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Utah-Nevada Territory

Map of Utah-Nevada Territory

DeGroot's Map Of Nevada Territory Exhibiting A Portion Of Southern Oregon & Eastern California With County Boundaries, Mining Districts, Railroad Routes, Wagon Roads, Table Of Distances, &c. &c. Published By Warren Holt, 305 Montgomery St. San Francisco, Cal. 1863

Territorial Governor

The 1861 Federal act to organize Nevada Territory provided for a territorial governor, appointed by the U.S. President, who would:

  • Commission all officers who would be appointed to office under the laws of said Territory;
  • Cause a census of the Territory to be taken;
  • Declare the number of members of the House of Representatives and Council to which each of the districts was entitled;
  • Set the time and place for the meeting of the first Territorial Legislature;
  • Define the judicial districts, appoint judges, and establish the time and place for holding court sessions;
  • Establish the time and places for the conduct of elections of a delegate to the U.S. Congress;
  • Appoint notaries public.

James Warren Nye, 1861-1864

James Nye (pictured right) was the only governor of Nevada Territory. He was born in DeRuyter, Madison County, New York, on June 10, 1815. Raised in New York, he was President of the New York Metropolitan Board of Police when he received his appointment from President Abraham Lincoln. He left his family in New York during his term in office in Nevada, 1861-1864, but was frequently in the east, leaving Territorial Secretary Orion Clemens as acting governor. Nye was permanently reunited with his family when he was chosen one of Nevada's first U.S. Senators. He served from 1864-1872. Nye died on December 25, 1876 in White Plains, New York.

Secretary of the Territory

The Office of Secretary of the Territory of Nevada was created by the Organic Act. This Act, signed by President James Buchanan, became effective March 2, 1861 (U.S. Statutes at Large, 1863, v. 12 pp. 209-214). The Territorial Secretary was appointed by the President for a term of four years unless sooner removed by the President. His duties included recording and preserving all the laws and proceedings of the legislature and all acts and proceedings of the governor; transmitting copies of the laws and executive proceedings to the appropriate governmental bodies according to this section; and, in the case of death, removal, resignation, or other necessary absence of the governor from the Territory, he was authorized and required to execute and perform all the powers and duties of the governor until the governor returned or the vacancy was otherwise filled. Orion Clemens was the only Secretary of Nevada Territory.

Orion Clemens was born in Tennessee in 1825 and trained as a journeyman printer in Missouri. He returned to Tennessee in 1857 and by 1860 was practicing law in Memphis. Clemens knew Edward C. Bates in St. Louis and when President Lincoln appointed Bates U.S. Attorney General, Clemens sought a federal appointment. With Bates’ favorable recommendation, Lincoln appointed Orion in 1861 as Secretary of Nevada Territory. Orion’s brother, Samuel Clemens, better known as author Mark Twain, accompanied his brother to Nevada and was given a minor position in Orion’s office. Twain’s experiences in Nevada became the basis for his bestseller, Roughing It. In Nevada, Orion’s duties as Territorial Secretary were stretched to frequently include those of treasurer, comptroller, and acting governor in the absence of Governor Nye, who spent much of his own term on the east coast with his family.

Although Orion tried his hand at various enterprises, mostly unsuccessfully, he was at least competent in his role as Territorial Secretary. His brother Samuel said of Orion, "He was always truthful; he was always honest and honorable." Neighbors remembered him for his delightfully gentile and charming personality, spiced with a humorous and at times apologetic acceptance of this absent-mindedness. Clemens served as secretary until Nevada’s statehood, then practiced law in 1865 and served as an assemblyman from Ormsby County in the 1866 legislature. He returned to the mid-west in 1866 and eventually to Keokuk, Iowa, where he pursued a number of enterprises unsuccessfully. He died in December 1897.

Auditor of the Territory

Among the officers designated by the first territorial legislature was the Auditor. The Auditor of the Territory was elected for a period of two years and served as a member of the Board of Military Auditors, Board of Prison Commissioners, secretary and member of the Board of Education, and Board of Examiners, and was the ex-officio Librarian. Upon statehood the position of Auditor of the Territory became the elected position of State Controller.

