El Paso is at the far western tip of Texas where New Mexico and the Mexican state of Chihuahua meet in a harsh desert environment around the slopes of Mount Franklin on the Rio Grande which has often been compared to the Nile. As they approached the Rio Grande from the south Spaniards in the sixteenth century viewed two mountain ranges rising out of the desert with a deep chasm between. This site they named El Paso del Norte (the Pass of the North) the future location of two border cities Ciudad Juarez on the south or right bank of the Rio Grande and El Paso Texas on the opposite side of the river. Since the sixteenth century the pass has been a continental crossroads; a north-south route along a historic camino real prevailed during the Spanish and Mexican periods but traffic shifted to an east-west axis in the years following 1848 when the Rio Grande became an international boundary.

The El Paso area was inhabited for centuries by various Indian groups before the Spaniards came. The first Europeans in all probability were alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions survivors of an unsuccessful Spanish expedition to Florida who passed through the El Paso area in 1535 or 1536 although their exact route is debated by historians. Several years later in 1540 thru 1542 an expedition under Francisco Vazquez de Coronado explored an enormous amount of territory now known as the American Southwest. The first party of Spaniards that certainly saw the Pass of the North was the Rodriguez Sanchez expedition of 1581; its arrival marked the beginning of 400 years of history in the El Paso area. This was followed by the Espejo-Beltran expedition (see ESPEJO ANTONIO DE) of 1582 and the historic colonizing expedition under Juan de Onate who on April 30 1598 in a ceremony at a site near that of present San Elizario took formal possession of the entire territory drained by the Rio del Norte (the Rio Grande). This act called La Toma or "the claiming" brought Spanish civilization to the Pass of the North and laid the foundations of more than two centuries of Spanish rule over a vast area.


El Paso, Texas

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