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Why is Henderson called Henderson?

Some Nevada cities have descriptive names denoting local land features. Las Vegas, for instance, means “The Meadows” in Spanish.

But there’s no similar descriptive name for the Silver State’s second-largest city. It’s named after Charles Belknap Henderson.

Few Henderson residents know much about the man for whom the city is named, but he lived an eventful life that included a term as a U.S. senator and a run-in with a gun-toting disgruntled former law client.

Early years

Born in San Jose, California, in 1873, Henderson was 3 when his family moved to Elko, where he grew up. He later practiced law and over the years he served in various positions, including as district attorney in Elko County, as a member of the Nevada Assembly and as a University of Nevada regent.

Henderson was a first lieutenant in the Rough Riders volunteer cavalry group with future President Teddy Roosevelt but never made it to the fighting campaign in Cuba that made the group famous during the Spanish-American War, according to Rick Watson of the Henderson Historical Society.

Henderson served in the U.S. Senate from 1918 to 1921, chairing the Committee on Industrial Expositions and serving on the Committee on Mines and Mining.

Close call

The day after Henderson’s Senate term expired in 1921, a former client of the senator’s law practice approached Henderson at his Senate Building office and shoved the barrel of his gun into the senator’s chest, according to a New York Times report at the time. Before the man could fire the gun, Henderson grabbed the man’s hand and pushed it away. The gun went off during the altercation and a bullet struck Henderson’s forearm.

Another senator and a clerk found Henderson “calmly bandaging his arm and not at all excited.” The shooter later admitted to harboring a 25-year grudge against the senator, after Henderson’s law firm lost the man’s land suit, the New York Times article said.

After his Senate term, Henderson was part of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, where he served as chairman from 1941 to 1947. There, Henderson made his greatest contribution to the town that would eventually take his name, because the corporation funded the Basic Magnesium Plant under his leadership, said Mark Hall-Patton, former Clark County Museum administrator and current member of the Henderson Historical Society.

‘The one that wasn’t here’

The townsite built around the plant was known as the Basic townsite until January 1944. Its name changed to Henderson when the townsite got its own post office, named after the former senator, according to Hall-Patton.

“The bottom line really is that we are Henderson because the federal government decided to name a post office after Henderson,” Henderson City Archivist Nathan Hill said.

The city of Henderson was officially incorporated in 1953. The new city kept the post office’s name.

Despite the naming of the townsite after him, Henderson never visited the city of Henderson. He died in San Francisco in Nov. 8, 1954, a year after Henderson officially incorporated.

“It’s interesting because you have all of these Nevada senators that were a part of this, but the one that wasn’t here, that never even visited here, was the one whose name was on the town,” Hall-Patton said.

Other Hendersons

The Southern Nevada city is not the only Henderson in the U.S.

Other Hendersons are located in Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, North Carolina, Illinois, Maryland, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, New York and Minnesota. But Nevada city lays claim to one attribute setting it apart from the other Hendersons — its estimated 330,000 population tops all the rest, according to the Census Bureau.

But the city still gets its share of callers seeking a different municipality with the same name.

“We’ve gotten calls for Henderson, Texas, and Hendersonville, Kentucky. I’m fairly used to it,” Hill said.

Contact Mark Credico at mcredico@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Instagram @writermark2.

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