January 18, 2017, marks an anniversary. On that day, the Nevada legislature completed the state. If that sounds strange, well, it is.
Congress approved the creation of the original Nevada territory on March 2, 1861. That territory was much smaller than the present-day state. If you want to check out a map, it went to the 116th meridian or line of longitude. Nevada’s eastern border ended close to present-day Elko. If you’re listening to this in Elko County, White Pine County, or Lincoln County, you probably weren’t part of the original territory. If you’re listening in Clark County, you DEFINITELY weren’t part of the original territory.
During the territorial period, Nevadans asked for another degree east because of gold discoveries near the Nevada-Utah line. Congress agreed. It could do that because, under the United States Constitution, it has the power to set territorial boundaries. That land had belonged to Utah territory, which had no power to stop the change. And, given how unpopular Utah then was with Americans because of polygamy, Congress was happy to do it.
That’s where matters stood when Nevada became a state in 1864. But there would be more gold discoveries along that eastern border. In May 1866, Congress approved a boundary change that extended Nevada’s eastern border another line of longitude. That brought those of you in Wells, Ely, Pioche, and Caliente into the state.
Congress ALSO added some land to the south … basically, present-day Clark County, and the southern tip of Nye County. But there was a constitutional quirk. The original Nevada Constitution allowed for the state to accept land, but not from the south. So the bill that Congress passed said, “That the territory mentioned in this section shall not become a part of the State of Nevada until said State shall, through its legislature, consent thereto.”
That meant the eastern strip could immediately become part of Nevada, but not the southern part. The legislature met in January 1867. Governor Henry Blasdel asked the legislature to give consent. He said, “This grant, connecting us as it does with the navigable waters of the Colorado River, and embracing extensive and valuable agricultural and mineral lands, is of great importance to the State, and should be promptly accepted.” It was, on January 18.
Utah hadn’t liked losing its territory. Not only did Arizona not like it. It refused to play along. The Arizona Territorial Legislature wouldn’t dissolve Pah-Ute County, which overlapped with modern-day Clark County. It called on Congress to leave Arizona’s boundaries alone. At the time, one of the Arizona territorial legislators was Octavius Decatur Gass, who owned the Las Vegas Ranch—later the Stewart Ranch, today the site of the Mormon Fort and a lot of downtown Las Vegas. He didn’t pay his Nevada taxes, insisting he was still in Arizona. Finally, in 1871, Arizona gave up.
But the original Nevada Constitution hadn’t been amended to list the new boundaries. That change didn’t happen until 1982, when Nevada voters approved the amendment. That year, they also elected me governor. As for which vote was more important … join us next time for Nevada Yesterdays.
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