El Paso History at a Glance
The Spanish arrived in the El Paso area in 1581 — 41 years after the Coronado expedition entered the American Southwest through present-day Arizona. On April 30, 1598, along the banks of the Río Grande near San Elizario, Juan de Oñate claimed the land for Spain, then gave thanks and held the first Thanksgiving feast in what is now the United States. (Oñate is depicted in the 42-foot-tall John Houser statue at El Paso International Airport, one of the largest equestrian statues in the world.) The next month, his party entered present-day New Mexico. Oñate called this event “El Paso del Río del Norte,” or the passage of the North River.
New Mexico’s Pueblo Indians revolted against the Spanish in 1680, forcing settlers and missionaries back to El Paso. With the Spanish came Tigua and Piro Pueblo Indians, who had supported the Spanish. Related to Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico, Tigua of Ysleta del Sur (Isleta of the South) is a federally recognized tribe. Visit the Tigua Indian Cultural Center at 305 Yaya Lane (915-859-7700, www.ysletadelsurpueblo.org).
Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, and in 1827 Juan Maria Ponce de León was given a land grant in what is now El Paso. His ranch was where the Plaza Theatre and the Mills Building now stand. Ponce’s Rancho was the original name of El Paso. After the U.S.–Mexico War, the Río Grande became the international boundary, and in 1848 El Paso became part of the United States. The U.S. Army built a fort, called the “Post Opposite of El Paso” that was later renamed Fort Bliss. León sold his ranch to an American trader, Benjamin Franklin Coons. What is now downtown El Paso became Franklin, with other area settlements named Concordia, Magoffinsville, and Hart’s Mill. When the villages were incorporated into a city in 1859, the name was changed to El Paso. The railroad reached El Paso in 1881, and the city quickly grew. Adobe buildings were replaced with brick and wood. Many of the stately high-rise buildings downtown were built in the early 1900s and still make up the city skyline.
- Year Incorporated: 1873
- City of El Paso, Texas: 563,662
- Remainder of El Paso County: 115,960
- Total for County of El Paso: 679,622
- Elevation Downtown: 3,762 ft.
- Highest Mountain Peak: 7,200 ft.
- Average sunny days per year: 361
- Mountain Time Zone
- The City of El Paso is the fifth largest city in Texas and the 23rd largest city in the United States.
- In October 2005 Entrepreneur magazine ranked El Paso as the No. 1 midsize city in the United States on its Hot Cities for Entrepreneurs list.
- For two years El Paso was ranked second on the list of America’s Safest Cities
(list compiled by Morgan Quitno, Kansas-based publishing and research company).
- El Paso has four international ports of entry.
- The El Paso area has the largest pecan orchard in the world, Stahman Farms.
- El Paso is the sight of the actual first Thanksgiving in April, 1598, predating the Pilgrims by 23 years.
- The oldest continuously active missions in the U.S. are in the El Paso area. Ysleta Mission, Soccorro Mission and San Elizario.
- El Paso has 2,000-year-old pictographs at Hueco Tanks State Park. There is also graffiti, from the 1800s, done in wagon axle grease.
- On August 12, 2000, Hueco Tanks State Park was the borderline of a very bright and unusually rare "pulsing" display of the Alaskan Northern Lights, which were pushed thousands of miles South to El Paso's starry desert skies by the Sun's current peak of powerful explosions.
- The El Paso star is 459 feet in length and 278 feet in width. It has 459 light bulbs and can be seen for 100 miles from the air and for 30 miles on the ground. From Scenic Drive, just below the star on the mountain, one can see into two nations and three states.
- Texas’ finest strain of bluebonnets, its state flower, is grown several miles southeast of El Paso.
- The notorious outlaw, John Wesley Hardin, was assassinated in downtown El Paso and buried in Concordia Cemetery. Other famous outlaws active in the region were Billy the Kid and Pancho Villa.
- El Paso was the mid-point of the Butterfield Overland Mail, which ran stagecoaches from St. Louis to San Francisco. Overland Street was named for the company, which built a large hotel at approximately the point where the Museum of Art is today.
- The stained glass Tiffany dome in the Camino Real is 25 feet in diameter and is suspended by wires. It would cost $1 million to replace today, if it were done in plastic.
- During the Mexican Revolution the roof of the Camino Real was used as a "viewing area" to watch the battles taking place on the opposite side of the river.
- White Sands Missile Range covers about 4,000 square miles of Southern New Mexico desert. The southernmost edge of this test range is about 20 miles north of El Paso. The world’s first atomic device was tested there at Trinity site. The Space Shuttle has landed at the range, which is an alternate Shuttle landing site.
- Fort Bliss, established in 1848, is the duty station for approximately 12,500 active duty military personnel, while employing over 7,000 civilians, and has a land mass of over 1.1 million acres. The economic impact of Fort Bliss on El Paso is more than $1 billion, making it the largest single industry in El Paso.
- Being in the westernmost tip of Texas, and due to the huge size of the state, El Paso is closer to five other state capitals than it is to its own capital of Austin, Texas.