The Auditor was the general accountant of the Territory and keeper of all accounts: public account books; vouchers; documents and papers related to accounts and contracts of the Territory; and its revenue, debt, and fiscal affairs not required by law to be kept by some other office. His duties required him to prepare detailed reports to the legislative assembly at the beginning of each session, provide estimates of revenues and expenditures for the coming year, promote frugality and economy in public offices, audit and settle all claims against the Territory, draw warrants upon the treasury, procure an abstract of all taxable lands and distribute a report to respective counties, keep accounts and prepare reports about the common school fund, and assign prorated fees to each county for reimbursement for military arms and supplies.

Perry G. Childs served as the first Territorial Auditor from 1861-1863. Childs was a native of New York and first came to Governor Nye’s attention in a letter of recommendation from a mutual acquaintance. Childs resigned on September 4, 1863, citing "urgent and private business, [which] rendered it imperative…to give my whole attention to these affairs of my own." Governor Nye appointed William W. Ross in 1864 to serve as Auditor of the Territory until statehood.

Treasurer of the Territory

The 1861 Legislative Assembly created the office of Treasurer of the Territory. The Treasurer was appointed by the Territorial Governor with confirmation by the Legislature. The Treasurer served a term of four years, although the Assembly originally specified the position was to be for a two-year term. The Treasurer’s duties were to receive and keep all territorial money, to disburse public moneys upon warrants issued by the Auditor of the Territory, to keep comprehensive accounts of all moneys received and disbursed, to keep accounts of each appropriation, to report quarterly to the Auditor and at the beginning of each year to the legislative assembly, and to answer any questions pertaining to the treasury.

The Treasurer had the power to administer oaths and was a member of the Board of Examiners and the Board of Education. As compensation for his services, the Treasurer received 2% of all moneys received by the Treasury and 2% of all moneys disbursed.

John Henry Kinkead served as the only Territorial Treasurer. Kinkead was born on December 10, 1826 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. He came to Carson City in 1860 to establish a branch of his father-in-law’s mercantile firm, Kinkead, Harrington & Co. He was a member of both the 1863 and 1864 Constitutional Conventions, representing Ormsby County. He served as Treasurer of the Territory from 1862-1864, and then moved to Alaska in 1867 for four years. After Kinkead returned to Nevada he became Nevada’s third governor, serving from 1879-1883. Kinkead revisited Alaska once again where he served as Territorial Governor from 1884-1885, then came back to Nevada where he lived until his death. Kinkead died in 1904.

Territorial Legislature

The Nevada Territorial Legislature was created by the Organic Act. This Act, signed by President James Buchanan, became effective March 2, 1861 (U.S. Statutes at Large, 1863, v. 12, pp. 209-214), and provided that the legislative assembly of the Territory of Nevada would consist of two houses, the Council and the House of Representatives. The Council consisted of nine members but could be increased to thirteen, and the House consisted of thirteen members but could be increased to twenty-six. The Legislature was further established by the Laws of the Territory of Nevada, 1861, chapter 89, sections 4 and 5, which provided that members of the legislative assembly would be chosen by the qualified electors of their respective districts, at the general election, as by law provided, for the year 1863, and that Council members would hold their terms of office for two years while Representatives would hold their terms of office for one year. All legislation had to be approved by Congress.

The Nevada Territorial Legislature held three sessions during the territorial period:

Session One: October 1 – November 29, 1861:

After the Territory of Nevada was established, Governor Nye ordered that an election be held by districts - counties not yet being established, to select the legislators and a delegate to Congress. He also declared that a legislative session should assemble at Carson City October 1, 1861. The session convened on that date and ended November 29,1861, lasting 60 days as provided in the Organization Act of Congress.

In the election held in August 1861, John Cradlebaugh, the former federal judge, was elected as the first territorial delegate to Congress.

The first statute passed by the people of Nevada, as represented in the first session of the Nevada Territorial Legislature, was "An Act adopting the Common Law of England" which was signed by Governor Nye October 30, 1861. Nevada's original nine counties were established by an act approved November 25, 1861, replacing the temporary districts formed for census and election purposes. The nine counties in order of their mention in the act were Esmeralda, Douglas, Ormsby, Washoe, Lyon, Storey, Lake, Humboldt, and Churchill.

