VIVA LAS VEGAS!
A short history of the city
My husband and I recently moved to Henderson, Nevada to be closer to our son, who is a retired air force colonel and now a civilian instructor at Nellis AFB. Living so close to Las Vegas, I thought it would be interesting to look up some history about this famous, and yes, infamous city.
Canyon petroglyphs (rock carvings) attest to human presence in southern Nevada for more than 10,000 years, and members of the Paiute tribe were in the area as early as A.D. 700. The first person of European ancestry to enter the Las Vegas valley was Rafael Rivera, who scouted the area in 1821 as part of Antonio Armijo’s expedition to forge a trade route—the Old Spanish Trail—between New Mexico and California. Rivera named the valley Las Vegas – Spanish for “the meadows,” referring to its spring-watered grasses.
In 1905 the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake railroad arrived in Las Vegas, connecting the city with the Pacific and the country’s main rail networks. The downtown was platted and auctioned by railroad company backers, and Las Vegas was incorporated in 1911.
Nevada outlawed gambling in 1910 but the practice continued in speakeasies and illicit casinos. By the time gambling was legalized again in 1931, organized crime already had roots in the city. Infamous mobsters such as Bugsy Siegel and fellow thug, Meyer Lansky became major figures in the city’s criminal operations.
Benjamin "Bugsy" Seigel
The mob skimmed revenue from the casinos until the FBI finally cracked down on its racketeering operations in the early 1980s and, for all intent and purposes, eliminated organized crime’s influence from local resorts.
In 1931 construction began on the massive Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam), drawing thousands of workers to a site east of the city. Casinos and showgirl venues opened on Fremont Street, the town’s sole paved road, to attract the project’s workers. Hardly more than 5,000 people lived in Las Vegas then.
Today, 2.6 million people call Clark County home. That population boom has been tied directly to the phenomenal growth of gaming. The Wide-Open Gambling Bill of 1931 legalized gaming and transformed the sleepy railroad watering stop into an international city and popular tourist destination. Soon after the bill’s passage, casinos popped up in Las Vegas, with the first being the Meadows in May 1931. Ten years later, on desolate, windswept Highway 91 the El Rancho was built on what is now known as “the Strip.”
In the decades to follow, the Strip grew and expanded with signature hotels and casinos: Flamingo, Last Frontier, Riviera, Desert Inn, Sands, Dunes, Sahara, Circus Circus and Caesars Palace. Later, some of the older resorts were replaced by megaresorts, like the MGM Grand, the Mirage, Treasure Island and the Bellagio.
Along with the gaming, the resorts became even more famous for their entertainment. The Rat Pack, led by Frank Sinatra and including singers Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., comedian Joey Bishop and actor Peter Lawford debuted at the famed Sands’ Copa Room. Many headliners would follow on the Vegas stages, including the Beatles, Liberace, Wayne Newton and Siegfried & Roy. Elvis Presley performed before an estimated 2.5 million people at the International Hilton before he died in 1977. Since then, scores of Elvis impersonators have performed throughout Las Vegas.
Las Vegas is home to more hotel rooms than any other resort city in the world. However, surrounded by wide-open desert and federal lands, the city can also lay claim to other sites and facilities of vital importance to the city’s economy. Completed in 1936, Hoover Dam has provided the region with significant protection from floodwaters, has generated more than 4 billion kilowatt-hours of affordable electricity annually and has long been a major supplier of farm irrigation and drinking water.
Shortly after the start of World War II, the government opened the Army’s Las Vegas gunnery school on land that in 1952 would become Nellis Air Force Base. Today that military installation is home to key international military exercises and the Thunderbirds Air Force demonstration squadron.
The Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) opened in 1951, sixty-five miles northwest of downtown Las Vegas. This large, geographically diverse outdoor testing, training and evaluation complex, is the preferred location for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s defense programs, as well as many other research and development efforts. Today the Test Site continues to be of vital national importance as a remote location for chemical tests and training for homeland security.
Born in Nebraska, Cheri Kay Clifton loved researching the Oregon Trail, historically known as the "Gateway to the West." Her passion for those brave pioneers, Native Americans and 19th Century America led her to write the epic western historical Wheels of Destiny Trilogy. "I feel the historical old West is a major part of our heritage and we should enjoy learning about it. Hopefully, by reading the fictional genre I write, my readers will not only enjoy the story but the historical background as well."
Cheri is married to her high school sweetheart and has one grown son. If she’s not riding on the back of her husband’s Harley, she’s writing the Book 3 in the epic western historical Wheels of Destiny Trilogy