American El Paso: The Formative Years,
W. H. TIMMONs*
T HE EL PASO AREA IS THE PRODUCT OF TWO CULTURAL TRADITIONS-
the Spanish-Mexican North and the Anglo-American Southwest.
The two divide in the year 1848, when the Rio Grande became an
international boundary. During the Spanish and Mexican periods, the
area remained largely agricultural in character and consisted of six
settlements established along the right bank of the Rio Grande-El
Paso del Norte, San Lorenzo, Seneci, Ysleta, Socorro, and San Elizario.
With the exception of the ranch owned by Pasefio aristocrat Juan
Maria Ponce de Le6n, little development had taken place north of the
river. In the early 183os the shifting Rio Grande had formed a new
channel south of the old one, placing Ysleta, Socorro, and San Elizario
on what was known as "the Island." In accordance with the Treaty
of Guadalupe Hidalgo of February 2, 1848, which officially ended the
war between the United States and Mexico, the Rio Grande became an
international boundary between the two nations up to the point where
the river struck the southern boundary of New Mexico. All territory
north of the river thus became a part of the United States, and El Paso
del Norte, the largest of the settlements south of the river, became a
To the California emigrants of 1849 who braved hundreds of miles
of the vast dry plain of western Texas, a region virtually without tim-
ber, grassland, or water, El Paso del Norte, with its cottonwood trees,
gardens, vineyards, town plaza, adobe structures with thick walls and
shaded entrances, must have seemed like a true oasis in the desert.
Overnight the gold rush brought in hordes of adventurers, oppor-
tunists, and characters larger than life, transforming the quiet, sleepy
*W. H. Timmons is professor emeritus of history at the University of Texas, El Paso,
and is the author of several studies, including Morelos of Mexico: Priest, Soldier, States-
1W. H. Timmons, "The El Paso Area in the Mexican Period, 1821-1848," Southwestern
Historical Quarterly, LXXXIV (July, 1980), 1-2, 24, 27-28; J. J. Bowden, The Ponce de
Le6n Land Grant (El Paso, Tex., 1969), 3-5; J. J. Bowden, Spanish and Mexican Land
Grants in the Chihuahuan Acquisition (El Paso, Tex., 1971), 131.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 87, July 1983 - April, 1984. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117150/. Accessed May 25, 2015.