The year was 1844, May 3rd to be more exact. An explorer named John C Fremont was the leader in a group of 40 explorers that trekked from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean. These explorers, upon reaching their goal circles back and eventually found themselves in what we today call the Las Vegas Strip. This was more than 170 years ago and in that 170 years Las Vegas has seen more incarnations than Madonna and Cher put together.
However the name ‘Las Vegas’ was not some random name that Fremont and his band of happy travellers thought of by themselves. In fact, earlier than that still, a group of Spanish explorers were the first people to ‘discover’ Las Vegas. They named it aptly so in 1829. The name Las Vegas is Spanish and roughly means ‘The Meadows’.
But our history of this iconic place goes deeper than the Spanish explorer named Antonio Armijo. Some 12 000 years ago – that is how far back we can actually trace it – Las Vegas was home to the Paiute people of the Native American Indians. This can be proved through the fact that their tools and weapons have been found at certain sites throughout the strip.
From Indians to Mormons
Somehow in the eleven years – history seems to be a bit unclear as to how this happened – between 1844 and 1855 the Mormons had discovered Las Vegas. A Mormon church elder named William Bringhurst, led a group of Mormons to Las Vegas and by 1855 established a log fort surrounded by fields of grain. Within the next year, by 1856, elder Bringhurst’s men had discovered lead in the Spring Mountains.
Metallurgists were sent from Salt Lake City on the orders of Mormon Church leader Brigham Young to come to the strip and develop a mine that would be used for the discovery of lead and to create tools and ammunition from the lead. Their attempts at attaining riches through this were completely unsuccessful. The mine did however, during the First World War, become a rich source of galena ore and silver.
But the climate was too harsh for the Mormon fort, under the leadership of Bringhurst by 1857 they had faced two crop failures and then, new leadership. Under the short lived leadership of elder Samuel Thompson the fort carried on for another year but was then abandoned. New Mormons came to the fort and tried to make it their home and explore the strip. The effort to expand here was however fruitless. So much so that the census of the year 1900 shows that the entire strip was only inhabited by 30 people.
The Tide That Changed Las Vegas
In the year 1905, a railroad running through Las Vegas was established. This seemingly simple action changed everything. Las Vegas seemed a perfect place for a refuelling station for the trains running along those lines. This meant that a Hotel had to be opened.
By 1906 The Hotel Nevada – today known as The Golden Gate Hotel and Casino – was opened and Las Vegas has never been the same again.