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County loses tax money in border dispute

Charles E. Uren, Nevada County surveyor from 1886-92, was called as a witness in a 1907 border-dispute case between Sierra and Nevada counties.
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What we now know as Nevada County was created in 1851. It was once a part of Yuba County, which was one of the original 26 counties formed in 1850.

For several decades, there was an ongoing boundary dispute between Sierra and Nevada counties. The counties shared not only a boundary, but also close business, mining and family ties.



The portion of the boundary in dispute was the line from the California-Nevada border at the northeast corner of Nevada County, west to the source of the south fork of the Middle Yuba River.




In 1864, Sierra County Deputy Surveyor K. W. Bent surveyed the area to determine the source of the south fork of the Middle Yuba. At that time, a question arose as to what stream was the south fork.

Some thought the south fork was the branch that flowed northwest from the dam of the English Ditch Co., uniting with the north fork near Jackson’s Ranch. Others disagreed, believing another branch rising some three or four miles south of Jackson’s was the south fork.

Bent determined, after completing his survey and studying all the evidence, that the branch where English Dam was located was the true south fork. He submitted his report to the board of supervisors of Sierra County.

In 1902, the Sierra County board asked the surveyor general of the state to survey that portion of the county boundary line in question. Sierra County claimed it had tried to get the Nevada County Board of Supervisors to agree upon the line then establish it on the ground.

The Sierra County Board of Supervisors ordered its county clerk to write to the State Board of Equalization informing it of the boundary line dispute, and to ask the board to assess the railroad property in the disputed territory to Sierra County.

Since Southern Pacific Railroad owned property in the disputed area, Nevada County had benefited from the revenue while Sierra County had been paid by the Boca and Loyalton Co. on two miles of the road. Sierra again claimed it asked Nevada County to join in a petition to the surveyor general and that Nevada County failed to comply.

In 1903, Sierra County Surveyor L. D. Davis completed a survey similar to the earlier one.

Finally, a suit was filed in 1907; Sierra County was the plaintiff and Nevada County the defendant. Because the case could not be tried in either Nevada or Sierra counties, it was tried in Plumas County Superior Court, with Judge J. D. Goodwin on the bench.

Then Sierra County Surveyor George F. Taylor created a relief model of the territory in question, which was filed as an exhibit in the case. Both the map and the model were said to have assisted “very masterfully” in presenting the case to the court.

Nevada County was not without its own expert witnesses. William F. Englebright, congressman; Charles E. Uren, former surveyor for Nevada County; and other witnesses presented maps and testimony that supported Nevada County’s theory.

The case was heard in October and lasted three days. On Dec. 9, Judge Goodwin decided in favor of Sierra County. His decision added a strip of territory to Sierra County that was about 11/4 miles wide and between 26 miles and 60 miles long – depending on which report is to be believed – affecting the strip of land formerly claimed by Nevada County

When word reached Nevada City that the outcome had been in favor of Sierra County, no one was surprised. Not only would Nevada County lose the land it formerly claimed, it would also lose about $1,500 a year in revenue from taxes paid to the county and the state.

The boundary dispute and decision did not affect most residents of either county. They were more concerned with a new road which was to be built between Downieville and Nevada City, and the problem of frequent road closures in winter due to heavy snowstorms.

Maria Brower is a local researcher and member of both the Nevada County Historical Society and Nevada County Genealogical Society.

The Nevada County Historical Society meets the last Thursday of each month. The next meeting will be at 7:30 p.m., Jan. 31, in the community meeting room of the Nevada County Library. Sierra County resident and author Katie W. Green will be talk about her new book “Like a Leaf Upon the Current Cast.”


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