December 2018

History Lessons

Taking a Look Back column by John McVey Middagh

See also: At the Museum

Menu of this month's listings, stories and columns



Lost El Paso Paranormal Tours — The group specializes in original historical El Paso ghost tours. Tours listed are hosted by “Weird Texas” author Heather Shade or other costumed guides. Space is limited for many events. Information: 503-8960, or on Facebook. Tickets at
• Spirit Walk of Old San Elizario is 9 to 11 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, meeting at the Golden Eagle Gallery, 1501 Main Street. Check-in is 8:30 p.m. Cost: $15.
• Haunted Holiday Downtown Ghost walk is 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, starting at the Gardner Hotel, 311 E. Franklin. The starting light tour will feature regional ghost stories and legends while strolling among the holiday lights. Meet at 8:30 p.m. Tickets: $20
• Sunset Heights Ghost Walk is 8 to 10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, meeting at the gazebo in Mundy Park, 1299 W Yandell. Discover the secrets of tunnels hidden beneath the Turtle House, haunted dolls and ghostly apparitions in the Burges House, and paranormal investigations of the haunted Hixson House and more. Check-in at 7:30 p.m. Cost $15.
• Red Light Ghost Tour is 8 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, starting at the Briar Patch, 508 N. Stanton. Learn about the ghosts of the area’s brothels and bordellos. Tickets: $15; age 21 and older only.

Fort Selden State Monument — The monument, 1280 Fort Selden Road in Radium Springs, 13 miles north of Las Cruces, is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $5; (ages 16 and under free). Admission for New Mexico residents with ID is free the first Sunday of each month; and for seniors with ID each Wednesday. Information: (575) 526-8911 or
  The annual Las Noches de Las Luminarias holiday event is 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15. The trails and ruins of will be lit by 800 luminarias, and visitors will be treated to hot chocolate, a warm campfire and decoration making and more.
  Fort Selden was a 19th century adobe fort established to protect early settlers. The monument seeks to preserve the remaining ruins and has a visitor’s center with exhibits of military life at the post. From Las Cruces, take I-25 north to Exit 19.

Fort Bayard Tours — Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society host walking tours of the historic fort beginning at 9:30 a.m. each Saturday at Fort Bayard National Historic Landmark, six miles east of Silver City, N.M. off U.S. 180. Tour begins at Commanding Officer’s Quarter and museum (House 26). Museum is open 9:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday. Tour takes about 90 minutes. Admission is free, but donations appreciated. Information, group tours: (575) 956-3294 or (575) 574-8779.
  Fort Bayard served as an army post from 1866 to 1899 and army tuberculosis hospital from 1899 to 1920.

Fort Stanton — The fort was established and built in 1855 by troopers of the 1st Dragoon Regiment to serve as a base of operations against the Mescalero Apache Indians. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday (Hours may be shorter in winter — call for schedule). Admission is free. Information: (575) 354-0341,
  Fort Stanton Garrison Program Holiday Edition is Saturday, Dec. 15. Families can create historic holiday crafts and interact with living historians to discover what life was like at a frontier fort during the holiday season.

Old Fort Bliss — Building 5054, corner of Pershing and Pleasanton Roads, Fort Bliss. The Old West days of the “Soldiers of the Pass” are relived through replicas of the original adobe fort buildings and military artifacts of the Magoffinsville Post, 1854 to 1868. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; by appointment only Saturday. Admission is free. Information: 568-4518 or 588-8482 or on Facebook at Old Fort Bliss.

Chamizal National Memorial — 800 S. San Marcial. The National Park Service operates the memorial on land once claimed by Mexico as part of a decades-long dispute over the international boundary. The visitor center has an exhibit on the history of the Chamizal dispute, including a video presentation. Park grounds and picnic area open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily for both foot traffic and vehicles; visitor’s center hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturday. Closed Christmas Day. Admission is free. Information: 532-7273 or on Facebook at ChamizalNationalMemorial.
  “Tales, Tails and Tots” stories and visits with park mascot Chami are 11 to 11:30 a.m. for ages 3-6 the fourth Saturday of each month.

