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El Paso At A Glance

By Elizabeth R. Elstien

Sitting nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, El Paso is the second oldest settlement in the U.S. This west Texas city of 600,000 is impressively set between the Chihuahuan Desert and Franklin Mountain. It borders the state of New Mexico to the east and Mexico to the south, while joining Ciudad Juarez, Mexico across the Rio Grande River to form the largest binational area in North America. Inside, we'll learn how El Paso blends its old Mexico influences with its U.S. Southwest cultures to form a city like no other.

Brief History

Archaeologists found evidence of human life in the El Paso area going back thousands of years. Prehistoric hunter-gathers to maize (corn) farmers to Manso, Suma and Jumano native tribes populated the region. More modern tribes include the Comanche and Mescalero-Apache. Spanish arrived in the 1600s and mixed with the native cultures. Spanish governed the New Mexico territory from El Paso for 12 years beginning in 1680. In the mid-1800s, El Paso became part of the now-U.S. state of Texas and was officially divided from its settlements on the Mexican (south) bank of the Rio Grande. The small Confederate presence in the area during the U.S. Civil War was captured by the Union in 1962 that then formed a two-year base in the city.

Texans moved into El Paso in droves after the U.S. Civil War. Incorporated in 1873, three railroads arrived in 1881, causing the population to grow by the thousands in a short time. Consequently, it drew more undesirable elements and was known as the "Six-Shooter Capital." World War I saw a crackdown on prostitution and gambling heralding a new age of manufacturing, trade and transportation.

An influx of Mexican refugees of various occupations and wealth entered El Paso in 1913-1915 to escape the violent Mexican Revolution. This violence spread across the river into the city soon after with Mexican revolutionaries killing 500 white people until kept at bay by the Texas Rangers. Tensions continued to rise in the following decades between whites and Mexicans and the Army reacted by expanding its base to control the border. Mining, oil copper smelting, garment manufacturing and other industries came in, but the Great Depression left the city's population in decline through the mid-1940s.

Although hurt by Mexico's Maquiladora Program providing incentives for American businesses to manufacture products across the Rio Grande, El Paso's strong federal and military presence and large school systems help strengthen the economy. One military base, Ft. Bliss, is the U.S. Army's largest complex and training base where thousands of military personnel are often stationed feeding the local economy with their spending. Today, railroad yards and copper smelting plants still dot the city, but tourism abounds to revitalize this long-settled area.


Although the white and Hispanic populations have changed throughout El Paso's history, today the city is largely of Hispanic or Latino ethnicities. Blacks comprise 4% of the population with some Asian, Native American and other groups.


El Paso has some interesting structures and neighborhoods. Downtown has many older buildings and is the heart of the city. The hilly downtown Sunset Heights District is known for its historic landmarks and was home to many Mexican revolutionaries in 1910. West El Paso/Upper Valley is an affluent area of greenery, houses and stables. The homes in the Kern Place neighborhood tend to be novel. For instance, "The Castle" is build from local rock with round interior walls. Kern Place neighborhood is popular with the college students for its coffee houses and nightlife. The oldest area, Mission Valley, dates back to the 1600s.


With a currently slower economy than much of the U.S., the city hopes to foster new business growth and boost the economy with the merging of the permit/inspection and economic development departments. Several large companies are headquartered in El Paso (such as Boeing, Dish Network, Hoover, Raytheon, State Farm, El Paso Corporation) to take advantage of its entry point into the U.S. from Mexico, where many products from U.S. companies are produced as part of the U.S.-Mexico Maquiladora Program. Major employers are the school districts, University of Texas at El Paso, military civilians at Ft. Bliss and the federal government through various border agencies. Agriculture is also big with cotton, fruits, vegetables, livestock and pecans produced in the vicinity. Trade with sister city Cuidad Juarez and tourism also fuels the local economy.

Sports and Entertainment

Baseball is big here. Catch a game at city-owned Southwest University Park located downtown. The newly built park is home to the El Paso Chihuahuas, a Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres baseball team, with seating for 7,500 onlookers. There is even an El Paso Baseball Hall of Fame. All remembering the 1949 Bowie Bears, who were state champions. The city isn't just about baseball, though. El Paso is home to the collegiate Sun Bowl. Besides sports, see the top-ranked, annual Amigo Airsho, watch the rodeo or float on the Rio Grande River. Have fun and learn about Hispanic culture so crucial to this city's history at The Fiesta de las Flores. There are several theaters for music or even Broadway plays and numerous museums. Nature abounds with wetlands and state parks.

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About The Author

Elizabeth R. Elstien has worked in real estate for over 15 years as a real estate...

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