TwHP Lessons

The Old Mormon Fort:
Birthplace of Las Vegas, Nevada

[Photo] The Old Mormon Fort, Las Vegas, Nevada.

[Photo] Helen Stewart reenactor at the Old Mormon Fort for the 150th anniversary celebrations.
(Photos of the Old Mormon Fort, Las Vegas, Nevada are courtesy of Linda Miller)


he company paraded at the dawn of day and fired a salute very spiritedly; also at sun-up and again when the liberty pole was erected and the flag floated majestically to the breeze, another salute was fired the company having previously assembled, kneeling down and offering up their devotions to God. Afterwards there were many spirited speeches, songs, and toasts from many of the brethren. Then all were dismissed by prayer and went to perform our several camps duties.¹

John Steele, one of the first of the Mormon Missionaries to arrive at what became the "Las Vegas Mission," wrote the above in his journal to recount the activities of the first Independence Day celebrations in 1855. The group arrived from Salt Lake less than three weeks before on June 14, after being called by President Brigham Young to establish this mission to convert the nomadic Southern Paiute Indians to Mormonism and teach them new farming techniques. On the Old Spanish Trail between New Mexico and California, the Las Vegas Valley was an oasis in the desert. The Mormons wanted to establish a halfway station in the valley for travelers between Salt Lake City and the Pacific Coast. The area was particularly coveted for Mormon territorial expansion because it was located halfway between the Mormon settlements of Southern Utah and the San Bernardino Mission established in 1851 in Southern California.

After the mission closed, the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort served as a ranch, resort, and cement testing facility. Today, a small portion of the original fort wall, part of the bastion, the underground foundation of the ranch, and remnants of the testing lab, remain to tell the story of the origins of Las Vegas.

On June 11, 2005 the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort came alive again as re-enactors (many descendants of the original Utah Pioneers) brought Old Glory out at the fort yard as they had done 150 years before. Ranch owner, Helen Stewart, was seen on the grounds. Civil War re-enactors recalled the war's importance to Nevada's history. Lunch was served by the pioneers in Dutch ovens like they used in the past. All of this was done to honor the memory of the many faces that contributed to the history of the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort, and promote its legacy in hopes of preserving it for future generations.

¹ Excerpted from John Steele's diary reprinted in The Fortress, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Las Vegas, Nevada: Friends of the Fort, 2000); also cited in Our Pioneer Heritage.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Forty-Niners Map
 2. John Steele's Map, 1855
 3. Las Vegas, Nevada

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. The Mormon Years
 2. John Steele's Letter
 3. The Ranching Years
 4. Helen Stewart's Letters
 5. The New Town Rises as the Old Fort Declines

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Las Vegas Fort in 1876
 2. Helen J. Stewart, c. 1888
 3. Stewart Ranch 1905-06
 4. Ferris Doolittle (1965) sketch of
 Las Vegas Fort, c. 1912

 5. Theresa Doolittle at Old Ranch
 6. Cement testing site, c. 1929

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Manifest Destiny
 2. Lives of the Pioneers
 3. Las Vegas Centennial
 4. Your Town's Birth

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The lesson is based on the Las Vegas Mormon Fort, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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