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 Watt s Kearny came along 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. Today it is known as Kearny’s Gap.
Between Las Vegas and Mora is the mountain called Hermit’s Peak. In the mid-1860s, Giovanni Maria
Augustini from Italy lived on the summit in a cave. He had 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.
Be sure to read Kearny’s address – there is a marker on the east side of the plaza that contains it in its entirety.