Las Vegas is still a frontier town. This is more than a slogan, it is an actuality. A day never passes but that cowboys may be seen going down the main street on horseback. The hitching post is a common sight on all main corners and in front of bars and restaurants. The cowboy boot is a more common article of footwear than the oxford. Leather jackets, Indian jewelry, and ten-gallon hats abound.
This city in Nevada was first settled by white men when the Mormon Church sent missionaries there to work for the Indians in 1855. One year before this Congress had voted the funds for a military road going from Salt Lake City through the present city of Las Vegas to Cajon Pass northeast of San Bernardino, which activity led to the settlement of this oasis in the desert. In translation the name itself means the meadows. It is no wonder that settlers should be attracted here, because for miles around there is nothing but desert. The Mormons, because of church trouble in Salt Lake City, deserted the mission, and it then became a hideout for horse thieves and other fugitives from justice. Perhaps this part of the history accounts for many of the present frontier traditions and practices.
Las Vegas is in the desert. This might keep some away, but it probably attracts others, for even a desert has its advantages. Ninety-four days out of one hundred are sunshiny days, the humidity is very low, and average rainfall per year is 4.79 inches. Psychologically the desert promotes an attitude of freedom, and Las Vegas tries to live up to that tradition.
Marriage laws are designed for efficiency and speed. Licenses are issued twenty-four hours daily, Saturdays and Sundays included. No delay or red tape is connected with. this. A divorce requires only one thing in actuality—six weeks' residence in the State. As far as the laws are concerned, they read very similarly to those of any other State. The difference lies in the fact that they are interpreted on a vastly more liberal scale.
The most obvious expression of desert freedom is the legalized gambling. There is scarcely a drugstore or grocery store, or any other place of business, that does not have its slot machines. In addition the main street of the town is fully one half devoted 'to gaming casinos where roulette, craps, 21, poker, race-horse keno, bingo, etc., are in play twenty-four hours a day. These gaming clubs are by no means the gambling dens of popular imagination. In fact, every effort is made to do away with the den idea. Solid glass doors, fluorescent lights, chromium trim, marble and colored tile façades—all make these places bright and attractive.
In addition to the downtown gaming casinos Las Vegas has two luxury hotels that cater to the wealthy tourists and the Hollywood crowd. Hotel El Rancho Vegas is finished in Spanish style. Hotel Last Frontier features the early West in modern splendor.
Las Vegas has a more serious side also. There are citizens who live with their first wife and who abide by other standards of a more conservative community. Nearly twenty-five per cent of the permanent residents are Catholic, and fully forty per cent are Mormon. The Methodists, Baptists, Christians, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians have churches, and all claim a good attendance. However, there is a surprising acceptance of gaming, divorce, and the like among these otherwise good moral people.
Old-timers in town are proud to be so called. They like the tourist for obvious reasons, but resent the defense worker element that has come in since 1939. This tremendous influx of people without tourist money to spend, dampened the traditional Western hospitality of the old-timers and property owners, who look forward to a time after the war when Las Vegas will again be a tourist town. The transient defense worker looks forward to the time when he can get back home, out of the desert; for seeing Las Vegas from one of its luxury hotels with air-conditioned rooms, swimming pools, etc., is a vastly different thing from seeing Las Vegas from the back side of a car trailer lot.
Despite the transient group that has filled Las Vegas in the last few years, the town is basically stable and surprisingly strategically located, even though it is in the desert.
Las Vegas Still a Frontier Town
Paved highways of national importance have their crossroads at Las Vegas—Numbers 91, 93, 95, and 466. Transportation facilities are excellent. The Union Pacific Challenger and Streamliner, Greyhound busses, Burlington Trailways, and Pony Express stages provide national service. Daily bus schedules are operated between Las Vegas and Phoenix, Arizona. The Vegas Transit Company operates convenient intercity bus schedules. Western Air Lines, Transcontinental & Western Air Lines, and Nevada Pacific Airways provide Las Vegas with twelve passenger and airmail schedules daily.
The advantages of geography, transportation, and man-made facilities are greatly enhanced by the climatic conditions. Warm, dry air, high percentages of sunshine, and temperatures which seldom go lower than freezing, make a delightful winter playground.
The world's most interesting and accessible manmade structure is Boulder Dam. Boulder City, a Government-owned townsite, twenty-three miles from Las Vegas, is where the engineers and most of the employees have their homes. Lake Mead, six miles by paved highway from Boulder City, is the largest man-made body of water in the world. A public trailer park and campground, with stoves, tables, and sanitary facilities, is maintained by the National Park Service. A sandy beach has been cleaned and leveled, bathing is enjoyed throughout the year. There are no restrictions on swimming, boating, and fishing in Lake Mead, except in Black Canyon where Boulder Dam is located.
Las Vegas population: 1910-800 ; 1920-2,304; 1930-5,177; 1940-8,422; 1944-18,000 (estimated). Clark County population; 1944-31,000 (estimated).
Clark County has a monthly pay roll of $2,000, 000. Per capita retail sales for Las Vegas amount to $898, as compared with the national figure of $319. Per capita wealth is large, being as high as the average of Nevada, which leads all States. The banks are in excellent condition and have never been closed.
A $350,000 high school and a $225,000 grammar school have made school facilities the best. Seven new grammar schools have been constructed in various residential sections of the city to take care of added school enrollment caused by expansion in the area. The school enrollment for the fall of 1944 was 3,400.
Lead and zinc ores are mined in the GoodspringsYellow Pine district, about thirty-five miles from Las Vegas. Large quantities of gypsum and silica sand are mined in other parts of the country, and shipped to plants where they are utilized in manufacturing wallboard, glass, and other products.
Las Vegas has industries, but its chief feature is the tourist attractions of quick marriage, easy divorce, and legalized gambling. If you tune in the local radio station you'll be amused to find the call letters are K-E-N-0, the name of a famous gambling game. If you call a taxi you get the personality of Las Vegas all rolled into this one simple act. You go to a cab stand and find it indicated by a rustic hitching post. You take the receiver from the hook and call the number advertised. It is 7-1I. As the taxi pulls up, you notice that on either side is the message "Be Happy—Go Lucky" and you conclude that you're truly riding a "lucky" cab.
Seventh-day Adventists have a small representation even in Las Vegas. The membership is only forty-three. However, our church building is second to none. This church seats only one hundred and twenty but has modern Spanish architecture, the finest appointments, new furniture, air conditioning, and is in an excellent location. The building is now about four years old. In this connection it is interesting to add that the local businessmen of town (almost entirely the gambling group) gave more than $6,000 for this $14,000 building.
Seventh-day Adventists have a good name in town. The toughest element respect them and give them a favorable audience as long as no one expects a change in personal life. Ingathering solicitors reach, double, and triple their goals without beginning to exhaust the town's giving potential.
Las Vegas is a very tolerant town with reference to religion, but it is indifferent. The last evangelistic effort that was held there (1944) had a very poor attendance (about thirty-five) on the opening night. Handbills, radio spots, and newspaper space were all used. Approximately $200 was spent on advertising for the first week alone. These facts show that Las Vegas is not easily attracted to religious meetings. The large number of places of entertainment in proportion to the population may be one of the leading factors causing this.
Some success in soul winning in Las Vegas was achieved by using cottage meetings. Ten were baptized in a year as a result of this method of work. Las Vegas presents a real evangelistic challenge to this denomination. It is the playground of many celebrities who in their home towns are too busy to attend meetings. It is the gathering place of hundreds of disillusioned, saddened men and women seeking a divorce. These factors give it evangelistic advantages. We must find a way to reach these people.