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A History Lover's Guide To El Paso

Ah, El Paso, the western-most big city in the great state of Texas. Forged by the Rio Grande River and the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez to the south and the gorgeous Franklin Mountains to the north, El Paso is the sixth-largest city in the Lone Star State.

While Texas destinations like the capital city, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio seem to be the most popular places to visit, El Paso is a rare gem that is truly underrated.

History of the City of El Paso

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According to Native Land maps and other thorough research, the area now called "El Paso" is home to the Ndé Kónits?...?...íí Gokíyaa (Lipan Apache), Piro, Mescalero Apache, the Pueblo Indians, Tampachoa (Mansos), and other Indigenous tribes who roamed this vast desert landscape.

Modern-day Puebloans have a tribal entity called Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, whose members are Southern Tiwa/Tigua folx displaced by Spanish New Mexico in 1680 and 1681 during the Pueblo revolt. In 1958, the Spanish conquistador from New Spain and colonial governor of the Santa Fe Province, Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar, took over the area from the Spaniards. Oñate declared the El Paso area "El Paso Del Norte" or "the pass of the North."

Dating back to 1659, the mission of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe was created in present-day downtown Juárez and is miraculously still in working order today! 1682 saw the Spanish colonists from Mexico found the Ysleta settlement in modern-day El Paso. Not incorporated as a city in 1873, the city began to take its claim after the Southern Pacific Railroad came to the area in 1881. Less than a decade later, the Mexican government changed the name El Paso Del Norte to Ciudad Juárez.

Texas History in El Paso County

Fast forward through the Mexican Revolution and The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to 1967, when the United States agreed to surrender a forever-disputed region of El Paso to Mexico due to the changing Rio Grande river course. Today, these southwest sister cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez present the largest international metroplex in the world. Throughout the years, El Paso County has held seven different courthouses. The first was founded in 1850 in San Elizario. The current courthouse was opened in 1991.

Geography of the El Paso Area

Situated in the Chihuahuan desert, El Paso meets the southern borderlands of New Mexico on the north side of the Rio Grande River. The Franklin Mountains are the southernmost tip of the Rocky Mountains. With such a diverse landscape throughout this southwestern oasis, El Paso is located near Guadalupe Mountain National Park, White Sands National Monument, and Hueco Tanks.

Tour El Paso History

University of Texas at El Paso

What was once called the Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy is now known as The University of Texas at El Paso (or UTEP, for short). Located on the old grounds of Fort Bliss, this university is one of the most successful and biggest Hispanic-serving of its kind in the entire country. Take a tour of the historic grounds on your visit to El Paso to learn more!

Camino Real Hotel

No stop to E.P. is complete with a trip to the Camino Real Hotel. Initially called the Hotel Paso del Norte, the moniker Camino Real was given to the establishment. Designed by Henry C. Trost, this chateaux-style building has served travelers since its inception in 1912. A hotel group called Camino Real purchased and refreshed the property in 2004. The building holds memories of many famous and infamous guests, including Elenor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, and Luis Terrazas, a former governor of Chihuahua. He fled to the hotel during the Mexican Revolution.

El Paso Museum of Art

history of el paso

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Also located in the Downtown Arts District is well, the El Paso Museum of Art, which holds over 7,000 works of art from around the world! The museum first opened in 1959 when the need arose to find a home for a large donation of European Baroque and Renaissance works to the City of El Paso via the Samuel Kress Foundation. The El Paso Museum of Art is also where the EPMA's Art School is located.

El Paso Museum of History

We recommend spending at least a half-day at the El Paso Museum of History, one of the best places to truly soak in the history and culture of this downtown El Paso staple. Located across the street from Southwest University Park and the next place on our list, the El Paso Museum of Art, this magnificent building is home to more than 1,000 years of the area's history. Inside, you can discover a collection of over 10,000 documents, images, artifacts, and relics of the past of El Paso.

El Paso Street

After you've spent an entire day checking out both of the massive museums in town, stroll around Downtown El Paso for shopping, dining, and sightseeing. String lights and neon signs sprinkle the famous El Paso Street, nestled in the heart of the Las Plazas Arts District. You can also walk to Pioneer Plaza, where you can take in the area's history by statues, hotels, the legendary Plaza Theater, and more. Visitors can also check out San Jacinto Plaza, located a short walk away from Mills Avenue.

Hueco Tanks

history of el paso

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Opt outside during your visit to take El Paso's history with a day trip or camping trip to Hueco Tanks! Rock climb, hike, bird watch, stargaze, or take in the natural history that seems to tell its own story without words or guidebooks. But, the interpretive center inside a historic ranch house offers history lessons and souvenirs for those who prefer the details.

The Mission Trail

history of el paso

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With such a layered and complex history, one of the greatest ways to get a feel for the stories of the past is with a scenic drive on the Historic Mission Trail. Dating over 400 years, this monumental route features gorgeous adobe churches left from the 17th and 18th centuries. You will see the previously mentioned Ysleta Mission, the Socorro Mission, and the San Elizario Chapel on this adventure.

Concordia Cemetery

The city of El Paso proudly professes itself as the "Gunfight Capital of American," and this truth can be held evident with a stop where some of Wild West's most famous gunslingers lie buried. Concordia Cemetery is a Texas State Historic Site where more than 60,000 people are buried.

Other Notable Attractions & Nearby Sites


An avid adventurer and lover of all things outdoors and travel, Sydney Paschall has explored and discovered as many beautiful places as she can, with extra time spent in Oregon, Colorado, and driving up and down the west coast. Now based in Austin, Sydney focuses her time on writing, social justice and activism, living more mindfully, and staying active to optimize the mind, body, and soul. Instagram: @_sydshine

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