First Mayor of El Paso, Benjamin Dowell
Primer Alcalde de El Paso, Benjamin Dowell

First Mayor of El Paso, Benjamin Dowell

First mayor of El Paso Benjamin Shacklett Dowell came to El Paso as one of the earliest pioneers, at the close of the War with Mexico. He arrived about 1849, white-haired at the age of 31 years. Tradition holds that his hair turned white while he was a prisoner of war in Mexico City. A Native of Kentucky, he had been a volunteer in the First Regiment of the Kentucky Cavalry during the war. He was in a party that was captured at a ranch called La Encarnacion. He was freed months later and upon his discharge was among those receiving claims to 160 acres of land for having served in the military. We do not know what drew him to the El Paso valley, but upon his arrival he went to work for Juan Maria Ponce de Leon who had large land holdings on both sides of the river. The ranch on the east side, where Dowell worked, occupied the heart of the present downtown area and was planted in orchards and vineyards. Few people lived in that immediate area; the valley's population of about five thousand was clustered mainly around Ysleta, Socorro, and San Elizario. It was in Ysleta that he found his wife, Juana Marquez. A Tigua Indian, she was the daughter of a tribal cacique. When they married around 1852. She was 19 and he was 34. She spoke only Spanish and the Tigua language and like many young women of her era, had no formal schooling. In 1853 Dowell's closest friend, William Ford, became sheriff of El Paso County which had been organized only three years earlier. Ben became his deputy. Following the so-called Magoffin Salt War in January, 1854 the two men took their families to California. There they found the construction of houses much more profitable than panning for gold. Ben and Juana's first child, Mary, was born there on October 31, 1854. Six months later, the family decided to return to El Paso, where several changes had occurred during their absence. The Post at El Paso, which had been on the Ponce ranch location from 1849 to 1851, had been re-established in January 1854. Stage service had begun, linking the community to San Antonio and Santa Fe. And a Masonic lodge had been instituted in April. Dowell evidently went into business for himself at this time: In 1857 he paid $450 for the 128-by-60 foot lot at the corner of Alameda and Sonora, now El Paso and West San Antonio streets, where he operated his well-known billiard saloon. It was located in the lower end of a long adobe building that occupied the block where the El Paso Del Norte now stands. Family quarters were in the back of the building. Ben's brother, Nehemiah, called Nim, joined him during this period, for his name also is shown on lots in the 1859 plat of El Paso drawn by Anson Mills. Nim's lots were part of the present Civic Center site. The City of El Paso was incorporated by the Texas Legislature on May 17th, 1873. In the election of August 12, Dowell was chosen as mayor, with six aldermen. Their early concerns were for the safety of the water supply, the definitions of crime and punishments for them, the division of the city into three wards, and the design of a city seal. Within a month, three aldermen resigned and a forth was disqualified, so another election was held in October to fill the vacancies. He was the sixth Worshipful Master of El Paso Lodge #130. Image Description: A black and white photograph shows Ben S. Dowell from his chest up facing the camera directly. He wears a dark suit with a white shirt underneath. His face looks directly at the camera wearing a long white beard up to his chest. He has no mustache and his hair also white looks abundant although short and parted at the side.

Area: Central / Downtown

Source: El Paso County Historical Society

Uploaded by: El Paso Museum of History

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