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Six Hundred Thirteen Miles of Ambiguity

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The 1849 California Constitution provided a seemingly straightforward description of the boundary line between California and Nevada.  This description, however, did not take into account the fact that nineteenth-century land surveyors and civil engineers did not yet have the tools to precisely determine the location of geographic points "on the ground."  In practice, establishing the physical location of the boundary took over 130 years.

The ambiguity surrounding the boundary resulted in several border disputes along its 613-mile length.  In 1863, officials in Plumas County, California and Roop County, Nevada argued over who exercised jurisdiction in Honey Lake Valley.  Known as the Sagebrush War, the conflict started when the Roop County judge arrested the Plumas County justice of the peace.  This in turn prompted the Plumas County sheriff to arrest the Roop County judge.  Two men were injured by gunfire before hostilities ceased.

That same year, citizens in Aurora, not knowing to which state their town belonged, decided to afford themselves the privilege of voting in both states.  The citizens elected two sets of officials, and fired the Mono County, California politicians when a subsequent survey placed the town within Nevada.

This map depicts a portion of the survey conducted by James S. Lawson and William McBride in 1865.  Confusion over the boundary existed until a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court settled the issue in 1980.

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Kern County Agua Caliente Mining District. Department of Natural Resources – Division of Mines and Geology Records, California State Archives.

"Map of a Portion of the Boundary Line between Nevada and California, established in 1865."

Maps and Plans Filed with the Secretary of State, Secretary of State Records, California State Archives.

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