El Paso Once Had a Bloody and Violent Race War. Over Salt
There was once an armed conflict over salt that centered in El Paso, especially San Elizario.
Many people died and there were many more casualties. Almost all the participants, on every side, were American citizens.
And, the two sides of the conflict broke down almost exclusively along racial lines.
You had the “no salt” faction who wanted the salt to remain a “community resource”. This faction was almost completely made up of Mexican Americans.
On the other side, you had the people who wanted to buy the salt reserves and own them exclusively. This side, the “salt” faction, was made up, almost exclusively, of Anglo businessmen, investors, bankers, and lawmen.
This story is set in the Old West era. The salt in dispute was in the dry lakes at the base of the Guadalupe Mountain.
If you’ve ever driven Highway 54 from El Paso to Carlsbad, you’ve passed the Salt Flats. Eastbound it’s right before you hit the Guadalupe’s.
This salt was EXTREMELY valuable back in those days. Salt was an essential seasoning, as it is today. But in the days before refrigeration, salt was absolutely essential in preserving meat.
It also had numerous industrial uses, such as silver mining. Suffice it to say, salt was a vital and valuable resource back then.
The event was called The San Elizario Salt War. It has its own Wikipedia page and everything. The issue of the salt and who, if anybody, owned it finally came to a violent head in 1877.
In that year, the population of the county was around 5,000 souls. Of those, fewer than a hundred were Anglos. It was from this group that you had the “salt” faction. They wanted the flats to be available to stake claims on.
The “no salt” group, about 500 men, mostly in San Elizario, wanted the salt flats to be kept as they were: a community resource. That’s what it had been under Spanish rule, then Mexican rule, AND as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
It was until 1866 that the Texas Constitution allowed individuals to stake claims on the valuable land.
I’m not going to go into every detail here. You’ve got the Wiki link, above, and BOOKS have been written about it. But I will explain why this was a “race war” as much as it was a “land war”.
The people of San Eli were, for the most part, Americans. The Salt faction was, again, mostly, Americans. The main difference was that one side was mostly Latino and the other side was mostly white. I am intentionally switching to those labels for the rest of this article.
Some of the white guys staked a claim on the salt flats and let everybody know they couldn’t go get their salt there anymore.
One day, some Mexican dudes let it be known that was taking a damn wagon up to the flats to get their damn salt. The white guys didn’t like it so they sent the sheriff, also a white guy, to arrest them.
Some of the Mexicans retaliated. People died. Eventually, the white guys complained to the governor, a white guy. He sent the Texas Rangers (more white guys).
The Texas Rangers were…immediately captured by the Mexicans! I did not see that coming. The Mexicans executed some of the white guys.
At this point in our story…the blacks got involved. Because of the violence, the U.S. government re-established Fort Bliss ( the camp had been abandoned about a year prior) and sent the Ninth Cavalry to put down any “troublemakers”.
Most of the 9th Cav soldiers that were sent to El Paso…were Buffalo Soldiers (aka, the all-black regiment).
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