How did the counties of Nevada map get so messy?

I was looking at a map of Nevada and I noticed the county lines are all screwy, bearing no apparent reference to geography or anything else. Even states that draw county lines without much reference to geography usually make neat little rectangles on latitude and longitude lines, for the most part. What the hell happened in Nevada?

Nevada is the norm, not the exception. Apart from Iowa, Kansas, and most of Nebraska, most states draw their county lines with regards to population at the time.

Looking at this map shows that many states have neat little boxes, especially in the east. As you go west, the boxes get a bit more distorted and some lines follow the geography a bit more.

However, Nevada seems to have the most arbitrary mixed up jumble of counties of them all, and Nevada seemingly has no distinguishing geographic features to justify it.

Precisely, because there are no “natural boundaries” – you just draw the line where it will include what you want in your county. The midwestern/plains states have a nice rectangular grid because it’s based on the old land-township system. In the case of a place like Nevada, as new counties and independent municipalities (Carson City) are incorporated, the borders are drawn around the areas that you want to become part of that new county/community and you take “bites” out of your neighbors. Plus, if you merge counties or municipalities, or annex parts of the jurisdiction next door, which is a common practice in some states, and you can then end up with an odd-shaped map where you used to have two “normal” ones. There’s a table on what counties spun off from which here:

For reference, look here at an 1866 map of Nevada:

That map does not show what you think it shows. As I see it, a few states, mostly in the Midwest, are very boxy, and many states have small areas of boxiness, but squiggles are very much the rule. The east coast, being the oldest part of the country with established government, is the most jagged, followed closely by Appalachia and the rest of the South.

You think that’s screwy, take a look at Bullfrog County, NV.

Geographical boundaries, i.e., rivers and coastlines, can explain many of the squiggles, but I wonder if you are incorrectly interpreting artifacts caused by the low map resolution jaggies as squiggles. Many of those squiggles are actually straight lines IRL, like all the county boundaries in Nevada.

Link messed up:,_Nevada

I found this tidbit that partially explains the whacky Nye County boundaries:

Are we looking at the same map? Check out Maine and most of the Western states. Nevada may look arbitrary compared to Ohio, but it seems no more or less odd than Arizona.

What he said. Maine (and possibly some of the surrounding states - US geography isn’t my strong suit) and California have wonkier boundaries than Nevada, to me.

I guess Arizona is pretty funky, too.

California looks funky, but California’s counties often follow lines of longitude and latitude, geographic features, and lines of old Spanish land grants.

Nevada’s seem more haphazard.

Interactive map: History of California counties

Most interesting is Pautah County (1852-1859) which was formed from territory outside the state boundary!

That’s similar to Roop County, Nevada … which was actually in California … leading to the Roop County War.