Heritage, Volume 14, Number 1, Winter 1996 Page: 20
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Shown above is a boundary survey map executed for the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey Report
in the 1850s by William H. Emory.
on his promotional tour of the border. His
"Personal Narrative" was to become a
more lasting tribute from his appointment
as director of the United States Boundary
Survey than his effectiveness as a surveyor.
The UTEP-San Elizario Plaza Archaeological
Field School combined previous
work from several sources, including subsurface
interface radar (SIR) studies of the
church environs and the open San Elizario
Independent School District playfield adjacent
to the Plaza. The unmarked church
cemetery east of the chapel was documented
through this work, and compelling evidence
for subsurface remains from walls
and structures was recorded in the playfield.
Excavations in the playfield confirmed that
archaeological deposits were still extant
across the playfield. These were probably
segments of the interior walls or possibly of
the Presidio Magazine, which would have
had substantial walls to isolate potential
explosions from the garrison and the livestock.
Local legend has parlayed one structure,
the Casa Ronquillo, to prominence as the
home of the last Spanish vice-regal. Unfortunately,
there is no record of its construction
prior to 1830, following Mexican Independence.
Nonetheless, it was to play a
significant role as home to Charles Ellis of
the infamous San Elizario Salt Wars, and as
a major trading center along the Salt Trail
from the Guadalupe Mountains to Chi
huahua. Furthermore, the Casa Ronquillo
later served as a motor hotel as early as the
1930s and was no doubt the haven of many
transcontinental travellers who chose the
southern route cross-country. Until the 1950s
Casa Ronquillo was a courtyard structure
with four wings surrounding an open courtyard;
soon after it was mostly demolished
and only one of the wings survive today.
After sporadic efforts at preservation, the
building is now in dire straits. Archaeological
work at the site documented the previous
conformation of the building and identified
several activity areas, including a blacksmith
forge circa 1850s. The current Mission
Trail Enhancement Project will contribute
preservation plans for Casa Ronquillo
as well as for Los Portales on the plaza, which
THE UTEP-SAN ELIZARIO PLAZA
ARCHEOLOGICAL fIELD SCHOOL
COMBINED PREVIOUS WORK fROM SEVfRAL
SOURCES, INCLUDING SUBSURFACE
INTERfACE RADAR (SIR) STUDIES Of THE
CHURCH ENVIRONS AND THE OPEN SAN
ELIZARIO INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT
PLAYfIELD ADJACENT TO THE PLAZA.
are critical for their appropriate restoration
Historical restoration is only one component
of historical preservation. Unless
there are stable and long-term uses for
structures, restoration effort throws good
money after bad. Tourism is not now a
sufficient basis for economic development,
not when the older communities like San
Elizario and the surrounding colonias of
Las Azaleas, Las Daleas, Las Pompas, and
others comprise the major population.
Median income is among the lowest in the
United States, and public health problems
are rampant. For starters it might be necessary
to accommodate the needed community
service providers like the Centro
Valle de Salud Health Clinic, the La Fe
Health Clinic, the El Paso Collaborative
for Educational Excellence at UTEP, and
other community partnerships that have
been effective in providing services to the
disenfranchised and remote population of
the Lower Valley. The success of recent
colonia community centers at Montana
Vista and others along the border that
have been organized by the TAMU Center
for Housing and Urban Development
provide examples for the effective coordination
of public services. When combined
with rehabilitation and use of historical
structures and landscapes, they provide
the bridge toward continuity and longterm
Perhaps tourism will provide the ultimate
magnet for economic development
for the Lower Valley; the necessary catalyst
may well be the Tigua Casino along
Interstate 10. In the meantime, the history
of the Lower Valley belongs primarily to
the residents, many of whom trace their
local genealogy back 300 or more years.
Some residents, like the Escontrias Family
retain documents and historical photographs
from their grandparents. In our
survey of historical structures in Socorro
in the Lower Valley, Salvador Luj an shared
with us the "Causas Criminales" compiled
by his great-grandfather who had served as
justice of the peace in the 1860s. When we
visited to photocopy the "Causas",
Salvador's granddaugher Stephanie Lujan
was studying for one of her college courses
at the kitchen table at her grandfather's
adobe house on Socorro Road. She was
the first in her family to attend a university.
Stephanie was reading from the first
few chapters of the text "Sociological Explorations",
which had been prepared for
20 HERITAGE .WINTER 1996
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 14, Number 1, Winter 1996, periodical, Winter 1996; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45404/m1/20/: accessed December 15, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.