Tigua Participation at Texas State Fair
Tigua Indians and El Paso at the 1936 Texas State Centennial Exposition
Copyright, August 2, 2004
By Nicholas P. Houser
Note: This chapter was adapted from two-part article from Password, “Tigua Indians and El Paso Texas Centennial Exposition”, Part I, Winter 2004, pages 181-190; Part II, Spring 2005, pages 29-37)
"Manuel Ortega" c. 1890
Tigua Scout and Tribal Cacique
Photo taken at Dallas Fair Tigua Indian Pavilion
(Ortega wears traditional war jacket with medals)
The 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition was the biggest statewide celebration in Texas history. El Paso and the Tigua Indian were well represented at the exposition, which help make El Pasoans, Texans and Americans aware the region’s multicultural heritage.
Tigua Deligation at the Dallas 1936 Texas Centennial
The Tigua Indians of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo participated in the Texas State Fair of 1890, 1899 and 1936. This participation initiated public awareness of the Tigua within the region and state. Tribal involvement was related to activities that promoted the El Paso area and publicized the region's cultural heritage, agricultural wealth and economic resources.
State Fairs of 1890 and 1899
The Herald described Tigua preparations for the 1890 fair as follows:
"There are about 50 Pueblo Indians being trained at Ysleta, who will take to the State Fair at Dallas in October, by H.G. Bosong. The men are being drilled in all sorts of Indian sports and boys are getting to be experts in the art of bow and arrows. They will be dressed in Indian fashion and it is expected will attract much attention at the fair. The American boys of Ysleta are learning the use of the bow and arrow and can now kill rabbits, birds, etc., as trophies of their skills."
Little is known about Tigua participation in the early fairs because of the limited historical record. Cacique Manuel Ortega traveled by train with several tribal members to the Dallas state fair. In 1899, the tribe again participated in the state fair. An account of that activity reflects the cultural insensitivity of the period: "A car load [train] of Indians and squaws left Monday to be exhibited at the Dallas Fair. They were dressed with the usual costumes and attracted a great deal of attention." The statement suggests that the tribal delegation was exhibited as an object of curiosity rather than participating in a cultural activity.
Preparing for the 1936 Texas Centennial
The 1936 Texas Centennial observance was the first time that El Paso and Texas acknowledged tribe's contributions to the development of the region and state. In the past, Tigua participation at public events was considered entertaining and exotic, but of little importance to the greater community. Many Texans of Native American, African-American and Hispanic ancestry considered the 1936 Centennial Exposition in Dallas as an important milestone in Texas history because it acknowledged and celebrated the state's multicultural heritage.
Interest in the 1936 Texas Centennial began in the 1920's. Most of the planning was achieved from 1933 to 1934. Dallas was selected over San Antonio and Houston to host the exposition. The centennial exposition was many things – a state fair, a world’s fair and a centennial exposition. The Texas Constitution was amended to permit the allocation of monies for a large-scale exposition. In 1935, the state legislature and the federal government contributed $3,000,000 each to the celebration. The Commission of Control for the Texas Centennial encouraged secondary celebratory activities across the state. The exposition was put together in only fourteen months at the cost of 25 million dollars.
The commission wanted to launch an extensive building program to attract tourists, to improve roads, and to build impressive monuments and museums. The organization received funding from the Texas Legislature to provide limited financial support to local organizations within the state. Texas cities were encouraged to submit centennial proposals for state funding by September 1, 1934.
El Pasoans complained that centennial funding was prejudicial to their town. In October 1935, the chamber of commerce charged that the commission offered El Paso only a thousand dollars for the erection of a Texas Ranger monument. Wallace Perry, El Paso state centennial commission representative, objected that the Advisory Board of the Texas Historians discriminated to West Texans. El Paso Mayor R.E. Sherman accompanied a city delegation to Austin and requested that the commission approve the city’s application for $150,000. Shortly thereafter, the town was awarded $50,000 to be spent by the local committee without bureaucratic restrictions.
El Paso Plans Centennial Activities
El Paso's centennial planning was challenged by the Great Depression. Municipal, county and state budgets were severely limited. Federal relief monies funded some centennial programs. Wherever possible, the private sector was asked to support centennial activities.
State funding guidelines restricted funding to permanent projects such as buildings, statues and markers, and for not pageantry. El Paso sought $150,000, but received $50,000 from the state for local centennial projects. The town proposed to construct a welcome house to serve tourists, which was to be designed in the mission architectural style. Another project was to construct an exposition building at Washington Park.
The chamber of commerce centennial committee was granted authority to select a permanent project for the El Paso area. The committee agreed to build a Memorial Arts Building at one of four recommended locations: (1) downtown El Paso, (2) the old Magoffin Homestead, (3) the city library, and (4) the College of Mines. The downtown merchants petitioned to place the museum within the town’s central business district. Others campaigned to purchase the old Magoffin Home and adjoining property. One faction favored adding a wing to the Public Library to accommodate a museum. Some advocated to place the museum on city property adjacent to the College of Mines. The mayor and county judge cautioned that the town and county lacked funds to maintain and operate a museum.
The controversy was so intense that the chamber had to disband its quarrelling committee. On December 19, 1935, the issue was settled when the county advisory board voted 6-5 to locate the museum on ten acres adjacent to the College of Mines (University of Texas at El Paso). In response, the Times editorial asserted that it was time to put bad feelings aside:
“Now let the irritation die out, the rancor be forgotten. And especially let no one hold resentment against the College of Mines. The college itself had nothing to do with this squabble, was a silent bystander throughout, and should not be unjustly penalized by the withdrawal of one iota of public favor or support.”
In addition, the state funded the construction of the Socorro Mission diorama that was exhibited at the Dallas exposition. El Paso's four performing groups at the exposition were funded by private contributions. They included the Tigua Indian dancers, the Tipica Orchestra, the Negro Chorus and the Texas Chorus. The City of El Paso intended to subsidize participation of the orchestra and chorus with an allocation of $500, but it was determined, when they were about to depart for Dallas, that the funding ordinance violated the city charter. On June 9, 1936, the chamber of commerce hastily sent one thousand solicitation letters requesting donations of one dollar each to support El Paso's participation at the Texas Centennial Exposition.
The El Paso Public Schools coordinated and sponsored the largest school centennial program in the Texas - a five-day historical pageant dramatized regional history. It involved more than 30,000 school children.
On New Years Day, January 1, 1936, El Paso’s Sun Carnival parade launched the state’s centennial celebrations. At the time, it was the biggest local event ever held and attracted over 100,000 observers. The parade reflected the region’s ethnic groups – Asians, Anglos, Hispanics, Blacks and Native Americans. A large group of Tigua Indians marched in the defile. The Mescalero Apache Tribe’s float was entitled “First American.” The parade was followed by the Sun Bowl game that involved New Mexico’s Aggies against Hardin-Simmons.