The Presidio of San Elizario
In 1598, the Spanish nobleman, Don Juan De Oñate from Zacatecas, Mexico was leading a group of Spanish colonists from Mexico to settle the newly discovered province of New Mexico. The group traveled for weeks across the desert until it reached the banks of the Rio Grande River near the San Elizario area. Soon afterward, Oñate proclaimed possession of this area in the name of his King, Phillip II. The small town of San Elizario is named after the French Saint Elcear, the French patron saint of the military. It is one of the oldest communities in the El Paso Area. The community was established during the late 1700’s. A presidio was built in the area in order to protect the Spanish settlers from the attacking Apache and Comanche Indian raiders. The exact date of when the presidio of San Elizario was first built remains a debate between many local historians. One well known area historian, Metz, writes, “The original presidio was built around 1773 and that the original chapel was built of mostly adobe and some wood, and took approximately 40 years to construct.” Most of the work was done by prisoners, some of them Indian, mostly Apache. (254). As noted by an online source, the presidio itself was surrounded by a double wall of adobe measuring 13 feet tall by seven feet wide. Inside were barracks for soldiers and special officer quarters. Also within the fort were family residences, corrals, store rooms, and a small chapel. This small chapel was built in a box pattern reflecting the early “European colonialism.” (San Elizario). The chapel has gone through major changes throughout its history, yet still remains close to its original location to this day. As historian John O. West notes, the San Elizario Presidio is often mistaken as a mission. However, the presidio of San Elizario was not created to convert the local natives to Christianity, but in fact was created as a fort or presidio to protect the Camino Real...
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