Las Vegas, New Mexico

On the historic Santa Fe Trail

Photos: Day One: June 12, 2000

Unlike the later Oregon and California Trails used by settlers, the Santa Fe Trail was a mercantile trail opened by Missouri merchant, William Becknell. Within a short time, commerce along the Trail grew to a million-dollar-per-year business, trading common items such as needles and nails for Mexican silver coins, mules and raw materials.

It was also a trail of adventure: there were skirmishes with bandits, and with Native Americans resisting white encroachment; early military patrols were needed. Young Kit Carson ran away from Franklin in 1826 on a wagon train headed for Santa Fe, and other adventurers followed suit.

In 1846 the U. S. declared war on Mexico and send conquering forces westward. As the outlying community on the Santa Fe Trail, Las Vegas was the first town in Mexican Territory to feel the impact. On August 14, 1846, the American army of the West, led by General Stephen Watts Kearny, marched into the Old Town Plaza and proclaimed that the U. S. was in possession of New Mexico. As trade along the Trail increased, Las Vegas emerged as the leading center for commerce in New Mexico. Several entrepreneurs developed businesses along the Trail which continued to prosper after the railroad largely ended wagon commerce.

The Plaza Hotel was built in 1882

It was a matter of pride for every railroad town to have a fine hotel in which to house visitors. Local businessmen endeavored to provide the finest hotel in the territory. The hotel has a colorful history: it was home to early silent film producer Romaine Fielding in 1913, and the Mama Lucy Gang of liberal politicians in the 1960s. More than a century after it was built the building was rehabilitated motivating reinvestment in Old Town, and, once again, restoring the hotel as an object of civic pride.

This lovely gazebo stands in the center of the historic Old Town Plaza.

This Carnegie Library was built in 1903

This is one of only a few Carnegie Library buildings that are still operating as libraries. We know of one in Monte Vista, Colorado, and another in Meridith, New Hampshire.

The Citizens' Committee for Historic Preservation has produced a lovely little phamphlet about the history of Las Vegas. For additional information, you might try these addresses that they have listed:,
e-mail:, and

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Page last updated July 20, 2000.