Top 10 True Western Towns of 2013

#6 Las Vegas, New Mexico

Historian Ralph Emerson Twitchell once opined that “…there was no town which harbored a more disreputable gang of desperadoes, and outlaws than did Las Vegas.”

Strong stuff.

But the New Mexican town with the notorious reputation began to settle down after bandit leader Vicente Silva was murdered by one of his own gang members in 1893.

In 1898, the town sent 21 volunteers to join Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.

The seat of San Miguel County got its start due to a Spanish land grant in 1835, the last such Spanish colony in North America. Before long, Las Vegas was a stop on the Santa Fe Trail.

By the turn of the 20th century, Las Vegas not only had an electric street railway, but also the Duncan Opera House, a Carnegie library, a Harvey House hotel and the New Mexico Normal School (now New Mexico Highlands University).

Las Vegas (current population around 14,000) is located about 65 miles east of Santa Fe and holds an astonishing number of historical buildings and sites.

Consider: The local Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation is working to preserve more than 900 adobe and Victorian-era structures in town.

A Presbyterian Church built in 1869 has been restored, and the town’s public library is the only surviving Carnegie library in the state.

One of the town’s more distinctive landmarks is the mission-style La Castaneda Hotel, built in 1898. The inn, one of the famous Harvey House hotels, was the site of the first Rough Riders reunion in 1899.

Last year, the town marked the 130th anniversary of the Plaza Hotel. Just around the corner from where the hotel would soon be built, Billy the Kid spent the night in the county jail on Valencia Street in 1880.

After you stroll through the city’s historic districts in the Bridge Street and Plaza areas, be sure to soak up some emigrant trail history at the Santa Fe Trail Interpretive Center.

The Dr. H.J. Mueller House, with its eye-catching octagonal tower, is an interesting example of the range of Victorian architecture.

The City of Las Vegas Museum & Rough Rider Memorial Collection holds around 7,000 artifacts, archives and photographs. It also offers information on more than 200 members of the 1898 regiment, as well as an assortment of American Indian pottery and
other artifacts.

An added bonus for visitors is the fact that Las Vegas is about 30 miles from the ruins of 1851’s Fort Union, preserved as a national monument, while the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge is just seven miles south of town.

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