Mormon Fort park plaque brings recognition to home of Nevada matriarch

When Helen Stewart arrived in Las Vegas in 1882, she had no desire to live so far from civilization on the ranch her husband Archibald had acquired. Today, she is considered the First Lady of Las Vegas, and a new plaque was installed at the former site of her ranch home on Nevada Day, Oct. 31, by several chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution at the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Historic Park, 500 E. Washington Ave.

“She was pregnant with her fourth child and was concerned about giving birth without any other women around to help her,” said Linda Miller, a historical interpreter who portrays Stewart at events. “She ended up staying here the rest of her life and made it the place she wanted to be.”

Archibald Stewart was killed in a gunfight — or perhaps murdered — two years after the family arrived on the property originally founded as a fort by Mormon settlers. Helen Stewart raised her family and made the ranch the preferred place to stop, rest and recharge on the way through Southern Nevada. When the railroad came through in 1902, she sold much of her land, creating what became the original town site of Las Vegas. She watched and guided the town from a slap-dab collection of canvas-walled buildings to the thriving community it was by her death in 1926.

“I find history fascinating,” said Ken Stewart, the great-great-grandson of Helen Stewart. “Situations create leaders, and she was thrown into that role. She had a real vision for the city and the community.”

Several direct descendants of Helen and Archibald Stewart attended the unveiling ceremony for the marker at the state park located where Helen Stewart lived until 1903.

Miller, a DAR member, felt the plaque honoring Stewart would be a great way to celebrate the organization’s 125th anniversary. The group has a shorter history in Southern Nevada, with the first, the Francisco Garces Chapter, established in 1950. All of the Southern Nevada chapters participated in the event, and almost all were involved in the commissioning of the plaque.

“What better way to honor a woman of service than a DAR marker?” Miller asked.

The marker was created by stone carver Rick Clout, whose business, Written in Stone by Rick, is based in Pahrump.

“I’m really happy with the finished piece,” Clout said. “I love the look of the natural stone, and I was able to preserve it.”

Mark Hall-Patton, Clark County Museums administrator, spoke at the event and highlighted some of Stewart’s accomplishments.

“She was the first postmaster of what was then called ‘Los Vegas,’ ” Hall-Patton said. “She was a charter member of the Mesquite Club, the oldest women’s club in the valley, and she was one of the first to begin preserving artifacts of the Native American culture here.”

Stewart had collected more than 600 baskets created by Paiutes, recognizing very early that they were an indigenous art form. That aspect and others of Stewart are represented in a life-sized statue of her at the state park. The park includes exhibits, historical recreations and a gift store selling, among other things, books by local historians, including Miller.

“She was an amazing woman, and I’m proud to be able to interpret her,” Miller said. “I think that any time spent letting people know about her and what she did is time well spent.”

For more information on Daughters of the American Revolution, visit dar.org. For more about the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Historic Park, visit parks.nv.gov/parks/old-las-vegas-mormon-fort.

— To reach East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor, email ataylor@viewnews.com or call 702-380-4532.

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