Sunday, September 30, 2007

Kaleidoscope of Early Culture in Las Vegas

September 29-30 at the Springs Preserve and Lost City Museum
With renowned author Joy Hakim and artist/author Roy Purcell
Sponsored by the Nevada Council for History Education
Co-sponsored by the National Council for History Education, Stephens Press, Clark County Education Foundation, Springs Preserve, Lost City Museum, Houghton-Mifflin, Smithsonian Books, and ABC_CLIO

Dr. Linda Miller, College of Southern Nevada, introduced the conference and several of the presenters and conference sponsors.

Judging a Book by Its Cover: Introduction to the Art of Book Binding
Presented by Jennifer Jacobi

Tools of bookbinding include:
  • Bone folders (used to smooth down book bindings without bruising the paper).
  • Awl (Makes holes)
  • Pliers (Assist in pulling thread through)
  • Clamps (To keep the book in place)
  • Adhesives (She likes “Books by Hand”; PVA is archival quality; Glue sticks work well)
  • Tread (Linen-based for archival quality)
  • Paper (The interior and end-papers and fly-leaves of the book; she prefers recycled and handmade papers, leather, or book cloth. Leather covers require separate tools)
  • Book press (Can be used in lieu of stacking books on top of each other)
  • Needles (She uses embroidery needles)
  • Optional: binder’s board (for hard-cover books)
Books can be glued together or sewn together.

Jenifer introduced several book structures and then demonstrated making a book.

To make a book, use 8.5” X 11” pages and fold them in half and in half again. Measure twice the length of the book in thread and make a child’s shoulder strap. Position the paper so it’ is even on both sides and clip the book together to hold it in place. Place the awl through the center of the book and 1” from the ends. Thread the needle adding a double-knot on one end. Sew the book beginning at the interior on one end. Go in through the center, out through the bottom, back in through the center, and back out from the top. This gives the book a nicer look. Tie a double-knot that the end next to the original knot. Trim the knots.

The Cultural and Historical Resources of the Las Vegas Springs
Presented by Marcel Parent

An audio of Marcel's presentation is available here.

The Springs Preserve has been known as the “Big Springs” historically. It covers 180 acres of and is the richest and most unique cultural and biological resource in Southern Nevada. It has 10,000 years of biological, geological, and cultural history.

By the 1840s, Las Vegas was officially on the map. It was a poster-child for advertising migration to the west. In May of 1905, the first land auction occurred in Las Vegas and the railroad came through later that year.

Water supply issues began in the 1910’s and by 1962, the springs stopped flowing.

The region has identified a mass of archaeological artifacts including prehistorical and historic ceramic shards, stone tool pieces (one Elko eared projectile point from 100 BC), glass pieces, animal remains (mostly bones), manos (6 samples all of an oval form designed for use with one hand), metates, C-14 samples (charcoal from hearths and camp fires wit the earliest dated to 700 AD), soil samples, nails, and metal pieces. The archaeological digs continue. Some of the pieces go back to 100 BC. They have identified artifacts from all the tribes that have inhabited the area including the Anasazi, Pythians, and Paiutes.

The history of water on this site is the history of its people. Without water in this area, travelers would not have stopped in this Valley. Without the springs and aquifers that led to the surface, Las Vegas would never have been developed. There are some still functioning wells on-site; the remainder are dry. With water coming from Lake Mead, the demands for water from the Big Springs as the sole water source for Las Vegas lessened. Local use of the Springs water continued until they ran dry. They will never deliver water again. By 1962, water on the Springs Preserve site was gone.

A spring mound on the Springs Preserve site took 10,000 years to create and is currently viewable at the Springs Preserve. It is the only remaining unexcavated spring mound in the Las Vegas Valley. Archaeologists feel they will probably not learn new information from excavating this mound so have elected to maintain it in its present form.

The spring mound shows evidence of human use for at least 5,000 years. Springs attract plants, animals, and eventually humans. Humans leave refuse that describes human eating habits. Projectile point sizes determine the type of game hunted by indigenous people.

The focus of the Springs Preserve is on conservation, preservation, and archaeological study. Research began here in the early 1970s and began to increase over the last decade. The Preserve includes four trails: Crossroads, Exploration, Springs, and Cienega. There are four major areas of the Preserve including the Big Springs Theatre, Natural Mojave, People of the Springs, and New Frontier Gallery.

People have successfully adapted to the Las Vegas Valley desert for a millennium. Early settlements were close to water. There have been people here, however, since 8000 BC. Early peoples of the pre-ceramic period were here from 8000 BC to 300 AD. They avoided spending extended period of time in this Valley, coming seasonally as hunters and gatherers. Ancient Puebloan people lived in the Valley.

The Preserve includes sample living structures from early human inhabitants.

