When California and Nevada Went to War Against Each Other
Friday, February 9, 2024

I expect that most, if not all, readers are familiar with the American Civil War, sometimes referred to as the "War Between the States". I suspect that few readers are familiar with another internecine war being waged at the same time. Next Thursday will be the anniversary of the so-called Sagebrush War between the State of California and the then Territory of Nevada. Like many other wars, the Sagebrush War was rooted in a border dispute. In fact, the location of the border was so uncertain that the town of Aurora elected representatives to both California and Nevada and they each served as speakers of their respective legislatures.

The fighting on that February day lasted only a few hours, but over a century later the boundary was still in dispute. In 1977, California sued Nevada. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately settled the matter in California v. Nevada, 447 U.S. 125, 100 S. Ct. 2064, 65 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1980). Writing for the Court, Justice Brennan mentioned the "war":

Notwithstanding brief and incomplete surveying efforts in the decade after California was admitted, the actual location on the ground of that State's eastern boundary remained highly uncertain—so much that fighting broke out over the precise whereabouts of a small valley on the north-south line above Lake Tahoe, and a border town along the oblique line found itself claimed as the seat of both a Nevada and a California county.

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