Texas’s Salinero Revolt Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Anglo-American entrepreneurs entered the trans-Pecos area of Texas to mine the region’s salt lakes, disturbing traditional Mexican and Tejano salt-gathering practices. The salineros, or salt miners, revolted in response to the encroachment, leading to battles between the salineros and local authorities, including the Texas Rangers.

Summary of Event

For years, the people of the trans-Pecos region of Texas and Mexico, also known as the El Paso area, had traveled to the salinas, or salt lakes, to get salt. The salinas were situated about one hundred miles east of El Paso, in the foothills at the base of Guadalupe Peak. Records indicate that as early as 1800, the inhabitants of the area made regular treks from ranches and villages to gather rock salt. To harvest the salt, people—including salineros, or salt miners—would handpick chunks of rock salt from the edges of the salinas. Salinero Revolt (1877) Texas;Salinero Revolt Salt Wars (1877) Mining;in Texas[Texas] Mining;salt Cardis, Louis Howard, Charles H. Hubbard, Richard B. [kw]Texas’s Salinero Revolt (Sept. 10-Dec. 17, 1877) [kw]Salinero Revolt, Texas’s (Sept. 10-Dec. 17, 1877) [kw]Revolt, Texas’s Salinero (Sept. 10-Dec. 17, 1877) Salinero Revolt (1877) Texas;Salinero Revolt Salt Wars (1877) Mining;in Texas[Texas] Mining;salt Cardis, Louis Howard, Charles H. Hubbard, Richard B. [g]United States;Sept. 10-Dec. 17, 1877: Texas’s Salinero Revolt[4970] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Sept. 10-Dec. 17, 1877: Texas’s Salinero Revolt[4970] Blair, Thomas Ortiz, Ramón Tays, John B.

During the late 1860’s, Anglo-Americans began moving into the area, acquiring large landholdings and taking political control. The ensconced Tejano population began to lose political and social dominance. Both the Anglos and the Tejanos (Texans of Mexican descent) depended on joint efforts from their Mexican neighbors and the military, who came and went to and from Fort Bliss, to maintain an active economy.

Louis Cardis, who was born in Italy, settled in El Paso in 1854 and became a merchant and contractor who supplied goods to the barracks at Fort Bliss. He spoke Spanish and knew the Mexican character well. His business put him in contact with many people on the border: Anglo-Americans, Mexicans, and Mexican Americans. He became an adviser and friend to many people in the region, although his contacts with the newcomer Anglo-Americans were not as successful. Anglos, seeing commercial opportunities in the area, showed resentment toward the Tejano population that had long provided the needs of the people of the trans-Pecos. This attitude caused friction between the newly arrived “gringos” and the established Tejanos, a division that formed based on race and political cronyism. The steady immigration of Europeans, Middle Eastern merchants, Confederate war veterans, and others expanded Cardis’s business, giving him daily contacts with the diverse groups.

Charles H. Howard Howard, Charles H. , a Missouri lawyer who had served in the Confederate army, came to El Paso in 1872. He was a man of imposing appearance, had a powerful physique, and was determined, rather reckless, and forceful. A Democrat, Howard became a district judge in 1874. Cardis, a Republican, was delegate to the lower house in 1864, attended the constitutional convention in 1875, and was elected to the legislature in 1876. As Cardis’s political tenure had preceded Howard’s arrival in El Paso, a political struggle between these two men ensued. Howard had political position, but not the large, multiethnic following of Cardis. Howard saw opportunity in the growth of the region. To take advantage of this opportunity, he enlisted the help of his father-in-law, Major George B. Zimpleman, to acquire title to the salt lakes. Howard then began charging the local residents for harvesting the salt.

This attempt to acquire title angered the people, who had always taken all the salt they needed, free of charge. As a result, these ordinarily law-abiding people began to take matters into their own hands. They met and made plans to storm the salinas and take salt by force. Using his political influence, Judge Howard had two prominent Tejanos in this protest group arrested. The storming of the salinas took place on September 10, 1877, at San Elizario, a stagecoach stop and resting spot for the military located midway between El Paso and the salinas. The mob was so incensed that they arrested and imprisoned Howard, the district and county judges with him, and then organized their own court to try them. Cardis and Father Ramón Ortiz Ortiz, Ramón , the well-known curate of Mission Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in El Paso del Norte, interceded for the two men, who were released on the condition that they leave the area and never return. Howard signed his abdication with reluctance. He had no intention of yielding the salt lakes.