Before 1830, there is no evidence of Euro-Americans in the Las Vegas Valley. The first scouting expedition was with Rafael Rivera and there was later a tragic battle between the Natives and Euro-Americans over natural resources of the Valley.

Freemont used Las Vegas as a camp ground and praised the presence of water. Though he said it was too warm to enjoy drinking, it was a wonderful bathing place.

Settlers began coming to Las Vegas in the 1850s. Euro-American buildings began development in the 1870s. There are derricks dating back to 1910. Streams ran from this area to other settlements in the Valley, but the water became contaminated as it ran downstream because of cattle and other farm animals.

Adobe was a natural building element for the area.

Derricks are named because of their resemblance to the gallows using the hangman’s noose that were developed by the British executioner named Thomas Derrick.

The Springhouse will be one of the first reconstruction projects on the Preserve. Some of the other buildings on site include the chicken coup, settler’s basin, caretaker’s house, and caretaker’s barn.

History of the Lost City: Native American Cultures
Presented by Eva Jensen

An audio of Eva's presentation is available here.

Paleo Period: 13,400 years ago
  • The climate was cooler and wetter and the valley had shallow lakes and springs with marsh resources. The people primarily hunted large game.
Archaic: 10,000 years ago
  • The climate dried and Southern Nevada became the Mojave desert that we know today; the lakes and springs diminished and dried. There was a resource shift toward desert plants and animals.
The shift toward the Basketmaker Period happened between 300 BC and 400 AD
  • Desert springs and streams formed providing an area for growing plants, and corn cultivation begins. Evidence of domestic corn in Moapa Valley exists from around 200 AD. They planted the corn in gravel.
Basketmaker Period: 2,000 years ago
  • Though the people continued to hunt, they did this opportunistically. Instead, they shifted toward an almost exclusive diet based on horticulture with the main crop being corn. Homes appeared in clusters of one to four pit houses with interior hearths.
Pueblo I: 600 AD-1000 AD
  • The changes in technology in this era were the addition of the bow and arrow and the development of pottery. The climate was hot and dry. There was either migration, trade, or seasonal movement between this area and the Arizona strip.
  • People in Southern Nevada lived in pueblo houses while dwellers were in Arizona. The Hopi were descendants of the Anasazi (now the preferred term is Ancestral Puebloan) and these were the people living in Southern Nevada during this period.
Pueblo II: 1000 AD – 1150
  • There were cluster settlements if above ground adobe pueblo houses. They made investments in horticulture and food storage rooms.
  • Corrugated pottery (pinched by hand to make an outside design) was introduced in 1050 AD. For this area, the corrugated period lasted for only for 100 years. There was also an increase in imported pottery to this region that ended after 1100 (even though they are still making that pottery on the Arizona strip). Pottery was made with local materials including clay and gravel. They smoothed the surface with a stone, painted with “bee weed,” and used yucca fiber brushes for painting. They did not use kilns; instead, relying on heated wood that was set under the dried (but not fired) bowls. More wood was placed on top, and then more wood placed on top of that. They then set the wood on fire and this chemically changed the bowl to keep it intact. Pottery was primarily utilitarian with the tight-necked pottery for carrying water and large-mouthed pieces for storage of dried goods or for use as cooking pots.
  • The maximum population of this area was probably about 500.
  • Specialization was not an element of these Native cultures, though some families may have been experts in certain trades. There is some evidence that there were some specialists whose products traveled (but the method of dispersion is unknown).
  • Currently archaeologists have not been focused on identifying the materials in pottery as unique to a geographic location. One type of pottery is clearly from Arizona. Designs are unique to given locations and eras.
  • Some trade goods found in the area include shells from Baja, California. There are many shell beads found in this area. Archaeologists also have found red pottery (from the Four Corners area). The people in this area found turquoise and salt that they mined to use for trade and they also grew cotton.
Abandonment: 1150 AD
  • There was increased population and a prolonged drought. Though the indigenous people stored food for drought, by the third year of drought there was little food remaining. There was also pressure from outside groups. Archaeologists have identified a breakdown in trade with other regions. There may have also been disease, but there is no evidence to support this assertion.
  • The abandonment occurred after 1,000 years of constant habitation in the area.
  • People were buried in the floor of an abandoned room in a flexed position.
Southern Paiute: 1200 AD
  • The Southern Paiute indicated that they have always been here. Archaeological information shows a change in arrow points and pottery. When Spanish travelers came through this area, the Southern Paiute tribe were here. Their culture included master weavers.
  • Water jugs were woven baskets covered with pine pitch. By the 1800s, the Southern Paiutes focused on creating artistic baskets, using their craft to sell and trade for food. The Southern Paiute “treasure baskets” are among the finest in the West.
Explorers and trappers including Jedediah Smith came through this area and did not note that the dwellings were very old.