Among other actions taken at this first session of Nevada's Territorial Legislature was "An Act to Prohibit Gambling," which provided that persons who were involved with games of chance were guilty of a felony and subject to imprisonment for two years and a fine of up to $500.

Early action was taken to designate a seat of government for the newly-established territory. The legislators chose Carson City, which had been designated the new county seat for Carson County by the Utah Territorial Legislature earlier the same year.

The legislature provided for an election to be held "on the second Tuesday in January, A.D. 1862, at which there shall be elected all territorial, county, and township officers authorized by the laws of this territory, and not otherwise provided for;" thus it provided for actual organization of the county governments in particular. In a separate act, boards of County Commissioners to consist of three members, were established for each organized county. The Nevada Militia was provided for in a lengthy 84-section act.

To provide for county representation in following territorial legislative sessions, an act stipulating that the several assessors in the counties enumerate their white inhabitants and transmit these "census" returns to the governor, was adopted. Authority was given to the governor "to apportion the number of the members of the legislative assembly, to be elected in each county, according to the number of inhabitants as shown by the returns of the county assessors." Another act provided for annual sessions of the legislative assembly of the Territory of Nevada to "convene on the second Tuesday in November of each year." The first session also increased the size of the territorial legislature to 13 councilmen and 26 representatives.

An act approved November 29, 1861, divided the territory into three judicial districts, the first to embrace Storey, Washoe, and Lake counties; the second, Ormsby, Douglas, and Esmeralda counties; the third, Lyon, Churchill, and Humboldt counties. The same act provided county seats for the several counties as follows: Esmeralda County, Aurora; Douglas County, Genoa; Ormsby County, Carson City; Washoe County, Washoe City; Storey County, Virginia City; Churchill County, Buckland's; Humboldt County, Unionville; Lake County, (decision of voters); and Lyon County, Dayton.

Territorial officers and local county and township officers were designated by this first session of the territorial legislature as follows: for the Territory, in addition to top officials appointed by the U.S. president, were a treasurer, auditor and ex officio librarian, superintendent of public instruction, delegate to Congress, members of the Council, members of the House of Representatives, and an attorney for each judicial district; for each county, a county clerk and ex officio auditor, sheriff, tax collector, assessor, treasurer, recorder, county surveyor, county school superintendent, and three commissioners; for each township, a justice of the peace and ex officio coroner; and a constable. District attorneys and probate judges were to be nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Legislative Council. Territorial officers not appointed by the President were to be appointed by the Governor; with confirmation by the Legislative Council. Road supervisors were to be elected in the road districts of the territory. Territorial officers appointed by the governor, county officers, and members of the legislative council were to hold office for two years. Members of the House of Representatives and township officers were to hold office for one year. The governor was authorized to appoint a number of notaries public to hold their offices at the pleasure of the executive.

Many acts of this first territorial session were lengthy, some running to six and seven hundred sections, and laid a firm foundation of law on which the future was to be built. The first Nevada Territorial Session ended November 29, 1861.

Session Two: November 11 – December 20, 1862:

The Second Regular Session of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Nevada convened November 11, 1862, and adjourned December 20, 1862, lasting the 40 days provided by the Organic Act for sessions subsequent to the first. Among the early actions taken at this session was the changing of the name of Lake County to Roop County.

Another action taken at this session provides an explanation of why no records are found for a Territorial Session of the Nevada Assembly in 1863, though annual sessions were provided for by law during the time Nevada was a territory. At the First Session in 1861 an act (Chap. LXV), provided for annual sessions to "convene on the second Tuesday in November, of each year." At the Second Session in 1862, Chap. XVIII changed the time of convening annual sessions of the Legislative Assembly to "the second Tuesday in January, of each year." The act was not to become effective until the "first day of March ... one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three." This was necessary to prevent another session falling upon the heels of the Second Session of 1862, in January of 1863. This resulted in the calendar year of 1863 being without a session of the Legislative Assembly, creating a period of not quite 13 months between adjournment of the Second Session, December 20, 1862, and the convening of the Third Session, January 12, 1864.

The town of Gold Hill was the first municipality to be incorporated under laws of the Territory of Nevada by an act approved December 17, 1862, at the Second Session. Two days later Virginia City, formerly incorporated under the laws of Utah Territory, was reincorporated under Nevada law as the City of Virginia.

