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Retrieving Las Vegas

My pal Coug bought a used, Las Vegas-style video poker machine, a console model that fits nicely into his den.

After years of gambling in Laughlin, Nevada, Coug finally figured out that “the house” always has the advantage. Now Coug (short for “Cougar”) is the house. He primed his machine with about $300 worth of quarters, and he’s trying to hit a royal flush.

It says on the front of his machine that a royal flush pays $1,000. When Coug collects, he’s going to donate the profits to a citizens’ movement known as SLACKAPU. That stands for “Salvage The Lost Arizona County Known As Pah-Ute.”

I don’t know if Arizona school children still learn about the Lost County of Pah-Ute, or whether it’s one of those inside stories only we old-timers know.

When Arizona Territory was separated from New Mexico Territory in 1863, its northern boundary extended westward to the diagonal eastern boundary of California. What is now the chisel-shaped southern tip of Nevada was then the northwestern part of Arizona. Arizona had a profile like a coffeepot, with an enlarged spout pointing toward Modesto.

That northwest corner contained Pah-Ute and Mohave counties. Las Vegas, in Pah-Ute County, was a tiny settlement along the Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe to Los Angeles, and also on the Mormon Road from Salt Lake City to San Bernardino.

Lake Mead did not yet exist. It would be created by construction of Boulder (Hoover) Dam in the 1930s. In the 1800s, steamboats navigated far up the Colorado River.

There are several trusty old yarns that are hard for a liar to top. Pah-Ute County existed from 1864 to 1867, and it’s one of my pets. Then there was explorer Edward F. Beale’s pack train of camels, which passed through the area in 1857 and 1858, embedding camels permanently in the lore of Arizona.

There are the Music Mountains in Mohave County, where you can hear “Beethoven’s Fifth” at sunrise and “Rock of Ages” at dusk.

And there are the Chocolate Mountains in La Paz County, where the Hershey Food Corporation of Pennsylvania still has extensive mining claims.

In 1857, Lt. Beale used a camel pack train to explore a wagon oad across what would become northern Arizona, running from Fort Defiance to Los Angeles. In January, 1858, Beale brought 23 of his camels back eastward, along the same route.

At the Colorado River, near the site of today’s Laughlin, Beale encountered the side-wheel steamboat General Jessup. It was commanded by Captain George Johnson, who had explored far upriver and was on his way back to Yuma.

The two bold explorers played draw poker to see who would buy lunch. By the time they put the cards away, Captain Johnson was the proud owner of a fine, tan dromedary. That prophetic poker game was the first recorded gambling in the area.

In 1866, Congress took away Pah-Ute County and part of Mohave and gave the area to Nevada, over the protests of the Arizona Territorial Legislature. Only a few people lived there, mostly in farming settlements along the river.

A recent Journal of Prevarication told of efforts Arizona is making to increase state revenues. The efforts center on gambling schemes which would extract more money from Arizona citizens.

Leaders of SLACKAPU point out that if Las Vegas and Laughlin were returned to Arizona, they would spread the burden to gamblers from around the world. The resorts are not just cash cows; they are whole herds of revenue.

The region didn’t count for much until the 1940s, when Las Vegas began to roll. It had been a wide-open town since 1931, when gambling was legalized, and construction began on Boulder Dam. It caught on big-time after World War II, when mobster money began building bigger, glitzier casinos.

Restoring Arizona’s original boundary would not only help the state solve its financial woes–it would give us nuclear test sites in southern Nevada, and a little corner of Death Valley.

Coug and his cohorts lost some of their enthusiasm over the weekend. Rival biker gangs who had gathered in Laughlin started shooting at each other in a casino, leaving the landscape littered with dead and wounded. But SLACKAPU quickly recovered its resolve.

The recapture of Las Vegas is not going to be popular in Carson City, the capital of Nevada. Nor will it be universally popular in Arizona, where some people have scruples against gambling. I know several non-gamblers who have overnighted in Laughlin over the years just so they could tell me how miserable they were.

SLACKAPU is being pretty cagey about how it plans to take back Las Vegas. The organization talks vaguely of “occupying the West Bank,” meaning the west bank of Lake Mead.

An old adage says possession is nine points of the law. Even as I write this, thousands of Arizonans are on their way to Nevada. Here at The Wickenburg Institute For Factual Diversity, we see a lot of brave volunteers passsing on the way to the front, traveling U.S. 93 by car and bus and, yes, by motorcycle.

If their money holds out, the Arizonans may be able to gather in large enough numbers to force a referendum and vote that part of Nevada back into Arizona.

But, knowing how gamblers think, I’ll bet many of them are hoping to simply win back Las Vegas, without the legal hassles.

Last 5 posts by Jim Cook

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