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Beatty was laid out in 1904 or 1905 after Ernest Alexander "Bob" Montgomery, owner of the Montgomery Shoshone Mine near Rhyolite, decided to build the Montgomery Hotel in Beatty. Montgomery was drawn to the area, known as the Bullfrog Mining District, because of a gold rush that began in 1904 in the Bullfrog Hills west of Beatty. Beatty is named after "Old Man" Montillus (Montillion) Murray Beatty, a Civil War veteran and miner who bought a ranch along the Amargosa River just north of the future community and became its first postmaster in 1905. Before the arrival of non-indigenous explorers, prospectors, and settlers, Western Shoshone in the Beatty area hunted game and gathered wild plants in the region.

With the arrival of the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad in 1905, Beatty became a railway center for the Bullfrog Mining District, including mining towns such as nearby Rhyolite. Starting in the 1940s, Nellis Air Force Base and other federal installations contributed to the town's economy as did tourism related to Death Valley National Park and the rise of Las Vegas as an entertainment center.

Beatty is home to the Beatty Museum and Historical Society and to businesses catering to tourist travel. The ghost town of Rhyolite and the Goldwell Open Air Museum (a sculpture park), are both about 4 miles to the west, and Yucca Mountain and the Nevada Test Site are about 18 miles to the east.

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