Las Vegas - A brief history of Sin City: Part 1

Las Vegas: "Sin City" and the "Entertainment Capital of the World" are just two names our fair city has acquired over the years. Many people out there wonder just how this place came to be: How is it a city (we'll say metropolitan area just to be politically correct) of some two million residents rose out of the middle of the Mojave Desert? There is of course a story behind it all, so we thought we'd give you some insight. Here's the first part of a three part series on the history of Las Vegas:

MojaveBlogIn 1829, Mexican trader Antonio Armijo was leading a 60-man party along the Spanish Trail to Los Angeles and veered from the "accepted" route. While Armijo’s caravan was camped Christmas Day about 100 miles northeast of present day Las Vegas, a scouting party rode west in search of water. An experienced young scout, Rafael Rivera, left the main party and ventured into the unexplored desert. It was then he discovered Las Vegas Springs.

The exact date is unknown, but Rafael Rivera became the first known non-Native American to set foot in the oasis-like Las Vegas Valley. The abundant artesian spring water discovered at Las Vegas shortened the Spanish Trail to Los Angeles and eased rigors for Spanish traders, hastening the rush west for California gold. Between 1830 and 1848, the name “Vegas,” as shown on maps of that day, was changed to Las Vegas which means “The Meadows” in Spanish.

fremontblogSome 14 years after Rivera’s discovery, John C. Fremont led an overland expedition west and camped at Las Vegas Springs on May 13, 1844. His name is remembered today in neon as well as museums and history books. The Fremont Hotel-Casino in Downtown Las Vegas bears his name as does the world-famous Fremont Street.

A few years later, Mormon settlers from Salt Lake City traveled to Las Vegas to protect the Los Angeles to Salt Lake City mail route and in 1855 began building a 150-square-foot fort of sun-dried bricks made of clay soil and grass also known as adobe. The Mormons planted fruit trees, cultivated vegetables and mined lead for bullets at Potosi Mountain. Mormon pioneers abandoned the settlement in 1858, partly because of Native American raids. A portion of the “Mormon Fort” has withstood the ravages of time and is an historic site today near the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard North and Washington Avenue.

railroadblogBy 1890 railroad developers had determined the water-rich Las Vegas Valley would be a prime location for a stop facility and town. Work on the first railroad grade into Las Vegas began the summer of 1904. The tent town called Las Vegas sprouted saloons, stores and boarding houses. The railroad led to the founding of Las Vegas on May 15, 1905. The San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, owned by Montana Senator William Andrews Clark, auctioned off 1,200 lots in a single day in an area which today is casino-lined "Glitter Gulch."

Nevada was the first state to legalize casino-style gambling, but not before it reluctantly was the last western state to outlaw gaming in the first decade of the 20th Century. At midnight, Oct. 1, 1910, a strict anti-gambling law became effective in Nevada. The Nevada State Journal newspaper in Reno reported: “Stilled forever is the click of the roulette wheel, the rattle of dice and the swish of cards.” “Forever” lasted less than three weeks in Las Vegas.

Gamblers quickly set up underground games where patrons who knew the proper password again jousted day and night with Lady Luck. Illegal but accepted gambling flourished until 1931 when the Nevada Legislature approved a legalized gambling bill authored by Phil Tobin, a Northern Nevada rancher. Tobin had never visited Las Vegas and had no interest in gambling.

HooverDamBlogLegalized gambling returned to Nevada during the Great Depression. It legitimized a small but lucrative industry. That same year construction started on the Hoover Dam Project which, at its peak, employed 5,128 people. The young town of Las Vegas was virtually insulated from economic hardships that wracked most Americans in the 1930s. Jobs and money were prevalent because of Union Pacific Railroad development, legal gambling and construction of Hoover Dam 34 miles away in Black Canyon on the Colorado River.

World War II stalled major resort growth in Las Vegas, but nearby Nellis Air Force Base grew into a key military installation. Originally built to train B-29 gunners, it later became the training ground for the nation’s ace fighter pilots. Many key military personnel assigned to Nellis during World War II later returned as civilians to take up permanent residency in Las Vegas. Today thousands of people are connected to Nellis in the form of active duty personnel, civilian employees, military dependents and military retirees.*

That's it for part one - look for parts two and three in upcoming posts here at the M Point of View.

*Information and text from: and