Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Photo(s)

On U.S. Route 180 about an hour east of El Paso, in the Guadalupe National Park, there's a roadside marker that appears out in what looks to the uninitiated traveler like the middle of nowhere:

Image credit: All photos by Cujo359

The first time I'd seen this, back in the 1990s, I was intrigued that there could be anything of historical interest happening out in this territory. Turns out, it was another example of what makes this country great:

Just to put that inscription in perspective, here's another view of that landscape, that includes a new plaque with some more information that's been put up more recently:

See all that white stuff out there? That's salt - lots of it. It's a salt flats, as the inscription on the new plaque explains:
Over one million years ago a large, shallow lake occupied this area. Salt deposits left behind as the lake dried up became an extremely important resource to the people of the El Paso Valley.

Salt was considered sacred to the Apache and Tigua Indians, who used it in the tanning of animal hides and as a condiment and food preservative. Hispanic populations depended on salt to supplement their limited income from farming.

In the late 1870s, the El Paso Salt War erupted as El Paso businessmen attempted to take control of the salt beds from the local Hispanic and Tigua communities. The short-lived war resulted in several deaths and injuries, loss of property, and nearly caused an armed conflict betweend the U.S. and Mexico. Eventually the salt flats were claimed and Hispanic communities were forced to pay for the salt they once collected for free. Today, only the wind blowing across the barrent flats remains to remind us of this turbulent time in history.
Yes, out in the middle of the desert, where there was enough salt to keep all of North America in potato chips for a century if not a millenium, people were killing each other over salt.

Call it free market economics in action, as Wikipedia sums it up:
The San Elizario Salt War, also known as the Salinero Revolt or the El Paso Salt War, was an extended and complex political, social and military conflict over ownership and control of immense salt lakes at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas. What began in 1866 as a political and legal struggle among Anglo Texan politicians and capitalists gave rise to an armed struggle waged in 1877 by the ethnic Mexican inhabitants living in the communities on both sides of the Rio Grande near El Paso, Texas against a leading politician, supported by the Texas Rangers. The struggle climaxed with the siege and surrender of twenty Texas Rangers to a popular army of perhaps 500 men in the town of San Elizario, Texas. The arrival of the African-American 9th U.S. Cavalry and a sheriff's posse of New Mexico mercenaries caused hundreds of Tejanos to flee to Mexico, some in permanent exile. The right of individuals to own the salt lakes previously held as a community asset was established by force of arms.

San Elizario Salt War
One thing that paragraph doesn't mention is that one of the "businessmen" was also a local judge:
In 1877, two local political factions struggled for control of the deposits; these were the so-called "Salt Ring" led by District Judge Charles Howard, the group that tried to gain private control of the mines, and the "Anti-Salt Ring" of Antonio Barajo and Luis Cardis, which opposed privatization.

El Paso Salt War, 1877
Isn't that a story that just warms your heart? People who have lived and worked there for ages are driven off the land by rich newcomers, their bought-off public officials, and a bunch of mercenaries. It's the American Dream come true.

Happily, there are other things to see in the area besides this reminder that things never seem to change in America. Go about another half hour or so and you can see this:

That's El Capitan, one of the more recognizable mountains in America.

Click on the pictures to enlarge. Have a good Sunday.


One Fly said...

The Amerikan way-works real good for the winners.

Cujo359 said...

This event wasn't the inspiration for the phrase "send lawyers, guns, and money, and we'll set this thing to rights", but it could have been.