Salt Warriors: Insurgency on the Rio Grande
by Paul Cool, Texas A&M Press, College Station, Texas, 2008, $24.95.
Nobody shouts “Remember the El Paso Salt War!” but it was one of the most intriguing events to occur in frontier west Texas and, as Paul Cool clarifies here in this well-researched 360-page book, more of a “war” than most of us realized. In 1877 all hell broke out along the Texas-Mexico border when an Austin banker staked a legal claim to enormous salt lakes at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains. Paseños (Mexican-Americans in the area near present-day El Paso) had been communally using the salt deposits there for years, and they believed the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo had guaranteed they could continue to do so. Sure, said Charles Howard—whose fatherin-law, George Zimpelman, staked the legal claim—as long as the people paid for the salt. The result, Cool writes, was the El Paso Salt War, “sometimes called a bloody riot by a howling mob but in reality a complex political, social and military struggle.”
Cool compares the community-based insurgency to the fight for self-government by America’s founding fathers. Like the “minutemen of New England in 1775,” he writes, the Paseños stood “in defense of their rights to property, religion and self-rule against corrupt officials and businessmen supported by a distant and unsympathetic government.” The heroes in this case are determined justice seekers such as Francisco Barela, Sisto Salcido and Lino Granillo. In the past, the story has been mostly told from the point of view of the Anglos involved, but Cool has provided balance in this detailed study.
Originally published in the October 2008 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.