Historic resources belong to recorded history. This period generally began with the arrival of western civilization in the early 1800s and continues through the present day.
The remains of early ranches, homesteads, and mining and construction camps are well preserved by the dry environment. Federal laws protect all cultural resources over 50 years old on public lands. This includes buildings and structures as well as trash scatters containing bottles and cans. Traces of early wagon, railroad and automobile routes can be located in southern Nevada. Use caution when exploring mining districts. Never enter abandoned mine shafts or tunnels. It is illegal to disturb historic sites or collect artifacts. Each artifact found at a site tells an important story, allowing archaeologists to discover the activities that took place there. Please help us preserve and protect these sites for future generations.
In the Las Vegas Field Office management area, Fremont retraced the path of the Old Spanish Trail in 1844 and 1845 by following the accounts of earlier explorers. Maps of Fremont’s route were distributed in the east and the route became a popular alternative for travelers wishing to avoid the Sierra Nevada during winter or those headed to southern California. Traffic increased after gold was discovered in California in 1848. The route eventually became known as the Mormon Road due to the number of Mormon settlers traveling from Salt Lake City, Utah to San Bernardino, California.
Mormons founded the first Euro-American communities in southern Nevada. These settlers surveyed a townsite at Las Vegas Springs, dug irrigation ditches, planted crops and constructed buildings. The Paiutes were forced from the more fertile and well-watered areas. Resilient and adaptable, they avoided major conflicts with the settlers by taking advantage of the new resources the Mormons provided such as clothing, livestock and tools. The Paiutes also supplemented their traditional hunting and gathering practices with wage labor.
Nevada’s first lode mine was the Potosi located in the Spring Mountains, 25 miles southwest of Las Vegas. The mine was initially worked in 1856 for its lead deposits. Zinc and silver were later discovered and mined in a boom-and-bust cycle throughout the 1920s. In 1868, silver-lead ore was discovered at the Yellow Pine south of Potosi, but the silver content was too low to be profitable. Prospectors continued to locate and develop lead deposits in the area and the mining camp of Goodsprings soon became a permanent settlement. Gold was discovered in 1892 at the Keystone mine and lead-zinc deposits were also discovered and developed. In 1905, the extension of the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake (SPLA&SL) railroad to the town of Jean seven miles east of Goodsprings stimulated further development of the district.
Southeast of Las Vegas, mining at Eldorado Canyon (Nelson) and Searchlight became established during the 1860s. These areas were remote and lawless and never attained the cumulative output of the Goodsprings district. Gold was discovered at Searchlight in 1897 on an earlier claim and the district was established in 1898.
Las Vegas was little more than a ranch until 1904 when construction of the SPLA&SL railroad from Salt Lake City reached the desert oasis and brought development to southern Nevada. Bustling construction camps moved southwest with the rails until the last spike was driven connecting the line from Las Vegas with that portion of the line extending from Los Angeles. Rail travel opened previously isolated areas and stimulated the development of towns along the line. In the early 1930s, another boom hit Las Vegas with the construction of Hoover Dam. Unemployed workers flocked to the town to find work during the Great Depression. Temporary camps housed workers in what would become Boulder City and Railroad Pass.
Historical sites in the Las Vegas Field Office management area include: the Old Spanish Trail, as well as mining camp remnants in Searchlight, Crescent and Arden.