Helen J. Stewart learned early that life was full of challenges and adventure.

Helen Wiser was three when her father moved his wife and three daughters from near Springfield, Illinois to Kansas and Iowa, where the twins were born. In 1863, they traveled farther west, through Nevada, and settled in Galt, California. There she went to college, became a teacher, and just before her nineteenth birthday, married Archibald Stewart, who took her to the “land of the wonderful future,” the Nevada desert.

Though the move was supposed to be temporary, Las Vegas became her home. After the murder of her husband, and though she had never dealt with finances or business, Helen quickly took control of her husband’s enterprises. She raised her five children there, became a successful rancher and landowner, invested in mining, became active in politics, and was instrumental in bringing education, the railroad – civilization – to the valley.

But Helen was not the typical sturdy, rough-edged pioneer woman. Often described as a china doll – soft-spoken, demure, and petite – she was delicate, but determined. She fought for women’s rights, breaking down barriers long upheld; worked for the protection of Indians; and participated, often leading the way, in many civic activities.

Through personal interviews, letters, newspaper accounts, and detailed research, Sally Zanjani and Carrie Townley Porter have written a compelling portrait of Helen J. Stewart, from her birth in 1854 until her death in 1926. Her influence on Las Vegas is still being felt today.

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