History of the Las Vegas Fort
One hundred and fifty years ago, a spring-fed creek flowed through this valley, creating an oasis in the desert. With the only free-flowing water and grass for miles around, it attracted the native Paiute people as well as traders, emigrants and gold seekers traveling the Old Spanish Trail to California. The Spaniards called the place Las Vegas -- The Meadows.
For hundreds--even thousands--of years the site of the Old Fort served as a seasonal camp for various groups of Native Americans attracted by the water and meadows in the middle of the desert valley. Native peoples hunted the animals and collected the wild plants of the region for survival. The Paiutes found they had to forage over a wide area to take advantage of these foods as they became available with the changes in season, rainfall and temperature.
Early Mexican explorers, trappers and traders followed a route, later called the Old SpanishTrail, which led overland from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to California by way of Utah. Mexican traders carried woolen goods to California to trade for horses and livestock.
John C. Fremont followed the trail in 1844 and popularized a new cutoff across southern Nevada that became the path of choice for American emigrants. Fremont's journal contains the first published account of European-Americans stopping at the Las Vegas Springs, and he literally put Las Vegas on the map.
In 1847 the first party of Mormons traveled the trail to and from California which soon became known as the Mormon Road. After the war with Mexico in 1848 the road served as an all-weather wagon route for settlers, emigrants and gold seekers.
In April 1855, Brigham Young selected thirty men to establish the Las Vegas Mission and build a way station on the trail between the settlements of southern Utah and San Bernardino, California, where the Mormons had established a settlement in 1851.
The first group of these settlers arrived at Las Vegas on 14 June 1855, and was joined the next day by the remainder of the company. They set to work constructing an adobe fort which was 150 feet square with walls that eventually reached 14 feet high. To the north of the fort they built a mud-walled corral. Fences were constructed of mesquite which had been cleared from the land which was then plowed for crops. Irrigation ditches were dug from the creek to the fields to provide water to the croplands.
In 1856 a second group of missionaries came to Las Vegas, some bringing their wives and families. A post office was established on the site, called Bringhurst, New Mexico Territory, after the name of the leader of the mission. In 1857 internal dissension and the inability of the group to grow sufficient food on the land to support a population of more than 100 settlers led to the official disbanding of the Las Vegas Mission. A few of the group stayed until September 1858.
In the mid-1860s Octavius Decatur Gass, a miner from Eldorado Canyon, took two partners and acquired the site of the Mormon settlement. Gass gradually bought out his partners and others who had settled in the valley and ran the fort area as a ranch with blacksmith and supply services to accommodate travelers on the road between southern California and Salt Lake City.
In 1881 Gass lost his "Los [sic] Vegas Rancho" to Archibald Stewart of Pioche, Nevada, when he was unable to repay a loan secured by the property. Archie was killed in a dispute at the nearby Kiel Ranch in 1884. His widow, Helen, continued to run the ranch as a supply base and an oasis for travelers on the trail.
In 1902 Helen J. Stewart sold all but four acres of her 1840-acre holdings to the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad Company, now part of the Union Pacific Railroad system. After 1905 the property, then known as the Old Ranch, was leased to various individuals by a subsidiary of the railroad. Through the years, the Old Ranch served as a tourist camp and resort, as well as a dairy and ranch.
When the Bureau of Reclamation came to Nevada in 1929 to build Hoover Dam, they leased and renovated the building which is now called the Old Fort for use as a gravel and concrete testing laboratory until facilities were built closer to the dam site.
During 1937 a local company of the daughters of Utah Pioneers was organized and immediately began efforts to preserve the remnant of the Fort. In 1939 a monument was erected with a plaque commemorating the first pioneers.
In 1955, part of the Old Ranch and the Old Fort were sold to the Elks Lodge. Over the years the structures on the Old Ranch fell into neglect and the ranch house was torn down. The remnant of the original 150-foot fort is the only structure that was saved.
The Association for the Preservation of the Las Vegas Fort was formed in 1974 with the mission of preserving and interpreting the Old Fort. In 1976 the Association became the Preservation Association of Clark County, and Friends of the Fort was formed to focus primarily on the Old Fort.
Finally in 1991, years of efforts to preserve the Old Fort were rewarded when ownership of the property was transferred to Nevada State Parks which is charged with preserving and protecting the site for the education and enjoyment of this and future generations.
|This website powered by|