Getting to Know the Collection

Like no other time in history, we now have immediate access to resources beyond what our human minds can fathom. From fact to fiction, information bombards our desktops and interpretations of information abound. With this gluttony of resources, there is a need for individuals to make educated decisions about information accuracy; and, when subjectivity exists, the intelligent consumer of information must also question the accuracy of those interpretations.

Today, libraries around the world are providing increased online, global, access to their resources. In an attempt to offer an unbiased perspective of Nevada's history, this digital collection provides visitors with access to a wide range of original sources. Providing only basic information for background understanding, this website leaves you, the user, to determine what interpretations may be correct and which may be questionable. UNLV's digitized resources, including the Historic Landscape of Nevada collection as well as myriad others such as the Southern Nevada: The Boomtown Years, Showgirls, Menus: The Art of Dining, and Welcome Home: Howard collections provide visitors with digitized images of primary sources. With these, the student of history can analyze and interpret the resources without intervening influences.

What is a digitized collection?

A digitized collection is a group of historical artifacts whose images have been scanned and saved in digital formats. This collection stores items related to the theme of the history of water in Las Vegas and surrounding valleys using high-resolution portable document formats (PDFs). This format allows users to remotely view the artifacts instead of requiring they hold them in their own hands. In some cases, digitized copies allow viewers to magnify items to the point that they may see more onscreen than would be possible looking at the original with the naked eye.

A Primer—Water in Southern Nevada

How are digitized collections organized?

Though digitized collections generally revolve around a single theme, they include numerous other collections within them. For example, the Historic Landscape of Nevada includes artifacts from Helen Stewart's personal photo collection as well as artifacts from the Union Pacific's official records. These collection subsets all contribute to the main collection's theme—water issues in the history of Las Vegas and its surrounding valleys.

The Historic Landscape of Nevada offers a unique and rich collection of resources. Its content crosses many fields of study while addressing a topic that is paramount to human survival—water. Nowhere is this topic more important than in arid regions on Earth, precisely where Southern Nevada residents find their homes. Lying in the rain shadows of both the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Great Basin encompasses numerous deserts including the Mojave of Southern Nevada, Southern California, and Northern Arizona. Amidst what is often seen as barren and desolate land is a desert oasis—Las Vegas, a Spanish phrase meaning "the meadows."

That's exactly what early explorers to the area that would become Southern Nevada found. Tucked away in a valley of low-lying mountains was a spring-fed region unlike any for miles around. Though few wanted to live there, it was a place where travelers would surely need to rest on their long and arduous journeys across the new nation. Pioneers had to stop on their way to find gold and farm the lush agricultural lands of California.

What is metadata?

A constant problem in the world of information is the difficulty of accessing specific resources. Librarians combat this problem using "metadata," otherwise known as “data about data.” They assign terms to information bits so users can easily retrieve specific items. For example, a picture of Lake Mead encroaching St. Thomas might include metadata terms such as "aerial photograph," "cities and towns," "St. Thomas," "floods," "buildings," "trees," and "water-saturated sites." These metadata allow users to search the collection by any of these relevant terms. It is the same concept as "tagging," the term used in the general computing community. Using this system, librarians can code reports, maps, charts, correspondence, envelopes, legislative affairs, and more.

Capitalizing on the need for a way station in the desert, several parties sought to inhabit and tame "the meadows." First came the Mormons and their still-standing fort from 1855. After a brief tenure in the area and difficulties with local Paiutes, they abandoned the fort. Next came Octavius Gass, a miner and politician, in 1865. Upon defaulting on a loan to Archibald Stewart, he, and eventually his widowed wife, Helen, became proprietors of the land. Their hard work and dedication to the area earned Helen Stewart the title "first lady of Las Vegas" and it was with their land and water rights that Las Vegas had its true beginnings. The railroads followed the miners and, before long, Las Vegas and its surrounding valleys were booming. Las Vegas was not just a way station, but a town in its own right.

Because of the free flowing creeks coming from profligate natural springs, the early town thrived. Assuming the aquifers provided an endless supply of water, there were no concerns about the possibilities available in the new western town. Before too long, though, doubts and concerns began to interrupt the plans of entrepreneurs. That became the beginning of conflict. How much water was available in the valley? Who should control it? For what purposes could it be used? These questions provide the foundation of this digitized collection.

Let's get to know this collection...

  1. Find a picture of Las Vegas from 1881 and one from 1920 and one from 1974. What can you deduce from the photographs? What could you conclude about water resources in the region based solely on the pictures? [Hint: Do a search for terms including "Las Vegas," "aerial photographs," "1920," and "1974."]
  2. What five adjectives would you use to describe the relationship between the Las Vegas Land & Water Company and the Los Angeles, San Pedro, and Salt Lake Railroad between 1905 and 1930? [Hint: Triangulate information from the timeline, "Walter Bracken" contextual overview, and correspondence resulting from an advanced search of the terms "Correspondence," "Las Vegas Land & Water Company," and "Los Angeles, San Pedro, and Salt Lake Railroad" using the Boolean search term "AND" to link concepts.]
  3. Create a timeline showing the state of the Lost City before, during, and after the completion of Hoover Dam. [Hint: Read the contextual narrative about Floods  and do searches for "Bonelli's Landing and Fort Corvallis/St. Thomas, and Lost City" and review the following artifacts.]
  4. Review six artifacts on the topic of soil conservation projects in Southern Nevada. Summarize your findings into a single paragraph. [Hint: Do a search on the topic "Soil Conservation Projects."]
  5. Using items from the collection that were written for the public citizens of Las Vegas, what image would you infer Las Vegas leaders attempted to project when promoting the city and its water resources?  [Hint: Look for a newspaper clipping, leaflet, brochure, or press release in the collection and click on the links in the record to get to additional items from the various news and publicity formats.]
  6. Read and plan how to answer one of the inquiry questions embedded in this site. [Hint: Look next to each of the contextual overviews to choose a question.]
  7. Scan the artifacts in two of the primary source kits. Which kit do you feel provides a better overview of the conflicts Southern Nevada experienced in terms of water availability and use? Justify your response.
  8. Prepare brief biographies of eight people important to the history of Southern Nevada's water issues. [Hint: Use information available within the timeline.]
  9. In what parts of the Las Vegas Valley have private or public entities drilled wells? [Hint: Do an search for the terms related to water. By narrowing terms and looking for synonyms many items should be retrieved. Suggested topics like "Wells," "Water Well Drilling, "Boring," "Wells—Law and Legislation," Wells—Design and Construction," and "Pumping Stations—Design and Construction" can then be combined with the term "Maps."]
  10. What roles did the Basic Magnesium Plant play in the story of water in Southern Nevada? [Hint: Do a search on the topic "Magnesium—Industry and Trade."]