Highlighting Raphael Rivera: Historians believe he was first westerner to make it to the Las Vegas valley

Hispanic Heritage Month

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — 8 News NOW is celebrating Hispanic heritage this month, so now it’s time to shine a spotlight on Raphael Rivera.

Raphael Rivera was a Mexican Scout who is believed to be the first westerner to make it into the Las Vegas valley.

“We don’t know precisely whether he was; we think he probably was, though there is some disagreement among historians,” said Mark Hall Patton, Clark County Museum Administrator

There weren’t any pictures taken of him back in 1829, but there is a statue of the man who was part of an expedition of traders that took off from New Mexico and headed for Los Angeles.

Patton says a diary was kept by Antonio Armejo, the leader of the expedition.

“It was solely about trading clothes from Santa Fe for mules in California,” Hall Patton said.

Armejo’s diary revealed that one of the outriders, Rivera went to the area before he knew where the Mojave tribes were.

For centuries the major trade routing linking Spanish settlements in Santa Fe and Los Angeles bypassed the Las Vegas valley, but when Rivera took a detour to do some exploration, he entered the valley and came across some springs. The grassy oasis was a welcome sight on the desert crossing and a natural place to meet and trade with native people.

Many speculate that it was the Springs Preserve.

“We don’t know 100 percent that Raphael Rivera visited the springs here; the record wasn’t very detailed,” said Nathan Harper, an archeologist at the Springs Preserve.

Harper thinks Rivera probably discovered Goodsprings, south of the valley. Either way, the discovery was crucial for the humans and pack animals before their trek through Death Valley.

“Traveling through Death Valley was often known as “the journey of death” because it was so dangerous,” according to Harper. [So] to find springs that you could follow along the way, is the way they were able to develop the Old Spanish Trail.”

“What became known as Old Spanish Trail, which was neither old nor Spanish, it was a New Mexican trail, was there,” Patton said. “Whether it was Raphael Rivera or Antonio Armejo, who discovered it first — we were on the map. Our valley was on the map.”

The exhibit dedicated to Rafael Rivera at the Springs Preserve calls what is now Las Vegas, the Meadows.

There is evidence of the Old Spanish trail all around the Las Vegas valley.

“Mountain Pass, that was part of the Old Spanish Trail,” said Patton. “Resting Springs, they were part of it.”

The name Las Vegas comes from the Spanish word of the meadow or fertile plain. It was because of springs that the area earned that name.

The Rafael Rivera Park Community Center is named after him, and he is commemorated by Nevada Historical Marker 214.

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