Now that America is starting to reconcile with its historical record, it is time to start having serious discussions about El Paso’s historical legacy. Today we will focus on Bowie High School. There is much nostalgia about the history of Bowie High School and its impact on the Mexican Americans of El Paso, the Segundo Barrio and on the Chicano identity.

Bowie High School identifies the struggle of Mexican Americans in America and its successes.

But did you know that Bowie High School is named after a slave trader?

According to El Paso Independent School District, Bowie is named after “Alamo defender James Bowie”. [EPISD website accessed on July 6, 2020]

Many readers will recognize James “Jim” Bowie as the inventor of the Bowie Knife who died at the Alamo. What many El Pasoans do not know is that Bowie was a prolific slave trader. Many do not know this because history books conveniently ignore unpleasant facts that distort the carefully created history that America pretends it emerged from.

Jim Bowie was born on Kentucky. But his legacy is one of a well-known Louisiana slave trader. Bowie’s father used slaves to run a large plantation. Before the Alamo, Bowie was part of the James Long expedition to expel the Spaniards out of Texas in 1819. After the Long expedition, Bowie and his brother sold and traded slaves captured by slave-pirate Jean Laffite. (sometimes spelled Lafitte) Importing slaves into America was illegal after 1808. To circumvent the law, pirates like Laffite would capture slave ships and smuggle the stolen slaves into the country. Although importing slaves was illegal, selling and trading slaves already in the country was still legal.

The Bowies used the slave trading profits to become land speculators.

But Bowie’s land speculating was nothing more than land fraud. Jim Bowie, along with his brother forged Spanish land titles to sell land that was in the public domain. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Sempeyreac and Stewart v. The United States that the Bowie land claim deed was a forgery. Other Bowie land deeds were also forgeries. Soon after questions of Bowie’s land dealings were made, Jim Bowie left the United States.

In 1830, Bowie moved from Louisiana to Texas, then a Mexican territory. He brought with him over 100 slaves. To avoid the Mexican prohibition against slavery, Bowie, like other Texas settlers, called their slaves “indentured servants”. Bowie died at the Alamo.

Not only was Jim Bowie, the namesake of the highschool, a slave trader and fraudster, but the Texas Revolution was nothing more than making a new slave-friendly territory.

As Americans and El Pasoans start to revisit the historical legacy imposed upon them shouldn’t the name of a high school serving minorities in the center of the Segundo Barrio which is under the constant threat of erasure to make way for Anglo-centric legacies be renamed to better reflect the community it serves?

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...

10 replies on “Bowie High School Is Named After a Slave Master”

  1. During the time of James Bowie it was legal to own slaves. Bowie High School is a historic landmark that represents pride and culture. Changing it’s name is a personal strike against those of us that attended the greatest High School in the United States. In my High School, “La Bowie” we accepted everyone despite of the race, color, or social status. Bowie represents the Meztizo people along with those from Douglas Elementary, where blacks were segregated to attend a High School of low class and Mexican immigrants. This is where El Paso white people were given sanctuary because they had been in prison and jail. Bowie High School is the example of a winning culture our Mexican/American way of life. Bowie High School’s name will never change because those of us who know what it feels to be a Bowie Bear will always be a Bowie Bear.

  2. Mr Paredes, if you want to talk about the Bowie name, then you have talk about Austin, Jefferson High School and the other schools named after the Alamo heroes. The school board members were part of the KKK, why the older schools have these names. The subject of the Bowie name was talked about during the 75th Anniversary (I was there at the time) in 1998. The Bowie Alumni President during that time had stated that yes James Bowie was a troubled man, it’s just a name. Let me tell you something sir, Bowie High School is a great school, has the largest alumni in the world, loved by the community and damn proud to attend and graduate from there. Does the name offend me? No sir, it doesn’t!! I’m sure my fellow Bowie Bears would agree with that!! As Bowie motto states Once A Bear, Always A Bear!!

  3. James Bowie was from one the largest slave trading Louisiana families. He knew about Texas from the slave trade and the pirate Jean Lafitte. The slave trade was legal in Louisiana and tolerated in Texas y Coahuila. Mexico tolerated slaves in the north but did not allow any slaves. this was the biggest rallying cry for Austin’s Anglos, to permit slavery. it’s an exaggerated myth that they the Anglos wanted freedom. they wanted slaves!

  4. Everyone is human, everyone makes mistakes. We weren’t born at the time that these heroes were born we don’t know their morals nor their feelings/emotions towards their slaves. Which at the time was legal. We live in Texas land, Texas is part of the United States thanks to these great heroes who gave up/risked their life’s for all the people who’ve lived , visited and live currently in Texas. The name “Bowie High School” means so much more to students,alumni, the community, teachers, staff etc…there’s no point in changing the name after so many years of pride and excellence. If you think they should change the name consider changing the rest of EPISD schools names too such as Jefferson and Austin. People always try picking at everything when there’s nothing to pick at!!!!Worry about yourself the Bowie population would have petitioned about the name if they found a problem with it. James Bowie doesn’t reflect the people who have loved and attended this high school if anything the fans of this high school have given the school character and have shown their voice and always shown their hospitality to anyone who affiliates with it.

  5. Informed discussion with differing opinions is always beneficial. We need much more of that in this community. Thank you, Martin, for offering El Paso Politics.
    As I wrote to Miquel Juarez in Art Coffee, I think that it is the greatest compliment to La Bowie and all of her alums and fierce and loyal supporters that the word “Bowie” in Bowie High School has its very own definition, identity and meaning. Actually, at this point in time, it has no association with James Bowie whatsoever. It’s well and good to discuss who Bowie was named for, but isn’t it wonderful that Bowie High School and the Bowie Bears became their very own entities? The pride and loyalty associated with Bowie High School is admired by every thinking person in El Paso. I would champion informed debates and education about cultural white-washing, but not using some common sense when it comes to renaming things provides all of us with quite a slippery slope.

  6. Remember that pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Be careful what you are proud of. Many racists and bigots lean heavily on ancestral pride to justify their racial beliefs. Wrong is wrong and it is just a name so it can be changed and anyone with any type or empathy would consider it. I can’t believe that people are actually saying that slavery was legal back then so that makes it less harsh. In Germany it was legal to murder Jews. Should Germans not care about that chapter of their history? Should they be okay with statues of Hitler being placed all over the country? Should they name their schools after decorated Nazi Officers? Sadly… I know some of you are saying yes as you read this. Evil is evil. Regardless if it is legal or not. Laws aren’t always passed by good people. Another thing to be aware of is that history is controlled by the people who write it. Don’t always believe just what you read in school about our country’s history.

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