Las Vegas lays on the path of what is commonly called the old Spanish trail but the fact that John C. Fremont found it is really somewhat of an accident. The truth is, there were several trade routes in use by Natives between Sante Fe and the Pacific coast centuries before the Spanish started searching for the overland route. The Southern Paiute called it the Paiute Trail. It was the Spanish however, that documented these explorations and provided many of the names for the southwestern region.
Las Vegas already had its name by the time John C. Fremont, born in Savannah, Georgia in 1813, made camp near the little spring in 1844. Detoured from his original northerly path along the old Spanish trail by the appearance of two Mexicans into his camp, a man named Andreas Fuentes; and an eleven year old boy named Pablo Hernandez. The two had been part of a group of six people herding horses from Los Angeles toward Santa Fe when they were attacked by Indians. They had escaped and days later found Fremont. The four left behind were the wife of Fuentes, the parents of Pablo and another man named Santiago Giacome, from New Mexico. Fuentes led Fremonts party back over his own trail and on April 29th they reached the place where Fuentes group had been attacked close to where Tecopa is today, on the California – Nevada border.
Fremont wrote*, The dead silence of the place was ominous, and galloping rapidly up, we found only the corpses of the two men; everything else was gone. They were naked, mutilated, and pierced with arrows… Of the women no trace could be found, and it was evident they had been carried off captive. A little lap-dog, which had belonged to Pablos mother, remained with the dead bodies, and was frantic with joy at seeing Pablo; he, poor child, was frantic with grief, and filled the air with lamentations for his father and mother. Mi padre! mi madre! Was his incessant cry. It was this incident that put Fremont farther south on the trail to Santa Fe and through the Las Vegas valley.
Fremont gives this account of May 3rd: After a days journey of 18 miles, in a northeasterly direction, we encamped in the midst of another very large basin, at a camping ground called Las Vegas a term which the Spaniards use to signify fertile or marshy plains, in contradistinction to llanos, which they apply to dry and sterile plains. Two narrow streams of clear water, four or five feet deep, gush suddenly with a quick current, from two singularly large springs; these, and other waters of the basin, pass out in a gap to the eastward. The taste of the water is good, but rather too warm to be agreeable; the temperature being 71 in the one and 73 in the other. They, however, afford a delightful bathing place. Fremonts 1845 report contained a map and was so popular that Congress printed 20,000 copies. This account of Las Vegas would bring many weary travelers through the valley looking for water and a place to rest while on their way to Los Angeles.
*Some historians believe that Fremont’s dramatic accounts may have been re-written by his wife, Jessie Fremont, who many considered the more gifted writer.