Initially part of the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, granted to the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe in 1859, what would become Wadsworth was soon overrun by Euro-American settlers and the Central Pacific Railroad, which illegally took the best land along the Truckee River from the tribe. At the time, the federal government supported these actions as part of a larger program to encourage Euro-American settlement of the West.
The town of Wadsworth, like its counterparts along I-80, began as a railroad community in 1868, when the Central Pacific reached the area. Wadsworth's site on the Truckee River made it a suitable division point, as well as a supply base for builders continuing the tracks eastward across Nevada. Wadsworth grew to a peak of about 1,300 residents but languished after 1904, when the Southern Pacific Railroad moved its maintenance facilities and most of the town to Sparks. The Southern Pacific razed many buildings and removed others, but Wadsworth persevered. A few vacant structures survive from the town's railroad-era past, accompanied by some new houses and a mobile home park along the Truckee River.
After a century and a half of supporting the rights of white property owners in the Wadsworth area, the federal government has shifted its policy in order to return land rightfully belonging to the Paiute. The Truckee River Negotiated Settlement Act (1990) authorizes the U.S. Department of the Interior to buy any land within the reservation from non-Native American residents who wish to sell their property. In recent years the Bureau of Land Management has sold public land to developers in rapidly growing southern Nevada, and the Interior Department has used some of the proceeds to buy privately held land on the reservation.
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