The Mormon Fort

The Las Vegas Mormon Fort claims to be the place “where Las Vegas began.” but the Nuwuvi (Southern Paiutes) have resided on these lands for time immemorial. Utilizing the vast desert resources and once spring-fed creek that provided the only free-flowing water for miles around, Nuwuvi thrived. Their lives changed drastically with the arrival of Mormon settlers to the land.

Strategically located at the midpoint on the trail from Salt Lake City, Utah and Los Angeles, California, the fort was four walls made of adobe brick. After setting up the initial building, the settlers diverted water from the creek to irrigate their farmlands. The settlers abandoned the fort in 1857, due to crop and mining failures.

The fort had future incarnations as a store for travelers and then as a ranch. Gass became an important figure in the region, but would lose the ranch in 1881 after failing to repay a loan to Archibald Stewart. Stewart moved him, his wife, and their children to the ranch, but had his life cut short when he was killed in a gunfight on the ranch in 1884. After Archibald Stewart’s death, his wife Helen Stewart successfully ran the ranch for nearly two decades until she sold the ranch to the railroad in 1902.

From 1929 to 1931, the site played a crucial role in the construction of the Hoover Dam when the Bureau of Reclamation used the adobe building as a concrete testing laboratory. For a time the remaining fort buildings served as residences for several families. The city of Las Vegas in 1971 acquired the property and sold it to the Nevada Division of State Parks in 1991. The grounds were developed to include a partial reconstruction of the fort, a visitor center, and a re-creation of the Las Vegas Creek.

NPS Lesson: Teaching with Historic Places

The Nevada Division of State Parks developed the grounds to include a partial reconstruction of the fort, a modern visitor center and a re-creation of the Las Vegas Creek.

Hand-drawn map of the Mormon Fort and Las Vegas Valley from a letter by John Steele to Brigham Young, circa 1855. Source: UNLV Special Collections

Photograph of ruins of the Mormon Fort, Las Vegas, Nevada, circa 1931
Source: UNLV Special Collections

Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort: architectural drawing
Source: UNLV Special Collections

1967-12-01 Architectural sheet for the restoration of the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort from flat file 10 of the Ralph Roske Papers, showing preliminary floor plans and elevations. The title written on the drawing is "Restoration of Old Las Vegas Fort." elevations, and a wall section of the building.

Pictured L-R: O. G. Patch, Walker R. Young, and G. G. Walker at the Old Las Vegas Fort, which was renovated into a concrete testing laboratory for the Bureau of Reclamation (1929-1930). Source: UNLV Special Collections

Letter from R. L. Adamson (Los Angeles) to F. H. Knickerbocker, August 18, 1931
UNLV Special Collections

Letter refers to Las Vegas Land and Water Company map, referenced above, showing proposed earthen dam near the Old Mormon Fort. Letter includes estimated construction costs. Mr. Adamson, Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad, advised against the spending of company money on the project.


Nomadic Paleo-Indians traveled to the Las Vegas area 10,000 years ago, leaving behind petroglyphs. Ancient Puebloan and Paiute tribes followed at least 2,000 years ago.


The meadows of Las Vegas had become an important stop on the Old Spanish Trail, the notoriously treacherous route broken in by yearly mule caravans that traded between two far flung outposts on Mexico’s northern frontier: Santa Fe and Los Angeles


Mexican- American War


30 Mormon missionaries led by William Bringhurst arrived on June 14, 1855 and with the assistance of the Paiute began construction of a fort structure along the creek. 


The settlers abandoned the fort due to crop failures, low mining yields and leadership infighting. The Utah War, an armed confrontation between Mormon settlers in the Utah Territory and the armed forces of the US government, broke out.


A small detachment of U.S. Army troops was assigned to protect the settlers at the fort


The fort was used as a store for travelers by Albert Knapp.


Nevada becomes a state

A road survey party led by Captain Price, Company M, 2nd California Cavalry Regiment traveled on the route from Fort Douglas to Fort Mojave passing through Las Vegas


Octavius Gass re-occupied the fort and started the irrigation works, renaming the area to Los Vegas Rancho (later renamed Las Vegas in 1902).


Gass defaulted on a loan to Archibald Stewart and lost the ranch, with Stewart and his wife Helen becoming the new caretakers.


Stewart moved his children and wife, Helen, from Pioche to Las Vegas


Stewart was killed in a gunfight at the nearby Kiel Ranch, leaving his wife in charge of the property. Helen successfully runs the ranch for two decades. Helen Stewart was a civic leader and earned the sobriquet “The First Lady of Las Vegas.” 


William A. Clark's San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake Railroad acquired the property from Helen Stewart along with most of what is now downtown Las Vegas. 


Railroad tracks facilitated movement through downtown Las Vegas


Las Vegas officially incorporated


World War 1


Prohibition referendum passes in Nevada.


Prohibition repealed in Nevada despite federal law.


The fort site played a part in the construction of Hoover Dam when the Bureau of Reclamation leased the adobe building and used it as a concrete testing laboratory.   


World War II   


The land was acquired by the Las Vegas Elks with support of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. 


The fort was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


The City of Las Vegas acquired the fort.


Long-term protection was gained when the state acquired the site as a state park to be known as The Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Historic Park.

Analiesa Delgado


Deirdre Clemente