El Paso History Radio Show — The show runs 10:05 a.m. to noon Saturdays on KTSM AM 690 (and streamed at Documentary filmmaker Jackson Polk hosts the show with reenactor and historian Melissa Sargent. Details of each upcoming show, plus podcasts of previous programs, are at Information: 833-8700.

El Paso Mission Trail Visitor Center — El Paso Mission Trail Association’s center supporting the three historic churches in the Mission Valley — Ysleta Mission, Socorro Mission and San Elizario Chapel — is at 6095 Alameda (at Zaragoza). Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Admission is free. Information 790-0661, 851-9997 or

EPCC Archive Collection donations — El Paso Community College will celebrate its 50th Anniversary in 2019, and is documenting the history of the college by establishing the EPCC Archive Collection. Anyone with memorabilia to donate to the collection such as posters, awards, photographs, brochures, programs, college publications, architectural records, documents on the beginning of the college or more are invited to share. Information: Antonio Rodarte at 831-4052; or Gale Sanchez at 831-4458,
  The community is also invited to share their favorite experiences, funny stories, memories of campuses and colleagues. Information:

Fort Bliss Historical Association — The group meets at 1 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at the Fort Bliss museum complex, 1735 Marshall. Information: 269-4831. Dues are $25 a year ($10 students and junior enlisted soldiers).

Los Portales Museum and Visitor Center — 1521 San Elizario Road. The museum is operated by the San Elizario Genealogy and Historical Society, and is housed in an 1850s Territorial-style building across from the San Elizario church. It offers gifts, family trees, historical artifacts as well as information on the “First Thanksgiving” and the Salt War of 1877. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Information: 851-1682.

Mission Trail — Three historic churches lie within eight miles of each other in El Paso County’s Mission Valley.
• Mission Ysleta — Spanish and Tigua Indian refugees from northern New Mexico founded the community in the 1680s. The first mission was built in 1692 and rebuilt completely in both the 18th and 19th centuries. The current structure was built in 1851. It’s near Zaragoza and Alameda on the Tigua Reservation. Information: 851-9997 (El Paso Mission Trail Association).
• Mission Socorro — The first adobe structure in Socorro was built in 1692, and like nearby Mission Ysleta, was destroyed by floods in later centuries. The current structure dates back to 1843, with additions completed in 1873. It’s off Socorro Road two miles southeast of Ysleta.
• San Elizario Chapel — Established in 1789 as a Spanish presidio, or fort, to protect the Camino Real, San Elizario was the first county seat of El Paso. The church was built in 1877, replacing a church built about 25 years earlier. Technically, San Elizario Chapel is a presidio church, not a mission. It’s on the San Elizario plaza, off Socorro Road, 5.5 miles southeast of Socorro Mission. Nearby is the famous jail that Billy the Kid reportedly broke into to rescue a friend. Group tours are available. For San Elizario tour information, call 851-1682.

San Elizario Veterans Museum and Memorial Walk — The museum, operated and managed by the non-profit San Elizario Veterans Committee of the San Elizario Genealogy and Historical Society, is at 1501-B Main Street in San Elizario. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Information: Ann Lara, 345-3741 or Ray Borrego, 383-8529.

San Elizario walking tours — The San Elizario Historic District hosts free guided walking tours of its nationally recognized historic district at noon and 3 p.m. the fourth Sunday of the month starting at Main Street Mercantile, 1501 Main Street. Learn about the 17 historic sites of San Elizario, about the arrival of Don Juan de Onate to the area in 1598 and the First Thanksgiving Celebration, the Presidio de San Elizario and the San Elcear Chapel on the Mission Trail. Information: 851-0093 or
  To get there: Take Loop 375 to Socorro Road then go east seven miles to San Elizario. District is on the right. Look for the brown signs.

Scottish Rite Temple tour — The Downtown El Paso historic landmark, 301 W. Missouri, is open to the public for a free walking tour at 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Learn about El Paso’s Masonic history, the design and architecture of the theater. Information: 533-4409.

Shakespeare Ghost Town — The small pioneer settlement and mining town on the trail to California is just south of Lordsburg, N.M. A 1½-hour tour at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on the second weekend of the month; call to confirm. Cost is $4 ($3 ages 6-12). Information: (575) 542-9034 or
  To get there: From Lordsburg, take the Main Street exit (Exit 22) from Interstate 10 and turn south. Follow signs to Shakespeare.

