San Elizario Presidial Chapel
Presidial Chapel of San Elizario
La Capilla de San Elceario
How To Get There
The San Elceario Presidial Chapel is located in the town of San Elizario, 24-miles east of El Paso. The chapel retains the original Spanish spelling of the name. It is accessible from Interstate I-10 West or North (off the Socorro Exit). San Elizario can also be reached by traveling east on Socorro Road about 5 miles from Ysleta.
Presidio Chapel San Elceario, Spanish Period, Courtesy of the Artist, José Ciseneros
The present-day church was built on or near the original site of the old presidial chapel. "Presidio" in Spanish means "fort". The presidio, Spanish settlement and the missions were the building blocks of Spanish imperialism in the New World.
"Ruins of the Church at San Elezario on the Rio Grande, October 8, 1852," Lithograph from a drawing by John Russell Bartlett, U.S. Boundary Commssion. Courtesy John Carter Brown Library
Founding San Elceario Presidio
San Elizario was founded in 1789 by the Spanish Crown as a military presidio with a soldier-community to sustain the garrison. It was built on the former site of Ranch de Tiburcios, a large ranch that had been abandoned some years before because of frequent Apache depredations.
The presidio's objective was to defend El Paso districts from Apache and Comanche raiders, bandits and other threats. It was an important link in a chain of forts that protected El Camino Real, or Royal Road that linked Mexico's interior with the province of New Mexico.
Presidio and Mission
The presidio was also created to encourage the region's Apaches to settle in "peace camps" ("Apaches de Paz") to become peaceful, sedentary farmers and Christian converts, dependent on the Spanish Crown. According the program's regulations, the Apache settlements had to be served by a mission for their conversion and salvation. Thus, San Elizario had not only a presidial chapel, but an Apache Mission.
"Group of Apaches"
by W. Roberts from John Bartlett, 1854
Courtesy of John Carter Brown Library
Presidio Plan & Apache Mission
The presidio had a double wall that enclosed the chapel, parade grounds, powder storage, barracks and officers' quarters. The Apache camps, fields and pastures surrounded the fort.
By the 1840s (Mexican Period), the Apaches were abandoning San Elizario for several reasons. The poor, fledging Mexican government lacked sufficient funds to supply them with rations (food provisions, cloths and rifles) that had encouraged them to live at the presidio.
Apaches Abandon San Elizario
The fiercely independent Apache had no desire to forsake their nomadic way of life and traditional religion, in order to be permanently "cooped-up" in villages as Christian farmers, tied to the soil, and dependent upon the white man. Epidemics, raging in the El Paso district during the 18th century, were added incentives to abandon their camps at San Elizario and seek refuge in their traditional territories - the mountains of West Texas, New Mexico and northern Mexico.