Origins of geographic names are so revealing. Seattle, where I lived before becoming New To Las Vegas, is named for an Indian chief even though gringo settlers later made it illegal for his tribe to live there. King County, in which Seattle sits, originally was named in 1852 for William Rufus Devane King, a newly elected vice president of the United States who died of tuberculosis just 47 days after taking office. But in 1986, lawmakers switched the basis to the persona of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after shockingly discovering–only 114 years later–Bill King had been a slaveholder who founded Selma, Ala. (The never-married King also was likely gay and in a relationship with likely gay and future never-married U.S. president James Buchanan, but that wasn’t a factor in the switch.)
Las Vegas is Spanish for “The Meadows.” The place already had that name when the future war criminal, U.S. military man John C. Frémont, first explored the largely unpopulated Mojave Desert area, then part of Mexico, on May 3, 1844. Writing that the spring water was too warm for drinking but wonderful for bathing, he later put Las Vegas on a government-issued map that eventually helped guide thousands of–yes, gringo settlers–to the West.
Fremont Street today is a major thoroughfare in Las Vegas. But the person who really put Las Vegas on the map is William A. Clark, for whom the county Las Vegas lies in is named. He has a fascinating background for someone whose name adorns a governmental subdivision. A tycoon who made his big fortune in copper mines, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in another state through big-money bribery, which, when exposed, cost him the seat. “I never bought a man who wasn’t for sale,” he is reported to have protested. Continue readingShare on Facebook