County History

About | Board | Staff | County History | Bylaws

Creation of Nevada’s Counties

The first Nevada Territorial Legislature established nine counties on November 25, 1861, including Churchill, Douglas, Esmeralda, Humboldt, Lyon, Ormsby, Storey, Washoe and Lake. Only Humboldt County, which existed as a county within the Utah Territory, was retained and established as a county within both the Nevada Territory and, subsequently, the State of Nevada. The largest territorial county was Esmeralda which, along with Churchill and Humboldt, comprised four-fifths of the Nevada Territory. Lake County was renamed Roop County on December 5, 1862 and then consolidated with Washoe County in 1889 because of its very small population. Two more counties, Lander and Nye, were organized when Nevada was a territory, so that the total number of counties in Nevada when it became a state was 11. In the first 10 years of statehood four more counties were organized: Elko (1869), Eureka (1873), Lincoln (1866), and White Pine (1869). Over three decades passed before the organization of any additional counties.

After the turn of the century the last three counties were created, Clark (1909), Mineral (1911), and Pershing (1919). In 1969 Ormsby County and Carson City were consolidated into one municipal government known as Carson City.

In 1987, the Legislature created Bullfrog County, a 144-square mile enclave within southern Nye County. The purpose of Bullfrog County was to enhance the state’s ability to receive funds from the Federal Government pursuant to the “Grants Equal To Taxes” provisions of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. Following a challenge by Nye County in the Nevada district court, the legislation was judged to be unconstitutional and subsequently was repealed by the Legislature in 1989.

The 17 counties of the state, with years of creation and the original and present county seats, are as follows:

County Year of creation Original county seat Present county seat
Carson City1 1969 Carson City Carson City
Churchill2 1861 Buckland’s Fallon (1904)
Clark 1909 Las Vegas Las Vegas
Douglas 1861 Genoa Minden (1916)
Elko 1869 Elko Elko
Esmeralda3 1861 Aurora Goldfield (1907)
Eureka 1873 Eureka Eureka
Humboldt 1861 Unionville Winnemucca (1873)
Lander3 1862 Jacob’s Spring Battle Mountain (1979)
Lincoln3 1866 Crystal Springs Pioche (1871)
Lyon 1861 Dayton Yerington (1911)
Mineral 1911 Hawthorne Hawthorne
Nye3 1864 Ione City Tonopah (1905)
Pershing 1919 Lovelock Lovelock
Storey 1861 Virginia City Virginia City
Washoe 1861 Washoe City Reno (1871)
White Pine 1869 Hamilton Ely (1887)
1 Carson City became a county as the result of consolidation with Ormsby County in 1969. Ormsby County was created in 1861 and Carson City always served as its county seat.
2 Churchill County was not formally organized in 1864, and its intermediate county seats were LaPlata (1864-68) and Stillwater (1868-1904).
3 Lander County also had an intermediate county seat at Austin (1863-1979); as did Lincoln County at Hiko (1867-71); Esmeralda County at Hawthorne (1883-1907); and Nye County at Belmont (1867-1905).

 

Nevada’s Counties were named for a variety of persons or other features. The following summarizes the naming of Nevada’s 17 counties, plus the former counties of Lake, Ormsby, and Roop. Other historical information also is included.

Carson City Named by Frank M. Proctor, one of the founders of Carson City in 1858, directly or indirectly for Christopher “Kit” Carson, the famed explorer and guide who first entered western Nevada in the winter of 1843-44.
Churchill Fort Churchill, Nevada, which had been named for General Sylvester Churchill, a Mexican War hero who as Inspector General of the U.S. Army in 1861.
Clark William A. Clark, former United States Senator from Montana, and the builder of the railroad line through the area.
Douglas Stephen A. Douglas, former United States Senator from Illinois. Douglas is best remembered for his debates with Abraham Lincoln. Douglas was re-elected United States Senator from Illinois over Lincoln in 1858, but was defeated by Lincoln for the Presidency in 1860.
Elko Several explanations have been offered, including an Indian word meaning either “white woman” or “beautiful.” Another explanation credits railroad owner Charles Crocker with the naming of a railroad station after elk roaming in the area and adding an “o” to form “Elko.”
Esmeralda Esmeralda is the Spanish word for emerald. An early Nevada miner, J. M. Corey, named the Esmeralda Mining District. It is believed that Corey may have named the district after the gypsy dancing girl, Esmeralda, from Victor Hugo’s book, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Eureka The ancient Greek term, Eureka, meaning “I have found it.” This term was used earlier in California and other locations.
Humboldt Baron Friedrich Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist, traveler and statesman.
Lake Several lakes in the area, including Honey, Pyramid, and Winnemucca.
Lander Fredrick W. Lander, chief engineer of a federal wagon route through the area. He later served as Special Indian Agent in the area, and died in the Civil War in Virginia in 1862 at the rank of brigadier general. Created in 1862, Lander County sprang forth as the result of a mining boom on the Reese River, taking a considerable portion of Churchill and Humboldt counties with it. Eventually, Lander would be known as the “mother of counties” because so many were carved out of it.
Lincoln Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States.
Lyon General Nathaniel Lyon, who died in the Civil War in Missouri in 1861.
Mineral The surrounding area, which is heavily mineralized.
Nye James W. Nye, Governor of Nevada Territory and later United States Senator from Nevada.
Ormsby Major William M. Ormsby, one of the original settlers of Carson City, who was killed in 1860 in the Pyramid Lake Indian War.
Pershing General John J. Pershing, commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Force (1917-1919) in Europe during World War 1.
Roop Isaac N. Roop, the Governor of the provisional territory of Nevada, 1859-61.
Storey Captain Edward F. Storey, who was killed in 1860 in the Pyramid Lake Indian War.
Washoe A small Indian tribe that inhabited the area.
White Pine Heavy growth of pine trees in the area, thought to be white pine.
Source: Nevada State Library and Archives