"Sin City" Founded by Mormon Missionaries

TLas Vegas(45309)Credit: Shari Weinsheimerhe popular image of Las Vegas is one of casinos, showgirls and neon lights. But town nicknamed “Sin City,” actually started as a Mormon outpost.

The valley where the future Las Vegas would grow was an oasis in the Nevada desert, one where artesian wells fed natural meadows. The name Las Vegas even means “the meadows.” Here Brigham Young sent 30 missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to convert local native populations. A fort soon rose in the desert, which became a popular stop for wagon trains traveling from Salt Lake City to San Bernardino California.

Following hostilities between the Mormon settlers and the United States, the Mormon missionaries abandoned Las Vegas. For nearly 50 years, Vegas remained a ghost town. Then in 1905, the Las Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad turned Las Vegas into a rail stop. A small town grew up around the railroad. The town grew and shrank in size based on competition from other rail towns until 1928, when Congress authorized construction on Boulder (Later re-named Hoover) Dam.

This was the start of Las Vegas as a vice city. During the off hours, construction workers with the dam project flocked to Las Vegas with a lot of money and a lot of time on their hands.  At the same time, in 1931, Nevada made gambling legal throughout the state.

When work finished on the dam, scientists working in the field of atomic research replaced the construction workers. Eventually tourists with new cars joined the scientists. These tourists spent their summer vacations by driving across the country to see roadside attractions that included national parks such as The Grand Canyon and landmarks such as Hoover Dam. Las Vegas casino proprietors worked hard to lure tourists into their town by offering glitz and glitter in the desert through their casinos.

Organized crime syndicates did not actually move into Las Vegas until the 1940’s. During that time, Benjamin “Bugsy” Segal took interest in the hotels and legal casinos along Fremont Avenue in Las Vegas, most notably opening the Flamingo Hotel.

Other hotels soon followed, each trying to outdo the last in size, amenities and splendor. In addition to gambling, entertainment acts have provided tourists with something to do round-the clock. Throughout Las Vegas history, the town has reinvented itself.  Las Vegas has benefited from entertainers that include Elvis, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra. Though Las Vegas briefly reinvented itself as a family friendly destination in the 1990’s, the city has since returned to an emphasis on adult entertainment. Brigham Young may be spinning in his grave, but Bugsy Segal would approve.