There is evidence in the Tule Springs Preserve to suggest that humans existed in the Las Vegas Valley 10,000 years ago. Here along the Las Vegas Wash, the earliest traces of man have been dated to 600 AD.
The Wash represented an important travel corridor, habitation/camping locale, and resource procurement area. Thanks to stratified layers of sediment forming in the Park, archaeologists can establish sequences of occupation by various groups.
The Anasazi, the Mohave (also called Yuman), and Southern Paiute are three groups who left the most traces of their existence in the Valley, and it appears that they occupied the Valley around the same time frame. The Yumans focused their settlements along the Las Vegas and Duck Creek Washes. The Southern Paiute considered the Valley and southern Nevada their sacred land.
Explorers, Trappers, and Traders
Spanish explorer Antonio Armijo was the first to make entry into the Valley and stop at the Wash in 1829 while taking the Spanish Trail from Santa Fe to Los Angeles. Other early American trappers and traders, including Jedediah Smith and James O. Pattie traveled near the Wash.
In 1855, members of the Mormon Church attempted to settle the Valley, in order to teach the gospel to Native Americans and establish a halfway point between Mormon settlements in Utah and California. The missionaries built a 150-square-foot adobe fort (known as the Old Mormon Fort today) on Las Vegas Creek (which runs into the Wash) and used flood irrigation to water their crops. However, because of tensions rising between leaders in the small Mormon community, the summer heat, and difficulty growing crops, the missionaries abandoned the fort and returned to Utah in 1857. The area Native Americans groups regained control of much of the Valley during this time frame.
With the national popularity of the American Westward Expansion came increased interest to populate lands west of the Mississippi. With that, the Valley became a draw for pioneers interested in starting a new life. Among these were the Gass, Kiel, and Stewart families who took up ranching in the Valley.
Among the notables was Octavius Gass, who, with a commission from the federal government, re-occupied the Old Mormon Fort and re-irrigated the lands from the Las Vegas Creek, establishing a vineyard. For those traveling the Spanish Trail, Gass’ outpost became renowned as the best stop on the route. By 1905, the Bishop family established a major cattle and horse ranch along the Wash. By 1912, their establishment had expanded to 800 acres.
Railroads & Agriculture
In 1902, the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake Railroads were being built across southern Nevada. The railroad was a project of Montana Senator William Andrews Clark. Clark enlisted Utah's U.S. Senator and mining magnate Thomas Kearns to ensure the line's completion through Utah to Las Vegas. The two promoted the area to American farmers who quickly expanded the farming plots of the areas. Through wells and arid irrigation, agriculture became the primary industry in the Valley for the next 20 years.
By the early 20th century, water from wells was piped into what was to become Las Vegas, providing both a reliable source of fresh water and the means for additional growth. The increased availability of water in the area allowed the town to become a water stop, first for wagon trains and later railroads, on the trail between Los Angeles, California, and points east such as Albuquerque, New Mexico. With the completion of the railroads in 1905, Vegas was booming. But that was only temporary. The Valley economy turned for the worse in 1922, when there was a railroad strike.
Hoover Dam & Sin City
The Valley experienced another growth spurt in the 1930s with construction of the Hoover Dam in nearby Boulder City. Work started on the dam in 1931 and Las Vegas' population swelled from around 5,000 citizens to 25,000, with most of the newcomers looking for a job building the dam. However, the demographic of the work force consisting of males from across the country with no attachment to the area created a market for large scale entertainment. A combination of local Las Vegas business owners, and Mafia crime lords helped develop the casinos and showgirl theaters to entertain the largely male dam construction workers.
Since those days, the Valley has seen its share of market bursts and bubbles. Today the Valley boasts a population of 2 million residents and 40 million visitors per year.