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Our History

The San Elizario Historic District is rich in history as we have buildings and stories that date all the way back to the 15th Century. You will be able to learn about our community and it's culture throughout the centuries!


The building which houses our historical museum was built around 1850 and is known as “Los Portales” (The Portals). It was once the residence of Capt. Gregorio Nacianceno Garcia, a well-known respectable member of the San Elizario community in the 1835-1898 era.

Capt. Garcia donated the building to the town of San Elceario to be used as a Public School. He hired the first school teacher and organized and became a member of the first school board. Thus, this building housed the first public school in El Paso County and served the town as such until 1936.

Presidio Church
  • Was built in 1877

  • Before they built the chapel there was a mexican chapel there

  • Listed in the National Register of Historic places in 1972

  • It is an example of the Spanish Colonial Style

  • Area: 0.5 acres

  • Late examples of adobe architecture in west Texas and reflects European influences on Spanish Colonial Style

  • Plastered adobe walls 

  • Painted white walls


The bell tower brings a soft contrast to the hard edged history.


The “high wall fortress” it was built to serve the Spanish soldiers and their families.


  • Traditional architecture with thick adobe walls 

  • Massive buttress and flat viga (ceiling beam) roof.

  • The Chapel single-nave design moved purposefully toward a center altar, white tall, narrow, arched windows reach toward a triangular bell tower on top of the façade 

  • The design tried to imitate the modest box style model of the early southwest mission architecture, though technically San Elizario was not part of the mission system.

  • As the territorial period moved into the 250 century the introduction of new European elements brought the chapel and its current Spanish colonial revival style.

The Salt War
  • Located 90 miles northeast of San Elizario, on Texas Highway 62 heading towards Carlsbad, New Mexico.

  • The salt lakes were the common property of the valley towns of San Elizario, Socorro and Ysleta.

  • In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the US promised to uphold all Spanish land grants but since no one owned them, everyone continued to take salt as they did in the past.

  • Politicians from Franklin (now El Paso) filed claim for the lakes and started charging people.

  • Charles Howard, a missionary who sought out to own and sell the salt from the lakes, took refuge with the Texas Rangers. Fighting would start between them and the locals of the region. This fight  would last for several days.

  • The 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers stationed at Ft Bayard near Silver City were called out but they left because they were not an international army and would not go into Mexico.

  • Before the Salt War, Ft. Bliss had been closed because the Apaches no longer posed a threat to the nearby areas. Five years later, Ft. Bliss would be re-established and reopened to keep the peace. So if it was not for the "peleoneros de San Eli" (the trouble makers of San Eli), Ft. Bliss might not exist today.

For more information on the Salt War please pay us a visit at Los Portales Museum.

Old County Jail

The Old County Jail is one part of history for San Elizario. Being built in the early 1800’s first for residence then becoming a jail in 1850. The jail was brought in sections by railroad and wagon from Chicago, Illinois. It is a federal penitentiary type cell, the walls, floor, ceiling and front bars and door are all made of steel. It remained in use while San Elizario was the county seat - except for two short spans (1854 and 1866) (until1873). Up to 6 prisoners were hold in the prison cells, the cells were made of steel which would avoid anyone from breaking in or out. The building houses both the jail and the courtroom.

Juan de Oñate

Juan de Onate was a Spanish colonizer from New Spain who became the colonial governor of the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México. He was born in Zacatecas which is located in north-central Mexico. His father had become wealthy from the silver mines of Zacatecas, and his mother was the granddaughter of Hernando Cortes and the great-granddaughter of Montezuma. 

In 1598, Juan de Onate embarked on a journey from Santa Barbara, Chihuahua to Espanola, New Mexico, which is an over 800 mile trip. Instead of following the river Conchos, as other expeditions did, he decided to cross the Chihuahua desert. They ran out of water four days before reaching the Rio Grande near present day Villa Ahumada (88 miles from El Paso). The expedition was made up of over 400 people, which included military men and families.


​On April 30, 1598 he ordered the friars traveling with him to say a Thanksgiving mass, and afterwards he claimed the land for Spain in the name of King Philip II. Afterwards they feasted and the military men wore costumes and put on a play. A few days later they retook the journey to present day Espanola, New Mexico which they would reach 4 months later.


​Today Oñate is known for the 1599 Acoma Massacre. Following a dispute that led to the ambush and death of thirteen Spaniards at the hands of the Ácoma, including Oñate's nephew, Juan de Zaldívar, Oñate ordered a brutal retaliation against Acoma Pueblo. The Pueblo was destroyed. Around 800–1000 Ácoma were killed including women and children. After the massacre, the remaining prisoners were sentenced to hard labor and some of them had parts of their feet mutilated. He was eventually banished from New Mexico and exiled from Mexico for less than half a decade, convicted by the Spanish government of using "excessive force" against the Acoma people.


Today, Oñate remains a controversial figure in New Mexican history: in 1998, the right foot was cut off a statue of the conquistador that stands in Alcalde, New Mexico, in protest of the massacre, and significant controversy arose when a large equestrian statue of Oñate was erected in El Paso, Texas, in 2006. 

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