August 22, 2005
By Leon Metz
Special to the Times
The City of El Paso incorporated May 17, 1873, with a voting population of 72. And those voters were all men.
But since everybody knew everybody, there was hesitance to pass ordinances that might offend someone. So every week for two years, the council passed ordinances primarily relating to the acequia, the community watering ditch.
Otherwise, no records exist regarding the assessed value of any personal property. The city collected a tax total of $188.83 the first year.
Most of that went to improve the acequia (irrigation ditch), which brought pure, although somewhat brown, drinking water into town. And of course, the city had its delinquent citizens. The 1873 records showing $15.32 in unpaid taxes.
A dance license during this period cost $1.60, the town marshal attending all such public affairs. Someone had to collect the fee.
Ordinances were passed to suppress "frivolous and malicious complaints." So all complaints thereafter went directly to the mayor, although if any went to court, the complainant had to pay costs. Furthermore, he would be held in jail until the city got its money.
El Paso was a gambling town, gambling being so popular that card tables became a hazard to anyone walking or riding in the sidewalks and alleys. Over time, these sidewalk hucksters cut deep into the profits of "regulated" gambling establishments. Thus laws arose making it illegal to gamble in alleys, streets, on porches or in back yards.
Since brothels and gambling were illegal, gaming houses paid a monthly fine, one collected by the city marshal, who never bothered with receipts. Every month, gamblers and shady ladies faithfully admitted their violation of the laws by simply showing up at the designated legal office and paying their fees (er, fines).
Gambling and prostitution thus primarily supported the city during the first few decades of its existence.
Meanwhile, El Paso was so overrun with dogs that an ordinance required a $1 tax. However, the council made an exception to "visiting dogs," animals following their masters into town from nearby ranches. Visiting dogs might have been a nuisance, but their masters were in town to spend money, hence the exceptions.
On one occasion, the city closed a number of streets, selling the land to nearby homeowners who wanted additional property. The town had about 300 residents.
Then, in September 1875, El Paso went out of business as an incorporated community. But in late July 1880, with information arriving that two railroads were heading this way, El Paso revived and reintroduced its charter. And the old town has been rolling along with an established government ever since.
Solomon Schutz became the first mayor. Aldermen Ben Dowell opened a watering-hole (saloon) where the Paso del Norte Hotel stands today.
Other local officials, in no particular order, were Adolf Krakauer, Juan Ochoa, Antonio Hart, Sam Slade and Joseph Magoffin.
The administration levied a tax of one-half of 1 percent on realty values, and one-fourth of 1 percent on personal property. Furthermore, it passed ordinances making horse races illegal on Downtown streets.
Of course, since so many folks loved to race, that ordinance turned out to be quite a money-maker too.
Anyway, for the next few years, horse-racing fines, plus prostitution and gambling fees, literally supported city and county governments. And our modern government thinks it has improved over a fair system like that.