Famous People of the Old West, Researching Historical Fiction

The original Las Vegas

When I was researching the Doc Holliday artifacts auctioned off in Harrisburg, Pa., I was dismayed that the auction house’s website erroneously refers to Las Vegas, Nevada, as the last place Doc Holliday practiced dentistry. It was Las Vegas, New Mexico, as any student of Western history would know and as the letter accompanying his dental chair clearly indicates. (Las Vegas, Nevada, wasn’t even established until 1905.)

I was chagrined to see that True West magazine carried the error forward in its photo caption, but it shows how easily mistakes can slip past even the most diligent among us, which makes Old West research so fascinating — and aggravating.

A saloon in Las Vegas, New Mexico
A saloon in Las Vegas, New Mexico

The New Mexico town was a mecca for gamblers in the late 1800s. It was also a haven for people suffering from tuberculosis because of the hot springs several miles northwest of the Plaza.

I understand it is a lovely town surrounded by open plains and mountains (unfortunately, I’ve never been there). Movies are frequently filmed in and around Las Vegas, including “All the Pretty Horses,” “No Country for Old Men” and “Easy Rider.”

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