I'm going to bet that at least some of you have been to Las Vegas. The popular tourist town gives visitors the opportunity to do and be just about anything they can dream up. As I have a sister who lives just over the Spring mountains, about sixty miles west of Las Vegas in a little town called Pahrump, I have been there many times. For years I have gone and stayed at her house out in the desert, but last month I went with 16 friends and did the tourist thing. We stayed at a Casino, gambled,(didn't win a dime) went to Madame Tussaud's wax Museum, (sat in Hugh Hefner's lap) danced on the bar at Coyote Ugly,(they have steps, thank goodness!) got drunk at Toby Keith's bar, (only a little, I was pretty tired by then) went up in the Stratosphere, (no, I didn't ride the rides up there) rode the zip line down Fremont street, (pretty cool!) and took a raft ride on Black Canyon River starting at Hoover Dam. It was a once in a lifetime trip, not because I love spending money I don't have, eating too much, and wearing myself out, but because, for me, once was enough. Maybe if I were twenty years younger? But for all its glam and glitter, the area has so much more to offer!
Most people think of Las Vegas as Sin City, gambling, drinking, Mafia and Mobs, movie stars and show girls, prostitutes and johns, CSI, crime, glitter, all the things that lend the city its reputation and glamor. You just don't think of grocery stores and McDonalds! Of course they have them, all that service requires many people to keep up appearances!
For all it has to offer, I have always enjoyed the history and flavor of the desert itself. Once you step off the plane, you are in a different world. The history is fascinating and an important part of the building of the American West.
The south west was first peopled by Indian tribes, most of them wanderers who moved on to Mexico. The Spanish came and claimed the land and discovered the beautiful green valley they named Las Vegas, the Spanish word for "The Meadows". American explorers, following the Old Spanish Trail, came later, searching for a new route to California. As with the development of so many towns, some who stopped stayed on, establishing the very necessary trading post where more travelers could stop for supplies as they trekked on.
In 1844 John C. Fremont stopped there and began sending accounts back east describing the beauty of the land and the plentiful water in the area, encouraging more and more pioneers to pack up and head west. In 1855 even the Mormon Church established a fort there, only to abandon it because of the heat and settled instead in Utah, their present home. The old fort's remains can still be seen at the corner of Las Vegas Blvd and Washington Ave.
After many skirmishes with the Spanish, America prevailed and in 1864 Nevada was declared our 36th state. Not until 1905 was Las Vegas made into an actual city, its population at that time only 800.
1931 was the turning point for the development of the Las Vegas we know. President Herbert Hoover commissioned the building of Boulder Dam, later renamed Hoover Dam in his honor. The onslaught of men, desperately seeking work in the throes of the Great Depression, swarmed into the valley and created the need for housing, builders, grocers, mechanics, doctors, churches and all the other trades necessary to support a town. What turned the town into Sin City was that so many of the workers were men, and how do you entertain and retain these rough, hard working men? Wine, women and song of course! Saloons and brothels sprang up like tumble weeds, built by men (and women!) who recognized opportunity knocking.
Sadly, with wine, women and song, prosperity comes and brings along its brothers, greed and crime.
All of us have seen at least one movie that highlights some aspect of Old Vegas, rife with the Jewish and Italian Mafia, the Irish Mob, petty crooks, elegant con artist, dark and sinister Crime Lords who robbed, raped and killed with impunity. Modern times have brought new laws and regulated the gambling industry and even though prostitution is still legal, made it safer for both the prostitute and the customer.
With all the regulations, crime still goes on, as it does in any other town or city in the world. Somehow, for Vegas, it has been glamorized and become a part of its mystique. You go away feeling you have been immersed in a movie yourself. Hopefully you escape unscathed. Everyone should go there expecting to have a good time and enjoy the many things it has to offer. At the same time, take a moment to ponder its history, visit the museums and submerse yourself in a short journey into the past. People gave their lives to build the Old West, whether literally or as builders of dams or towns or laws. They deserve to be remembered.
Next time I'll tell you about some of the nearby places I have visited that are part of the building of the west as well. Real cowboys still exist!