From the eastern portions of Humboldt and Churchill counties the Second Territorial Session created a new county known as Lander. The act provided that the county seat for Lander County be "Jacob's Springs, on Reese River, until the permanent location shall have been determined" by an election in the county.

Carson County records of the Probate Court were transferred to the custody of Secretary of the Territory to provide a continued validity of judicially-settled conflicts from Utah to Nevada Territory. One of the last acts of the Second Territorial Session was a resolution asking California to adopt the crest of the Sierra Nevada as a western boundary for Nevada.

The Second Territorial Legislature also continued the pursuit of complete citizenship by passing "An Act to frame a Constitution and State Government for the State of Washoe," Chapter CXXIII, introduced by Isaac Roop and approved by Governor Nye December 20,1862. This act set the first Wednesday of September, 1863, as the time of election, when the question of state government would be voted upon and 39 delegates to a Constitutional Convention chosen. In September, Nevada voters overwhelmingly (better than four to one) approved of statehood for Nevada Territory, and delegates were selected to convene at Carson City in November.

Session Three: January 12 – February 20, 1864:

Several actions were taken at the Third Legislative Session of the Territory of Nevada which are of interest concerning further development of county government, incorporation of municipalities and memorials to Congress.

This last legislative session of the Territory of Nevada, which met January 12, 1864 and adjourned at the end of the 40 days allowed by the Organic Act, on February 20, 1864 extended local governing authority to several other communities. The session passed acts incorporating the city of Austin in Lander County; the city of Aurora in Esmeralda County, previously granted a charter as the town of Aurora by the Board of Supervisors of Mono County, State of California, when the location was in dispute between California and Nevada; and the city of Star in Humboldt County. The City of Virginia was reincorporated at this session, having been incorporated as Virginia by Nevada Territory in 1862, and formerly incorporated as Virginia City by Utah Territory in 1861. With the 1862 incorporation of Gold Hill, the three sessions of the Territory of Nevada established five incorporated cities and towns; Aurora, Austin, Gold Hill, Star, and Virginia.

An additional county was formed by the Third Session when Nye County was created out of the eastern part of Esmeralda County, reducing that county to less than half its former size. Nye County was attached to Lander County for judicial district purposes. The county seat was to be located at a point selected by the voters; however, until such selection the Governor was authorized to name the county seat. The same session provided for the organization of Churchill County, one of the original nine created in 1861 and formerly attached to Lyon County for judicial, county, and revenue purposes. In addition, the boundary lines for Lander County and Lyon County were changed at the session.

One of the original nine counties, Roop County (formerly Lake County), was attached to Washoe County for certain purposes at this last Territorial Session. Roop County was not abolished until 1883, when its area, along with the original area of Washoe County, formed one county from that date on. This 1864 attachment gave Washoe County its unique elongated area reaching north to Oregon.

The third and last session of the Territorial Legislature made no mention of statehood, which may indicate that it had some premonition as to what was going to happen. Statehood was coming to a head. A writer on the subject said, somewhat bitterly, that "agitation continues, particularly by aspiring politicians." The determining causes were not personal, however, nor in the interests of aspiring politicians, but were reasons of state. Moderate Republican forces in Congress, recognizing the presidential need for support in the 1864 election (a three-way race pitting Lincoln and General John C. Frémont, candidate for the radical Republicans; and General George McClellan, a Democrat), soon passed an enabling act that paved the way for statehood.

Territorial Supreme Court Justices

The Supreme Court of the Territory of Nevada was created by the Act of Congress Organizing the Territory, section 9. This Act, signed by President James Buchanan, became effective March 2, 1861 (U.S. Statutes at Large, 1863, v 12, pp. 209-214), and provided that the judicial power of the Territory was vested in a Supreme Court, district courts, probate courts, and justices of the peace. The Supreme Court consisted of a chief justice and two associate justices, any two of whom constituted a quorum. They were appointed by the President of the United States and held their offices for four years. They were directed to hold a term at the seat of government of the Territory annually. The Territory was divided into three judicial districts, and each justice held district court in his respective district at such time and place as prescribed by law. The supreme and district courts had the same jurisdiction as vested in U.S. civil and district courts in all cases arising under the constitution of laws of the United States, as well as the constitution or laws of Nevada Territory affecting persons or property.

