In several of the earlier post about gunslingers I have mentioned their activities in El Paso. El Paso is a border town just south of what is now New Mexico. It has been immortalised in three Marty Robbin’s songs, the most popular of which is entitled “El Paso”. Numerious notorious gunslingers passed through and strode it’s streets.
El Paso was originaly just a sleepy little adobe village named for its nearest neighboe, Paso del Norte (now Juarez, located just across the Rio Grande, in Mexico. In the early days of 1850’s there were just a few scattred ranches on the north bank of the muddy river. Down town El Paso was known variously as Coonsville, Franklin and El Paso among other names. Another settelment known as Magoffinsville was near by. And the Stephenson ranch squatted where the Concordia Cemenetery is located today.
Miles of sagebrush and mesquite devided these locations and Apache Indians put more than a few arrows in unwarry travlers moving from one place to the other. Fiveteen to twenty miles to the southeast were the bigger towns of Ysleta, scorro and San Elezario, all located in hostel enviroments. By necessity people travled to them in large well armed groups.
In early El Paso a thick jungle-like growth known as the bosque extended for miles up and down the river. The Rio Grande cut through a gourge and splashed over a waterfall and mendered around in lazy loops. the bosque became a dense five-mile-wide thicket in some places. the bosque was considered cruel and treacherous. It teamed with wild life, and quicksand. Making the area worse was the dredges of socity that hid and struck from it’s depth. This ragged band of desprados was made up of Indians, Mexicans and Anglos.
In the 1850’s and 60’s El Paso began to to form it’s self in to a town. El Paso street became the main thoroughfare. Named because it led to Paso del Norte, actually to get to Mexico you left the end of the street walked through the thickets and waded the Rio Grande. If the water seemed to be to high you jumped in a row boat and pulled yourself across with a rope tied to a cottonwood tree on each side of the river. On a personal note I have travled the highway along this river on three of four occasions and the water in this river at this point at least looks like slow moving brown mud.
The houses were mostly adobe or tents and travel was by stage or wagon train to the outside world. The Las Vegas NM, paper optic called El Paso “the jumping of place of creation, a country equal to the orthodox church belife in Hell”
Basicly the comunity had no law and except in a few instances needed none. An occasional Texas Ranger from Ysleta would come to admenester justice.
In 1881 with a population of around four hunders the railroad reached El Paso, not from the east but from San Fransico. Over night the sleepy town became of intrest to half the nation as the gate way to Mexico. the town quickly flooded with speculators as the railroads from the east raced to see who would reach El Paso first. Land speculators, busnessmen, preachers, gamblers, outlaws, fiddlefooters of every description and degree headed to El paso hoping to cash in on the boom. along with prospertity came a new degree of lawlessness and excitement not experenced before.
Juarez had a population of close to 5,000, ten times the size of El Paso it was here that the most popular den’s of entertainment of all types were located saloons were in ample supply. On Janurary 28,1881 a good sized group of eneberated Americans crossing the river came upon a highly intoxicated Mexican with a lot of money on him. They took him for a little walk and helped theirselves to some of his cash and left him. A hour later they stumbled across their rich amigo and once again took him on a little walk and relieved him of his cash. Wonderiously the same party came across the fellow again , this time they took him to the river and stripped him to make sure they had all his cash and dumped him in the river.
It seems that this time their stunt sobered him up. He later appeared in the square shivering and angry as hell. He went straight to the millitary commander and told his story. the commander quickly gave orders and every american in town guilty or not was rounded up and throwwn into jail.
In El Paso a rumbel of outrage was voiced and a internatonal insident was on the verge of happening. a speedy trial was promised, but nothing happened.
It was a Mexican pratice that allowed a wife or girl friend to visit in prision on sundays. A group of women were enlisted to smuggle some guns into the prision. the women walked through the prision gates with loaded pistols under their skirts undetected and passed them to some of the americans.
After the women left a break was attempted and a few made it outside only to be captured again . Three made it to the muddy river where they were shot and drowned by a Vaquero. The bodies were recovered and dragged to town by burros in a victory parade. El Paso requested the bodies and were told they could have them for $75 apeice. The money was not paid and the bodies were dumped into a ditch and the sides caved in on them.
Three months later, three others made a excape and made it to the United States. And another was released for medical causes. A very tough croud in El Paso identified the vaquero and marked him for death. The story continued to unfold and asumed the proportiouns of a tragic opera. This set stage one of the most complex gunslingers in western history. Dallas Stoudenmire was about to arrive in El Paso.
TO BE CONTINUED