Mission at the Las Vegas Fort

After establishing themselves in the Salt Lake Valley, the Mormon pioneers under the leadership of Brigham Young, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sent missionaries across the globe to promote their version of the Kingdom of God on earth. International proselytizing efforts saw much success. Converts wishing to join themselves to their church brothers and sisters journeyed to Salt Lake after first stopping at New Orleans or California.

Latter-day Saint converts traveling from California to Salt Lake faced the trial of crossing the vast Mojave Desert of the American South West. To ensure the safety of these immigrants, Brigham Young felt it pertinent to establish a half way station at the Las Vegas Springs, as named by Spanish explorer Rafael Rivera. The springs provided a water supply for travelers and animals, was in the vicinity of lead ore deposits, and was in the midst of over a thousand Paiute Indians who the Latter-day Saints could potentially convert.

In 1855 Brigham Young called upon thirty men to travel to these springs to construct a fort to serve as a mission headquarters for the teaching of the local Paiutes and as a halfway station for saints, mail services, and other emigrants traveling from California to Salt Lake City. On June 16, 1855, the missionaries under the leadership of William Bringhurst arrived safely at the Las Vegas Springs without any loss of life.

Work began immediately on the construction of the fort and settlement of the land. The fort constructed of Spanish adobe bricks enclosed an area of one hundred and fifty square feet. Each man received two and a half acres of land.

The missionaries had much success among the Paiutes, who expressed excitement at the prospect of settlers living among them. Within weeks, scores of Indians began to consistently attend the missionaries’ Sunday services and by the end of the two year stay, the missionaries baptized several hundred Paiutes. Missionaries such as George Bean, remarked joyously at the great faith expressed by his converts and the prayers shared by them in Sunday services.

Shortly after settling at the springs, the missionaries discovered lead deposits near the fort and sent several samples to Salt Lake City. Fearing that President Bringhurst would mine the lead for his own personal gains rather than for the betterment of the community, President Brigham Young sent Nathaniel V. Jones to assume command of the mining and gave him authority to order all available missionaries to assist in the mining efforts.
A power struggle thus ensued between Bringhurst and Jones leading to Bringhurst demotion and disfellowship from the church. Samuel Thompson was then called to fill the vacancy. In January 1857, the embittered attitude of those present at the for,t and Indians uncontrollable thievery persuaded Brigham Young to order the forts closure and the missions end. On May 7, 1857, they vacated the fort.