On March 27, 1861, President Lincoln appointed three justices to the Territorial Supreme Court; on July 17, 1861, Territorial Governor Nye assigned each to a judicial district to serve also as a circuit court judge. The Territorial Supreme Court rendered 88 decisions, which were never formally reported. Former Chief Justice George Turner was commissioned by the legislature to have them published, but the bill was vetoed by Governor Blasdel; Turner took the majority of opinions with him when he left the state and they are considered lost.

Biographical information is available in the Russ McDonald biographies for all Territorial Justices except Powhatan B. Locke. Information about Locke is available in the Russ McDonald Papers at the Nevada Historical Society.

Name Position Years Information
Mott, Gordon Newell Associate Justice 1861-1863 Resigned, August 11,1863.
Turner, George Enoch Chief Justice 1861-1864 Resigned, August 22,1864.
Jones, Horatio McClean Associate Justice 1861-1863 Resigned July 30 or August 1, 1863.
North, John Wesley Associate Justice 1863-1864 Temporarily appointed to Mott's vacancy August 20, 1863. Resigned August 22, 1864.
Locke, Powhatan B. Associate Justice 1863-1864 Temporarily appointed to Jones' vacancy August 31, 1863. Resigned August 22,1864.


The office of Surveyor-General for the Territory of Nevada was created by the Organic Act. This Act, signed by President James Buchanan, became effective March 2, 1861 (U.S. Statutes at Large, 1863, v. 12, pp. 209-214). The Surveyor-General was appointed by the President of the United States, by and with the consent of the Senate. He was under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior in all matters; and his duties, powers, etc., were to be the same as the Surveyor-General of New Mexico.

John Wesley North was the only Surveyor General of Nevada Territory. He was born in New York in 1815, studied law and immigrated to Minnesota in 1849. North was a member of the Minnesota territorial legislature in 1851 and was a member of the 1857 Minnesota constitutional convention. President Lincoln appointed North as Surveyor General of the Territory of Nevada in 1861 but North only served until June 1862 when the position was abolished. North was then appointed associate justice of the Nevada Territorial Supreme Court, serving two years, 1862-1864; and was a member of the 1863 Nevada Constitutional Convention. North moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1865 and from there to California in 1870 where he acted as president of the Southern California Colony Association. During 1875-1879 he practiced law in Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Francisco, California. In 1881 he organized a colony at Oleander, California. North died in Fresno, California, in 1890.

The Surveyor General of Nevada Territory reported to the office of the federal Commissioner of Public lands, which was replaced by the General Land Office in 1864. The Nevada Territorial Surveyor General position was abolished in June 1862 and the Surveyor General of California assumed jurisdiction over Nevada. In 1864 the surveying district for Nevada was attached to Colorado and in March 1865 it was re-annexed to California. Most records of this office are in the National Archives Pacific Region branch in San Bruno, California, in Record Group 49, records of the Bureau of Land Management.

Prison Commissioners

(Board of Commissioners for the Territorial Prison)

Under the Territorial laws of Nevada enacted in 1861 the Board of Prison Commissioners was comprised of the Governor, the Secretary of the Territory, and the Surveyor-General. The Board was empowered to "lease, purchase, or build, at the expense of the Territory, a suitable building, for the use of the Territory as a territorial prison" and to report to the next session of the legislative assembly, what property it advised to purchase for a territorial prison. In 1864 the composition of the Board was changed to the Secretary of the Territory, the Territorial Auditor, and the Territorial Treasurer. The Commission continued to function after statehood and the composition of the board then included the Governor, Secretary of State, and the Attorney General.

The Territorial Commissioners initially entered into a contract with Abraham Curry to act as the prison warden and to secure a safe place in which to house prisoners. In 1862 for $6,000 a year, Curry supplied stone prison buildings and provided room, board, and clothing for up to 18 prisoners. The following year the Commissioners recommended to the Legislature that they purchase Curry’s facility, and in 1864 the transaction was authorized and completed. The Territory procured Curry’s property, including the stone buildings, for $80,000, payable in $20,000 installments over 4 years at 10% per annum. This facility was the basis for the current Nevada State Prison on East 5th Street in Carson City.