Howard fled to New Mexico. Four of his friends put up a $12,000 bond that guaranteed Howard would stand by his word and would allow free salt harvesting. From New Mexico, Howard appealed continuously to the Texas legislature and Texas governor Richard B. Hubbard to allow him to return to El Paso. His demands included unrestricted control of the salt lakes and military or Texas Ranger intervention in the “race war” and the “invasion from Mexico.” Howard created news statewide by publicly accusing Cardis of plotting his assassination.

On October 10, 1877, Howard returned to the trans-Pecos, although he faced death threats if he returned to the region. On that day, in the store of a merchant friend, Cardis had just finished writing a letter to Chico Barela, one of the mob leaders, pleading with him to stop the violence and above all to be lenient with Howard. Cardis placed the letter in his breast pocket and sat talking with two men, when Howard came in carrying a double-barreled shotgun. The merchant asked Howard not to shoot inside his store, but Howard ignored the plea. Cardis was hit in the heart with the second shot. Howard again fled to New Mexico and on October 25, 1877, again asked Governor Hubbard for military intervention in controlling the “mob.”

Howard returned to El Paso in early December. The governor had sent twenty Texas Rangers, under the leadership of Lieutenant John B. Tays Tays, John B. , who resented having to guard only one man. Howard’s overbearing attitude did not help. Meanwhile, Hubbard had called on President Rutherford B. Hayes for assistance, which was granted. Because of slow communications, however, an Army attachment headed by Captain Thomas Blair Blair, Thomas did not receive the orders in time to arrive with Howard and the Rangers.

On his arrival at San Elizario, on a Monday, Tays Tays, John B. found the village full of people who regularly harvested salt, armed and angry. The Texas Rangers took cover and shooting began. By Thursday, there were two dead. Howard’s bondsmen and friends, betrayed by Howard, asked him to join them and the Rangers in giving in to the harvesters. This was the only time that Texas Rangers ever surrendered. On December 17, 1877, to avenge Cardis’s death and for the free use of the salt lakes, the harvesters and villagers shot Howard and his bondsmen. The bondsmen were shot not because of guilt but because of their association with Howard.

Significance

By the time the United States military arrived, four men had been killed, many had been wounded, and the mob had dispersed. Indictments were made, but no one was arrested or brought to trial. A congressional investigation attempted to get the facts, but in the end nothing significant happened other than the reopening of Fort Bliss.

Eventually, the Tejanos returned to the salinas to take salt as they wished. This situation continued until 1891, when the Lone Star Salt Company bought the salt lakes and began processing salt with modern methods.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Matovina, Timothy M. Tejano Religion and Ethnicity: San Antonio, 1821-1860. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995. Examines the interrelationship of religion, ethnicity, and economics during the transition period prior to the U.S. Civil War.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Meier, Matt S., and Feliciano Ribera. Mexican Americans/American Mexicans: From Conquistadors to Chicanos. Rev. ed. New York: Hill & Wang, 1993. A standard history survey of people of Mexican descent in the United States. Examines the patterns of economic intimidation practiced against Mexican Americans in the southwestern borderlands.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Metz, Leon. El Paso Chronicles. El Paso, Tex.: Mangan Books, 1993. A complete history of the El Paso area to modern times. Covers archaeological, political, military, and other aspects of the region.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">________. Roadside History of Texas. Missoula, Mont.: Mountain Press, 1994. Includes coverage of little-known Texas historical events.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sonnichsen, C. L. The El Paso Salt War, 1877. El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1961. A detailed study of each of the events that contributed to the eruption of the Salt War, its climax, and its ending.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">________. I’ll Die Before I’ll Run: The Story of the Great Feuds of Texas. New York: Devin-Adair, 1962. A history of conflicts between individuals and groups in Texas from the early nineteenth century to the 1930’s. Illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Webb, Walter Prescott. The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense. 2d ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965. A history of the Texas Rangers, their beginnings, and their major activities to the mid-1930’s.

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