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Las Vegas, New Mexico - Page 2

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Old Saloon in Las Vegas, New Mexico


They are as tough a bunch of bad men as ever gathered outside a penal institution.

- Miguel Otero, Territorial Governor, speaking about the men of Las Vegas, New Mexico




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Townspeople soon tired of the escapades of the lawless people of their city and took matters in their own hands. The Las Vegas Optic on April 8, 1880 posted this notice:




"The citizens of Las Vegas have tired of robbery, murder, and other crimes that have made this town a byword in every civilized community. They have resolved to put a stop to crime, if in attaining that end they have to forget the law and resort to a speedier justice than it will afford. All such characters are therefore, hereby notified, that they must either leave this town or conform themselves to the requirements of law, or they will be summarily dealt with. The flow of blood must and shall be stopped in this community, and the good citizens of both the old and new towns have determined to stop it, if they have to HANG by the strong arm of FORCE every violator of the law in this country." - Vigilantes


Soon after this notice, most of the outlaws headed for new locations with less resistance.  However, the lawlessness wasn’t entirely done.  In 1881, after Billy the Kid was killed at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, his index finger was sent in a jar to the Las Vegas newspaper.


The Las Vegas Optic reported about the incident:


"It [his finger] is well-preserved in alcohol and has been viewed by many in our office today. If the rush continues we shall purchase a small tent and open a side show to which complimentary tickets will be issued to our personal friends."


Lawlessness continued in Las Vegas, though it was just not so apparent to the town’s citizens. Distracted by the earlier times of shoot-outs in the streets, they didn’t notice a marked increase in cattle rustling.  By the late 1880's entire herds were disappearing.  Secretly led by a man named by Vicente Silva, a respected saloon owner of the Imperial Saloon, the group was called the Silva's White Caps, or Forty Bandits; or sometimes, the Society of Bandits. Often meeting in Silva's saloon, the gang held the area in a virtual stranglehold until October, 1892. At this time the Las Vegas citizens hanged a fellow gang member named Pat Maes. Soon thereafter the bandit group gradually disintegrated. Silva was eventually murdered by former members of his gang and was buried at Camp de lost Cadillos on May 19, 1895.


Finally, the town began to settle down and in 1898, Las Vegas provided 21 Rough Riders to Teddy Roosevelt, most of whom were at his side during the famed charge up San Juan Hill. The town hosted the first Rough Riders reunion--attended by the soon-to-be-president himself.


Today, this historic town of some 15,000 souls is one of New Mexico's lesser-known tourist destinations that provides an extremely rich history with much to see and do. Over 900 buildings in Las Vegas are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With the old Spanish colonists and the European immigrants, the city provides a myriad of architectural treasures that give Las Vegas its special charm.


While in Las Vegas, be sure to visit the Las Vegas City Museum and Rough Riders Memorial, as well as several picturesque historic districts including the Bridge Street and Plaza areas, where there is a designated Santa Fe Trail site.


The La Castenada Hotel is a "must see" landmark of Las Vegas' post-Santa Fe Trail era.  The 1898 building, once housing one of the famous Harvey House Hotels, faces the railroad tracks in the 500 block of Railroad Avenue.  Continuing to display its graceful facade and arched walkways, the old hotel was the site of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders Reunion in 1899.  Though the hotel is long closed, it is still a beautiful site to see.  Across the street looms the Rawlins building, which was once the residence for the Harvey Girls who staffed the hotel's dining room.


Interested travelers should first stop at the Chamber of Commerce to pick up free maps and pamphlets that detail six separate walking tours. Modern Las Vegas also offers traditional arts and crafts in shops and galleries featuring everything from antiques to unique original furniture, paintings and art objects, clothing, weavings and jewelry.


Surrounded by recreation and wilderness experiences, all within easy driving distance of Las Vegas, are the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge and MacAlister Lake.

La Casteneda Hotel, Las Vegas, New Mexico

There are current plans to restore the historic  La Casteneda Hotel,

photo by Kathy-Weiser-Alexander, 2013.

This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE.

Fort Union National Monument is about 20 miles north of Las Vegas, providing a peek at the past through its historic fort buildings that attract thousands of people each year. Pecos National Monument, about 30 miles southwest of Las Vegas, is a monument museum that pays tribute to Native Americans who lived in the area in the 1500s.


© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated December, 2013.



Also See:


The Notorious Dodge City Gang

Santa Fe Trail



Las Vegas Area Slideshow:



All images available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE.


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