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The El Paso Salt War of 1877

Video Storytelling Project HIST 3364

SALT WAR OF SAN ELIZARIO | The Handbook of Texas Online| Texas State Historical Association (TSHA)

SALT WAR OF SAN ELIZARIO. The El Paso Salt War began in the late 1860s as a struggle between Republican leaders W. W. Mills, Albert J. Fountain, and Louis Cardis to acquire title to the salt deposits at the foot of Guadalupe Peak, 100 miles east of El Paso. Fountain and Mills became leaders of the opposing factions. Fountain, leader of the Anti-Salt Ring, was elected to the Texas Senate in 1869 with the expectation of securing title to the deposits for the people of the El Paso area, but Cardis and Father Antonio Borrajo of San Elizario aroused sentiment against the scheme. Feeling between the two factions broke into open warfare with the killing of Judge Gaylord Judd Clarke on December 7, 1870, and Fountain soon moved to New Mexico.

The El Paso Salt War - Guadalupe Mountains National Park (U.S. National Park Service)

The Salt Flats
Upon approaching the Guadalupe Mountains from the west, visitors traveling from the El Paso area will pass through a landscape of barren beauty. The Salt Flats are a remnant of an ancient, shallow lake that once occupied this area during the Pleistocene Epoch, approximately 1.8 million years ago. Salt collected here as streams drained mineral-laden water into this basin. The basin, called a graben, formed about 26 million years ago as faulting lifted the Guadalupe Mountains and depressed the adjacent block of the Earth’s crust. At the end of the last ice age, approximately 10,000 years ago, the lake dried up as the climate became more arid. The salt deposits left behind would later become a precious resource to the people of the El Paso area.

The El Paso Salt War of 1877

Sonnichsen, C. L., Carl Hertzog, and José Cisneros. The El Paso Salt War, 1877. El Paso, Texas: C. Hertzog, 1961.

Salt Trade, Trails, and Wars

Few would believe that the desert surrounding El Paso contains a resource so valuable that people would travel hundreds of miles to utilize it and that two wars would be fought over access to it. Salt is taken for granted today, but for much of human history, it was taxed, monopolized, regulated, fought over, and even used as a medium of exchange. As the oldest and most continuously produced mineral in the state, it overshadows the Texas oil industry.

Salt Warriors: Insurgency on the Rio Grande

Cool, Paul. Salt Warriors: Insurgency on the Rio Grande. 1st ed. Vol. no. 11. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008.

Forty Years at El Paso 1858-1898

Mills, William Wallace, Tom Lea, Carl Hertzog, and Rex W. Strickland. Forty Years at El Paso, 1858-1898. El Paso, Texas: C. Hertzog, 1962.

Law, Race, and the Border: The El Paso Salt War of 1877

"Law, Race, and the Border: The El Paso Salt War of 1877." Harvard Law Review 117, no. 3 (2004): 941-963. Accessed on September 9, 2018.