Prehistoric Las Vegas was underwater. By around 13,000 BC, the water was underground, and the Nevada landscape was becoming a desert. Native Americans first discovered the natural springs around 2,000 years ago. The Southern Paiutes thrived in the Las Vegas valley, migrating to the springs seasonally. Their diet was drawn from both hunting-gathering and floodplain farming. Nearly 1600 years later, the Spanish Empire encroached but never explored this desert area, simply calling such blank spaces on their map, the 'Northern Mystery'. But in 1829, a Mexican trader, heading for Los Angeles along the Spanish Trail, sent out a scout, Rafael Rivera, to look for water. He was the first non-Indian to discover the springs at 'Las Vegas' ('The Meadows'). The area soon becomes American with the 1848 Treaty of Hidalgo which ends the Mexican-American war and gives Nevada to the victor. In 1855 Mormon pioneers build a fort. Their attempts to convert the Paiute Indians are unsuccessful. Their attempts to use the Indians as silver miners in exchange for food and clothing are similarly uninspiring.
The Native Americans hauled only one load of rock on their backs before realizing it was a rotten deal, then quit. The Lonely Planet
Mormon in-fighting and increasing Indian raids hasten their departure just two years after arrival. The 1861 American Civil War gives the Paiutes another brief respite from outsiders and until the end of the century; the only imposition is from a widow who sets up the Las Vegas Ranch offering a place to rest for travellers. But 2,000 years of living in harmony with the land were about to end.
THE MAKING OF MODERN LAS VEGAS
In 1905, the railroad between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, with a station stop at Las Vegas, is completed. The land around the station is auctioned off in just two days and farms and buildings sprawl out over the next decade. The seedy Block 16 red-light district has gambling, prostitution and even alcohol throughout the Prohibition. And even the worldwide Great Depression can't touch Las Vegas. Roosevelt's New Deal sees the construction of the Boulder (later Hoover) Dam and an army of workers keep the local economy booming from 1930, to its completion in 1935. The official legalisation of casino gambling in 1931 cements this boom and lays the foundations for the sin city known today. And 1940 sees the opening of Mrs Webb's Wedding Chapel as the city hits on yet another way to attract tourists to the desert; 'quickie' weddings.