In the early 1900's, a major race riot broke out downtown pitting El Pasoans and soldiers from Fort Bliss against Mexican Americans and Mexican nationals.

Even though many soldiers from Fort Bliss were involved in the riot, other Fort Bliss troops would be called upon to end the violence.

The El Paso Race Riot of 1916 had its roots in the Mexican Revolution and "Villistas" ... supporters of Pancho Villa.

In December of 1915, a dinner was held to honor Carrancista Gen. Álvaro Obregón and to discuss new business opportunities in Mexico following Villa's removal.

Villa issued a warning to the Cusihuiriáchic Mining Company and their General Manager, C. R. Watson, that he and his staff better leave Mexico immediately.

They did but went back weeks later, at the insistence of Obregón himself, and Villa wasn't happy about it.

Pancho Villa Sits On Horseback
Getty Images

January 12, 1916, a group led by Villista Col. Pablo López attacked a train carrying miners. Shouting “Viva Villa!” and “Death to the Gringos", they killed 18 Americans.

What Sparked The El Paso Race Riot?

As the bodies were returned to El Paso, crowds began forming and things turned violent when soldiers from Fort Bliss attacked two Mexican men in Chihuahuita.

Other skirmishes took place throughout the area as soldiers and Anglo El Pasoans went head to head with Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans.

Almost 1,500 took part in the riot.

Upon hearing news of the turmoil, groups from “El Segundo Barrio” came with bats, sticks, pipes and any other weapons they could muster to defend themselves. According to some eyewitness accounts, residents (including soldiers) of Ciudad Juárez joined their Mexican brethren from El Paso. At the peak of the rioting, Fort Bliss commander Gen. John J. Pershing ordered the Sixteenth Infantry to occupy the downtown streets because the local police force could not adequately restore order. - tshaonline

El Paso Placed Under Martial Law.

Gen. Pershing also declared martial law, set curfews and decreed that Mexicans could not leave, nor could Americans enter, Chihuahuita.

He also shut down the bridge, halting all traffic between El Paso and Juarez

About 100 police and soldiers went after suspected Villistas in a “clean up” of Chihuahuita and Pershing's orders remained in effect, on and off, for a year.

Racial tensions remained high for many, many years.

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