In 1855, 30 Mormon missionaries established a settlement on a spring-fed creek near what is now downtown Las Vegas. The mission to establish that settlement was led by William Bringhurst.
Just getting to the site from the Muddy River (west of present-day Mesquite, Nevada) required that they “venture over fifty miles along the dreaded Jornada del Muerte, ‘The Journey of Death,’ the longest waterless segment of the old Spanish trail,” according to "A Gamble in the Desert," by Fred E. Woods.
Historical plaque at the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Historic Park. | Kenneth Mays
As the missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived in the general vicinity, they discovered the Las Vegas Springs, which one labeled as “the Diamond of the Desert.” Various sources, including Nevada State Parks, consider the site to be the first non-native settlement in Las Vegas.
The Mormons built a fort out of mud bricks on the banks of the creek. Each side of the fort was 150 square feet with accompanying garden plots, ditches and roads. A second group of missionaries, including women and children, were sent to live at the fort in 1856. Others were sent to look for lead ore in the mountains. Because of internal divisions and concerns with Native Americans, President Brigham Young released the missionaries of the Las Vegas Mission in early 1857, according to "A Gamble in the Desert."
Presently, the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Historic Park at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Washington Avenue, serves to preserve the site and the story.