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Stewart, Helen Jane Wiser, 1854-1926


Helen Jane Wiser Stewart was born in 1854 in Springfield, Illinois. When she was nine years old, the family moved to Nevada, and then to Sacramento, California in 1863. Helen was educated in Sacramento and in 1873 she married Archibald Stewart in Stockton, California.

Archibald Stewart operated a freighting business in Pioche, Nevada, and he and Helen lived there during Pioche's boom years. The Stewart's first three children were born in the Pioche area: William James in 1874, followed by Hiram Richard less than two years later, and Flora Eliza Jane (known as Tiza) in 1879.

In 1879 Archibald Stewart loaned O. D. Gass, the owner of the Las Vegas Ranch, $5,000, with the ranch as collateral. By 1881 Gass had defaulted on the loan and eventually Archibald decided to move his family to the Las Vegas Ranch. In 1882 the family moved from Pioche to the ranch. Shortly after their arrival, Helen gave birth to Evaline La Vega, known as Eva. The Stewarts settled into running the ranch as a farm and waystation for travelers.

In 1884 tragedy struck when Archibald was killed at the neighboring Kiel Ranch. Helen was pregnant at the time of Archibald's death and later that year she and her family traveled to Galt, California, while her father, Hiram Wiser, took over operation of the ranch. In Galt she gave birth to a son, Archibald. She then returned to the ranch.

Over the next several years, Helen attempted to sell the ranch, but she was unable to find a buyer. In 1889 talk of a railroad to be built through the Las Vegas Valley and the Muddy Valley prompted Helen, along with other members of her family, to purchase large tracts of possible railroad land.

During this period, the Stewart children were taught by a tutor at the ranch. The three younger children were sent to school in California beginning in 1897. Then, in July 1899 her youngest and favorite, Archie, was killed chasing wild horses on the ranch.

By 1902 the railroad through Southern Nevada was becoming a reality and Helen sold the Las Vegas Ranch to the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake Railroad. A four-acre parcel was reserved as the family burial site. In 1903 she moved her family to Los Angeles, California. Shortly thereafter, her son Hiram died, leaving a wife and two children. Also in 1903, Helen married Frank Stewart, who had been hired at the Las Vegas Ranch in 1886.

The Stewarts purchased land near the ranch and in late 1903 returned there to join in the building of a thriving community in Las Vegas. For the next twenty years, Helen was a part of the social, political, and business life of early Las Vegas and was an early member of the Mesquite Club. She became an authority on state history and developed an extensive collection of Native American baskets, which had the reputation of being the finest in the state. She was appointed by Nevada Governor Emmet D. Boyle as a delegate to the Twelfth Annual Convention for the American Civic Association in Washington D.C. in 1915. Later that year, she became the first woman elected to the Clark County School Board.

During her time on the Stewart Ranch and around Las Vegas, she befriended numerous Paiute people who lived nearby. In 1911, when the federal government was searching for land to establish a Native American reservation, Stewart deeded to the government the land that became the Las Vegas Paiute Indian Colony on North Main Street. She also donated land for the construction of the Las Vegas Grammar School in 1922, which was the first public school attended by Native Americans from the Southern Paiute Indian Colony.

In 1918 Frank Stewart died of cancer, and Helen's mother, Delia Gray Wiser, passed away the following year. Helen later became ill with cancer, and in 1924 was taken to Los Angeles for treatment. On March 6, 1926 she passed away. Businesses in Las Vegas closed for the day her funeral and people came from all areas of the state to attend the funeral of the woman who has been described as "The First Lady of Las Vegas."


Townley, Carrie Miller. “Helen Stewart,” Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, Winter, 1973 and Spring, 1974.

Porter, Carrie Townley. “Helen J. Stewart,” Nevada Women’s History Project. University of Nevada.

Evans, K. J. “Helen Stewart,” Las Vegas Review-Journal. February 7, 1999.