America's Best History Spotlight
On this page we're going to Spotlight the lesser known historic sites and attractions that dot the history landscape across the USA and are worth a visit if you're in their area. And while they may be lesser known, some are very unique, and will be that rare find. You'll be, at times, on the ground floor, or maybe even know something others don't. It'll be fun. Visit them.
Chamizal National Memorial, Texas
What a river won't do for a border dispute. At one time the lands of the Chamizal dispute had been predominantly Mexican territory, but over one hundred years ago, the Rio Grande River decided it wanted to undergo a different course, thus giving the United States an extra six hundred acres in the city of El Paso, Texas. Mexico wanted its land back for that century, but it wasn't until 1963 that the United States, and Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, thought better relations with Mexico, thus preventing a possible Communist nation to its south, was worth a second look. Yes, the Chamizal Treaty would alter the course of the Rio Grande River and allow the two nations to gain a solution. Today, Chamizal National Memorial tells that story along the Rio Grande River, well, it's man-made altered course, as well as hosting ranger guided programs and Music Under The Stars treats. It's kind of a reminder that you can come up with a solution, Texas, U.S., and Mexico style. Photo above: Mural at Chamizal National Memorial, 2014, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Info, What's There Now, History Nearby
Chamizal Treaty History
After the Mexican American War was over, the border between the two nations in the majority of Texas was established by the Rio Grande River. Land to the north, United States; land to the south, Mexico. However, over time, the Rio Grande River began to shift; after the floods of 1864, by 1873, six hundred acres had been made United States land through the change, eventually incorporated into El Paso and known as El Chamizal. Mexico did not agree. After a channel had been cut to control flooding, another parcel of land, Cordova Island, was created, owned by Mexico, but inside U.S. control.
By 1909, the dispute was heating up. President Taft and his counterpart, President Diaz, planned a summit with Taft agreeing for the first time that a U.S. President would enter Mexican territory. There was heavy security. An assassin was caught along the procession route, only feet from the two Presidents. Attempts continued to solve the problem with agreement to arbitration through the International Boundary and Border Commission. On June 15, 1911, a proposal was made, but the United States disagreed.
It was not until 1962 that President Kennedy, fresh off the Cuban Missile Crises and concerned about the possibility that Mexico might become a Communist nation, that he agreed to meet with the President of Mexico in Mexico City, and within a year, accepted the 1911 arbitration. On August 29, 1963, the Chamizal Treaty was signed. The agreement gave Mexico 366 acres of the Chamizal tract and 71 acres of Cordova Island. It established 193 acres as United States territory and gave the United States compensation for 382 buildings in the ceded territory. A concrete channel was built that would permanantly establish the course of the Rio Grande in the area, paid by both nations, and three bridges were constructed between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.
Photo above: Signing of the Chamizal Treaty on August 29, 1963 between Thomas C. Mann, Ambassador to the U.S. (left) and Manuel Tello Baurraud, Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs (right), 1963, U.S. Department of the Interior. Courtesy National Park Service via Wikipedia Commons. Below: Marker within the park along the U.S. and Mexico International Border with the Visitor Center in the background, 2014, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Where Is It
Chamizal National Memorial is located along the Rio Grande River in El Paso, Texas. It is located near the intersections of Interstate 10 and U.S. 54 between Paisano Drive and Delta Drive. There is parking for one hundred and sixty-two cars on site. There is public transit nearby.
What is There Now
The park is open year round with the Visitor Center located in the Chamizal National Memorial Cultural Center open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It has a theater, exhibits, visitor information and tours, plus a park store. The Frank Smith Gallery is located next door. There are walking trails and picnic tables outside on the fifty-five acres of the park. An outside amphitheater also showcases various performances during the year, including the Music Under the Stars series.
The Chamizal Cultural Festival is held in October and Ranger Guided tours of the Memorial are held some days. Check at the Visitor Center for a list of those and other programs.
How Much to Visit
There is no fee for the park or Visitor Center.
Chamizal National Memorial
Visit El Paso
Great Book for the History Fan with Fifty Short Essays Telling the Story of American History.
There's a bunch to do within the El Paso region, both historical and cultural, but if you're looking for history and nature from the National Park perspective, there's a good amount both north and south. From Big Bend National Park to Carlsbad Caverns, plus Guadalupe Mountains, Fort Davis, and the great White Sands National Monument, these unique sites will add a bit more nature to your visit than Chamizal, but boy, will they be fun for most adventure travelers.