Did You Know: Arizona Has A Lost County

March 14, 2014

(Photo by Isaac Brekken/AP via NPR)
Las Vegas today. It is now part of Clark County, Nev.

You’ve heard of the Lost Dutchman’s gold mine in Arizona. Well, there’s also a lost county. We’re not kidding. One of the most famous cities in the world was once part of our state.

Did You Know one of the world’s most famous cities was once inside Arizona? In the mid-1800s the territory had a county called Pah-Ute. It was located in its northwest corner which included Las Vegas. 

“The part of Nevada that we’re talking about is basically that little point at the southern portion," said Michael Green, a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada. “Laughlin would be part of it. And then you go up to the mesquite area, essentially you’re going up the Colorado River, and the area was a lot greener back then. ”

In 1864, Arizona Territory originally had four counties—Mohave, Yuma, Pima, and Yavapai. A year later the Arizona Territory Legislative Assembly voted to split Mohave in half to create Pah-Ute County, named after a tribal group in the area. It was created to address a growing farming community, the expanding gold, silver and lead mining industries, as well as a growing Mormon population.  

“There is some activity in the area, and having some form of government would presumably be a good thing for making sure that things are managed and at the same time maybe provide some offices to people who want some jobs," said Green.

But in 1867, Congress expanded the already established state of Nevada by adding land west of the Colorado River, which included part of Arizona’s Pah-Ute County. Arizona Territory tried to get lawmakers to overturn the decision, some even launched protests against Congress, but it didn’t work. When Nevada’s southern border was expanded, Arizona’s got smaller.

“That meant that there was no longer a reason for Pah-Ute County to exist and there was reason to keep it on the books," Green explained.

So, Pah-Ute County dissolved about four years after it was created. What was left of the land in Arizona went back to Mojave County, with today’s existing boundaries. In southern Nevada, the Las Vegas area became Clark County.

But get this: Green said in the early 1980s it was discovered that Nevada’s 1864 state constitution was never amended to include Clark County. For 120 years the land surrounding Las Vegas was technically...a no man’s land? But Green said even though Nevada’s constitution did not acknowledge it, the federal government did. Nevada voters eventually got around to making the fix.