The El Paso Salt War of 1877 has gone down in history as the spontaneous “action of a mindless rabble,” but as author Paul Cool deftly demonstrates, the episode was actually an insurgency, “the product of a deliberate, community-based decision squarely in the tradition of the American nation’s original fight for self-government.”
The Paseños (local Mexican Americans) had held common ownership of the immense salt lakes at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains since the time of Spanish rule. They believed their title was confirmed in the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. However, to the American businessmen who saw in the white expanse a cash crop that could make them rich in the years following the American Civil War, ownership appeared up for grabs. After years of struggle among Anglo politicians and speculators eager to seize the lakes, an Austin banker staked a legal claim in 1877, and his son-in-law, Charles Howard, started to enforce it. Cool chronicles the ensuing popular uprising that disrupted established governmental authority in El Paso for twelve weeks.
Unique features of this pioneering book include the author’s employment of previously untapped sources and the first thorough and systematic use of familiar ones, notably the government report El Paso Troubles in Texas, to create this detailed study of the war. First-person accounts from reports and newspaper items create a landmark day-by-day account of the San Elizario battle, including the location of the Texas Ranger positions.
This fast-paced account not only corrects the record of this historical episode but will also resonate in the context of today’s racial and ethnic tensions along the U.S.-Mexico border.