Pioneer on Horseback
Juan Maria Ponce De Leon, (a direct descendant
of Ponce De Leon) is considered by many to be one of the founding
fathers of El Paso, largely because he made the first attempt
at occupation of the north bank of the river.
In the early 19th century, downtown El Paso
was called “Chivos Bravos,” or “Place of the Wild Goats.” In September
1827 Juan Maria Ponce De Leon petitioned the local officials in
El Paso del Norte for a land grant at what is now the corner of
Paisano and El Paso streets. He built a hacienda in the area,
close to where the Plaza Theatre and the old White House building
are today. The acequia, or irrigation ditch that he built from
the Rio Grande through the Downtown area opened the door to further
growth, with orchards, vineyards, and even a granary in what is
now downtown El Paso.
In the summer of 1849 he sold the property
to Benjamin Franklin Coons, who called it “Coon's Rancho.” Coons
rented land to the army, but after the military moved away in
September 1851,Coons was unable to keep up his payments. So Ponce
De León repossessed it. He died the following year, and his wife
and daughter sold the rancho to freighter William T. Smith.
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