BEATTY - It's been a bit confusing lately in this Nye County community, where residents recently learned that their town might not actually exist, at least not on paper.
The trouble began in October 2008, when the Nye County district attorney's office was asked to help pin down the legal boundaries of Beatty.
It took hundreds of hours of painstaking research over 14 months before Senior Deputy District Attorney Marla Zlotek finally conceded that as near as she can tell, this town on U.S. Highway 95 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas and 330 miles southeast of Reno was never officially formed.
Zlotek could find no founding documents and no legal description of Beatty's borders, even though the place sprang up during the central Nevada gold rush more than 100 years ago. The Nevada state demographer says Beatty was home to 1,024 people in July 2008.
"I used to kid about living in the middle of nowhere," said Town Advisory Board member Bert Bertram, a Beatty resident since 1982. "Technically we either don't exist or we're in limbo."
"And we just celebrated our centennial three years ago," he added.
Bertram helped stir up this mess last year, when he tried to research the town's original boundaries as part of an effort to update the Beatty portion of the county master plan.
"We dug as deep as we could dig, and we couldn't find anything valid," he said.
After that, the research was turned over to the county and landed with a thud on Zlotek's desk.
"It was very interesting," she said. "We know Beatty is there. But what is it, and what, if any, are their town boundaries?"
Much of the investigation took place in the county seat of Tonopah, where Zlotek and several staff members searched page by page through the minutes of every Nye County Commission meeting since the 1880s.
"It got really bad in the 1890s," back when the minutes were handwritten, Zlotek said. "It was beautiful but just very difficult to read."
They never found what they were looking for, but they did run across two occasions - first in 1974 and again in 1980 - when the County Commission voted to enlarge Beatty. Neither action cited any founding documents describing what the boundaries were before they were expanded, Zlotek said.
The research didn't stop at the courthouse in Tonopah. Zlotek also interviewed longtime Beatty residents about history they remembered and documents they knew about.
To answer broader questions about state law and town governance, she consulted political science professors and historians. From them, she learned that Nevada didn't have a uniform process for the formation of unincorporated towns until 1975.
Zlotek said state lawmakers finally decided to adopt some rules after a study revealed that Nevada's 39 unincorporated towns had been established 39 different ways.
Her final report fills a binder about 6 inches thick. It represents roughly 200 hours of work.
Her conclusion: "Beatty has never been formed in accordance with the law. It's an unformed, unincorporated town."
What it all means remains unclear. Zlotek isn't even convinced it is something that needs to be fixed.
But the Town Advisory Board isn't taking any chances. During a recent meeting in Beatty, its five members asked county officials to do whatever is necessary to properly establish the town and its boundaries. Bertram expects the County Commission to take up the matter in January.
Beatty residents probably won't notice much difference one way or the other. No one's taxes will go up. They will still have to go to the post office to pick up their mail. And the town will keep celebrating its anniversary each year with Beatty Days in late October.
"No catastrophes will occur," Bertram promised.
The locals seem to be taking it all in stride.
Bob Revert is a Beatty native of 65 years whose roots in the community trace back to 1905 or so.
He said the boundary issue used to come up from time to time during the 16 years he served on the County Commission, but no one ever bothered to research it like Zlotek.
"I don't know if it really means anything," Revert said as he hung out at his son's tire shop across U.S. 95 from the town's Christmas tree and new clock. "We've been paying taxes on a town that doesn't exist for a long time. I don't suppose we'll be getting any of that money back."
Not likely, Zlotek said. The town might be unformed and unbounded, but there is little question about the existence of its various tax districts.
In fact, the largest of those districts is now being considered as the town's official boundary, which would make for one big Beatty - some 600 square miles by Bertram's math.
The aim there would be to capture some revenue from any new projects in the area.
Record gold prices have prompted a few mining companies to start scratching around again in the mountains that ring Beatty. Some say the federally managed desert north and south of town could prove ideal if widespread alternative energy development ever takes off.
Almost a decade has passed since the nearby Barrick Bullfrog gold mine closed down for good, and Beatty could certainly use a boost.
"When I was a kid here we had two grocery stores. Now we don't have one. When the mine left here, this little town really shriveled up," Revert said. "What comes up and down 95 is all we've got."
Maybe finally being founded will help Beatty find itself.
Until then, though, defining this place may require a sense of humor.
"At this point in time?" Bertram said. "It's where you turn right to go to Reno."
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal