Now that America is starting to reconcile with its historical record, it is time to start having serious discussions about El Paso’s historical legacy. Today we will focus on Bowie High School. There is much nostalgia about the history of Bowie High School and its impact on the Mexican Americans of El Paso, the Segundo Barrio and on the Chicano identity.
Bowie High School identifies the struggle of Mexican Americans in America and its successes.
But did you know that Bowie High School is named after a slave trader?
According to El Paso Independent School District, Bowie is named after “Alamo defender James Bowie”. [EPISD website accessed on July 6, 2020]
Many readers will recognize James “Jim” Bowie as the inventor of the Bowie Knife who died at the Alamo. What many El Pasoans do not know is that Bowie was a prolific slave trader. Many do not know this because history books conveniently ignore unpleasant facts that distort the carefully created history that America pretends it emerged from.
Jim Bowie was born on Kentucky. But his legacy is one of a well-known Louisiana slave trader. Bowie’s father used slaves to run a large plantation. Before the Alamo, Bowie was part of the James Long expedition to expel the Spaniards out of Texas in 1819. After the Long expedition, Bowie and his brother sold and traded slaves captured by slave-pirate Jean Laffite. (sometimes spelled Lafitte) Importing slaves into America was illegal after 1808. To circumvent the law, pirates like Laffite would capture slave ships and smuggle the stolen slaves into the country. Although importing slaves was illegal, selling and trading slaves already in the country was still legal.
The Bowies used the slave trading profits to become land speculators.
But Bowie’s land speculating was nothing more than land fraud. Jim Bowie, along with his brother forged Spanish land titles to sell land that was in the public domain. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Sempeyreac and Stewart v. The United States that the Bowie land claim deed was a forgery. Other Bowie land deeds were also forgeries. Soon after questions of Bowie’s land dealings were made, Jim Bowie left the United States.
In 1830, Bowie moved from Louisiana to Texas, then a Mexican territory. He brought with him over 100 slaves. To avoid the Mexican prohibition against slavery, Bowie, like other Texas settlers, called their slaves “indentured servants”. Bowie died at the Alamo.
Not only was Jim Bowie, the namesake of the highschool, a slave trader and fraudster, but the Texas Revolution was nothing more than making a new slave-friendly territory.
As Americans and El Pasoans start to revisit the historical legacy imposed upon them shouldn’t the name of a high school serving minorities in the center of the Segundo Barrio which is under the constant threat of erasure to make way for Anglo-centric legacies be renamed to better reflect the community it serves?