of supplies meant there were times when people went hungry or could not be medically treated to the extent they would have been pre-Doomsday. The first six months following the war would bear witness to the deaths of 40,000 people in this area, many from Doomsday related injuries, but from the spread of such diseases as flu and dysentery. The refugee population, crowded into camps, had been hit especially hard and would constitute in the neighborhood of 60% of these deaths. Tensions had begun to grow among many of the out of state refugees, who felt they were being treated as second-class citizens and denied the same care as opposed to state residents. By April, this discontent had reached a point where it was waiting for the right spark to ignite it.
On April 1, 1984, several doctors were treating patients in Camp Hammond of the outskirts of Reno, which had at one time sported a population of 6,000 refugees, now reduced to 3,000. An argument broke out between the father of a dying child and the doctor who had been treating her. As the fight esculated, an SNU soldier stepped in between and ordered the man to calm down. When the soldier turned away, the father tried to attack him which led to a scuffle and the man being knocked to the ground. At this point, a refugee, armed with a gun that had been smuggled in, opened fire killing the soldier. Crowds which had been gathering, suddenly surged forward as their pent up rage exploded. They attacked both SNU guards and civilians, seizing the camp; setting fire to several vehicles and buildings; and taking 25 hostages. Before the rioters overwhelmed him, a soldier managed to radio a call for help. Within a short time, SNU soldiers, the Highway Patrol, and local police had quickly surrounded the camp.
Upon receiving news of the riot and stand-off by messenger, the governor immediately traveled by car to the camp to observe firsthand what was happening. He arrived to find the body of a dead SNU soldier had been strung upside down from a light post near the entrance by the rioters. The onsite SNU military commander informed Governor Bryan the rioters were demanding among other things, freedom to move about, better living conditions, more food, and improved health care. Hoping to end the crisis, the governor made the decision to speak to the rioters by bullhorn, offering to talk only if they gave up first. When the rioters refused and responded by tossing a body out a window (whom it later turned out had died in the takeover), the governor immediately ended negotiations and ordered an SNU tank to fire on the camp to show he meant business. He specifically told the crew to target and destroy two occupied guard towers. After this was carried out, he called on the rioters to surrender or the camp would be stormed. At this announcement, the rioters finally gave up. At least 45 people, including 30 refugees, ten SNU soldiers, and 5 SNU civilians, had died and at least 100 others had been hurt. Over the next three weeks, two more refugee riots would follow, one in Carson and another in Reno, claiming 45 more lives, including 10 more SNU soldiers and civilians.
Governor Bryan, his outrage reflecting that of most of his fellow citizens, called on the State Legislature to pass a new law regarding the rights of refugees in May. The new bill, quickly passed and signed into law on May 23, 1984, came to be known as the Thompson Refugee Act (named over the slain Camp Hammond soldier) or the work or leave law. Simply stated, the law said any refugee refusing to follow SNU laws or work as designated, would be immediately deported to the borders and ejected. All refugees would now be required to register their name and respective occupation. Those with special skills that could best benefit the SNU would be relocated to areas where they could utilize them. Otherwise, people would be assigned to areas as needed, such as farms. Refugees seventeen or younger and those sixty or older were exempted. They would all be afforded rights under current laws, but their status would be designated as refugee for the time being. After five years of good behavior, they would have the right to become full citizens. Over the next six months, the government would work to distribute refugees throughout the SNU and by November, the last of the camps would be disbanded. In a number of cases, refugees would be used in expanding or creating new agricultural areas, helping with flood control, and building new rail lines. However, it would be many years before most residents would be able to come to trust the refugees and accept them as fellow citizens.
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1990-2000: First Contact, Spokane War, and Loss
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