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El Paso County TX
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Former El Paso County Seat

El Paso County, West Texas

31°34'58"N 106°15'57"W (31.582873, -106.265703)
FM 258 and FM 1110
15 Miles SE of Downtown El Paso
Population: 14,215 (2017)
13,603 (2010) 11,046 (2000)

San Elizario, Texas Area Hotels › El Paso Hotels
San Elizario Tx Presidio Chapel
San Elizario Chapel
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark

Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, December 2003
History in a Pecan Shell

The town dates from 1598 when Juan de Oņate arrived near the site. Oņate claimed the region (including present-day New Mexico) for the Spanish crown. The original settlement went by the name Hacienda de los Tiburcios and later moved to the south side of the Rio Grande. In 1775 the community had a population of 157. The Spanish built their presidio directly across the river from Fort Hancock in the Valle de San Elizario and when the presidio later relocated to the Hacienda de los Tiburcios, the presidio retained the name - changing the name of the settlement to San Elizario.

San Elizario was second only to El Paso for most of the nineteenth century. After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, San Elizario became part of the state of Chihuahua. In 1841 the population was just over 1,000. A change in the course of the Rio Grande left San Elizario in between the old and new channels of the river. It became part of Texas in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The community was on the Corpus Christi to California road and during the 1849 gold rush, many fortune-seekers passed through on the way to Sutter's Mill.

When El Paso County was organized in 1850, San Elizario was made the county seat and except for two short spans (1854 and 1866) it was El Paso County's seat of government until 1873. During the Civil War Union troops occupied the presidio, but it was abandoned after the war.

San Elizario's decline began in the early 1870s and during the "Salt War" of 1877, the town lost population to the Mexican side. Finally, the town was bypassed by the railroad in 1881 and as El Paso grew, San Elizario shrank. The population was still a healthy 1,500 in 1890 but by 1914 it had declined to just over 800. It reached rock-bottom in 1931 with a population of 300 but grew slowly over the years to climb back to 1914 levels by the 1970s.

Historical Marker:
San Elizario
San Elizario was established in 1789 on the former site of Hacienda de Los Tiburcios as a Spanish colonial fort known as the Presidio de San Elceario. The Presidio was moved from its original location (approx. 37 mi. s) in response to requests from settlers for military protection from Indian raids. It operated as a Spanish post until 1814, when troops withdrew during the Mexican War for Independence (1810-1821). During its years as a part of Mexico, the Presidio de San Elceario (now San Elizario) was occupied periodically by Mexican troops. A reduced military presence resulted in the fort's decline. American control of the area began in 1848, with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which established the Rio Grande as the border between the United States and Mexico. When the county of El Paso was organized in 1850, the town of San Elizario was chosen first county seat and served as such until 1873. In 1877 it was the scene of a crisis known as the Salt War, in which local businessmen attempted to control the salt market that had operated since colonial times. Although San Elizario was bypassed by the railroad and has become a rural farming community, it remains an important element in the region's rich heritage. (1985)
Former El Paso County courthouse & jail
Former El Paso County courthouse & jail
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, December 2003
Old El Paso County Jail
San Elizario Mission,  San Elizario Texas
San Elizario Chapel
1556 San Elizario Rd.

Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, December 2005
San Elizario chapel  interior,  San Elizario Texas
San Elizario Chapel interior
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, December 2005
San Elizario chapel  historic landmark marker,  San Elizario Texas
San Elizario Chapel Historical Marker
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, December 2005

San Elizario Chapel

(Capilla de San Elzeario)

Named for the 13th-century French patron of the military, St. Elzear, Capilla de San Elzeario was established as part of the Spanish military garrison of Presidio de San Elzeario (also Elceario, later Elizario) when it was moved to this site in 1789 from its original location 37 miles to the southeast. After Rio Grande floods damaged the original chapel, the present chapel was built with new adobe bricks and bricks from the original presidio walls. A fine example of the Spanish Colonial Revival style, it is a tangible reminder of the Hispanic and Catholic heritage of this region.
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 1962
San Elizario Tx - Chapel and  Salt Lake War Marker
San Elizario Chapel with Centennial Markers
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, May 2009

Salt Lake War

San Elizario Tx - Salt Lake War Centennial Marker
Salt Lake War Centennial Marker
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, May 2009
See Texas Centennial

Salt Warriors:
Insurgency on the Rio Grande

by Paul Cool

An award-winning history of the El Paso Salt War
Order Here

San Elizario Chronicles:
From "Billy the Kid's Texas vacation"

by Clay Coppedge

"... He once broke into a jail in San Elizario. This comes originally from an 1880 manuscript by a member of Garrett's posse, Charles Frederick Rudolph, who recounted how Billy rode from Las Cruces to San Elizario (just outside of El Paso) after learning that his friend, Melquiades Segura, was in jail there for murder. Billy arrived in San Elizario around 3 a.m. and knocked on the jail door to wake up the Mexican guards. He told the guard who answered the door that he was a Texas Ranger and he had two American prisoners with him. The unsuspecting guard opened the door only to find himself staring at Billy's .44 revolver. Billy relieved the guards of their guns, replaced Segura with the guards and threw away the key. Then he and Segura hightailed it a few miles to Mexico.

That's the kind of story that made Billy the Kid into something more than a horse thief and murderer in the popular imagination. San Elizario celebrates the escapade every summer with the Billy the Kid Festival.... more"

San Elizario, Texas Area Destinations:
El Paso the county seat
See El Paso County | West Texas

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