Las Vegas, New Mexico. Hotels That Hold History, Part II

Posted on December 3, 2015

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Urban cowboy has a different meaning in New Mexico,

One thing I absolutely love about Arizona, New Mexico and Texas is how closely they cling to their Wild West history.

Sure, the big cities are much like big cities everywhere, but when you spend time in a SMALL city you’ll find something entirely different.

A cowboy and two horses clopping down a main street like it’s no big deal is not something we experience everyday in the Midwest.

But that’s exactly what we saw when we pulled up to the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Now, a little Las Vegas history.

When most people hear the word “Vegas” they automatically think of glitter and gangsters and the spirit of ‘anything goes’ associated with Nevada’s most well-known city.

However, as the last Spanish colony in North America established by a Spanish land grant in 1835, Las Vegas, New Mexico, was in business at least 70 years before the name was carried to Nevada by Spanish traders.

By the time the United States laid claim to New Mexico in 1846, the Santa Fe Trail was already an established trading route. The Trail passed through Las Vegas, and weary travelers welcomed the chance to enjoy some of the comforts the settlement offered after enduring 600 miles of exhausting travel from Kansas.

After the Santa Fe Railroad reached Las Vegas in 1879, the city rapidly grew into the biggest trade center between San Francisco and Independence, Missouri.

And the railroad brought lots of new people to town, not all of them interested in becoming upstanding citizens.

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Doc Holliday

For a short time, Doc Holliday hung out his shingle as the town’s dentist. But then he bought a saloon, got in a bar fight, shot a man, and lit out for Tombstone, Arizona, after a short lay-over in Dodge City.

Big Nose Kate, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Bob Ford, Wyatt Earp, Rattlesnake Sam, Cock-Eyed Frank, Web-Fingered Billy, Hook Nose Jim, Stuttering Tom, Durango Kid, Handsome Harry the Dancehall Rustler, Vicente Silva and his gang  – they  all prowled the streets at one time or another looking for easy marks and innocent rubes.

With all this going on, buildings for every imaginable purpose sprang up overnight, which is partly why today Las Vegas has over 900 structures on the National Register of Historic Places, including four hotels. Two of these hotels still accept overnight guests, and a third will soon be up and running again, too.

IMG_2556The Plaza Hotel was built in 1882 and presides regally over the city’s Old Town Plaza.

While all sorts of bigwigs have stayed at the Plaza, the occasion they are most proud of hosting was the first reunion of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in 1899.

As many members of the Spanish American War’s 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry came from the southwest, Las Vegas was chosen as the reunion site. In June of 1899, about 600 men arrived in town out of the 1200 included on the September 1898 muster out roll.

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Image credit: Las Vegas, NM City Museum and Rough Riders Museum.

Roosevelt, now governor of New York, journeyed by train to join them, though he was only able to stay in Las Vegas for 36 hours.

The Hotel was also a favorite silent film location for director/actor Romaine Fielding and famous cowboy actor Tom Mix between 1913 and 1915.

The Plaza is still an impressive place, filled with Victorian elegance paired with touches of the Southwest, thanks to its relatively new owner, Allan Affeldt. We’ve stayed in Affeldt hotels before – La Posada in Winslow, Arizona – and can’t say enough good things about this guy and his ability to breath new life into beautiful old buildings.

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We were not able to stay at The El Fidel Hotel, also located downtown. Today it has only 15 rooms for overnight guests, as the rest of the old hotel has been turned into residences.

The hotel’s history is a bit murky, but it opened to the public in 1923. It was specifically designed to attract an entirely new market – people traveling by automobile –  with such modern features as a bathroom in every room.

The attraction of El Fidel today is that the public areas still contain many of the original design features. Its gorgeous lobby still looks much as it did in the 1920’s with glazed tile floors, elegant millwork, elaborate brass filigree accents, and especially well-chosen period furnishings.

As an added inducement to scheduling a night’s stay, the place is said to be haunted, probably as a result of a typical Wild West shoot-out between a judge and a newspaper editor held in the lobby in 1925.

After all, this IS the Southwest.

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