Las Vegas History

8 Nov 1996: General view of Las Vegas, Nevada. Al Bello /AllsportLas Vegas was discovered by accident one day in the 1820’s when a Mexican scout, Rafael Riviera, came upon a veritable oasis in the middle of the arid, thirst quenching Mojave Desert. The joy must have been palpable to the weary journeymen who were plying their trade along the Spanish Trail all the way from Mexico to Los Angeles. At this stage in Las Vegas history, the area fell within the borders of Mexico.

Spanish for ‘meadows’, Las Vegas became a necessary victual stop for all those venturing through the bone dry interior. In 1844 John Fremont camped beside the Las Vegas springs, and today his spirit of adventure lives on and his name is emblazoned in neon lights throughout the modern city. The famous Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, which is lined with casinos, and the Fremont Hotel and Casino are named after him.

Mormon Memories

In 1855 the area was annexed by the United States, and as was common practice amongst colonial nations, a group of Mormons was sent to Las Vegas by Brigham Young on the pretext that they convert the Native American Indians to their brand of Christianity, when in fact they were safeguarding the mail route between LA and Salt Lake City.

It wasn’t long before the Mormons had constructed a fort out of clay and grass – known as Adobe – cultivated sections of the valley with fruit trees and vegetables, and were mining the surrounding hills for lead for bullets!

Their stay in Las Vegas was brief however, and partly due to vicious raids from the very people they were sent to ‘save’, the Mormons quickly left the area and returned to the relative safety of Salt Lake City. Parts of the ‘Mormon Fort’ are still visible today as evidence of the interesting history of Las Vegas.

From Religion to Railroads

Las Vegas ‘proper’ was founded in 1905 as the perfect stopover for the Union Pacific Railroad, which steamed between San Pedro via Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. Initially it was a mere ‘huddle’ of tents, but on May 15, the owner of the Union Pacific, Senator Williams Andrews Clark, auctioned off 1200 lots of land in a single day. This was just the beginning of one of the biggest booms in American history.

Today Jackie Gaughan’s Plaza Hotel stands on the very site of the Union Pacific Railroad depot, and today both freight and passenger trains still use the depot site at the hotel as a terminal. Only in Las Vegas will you find a rail road station located in a hotel!