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Las Vegas ‘stolen’ from Arizona by Nevada

Citizen Staff Writer


Citizen Staff Writer

You’ve probably heard the old saw: “Of all the things I’ve lost over the years, I think I miss my mind the most.”

For Arizona, the answer might be Pah-Ute County. Or, as it’s known these days, Clark County, Nev. – the home of Las Vegas, fastest-growing city in the fastest-growing state in the nation, and celebrating its 100th anniversary May 15.

Nevada, which became a state in 1864, “acquired” (or as Arizona Territory residents of the time phrased it, “stole”) the northwest corner of Arizona in 1867 with the help of another bunch of confirmed ne’er-do-wells: Congress.

The real estate in question amounted to 12,000 square miles – an area larger than the state of Maryland, according to late Tucson cartographer/artist/historian Donald Bufkin, who authored “The Lost County of Pah-Ute” in a 1964 volume of the Journal of Arizona History.

The Southwest in the 19th century was in a state of flux. The California gold rush that started in 1848, which lured many, many thousands of wealth-seekers westward, had cooled, only to be replaced, a decade later, with the fabulous Nevada Territory silver strike that came to be known as the Comstock Lode.

It was the greatest single mineral strike in the history of the country, eventually producing $400 million in precious metals, and within a year, the entire Nevada population of 6,857 was bolstered by 17,000 newcomers – eager prospectors and those who catered to them.

Needless to say, Nevada got the attention of policy-makers Back East.

Bufkin wrote: “It is not inconceivable that, but for the legislative wiles of Nevada’s illustrious Senator William Morris Stewart aided by his colleague Senator James Warren Nye in the mid-1860s, Las Vegas might today be one of Arizona’s principal cities rather than the Nevada gambling capital.”

Bufkin had no way of knowing, when he wrote those words, just how “principal” a city Las Vegas would grow to be. Today, it and its surrounding metropolitan areas include some 1.7 million inhabitants.

There had been other mineral discoveries in Nevada before 1859, but nothing even close to the scope of the Comstock Lode in the Virginia City region of Nevada, where the north-south boundary line with California takes a southeasterly turn.

Nevada also tried – successfully – to glom onto a hunk of Utah Territory.

Needless to say, Arizonans, who gained territorial status in 1863, were not overly pleased with the land-grabbing antics of their northern neighbors.

One of those displeased, Octavius Decatur Gass, was a successful rancher in the area of Callville, one of the uppermost navigable points on the Colorado River, some 20 miles east of Las Vegas. He was the Callville District representative to the first Territorial Legislature, and convinced the body to form Pah-Ute County, with Callville as its county seat.

Though there were no newspapers in Tucson at the time, history has recorded comments in Congress by Arizona Territorial delegate and former governor, John N. Goodwin.

He noted that the bill to cede a portion of Arizona Territory to Nevada originated in the Senate, and that when it was given a full hearing in the House, “the committee … decided to strike out much of the bill as related to the Territory of Arizona.”

He added, “A question regarding the dismemberment of a Territory should be decided upon evidence and facts, and fret upon simple statements made in the course of debate, and the question was so regarded …” in the House committee hearings.

Goodwin noted that the land in question relates to the watershed of the Colorado River, by which supplies came to the territory. He also pointed out that the proposed annexation would not ask for nor require the consent of the people of Arizona.

“I would be perfectly willing that this bill should pass if the people of that portion of Arizona can be permitted to vote on this question and decide it by a majority.” He added that both he and those in Nevada advocating the ceding of the property “know, that if the bill does pass in this shape, there will be an almost unanimous vote of the people of that portion of the Territory against it.”

Congress ignored Goodwin’s advice, however, and on May 5, 1866, gave Nevada “all that part of the Territory of Arizona west of the thirty-seventh degree of longitude west from Washington, and west of the Colorado River.”

Gass, the Callville territorial representative, blasted the move as “the Nevada project of stealing us from Arizona,” and ignored the legislation, continuing to represent Pah-Ute County in the territorial legislature until 1869.

Ultimately, though, reality took hold, the bulk of the former Pah-Ute County of Arizona Territory was recognized as part of Nevada, and Arizona was left with a curious political “bite” out of its northwest profile.

The remainder of Pah-Ute County thereafter was returned to Mohave County.

Today, of course, with the metropolitan population of Las Vegas pushing 1.7 million, they’re bound to have a bunch of problems, right?

Maybe this would be the time to ask them to give it back.

Then again, perhaps not …

Paul L. Allen can be reached at 573-4588 or pallen@tucsoncitizen.com.

(This information was not published with the story)

Las Vegas has come a long way since its founding in 1905 as a “railroad town,” according to published material and information supplied by Nevada State Archivist Guy Louis Rocha of Carson City, Nev.:

• May 15, 1905 – Los Angeles, San Pedro & Salt Lake Railroad auctioned town lots

• 1910 – Gambling was declared illegal in Nevada

• 1928 – Word of Hoover Dam construction on the Colorado River caused a population increase

• 1931 – Casino gambling was declared legal once again in Nevada

• 1940s – Henderson magnesium plants caused population growth, making it a part of the Las Vegas metropolitan area

• 1946 – Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel opened the Flamingo Hotel, first of the major casinos

• 1960s – Howard Hughes took up residence in Las Vegas; more major casinos caused population surge

• 1980s – Megaresorts caused further population growth

• 1980s-present – Californians see tax advantages in Nevada, general migration to the roomier, warmer, less expensive Southwest swells Las Vegas’ metropolitan population to 1.7 million

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