Las Vegas - As Wicked as Dodge City
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Without exception there was no town
which harbored a more disreputable gang
of desperadoes, and outlaws than
did Las Vegas
- Ralph Emerson Twitchell, historian
Located on the edge of the eastern plains
at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is Las Vegas,
Though not as well known as other
West towns, such as
is said to have been the worst of the worst of the
Las Vegas was established
by a Spanish land grant in 1835. The last Spanish colony
established in North America was originally called
Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de Las Vegas Grandes
(our Lady of Sorrows of the Great Meadows) by the Spanish settlers
whose roots went back to the early 1600's. In the beginning, the
settlement doubled as a fort, designed to be battened down for attacks
Indians. One-story adobe houses
circled a large, central plaza where stock could be
driven to safety.
One of the colonists’ first large construction projects
was the Acequia Madre (Mother Ditch), which was used to channel water
from the Gallinas River. After more than 150 years, this ancient
Mother Ditch still winds behind the buildings on the Plaza and waters
the gardens of the western portion of the town.
after the United States declared war on Mexico, General Stephen W.
Kearney led his Army of the West to Las Vegas
a U.S. possession. When he arrived, he found
a thriving community of 1,500
Spanish settlers. Training several
very large cannons directly
on the Plaza, the men of
By that time, the
Santa Fe Trail was being
traveled frequently, allowing entrepreneurs to send their wares
westward while enterprising Las Vegans
traded eastward. For the travelers along this rustic path,
Las Vegas was a
welcome site, as it was the first town of any size after 600 miles of
Kansas. These many traders, along with other pioneers and prospectors,
demanded whiskey and women, for which the town readily complied.
The army remained in
until moving to Fort Union, about 20 miles north of the city, in 1851. Built to
Santa Fe Trail from
Indian raids, the new fort further encouraged the growth and
Las Vegas, as the army
bought supplies for the several hundred soldiers and civilians
stationed at the fort.
Santa Fe Trail offered jobs and
the many town merchants prospered during this time, growing to over 1,000
people by 1860. During the next two decades its population
quadrupled as it established itself as a major trade center.
But the era was also riddled with
disagreements between the Spanish, the new Anglo emigrants, and the local
When the Atchison, Topeka, and
Railroad reached the settlement in 1879, it was the biggest city between
San Francisco and
Las Vegas soon had modern utilities such as waterworks and a telephone
The tracks were laid east
of the Gallinas River, a mile from the Plaza. When the iron horse finally
arrived on July 4, 1879, hundreds of citizens gathered around, including
merchants, professionals, desperados, and dance-hall girls.
Overnight, a new town was
born on the east banks of the Gallinas River, a mile east of the Plaza. At first, a settlement of tents, sheds and makeshift shelters were built,
but within just a few short years, many permanent buildings had been
established, as well as a competing commercial district. At that
time, the town became so large that it rivaled Denver, Tucson and El Paso
The six trains that
stopped there daily opened up yet another era of prosperity, bringing with it both legitimate
businesses, but also
introducing even more new
elements into the town's already distrustful environment. Before
outlaws, bunko artists, murderers and thieves were becoming so common
that the eastern part of the settlement had become utterly lawless.
Army leaving Las Vegas,
in April, 1846, after conquering the city. Illustration from the book The History of the Military
Occupation of New Mexico published in 1909. Illustration by K.M.
Soon, the rail terminus
policed the new arrivals with a group of "peace officers” called the "Dodge
However, these members were almost as lawless as the rest, including such
members as J.J.
Webb, who was the current marshal; "Mysterious
Dave Mather,” Joe Carson, "Dirty
Dave” Rudebaugh; and "Hoodoo
Brown,” the Justice of the Peace.
It was during these
notorious days of
history that the town was called home or visited by the likes of
Billy the Kid, Bob Ford,
Rattlesnake Sam, Cock-Eyed Frank, Web-Fingered Billy, Hook Nose Jim,
Stuttering Tom, Durango Kid, Handsome Harry the Dancehall Rustler,
and his gang, and Belle Sidons (alias Monte Verde).
It was in the
summer of 1879 that
rode into Las Vegas, where he hung out his shingle
for the last time. However, this idea was short lived, and only a few
weeks later he bought a
saloon on Center Street. His partner and financial backer,
John Joshua Webb,
Dodge City lawman, was by then a
part of the notorious
Dodge City Gang.
On July 19, 1879
Doc got into an argument with a local gunman, named Mike Gordon, who
was rather popular with the locals. The two took the argument to the
Doc politely invited Gordon to start shooting whenever he felt like
it. Gordon obviously accepted this invitation and wound up dead,
laying in the dusty street with three shots in his belly.
After a lynch mob formed with plans to
Doc headed back to
Dodge City. However, he arrived only to find that
Wyatt Earp had gone to a new silver strike, in a place called
Colorful "Our Lady of Sorrows in the Las Vegas
This image available for photo prints &
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New Mexico Historic Book Collection - 33
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