Nataqua Territory was an self-declared territory in northeast California and western Nevada from 1856 to 1861. At the time the location of the boundary between California Territory and Utah Territory was still vague. Utah in 1849 claimed Great Basin land as far as the crest of the Sierra Nevada. California claimed its eastern boundary was the 120th west longitude in 1850. Utah erected Carson County in 1854, organized it in 1855, and sent 60 Mormon families in Spring 1856 to colonize the east slope of the Sierra Nevada.
Non-Mormon residents in the Great Basin on the east slope of the Sierra Nevada felt physically cut off from California by the mountains, and alarmed at the prospect of coming under political control of Salt Lake City. Twenty residents of Susanville in Honey Lake Valley (now in Lassen County, California) on the east slope of the Sierra Nevada apparently did not feel they were part of California, and did not care to be part of Utah.
Led by Peter Lassen and Isaac Roop, they met in "mass convention" 26 April 1856 at Roop's house. Their main purpose was to draw up land division rules for their valley, and to promote it. In the process the convention wrote, "Inasmuch as Honey Lake Valley is not within the limits of California, the same is declared a new territory . . . the said territory to be named Nataqua . . ." They went on to define a rectangle shaped territory by latitude and longitude which technically did not include their own valley, but did encompass most of what soon became western Nevada. About 600 residents of future Nevada mostly in Carson Valley were apparently unaware of the Honey Lake Valley "convention."
In the summer of 1857 most Mormons in Carson Valley and the Sierra Nevada east slope hurried off to defend Salt Lake City from an invasion by the U.S. Army. The time was ripe for the remnant non-Mormon residents of the east slope to double their efforts to exert independence from both California and Utah.
A new convention on 8 August 1857 in Genoa (formerly Mormon Station) petitioned Congress for the creation of the Nevada Territory, and absorbed the Nataqua movement by making it a county in the proposed territory. On 3 October 1857 the Honey Valley residents in convention stated to California again asserting they were not part of California. Also they agreed to throw in their lot with the Genoa convention by requesting inclusion in the Nevada Territory. Nevertheless, the U.S. Congress dragged its feet and delayed immediate recognition of the proposed Nevada Territory. California continued to consider Honey Valley within its jurisdiction.
In July 1859 a new Genoa convention responded by declaring their independence from Utah, and setting up a Nevada Territory provisional constitution. The border with California was cited as the crest of the Sierra from Oregon to 37 degrees north latitude. In September residents voted to approve the new constitution and elected Isaac Roop as their provisional governor.
In the meantime the discovery of the Comstock Lode and other rich mineral strikes were drawing a rush of new residents into the Carson Valley area. This demonstrated the need for local government. Finally, on 2 March 1861, Congress recognized Nevada Territory. Nataqua was renamed Lake County at that time.
An official boundary survey in 1864 was ratified by both California and Nevada by 7 February 1865. This settled the California-Nevada border at 120 west longitude. That left Honey Valley clearly in what became Lassen County, California. The east side of Lake (later Roop) County was recognized as part of Washoe County, Nevada.
- William Newell Davis, Jr., "The Territory of Nataqua: an Episode in Pioneer Government East of the Sierra," California Historical Society Quarterly 21, No. 3 (September 1942), 225-28. Online digital edition at JSTOR ($).
- Davis, 225.
- Davis, 228-29.
- Davis, 232-33.
- Davis, 233.
- Wikipedia contributors, "Roop County, Nevada" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roop_County,_Nevada (accessed 3 August 2011).