The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981 Page: 1
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The El Paso Area in the Mexican Period,
W. H. TIMMoNs*
AS ONE TRAVELS NORTHWARD FROM CHIHUAHUA ALONG THE OLD
Camino Real of the eighteenth century, he will eventually sight
two mountain ranges-the one on the right set back slightly from the
other-with a deep chasm between. This is the Pass of the North, where
the Rio Grande slices through the two ranges in a southeasterly direc-
tion. Historically, for the past four centuries the Pass has been a con-
tinental crossroads; today it is the site of Ciudad Jumrez, Chihuahua
(formerly El Paso del Norte), and El Paso, Texas-a unique metropoli-
tan complex which is binational, bicultural, and bilingual in character
-a product of the Spanish-Mexican North and the American West.
When Mexico became independent in 1821, a chain of six towns,
situated from three to five miles apart, stretched along the southern
bank of the river. Five of these had been settled by refugees from the
Pueblo Revolt in 168o-El Paso del Norte, San Lorenzo, Seneci',
Ysleta, and Socorro; the sixth, San Elizario, one of fifteen presidios es-
tablished by Spanish officials in the eighteenth century as a frontier-
defense measure, was moved to its present location in 1788.1 In the
183os the capricious Rio Grande formed a new channel to the south of
Ysleta, Socorro, and San Elizario, thus placing them on an island some
twenty miles in length and two to four miles in width. For the re-
mainder of the Mexican period the area was called "the Island."2
*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-
1Marcos Guerra to don Javier de Uranga, Senec, Aug. 29, 1788, Archives of the ayunta-
miento of Ciudad Juirez (microhhm; Special Collections and Archives, University of Texas
at El Paso), Reel 47, frame 116. These records are cited hereafter as Juirez Archives. In
the Spanish and Mexican documents San Elizario is usually spelled San Elceario. For de-
tails on the El Paso settlements other than San Elizario, see W. H. Timmons, "The Popu-
lation of the El Paso Area-A Census of 1784," New Mexico Historical Review, LII (Oct.,
2Roscoe P. Conkling and Margaret B. Conkling, The Butte field Overland Mail, 1857--
1869 . . . (3 vols.; Glendale, Cal., 1947), II, 46-47; John Russell Bartlett, Personal Narra-
tive of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora, and Chihua-
hua (a vols.; New York, 1854), I, 193; J. J. Bowden, Spanish and Mexican Land Grants
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981, periodical, 1980/1981; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101225/m1/21/?rotate=90: accessed January 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.