Heritage, Volume 7, Number 1, Winter 1989 Page: 24
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Burros used to carry dynamite up the mountain.
Courtesy Harpers Weekly, vol. XXXV, no. 1816,
October 10, 1891.
of El Paso, provided that the city furnish
transportation to and from the site, and
that all expenses be paid for teams, labor
and hotel bills.
They rolled into El Paso on September
3rd, to a warm welcome. The mayor stood
beaming there, along with the two editors
and a city councilman named Kelly. Rain,
by God, was coming to El Paso!
The team got together with the El Paso
people to pick a site in an arroyo near a city
reservoir, probably on the hill where the
Sunset Heights reservoir stands today. The
balloons would be released from here.
Professor Ellis had his whole crew together
by September 14th, and the whole
gang assembled to receive a tribute from
the McGinty Club. They had music and a
parade and a high old time indeed, and
then they got to work. A Major Hinton was
commander at Fort Bliss, and he jumped
into the act, offering full cooperation from
the military in carrying out the experiment.
The next two days saw tons of material
being carried out to the reservoir, while a
regular burro-train hauled dynamite and
rack-a-rock, bombshells, mortars, dynamos
and wire up to the summit of Mount
Franklin, probably to Ranger Peak.
September 17 saw Professor Ellis sailing
aloft in a balloon. When he got up to 4000
feet, 2-pound charges of dynamite were set
off on the ground. Observing, the good
professor could feel the vibrations in the
balloon, a fact he announced when he got
back to the ground. The air was dry. Dry.
But the experiment must go on. On the
18th, everything was ready for the Big Test.
24 HERITAGE * WINTER 1989
It was a worse day than yesterday had
been. A strong wind had come in from the
southwest, sending hot dust swirling up
into the already hot-dry air. But the show
had to go on, because a number of 'prominent
people' had come from as far away as
Arizona and Sonora, and they would have
been 'inconvenienced by the delay.'
Well, sir, the show began. It's doubtful if
El Paso has ever heard such noise before or
since. Every three minutes, all day long till
7:30 in the evening, the racket thundered.
Dyrenforth's team managed to set off 370
earth-shaking explosions during that long,
hot day. About 8 o'clock that night, you
could see clouds and lightning to the
northeast. About 11 o'clock, some thin
clouds started forming overhead, but they
passed quietly off to the south and the
barometer began to rise.
By sunrise, the sky was clear. They did
get a heavy dew in El Paso, but that was
about it, even though the estimable Professor
Ellis claimed in his official report that
they had a lot of rain farther down the
By this time, Bob Kleberg out at the
King Ranch had heard about the success at
Midland, and he agreed to pay all expenses
for a test at his ranch. So as soon as they
could get everything together, the Great
Rainmakers shook the dust of El Paso from
their feet and headed for East Texas.
In Professor Ellis's final accounting, the
Grand Rain Making Experiment of El Paso
in 1891 cost a total of $1300. The government
had ponied up about $500 of this,
while the citizens of El Paso got stuck for
$767 dollars-and no rain.
The McGintys come back into the picture
with the legend of their party for the
rainmakers. This is a happening which
local historian Conrey Bryson doubts ever
took place, but it's fun to think about,
According to the story, Professor Ellis
and his team were invited to a big bash
being given that very evening at the Mesa
Gardens for a railroad convention being
held in town. The city editor of the El Paso
Times wrote: "While the delegates were
seated in the long pavilion, eating, drinking
and smoking, D.W. Reckhart, W.M.
McCoy, J.J. Longwell and J.J. Watts made
their appearance, wearing rubber coats and
carrying balloons and bombs. They were
introduced by Captain Juan Hart as the
McGinty rainmakers, who really made
"The rainmakers sent up several skyrockets
and balloons, fired a few bombs,
and instantly water came flowing down on
the roof of the pavilion. 'Damned if they
haven't done it!' exclaimed Senator Patterson,
as he and another delegate rushed
to the edge of the pavilion to look up into
a cloudless sky.
"Men with hoses were throwing water
on the pavilion, but the burlesquing of the
government's fad made a hit with the delegates."
It would've been fun had Professor Ellis
been there. It was fun, anyway, with the
McGinty Club around. They got more
water out of their hoses in five minutes
than the Great Government Rain-Making
Expedition had been able to do in a good
And the good General Robert St.
George Dyrenforth? Why, you just know
they changed his name. In El Paso, from
then on, he was known as General Dryhenceforth,
and is remembered so in the
history books to this day.
Alex Apostolides is an archaeologist, and
writer and producer of The Edge of Texas
radio show in El Paso.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 7, Number 1, Winter 1989, periodical, Winter 1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45430/m1/24/: accessed October 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.