The translation of Las Vegas from the Spanish
is “the meadows.” In this area, William Becknell and
his men came through a gap from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and were met by a Mexican military patrol and their commander in 1821. Becknell’s group was escorted to Santa Fe to sell their goods. Mexico had won its independence from Spain and Santa Fe was now open to trade with the Americans.
Las Vegas was established in 1835 after a group of settlers received a land grant from the Mexican government. The Santa Fe Trail went through the old original settlement plaza, in the center of town, which was a key trading spot on the Santa Fe Trail. For eastern traders, Las Vegas was the town toward the end of the Trail. For western traders, it was first town after leaving Santa Fe.
During the 1846 Mexican-American War, General
Stephen Watts Kearny, came down the mountain route and marched his army to the central plaza. On top of a flat roof, he announced that Las Vegas was now the property of the United States. His army came through the same gap as Becknell. It is now known as Kearny’s Gap. Between Las Vegas and Mora sits the mountain of Hermit’s Peak. In the mid 1860s, Giovanni Maria Augustini from Italy lived on the summit in a cave. He traveled from Council Grove with a Santa Fe Trail caravan and lived as a hermit on this mountain. He claimed to be a holy man and carved trinkets and traded them for food. He left this area and moved to the Organ Mountains in southern New Mexico. Augustini was murdered in 1869.