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University of Nevada, Las Vegas

About the Collections

Inquiry Questions

  • Why do you believe minority groups are underrepresented in this collection?
  • What aspects of Helen Stewart’s life made her story prominent enough to appear in the annals of history?
  • What physical geographic features of the Las Vegas region contribute to its movement from a “little railroad stop” to the gambling capital of the world?

Southern Nevada: The Boomtown Years brings together a wide range of original source materials found in widely diverse collections, mostly housed in UNLV Libraries Special Collections. The Nevada State Museum and Historical Society in Las Vegas and the Clark County Heritage Museum have also contributed collections for this project. The project contains over 1500 items.

Most prominent and popular of these collections are the photographs and photograph albums taken, collected, and preserved by individuals and families who lived and contributed to the boom years.  These photographs record the life of most of the mining towns of Southern Nevada. We are especially fortunate that in this period cameras and photography were easily accessible and affordable for many people.  Because traveling west was still the Great Adventure at the turn of the 20th century,  people readily recorded their experiences and where they lived with their own cameras. Every small town had its own professional photographer whose studio produced postcards, portraits, and local views, all of which were avidly purchased,  collected, and saved, providing priceless documentation of people and the towns and landscapes they lived in.

The photographic record of Southern Nevada is augmented and enhanced with a wealth of materials created by mining companies—business records, reports, stock certificates, maps, surveys, and slick prospectuses intended for potential investors. While personal correspondence does not survive in significant quantity or quality, we have presented two remarkable series of correspondence, one from a young man in Goldfield who wrote home to his mother regularly, the other between officials of the Union Pacific railroad and their local agents. The first series is very personal and tells of the sometimes exciting, sometimes mundane life in a frontier mining camp and boom town; the other is a record of cold business interests and transactions  from the local perspective of one of the biggest business concerns in early 20th century, the Union Pacific Railroad.

To these important series of primary sources we have added a variety of other ancillary materials. Selected newspapers—with so many newspapers now being digitized in their entirety there was no attempt here to digitize and reproduce all the newspapers in Southern Nevada.  We have selected issues that relate to stories or other materials we have presented.

We have provided a selection of local and regional maps, including some maps created by mining engineers of the interiors of mines. Like newspapers, we have not attempted to provide a comprehensive collection of state, regional or local maps, many of which may be found online at other sites.

A variety of more ephemeral materials have been selected in part to display the variety and wealth of local records but also to provide information otherwise hidden, such as early hotel registers from Las Vegas and Goodsprings, the minute book of the Goldfield Ladies Club, the memoir of an early prospector and miner in Goodsprings and Sandy, and programs for various social and sporting events. We hope to document not only the large historical events or issues but also the more private and social lives of individual people and their communities.

Cultural bias

This collection is not comprehensive, and like any historical collection, is not complete. There is much in this picture that is missing. Important groups of people are either underrepresented or not represented at all. Native, African, Mexican, and Asian Americans are visible in these records often only as laborers or people on the margins of the dominantly white, Anglo communities. Women are represented but not to the extent that their importance and contribution would warrant.  While we recognize, acknowledge, and regret the gaps in this picture of Southern Nevada, we cannot retroactively create records for people who did not leave a trace for us.  Any presentation of an historical past is necessarily incomplete and therefore imperfect, but we have in this project attempted to provide a cross section of what does survive, and have tried to be as objective and inclusive as possible in presenting the people who lived in Southern Nevada.

Las Vegas

There has already been much written and published about the early history of Las Vegas, most of it derivative of Stanly Paher’s richly illustrated Las Vegas – As it began, As it Grew.  Many of the photographs from this period have been published and are already well-known and now well-represented online, many from UNLV Special Collections. While we have incorporated some of our own collections of early Las Vegas photos, we have decided not to retell in any detail the story of early Las Vegas here, but rather to present what may be for many new and hitherto unseen or unused materials to tell new stories or to provide a different perspective on familiar stories. We have provided extensive selections from the files of the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake (later Union Pacific) Railroad. These files of correspondence provide a window on the period right after the railroad purchased and took over the Stewart ranch from Helen Stewart. The railroad continued to operate the ranch with local agents even after the town was established, and later leased the ranch to a series of tenants who operated the ranch as a ranch. The correspondence of the local agents with railroad officials provides an interesting glimpse of the rough and transient life on a ranch in the Las Vegas Valley. This correspondence also includes reports on the initial planning and laying out of the town, and the actual auction of town lots, the latter through a series of telegrams sent to and from Las Vegas as the auction was occurring. The observations and opinions of the officers of the railroad as they considered their options for developing what was originally simply a watering stop for their trains shed new light on contemporary opinions about the future of the little railroad stop that became Las Vegas.

Our second “story” about Las Vegas also derives from the railroad files, this story concerns a reoccurring theme or issue in the west and in the mining districts, that of labor unrest. In 1922 a national railroad strike hit the Union Pacific Railroad. The story of that strike and how the railroad and the town responded to each other has not been told in any detail. We have presented here a series of correspondence and telegrams from the railroad officials and their local agents during those very tense days when the town was very hostile to the railroad. 

A complete list of collections included in this project

  • Blanch Jackson Collection
  • Booth and Allen Goldfield Album
  • C.A. Earle Rinker Collection
  • Central Nevada Historical Society
  • Charles Thomas-Perry Collection
  • Clark County Heritage Museum
  • David Coons Collection
  • Edwards Collection
  • Fayle Family Papers
  • Ferron-Bracken Collection
  • Frank Benham Collection
  • Frank Williams Collection
  • Giles Barcus Collection
  • Goldfield Nevada Collection
  • Hotel Nevada Guest Register
  • Irma McGonagill Collection
  • J. Ross Clark Collection
  • James Hulse Collection
  • John Janney Collection
  • Joseph D. O'Brien Collection
  • Keystone Mine Photo Collection
  • Leonard Fayle Collection
  • Lincoln County Museum Collection
  • Logan Collection
  • Maurine and Fred Wilson Collection
  • Mines and Mining Collection
  • Minnie Perchetti Collection
  • Nanelia S. Doughty Collection
  • Nevada State Historical Society
  • Nevada State Museum
  • Nevada State Parks Collection
  • Nye County Collection
  • Osborne-Sears Collection
  • Pioche Mines-John Janney Collection
  • Round Mountain Photo Album
  • San Pedro, Los Angeles, & Salt Lake Railroad Correspondence Collection
  • Southwestern Mining Company Collection
  • Spud Lake Collection
  • Squires Collection
  • Tonopah Goldfield Album
  • Union Pacific Railroad Collection
  • W. H. Shockley Collection


The project is organized to provide multiple “entries” into these collections. Users can locate Southern Nevada towns on an interactive map which will lead directly to the materials from those towns. We also provide subject or thematic starting points such as Mining, Southern Nevada Boomtowns by county, and Railroads. These subject access points  link searchers to materials relating to that subject.

And importantly, there is a guide for teachers, which provides information and suggestions about how this material might be used in the classroom as well as standards-based activities and lesson plans for incorporation into instruction.


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