Saturday, October 22, 2011

Nevada's State Flag: Battle Born

Nevada's statehood dates to October 31, 1864. 

The statehood proclamation was signed by President Lincoln who was up for re-election one week later on Nov. 8. Lincoln's opponent was the former Union commander, Gen. George McClellan. Lincoln captured the Nevada vote as well as 212 electoral votes to McLellan's 21. The popular vote, however, was much closer than that indicates with Lincoln receiving 2,213,665 votes and McClellan 1,805,237 votes.

With this as background, reading the imagery of the Nevada state flag is a bit like reading a short story on Nevada history.

Nevada's state flag: "Battle Born" during the Civil War
 Located in the upper left hand corner and overlaid upon a field of blue is Nevada's 5-pointed silver star. It is surrounded by a yellow banner above, and a yellow and green garland below. The star is silver because Nevada's nickname is the "silver state", so named after the Comstock Lode, one of the world's largest silver mines, was discovered in 1859. 

The yellow banner above the star bears the legend "Battle Born" because Nevada became a state during the Civil War

The current version of the Nevada state flag was adopted June 8, 1991. Essentially, it is a reworking of the 1929 flag. Prior to either of these designs, however, were two other state flags.

Nevada Sagebrush

The yellow and green garland below the star depicts Nevada's state flower, artemisia tridentata, commonly known as sagebrush

When in bloom, the plant throws a yellow flower, hence the golden blossoms on the flag. (Sagebrush, by the way, is not related to culinary sage.)
In 1905, Nevada flew a blue flag with a gold and silver design incorporating 36 stars as Nevada is the 36th state. The legend simply read, Silver Nevada Gold for Nevada's great ore mines.

Nevada's first state flag, c. 1905
It was designed by then-governor John Sparks and staff member, Col. Henry Day. 

 The second state flag also incorporated a blue field but with the state seal mounted in the center. The seal is surrounded by 36 stars (half silver and half gold) forming an elliptical or football-shaped pattern. Under the seal is the legend, All for our country.

Nevada's Crisler flag, c. 1915

The 1915 Nevada state flag was designed by Clara Crisler of Carson City. The flag must have been striking to look at as it had over 35 colors in it.  This also made it an expensive flag to produce and, ultimately, considered impractical as the state flag. 

That being the case, a Crisler flag was presented to the USS Nevada and flown until the ship was decommissioned in 1945.

USS Nevada, c. 1944 (Photo:
The only ship to survive
The USS Nevada was the only battleship to survive the attack on Pearl Harbor. Of the 1,700 members of its crew, over 100 were killed. 

The battleship was one of seven in its birth along "battleship row" and the only one able to work its way out into the harbor ­– where it became a moving target for the Japanese bombers. Though severely damaged, the Nevada survived to be rebuilt.

At the time of its attack, the Nevada was under the command of Lt. Comdr. Donald Kirby Ross who had insisted his ship be anchored by itself at the end of the row. This detail allowed the Nevada the ability to slip its birth. 

WWII Medal of Honor
Ross eventually became Adm. Ross. He was the recipient of a Medal of Honor for his actions during the Pearl Harbor attack which also included manning the ship's dynamo room single-handedly (he ordered his men out after it became damaged) as well as getting his ship out. Ross and other hero survivors of Pearl Harbor were the first Medal of Honor recipients awarded in WWII.
Lt. Commander Ross' Medal of Honor reads:

"For distinguished conduct in the line of his profession, extraordinary courage and disregard of his own life during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. When his station in the forward dynamo room of the U.S.S. Nevada became almost untenable due to smoke, steam, and heat, Machinist Ross forced his men to leave that station and performed all the duties himself until blinded and unconscious. Upon being rescued and resuscitated, he returned and secured the forward dynamo room and proceeded to the after dynamo room where he was later again rendered unconscious by exhaustion. Again recovering consciousness he returned to his station where he remained until directed to abandon it."

Nevada's Shellbach flag, c. 1929
The third Nevada state flag was designed by Don Louis Shellbach III, the winner of a 1926 contest sponsored by Nevada Lt. Gov. Maurice J. Sullivan. The prize was $25. Shellbach, a naturalist, would later be involved with the Lost City, Nevada Anasazi excavations as well as work at the Museum of the American Indian in New York City. Shellbach was appointed Chief Naturalist for the Grand Canyon in1941 by FDR's Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes.

Basically, the Shellbach flag remained unchanged until 1991 when certain design elements became standardized, such as how the word Nevada would be spelled out and where it would be placed.  

The Shellbach design was presented before the state legislature on March 26, 1929, the same day the New York Stock Exchangecelebrated a historic high of trading (8,246,742 shares) – a high some sources say indicated the volatile instability of a market that would crash before the year was over and herald the onset of the Great Depression.

Although the Shellbach flag was flown as the official state flag for over 60 years, technically it wasn't. The flag design actually described in the bill passed by the 1929 legislature was not the finalized design the legislature intended to pass. No one realized this, of course, and it bears no significance except as a curiosity: the flag that was flown between 1929 and 1991 was intended to be the official flag.

In any event, this oversight was corrected in 1991 when various design elements were standardized. The designer of the 1991 changes is by Verne R. Horton. State Senator Bill Raggio presented the changes to the flag and Governor Bob Miller signed them into law.

Let it fly!

Guide to the Nevada Legislature 2009-2010 (p. 29)

To find find out how to fly the flag and other flag etiquette, see USFlagstore's  Flag Etiquette 101 and USFlagstore's How to Fly the Flag at Half-Staff.

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