In the 1920s, the Lost City area became a region of archaeological focus. By 1935, the Hoover Dam building project was underway and it was clear that Lake Mead would cover much of the region’s treasures. To address this issue, the Civilian Corps of Engineers came and preserved as much as they could before the Colorado River flooded.

Even today, there are new items found on a regular basis. By law, builders must report when they find human remains, but not when finding other artifacts. Many areas still need excavating, but funds are simply not available or areslow in coming.

There were cultural connections between the people here at the Lost City and those at the Springs, but it is unknown whether they had familial connections.

Some available resources include Intrigue of the Past: A Teacher’s Activity Guide for Fourth through Seventh Grades published by Shelly Smith, Jeanne Moe, Kelly Letts, and Danielle Paterson and the related text titled Discovering Archeology in Nevada. Kathy August (at the Redrock Visitor’s Center) does archaeological trainings in Nevada using these curricular materials. The materials are both science and social studies focused. A more content-specific resource is from the Desert Research Institute called Reading the Stones: The Archeology of Yucca Mountain. It was illustrated by William Hartwell and David Valentine with illustrations by Susan Edwards and contributions by Kelly Varley.

Ethno-archeology: Archaeologists sit and live with a Bedouin group of people and record what they observe. Then, they excavate the site and see if the patterns of the ground correlate with what they observed. This is a means of determining whether archaeologists accurately interpret archaeological finds.

Hunter/gathers probably worked much fewer than 40 hours per week so they had more leisure time then we do. There is evidence that they played dice games and games with balls.

The Civilian Conservation Crops, a program within Roosevelt’s New Deal, built the Lost City Museum in the early 1940s. Camps came in many forms such as flood control projects, rural electrification administrations, dam building and repair projects, etc. The CCC was responsible for much migration around the country that resulted in intermarrying of families across the country. For more information on the Corp, Eva recommends The Civilian Conservation Corps in Nevada: From Boys to Men by Renee Crona Kolvet and Victoria Ford.

Eva Jensen and Dr. Linda Miller have worked together to develop a curriculum about Early Nevadans.

Environmentalism in Nevada
Presented by Jeff Hinton

An audio of Jeff's presentation is available here.

Western historians ask whether the West is an "exceptional" place. Throughout history, deserts have been considered wastelands. They are characterized as being hostile and foreboding or places to be exploited. Even John Muir was not complimentary of Nevada’s desert. Freemont was the most detailed in describing early Nevada geography. He included “revolting” in his description of Southern Nevada. He could not decide which of the deserts was the most “despicable,” but Lovelock and Las Vegas rated very high. Wilderness and wasteland have been used synonymously historically. John Christianson related the harshness of the wilderness with the harshness of life through metaphor. Others see the desert as a place of sublime beauty.

How did the Las Vegas desert change from being inhospitable to preferential? Some of the earliest descriptions of Las Vegas come from Mormon missionaries. Brigham Young recognized a need for supply routes in proximity to Salt Lake City and California (the Mormon gateway to the world because of its horticultural possibilities). Las Vegas served as a desert oasis for weary, parched travelers, There was a 50-mile trek between the Muddy and Virgin Rivers called the Journey of Death. There was no water between the two locations. It would take about 27 hours to cross this part of the trail. Some defined the area as “dreary.”

Samuel Clemens wrote Roughing It of his time in the West. In the text, he wrote that Southern Nevada was a "hideous," "lifeless" place.

Wilderness is a concept of Western thought. Wilderness was the antithesis of paradise and subduing the wilderness became a goal of Westerners. Many even identified wilderness with evil, because of Biblical connotations. There was a fear and loathing of wilderness, identified even by the Pilgrims of the Eastern shore of North America. Some feared that spending time in the wilderness would return them to a savage state. Therefore, pioneers had to take on a military stance when entering the wilderness and saw the wilderness as something to be conquered. As Americans shift westward, they take their European views of wilderness with them.

With the Industrial Revolution, many began to rethink wilderness. There was new emphasis on appreciating nature. Romantics were instrumental in the shift in thinking about wilderness and nature. In the 1900s, John Muir begins to describe nature as a religious place. He challenged people to think about the costs and benefits of taming the wilderness (e.g., building Hoover Dam therefore flooding the region).

Jeff read about the environmental effects of mining on public land. Laws from 1872 allowed mining to contaminate our region and the long-term results of that mining.

Curriculum and the Lost City
Presented by Dr. Linda Miller

Linda worked with Eva Jensen developing curricula called Teaching with Historic Places. It appears on the website for the National Register of Historic Places (

Linda gave groups of four attendees a primary source artifact and asked us to analyze it using pre-made analysis sheets. These sheets are available at