Taking a Look Back column by John McVey Middagh

Pioneer Parson Tays left a rich legacy


On Christmas Day 1881, the Rev. Joseph W. Tays laid the cornerstone for what is now St. Clement Episcopal Church in downtown El Paso, which was just the best-known of the many contributions to this city’s early history by the man best known as “Parson Tays.”
Born in Novia Scotia in 1827, Joseph Wilkin Tays was one of seven children, most of whom ended up in Texas. After his wife died of yellow fever in Indianola, Texas and a brief stint as chaplain of the Texas Legislature, Tays arrived in El Paso in 1870. El Paso was barely a spot on the map back then, and there wasn’t a Protestant Church anywhere along the Rio Grande. He built a two-room adobe in what is now downtown El Paso between Mesa and Oregon streets; he lived in one room and used the larger room as a chapel. Tays only stayed here for about five years before a worldwide depression (from 1873 to 1879, 18,000 businesses in the U.S. went bankrupt) forced him to move elsewhere for a few years.
During those early years in El Paso, Tays was joined by his younger brothers James and John. James joined the State Police and was stationed in San Elizario until the state force was disbanded shortly afterward. Both brothers got involved in real estate, mining and cattle investments stretching from El Paso to Silver City. John Tays became a lieutenant in the Texas Rangers and was involved in the infamous Salt War of 1877.
By 1881, the economy in El Paso was about to take off thanks to the advent of the railroad, and Parson Tays returned. Tays got busy and built a new, wooden church on Mesa. On Feb. 12, 1882 Tays conducted the first service in what was to become known as “the Little Watch Tower on the Rio Grande.” (In 1907, work began on the current location of St. Clement on North Campbell.)
Among other things Tays became a co-owner of the El Paso Times and one of El Paso’s earliest councilmen. He was also a surveyor, all while being in the real estate business with Joseph Magoffin. He was instrumental in donating land for one of the first parks in El Paso, Alamo Park.
My friend Julia McMillie found this in “El Paso: A Borderland History” by W.H. Timmons:
“Until 1881 El Paso was without a church building of any kind. Those of the Catholic faith either crossed the river and worshiped in El Paso del Norte or attended one of the missions in the Lower Valley. The few Protestants held services in private homes. Although a Methodist preacher named Harper had spent a year in El Paso in 1859, and the Reverend Joseph W. Tays, an Episcopalian minister, had arrived in 1870 and organized a congregation, no church buildings had been constructed prior to the coming of the railroads.
“By 1882, the Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Baptists had organized their congregations. They shared a ‘preachin’ tent that year to conduct services pending the completion of their church buildings. The Catholics completed their church, St. Mary’s Chapel, in 1883. Each congregation ranged in number from 150 to 300, and injected a strong moral and stabilizing influence into the community. They challenged the views of the business interests that the town’s ‘Sin City’ reputation was one of its principal assets.”
While conducting his ministerial duties, Tays partnered with Sherman Slade in the operation of the El Paso Times. Slade was a pioneer newspaperman who handled the writing. Tays took care of the business end. Slade fought hard to keep the El Paso Times going during the difficult years of 1883-84, finally selling his portion of the Times to J.H. Bates and Juan S. Hart. Perhaps the death of his close friend and partner, Tays, prompted the sale.
Tays had agreed to officiate at the funeral of a man who died of smallpox, and he quickly came down with a fever that turned into the black smallpox. He died Nov. 21, 1884 in the rectory at St. Clement’s. The disease was so feared that he was buried almost immediately, his body lowered into a gravesite at Concordia Cemetery at night during a heavy rainstorm, without any religious services.
A memorial service was held for the pioneer pastor a week later at the Methodist Church because St. Clements was still closed due to threat of smallpox.

John McVey Middagh is a former
saddle shop owner. You can reach
him at

El Paso Scene MONTHLY
This month's listings, stories and columns

Feature story
Here's the Ticket
Program Notes
On Stage
Southwest Art Scene
At the Museum
History Lessons
Film Scene
Keep on Bookin'
Liner Notes
Stage Talk
Gallery Talk


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