American history usually glosses over many historical details especially when it does not fit the Anglo-centric worldview of what is real. The issue of Duranguito and the ongoing de-Mexicanization of El Paso is not new. Rather it has been ongoing since Texas revolted from México.
Most El Paso residents do not know, or have forgotten that the county seat was not always in El Paso. Rather, the county seat was in San Elizario. How El Paso came to become the county seat traces back directly to the culture war on Mexicans in El Paso.
The Salt War isn’t generally taught in history classes. Very few in El Paso know that the issue of who owns land resources was largely settled in El Paso.
Before the Anglos arrived in El Paso, the mostly Mexican natives did not use fences to divide up the land. For them, natural resources belonged to the community. In the 1800’s when the Anglos arrived, they started putting of fences around properties they laid claim to. (Wall anyone?)
One of the properties that was fenced in was the salt mines at the foot of the Guadalupe Mountains. The Mexicans, who adhered to the Spanish belief that whomever gathers minerals from the ground owned it. The incoming Anglos, on the other hand, were intent on establishing the doctrine that whomever owned the land owned the minerals and water on it.
But it wasn’t simply about land ownership. For the Mexicans, the public land was public land belonging to the community. The Anglos arrived and started to stake out land parcels and calling it their own.
Soon the friction between the Anglos and the Mexican escalated into warfare. The Salt War lasted for 12 years, but it wasn’t until the final year that the question was settled on landownership of natural resources.
The Mexicans routed the Texas Rangers and their Anglo overlords who wanted to enforce the new control of public lands. The final battle was started by a former Confederate soldier named Charles Howard. In 1877 Howard arrested two Mexicans mining the salt. Outraged Mexicans rallied and forced Howard into exile in New Mexico.
But Howard wasn’t done, although he had promised to give up his claims to the salt mines. Soon after, he gathered 20 Texas Rangers and confronted Mexicans mining the salt.
By the time the dust settled, John Atkinson and John McBride had been killed. Charles Howard, along with the Texas Rangers surrendered to the Mexicans. Howard was killed by a firing squad as he was under bond for another crime. The Texas Rangers were released after surrendering their weapons.
This is the only time in history that the Texas Rangers surrendered to opposing forces.
Because the Mexicans won, the history of the Salt War is generally ignored. When the war is acknowledged, the narrative is usually sprinkled with words like “vigilantes,” “days of rioting” and “kill all Americans” to create the illusion that the Anglos were on the right side of history. The El Paso Herald Post used the headline: Salt War At San Elizario Was A Five-Day Rule By Mob to report on the event, thereby cementing the approved narrative.
The oligarchs could not let the status-quo remain. Uppity Mexicans would not be allowed to assert their dominance over the area. The United States dispatched the 9th Calvary to restore order.
The U.S. military delivered a clear message to the Paseños. The message to the growing Hispanics was that the minority Anglos were backed up by the full power of the United States government.
The arrival of the military led to San Elizario losing the county seat because confidence had been lost in its ability to keep the peace. The county seat was moved to El Paso and Ft. Bliss was reopened to ensure that Mexicans knew their place in the new hierarchy.