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STEPHENSON, HUGH

STEPHENSON, HUGH (1798–1870). Hugh Stephenson, pioneering El Paso settler and trader, was born on July 18, 1798, in Kentucky. An orphan, he moved with a cousin to Concordia, Missouri, where he grew up. He came west as a trapper and in August 1824 became possibly the first Anglo-American in the El Paso area, passing through with a wagontrain. He left the wagon train at Old Mesilla, New Mexico, acquiring land and building a home on the site of present Las Cruces. Shortly thereafter he settled in El Paso del Norte (present Juárez, Mexico) and later acquired two land grants: one of 900 acres, south of that belonging to Juan María Ponce de León in present El Paso, and the other a 23,000-acre Brazito tract south of the site of present Las Cruces, New Mexico. Stephenson married Juana María Ascárate, the daughter of a wealthy El Paso del Norte merchant, in August 1828. By 1835 he had opened a store there in partnership with Archibald Stevenson or Stephenson, possibly a brother. In 1836 he was fined by local customs officials for importing contraband gunpowder. In 1843 Stephenson moved to Corralitos to manage the silver mine belonging to his wife's family; he also managed the family business at Janos. In 1844 he sent his son Horace to Missouri with James Wiley Magoffin to be placed in school and moved to his property south of Ponce de León's. There he established a community that he called Concordia, after his childhood home; it was also known locally as Stephensonville and Stephenson's Ranch. Stephenson engaged in trade with St. Louis and also had extensive ranching and silver mining interests. He was the first Anglo-American to prospect in New Mexico. His silver mine in the Organ Mountains, east of Las Cruces, was later known as the Stephenson and Bennett Mine. Juana Ascárate de Stephenson died on February 6, 1856, when she was fatally gored by a deer she had raised from a fawn. When the Civil War broke out Stephenson attempted to maintain a neutral stance, although his sympathies were clearly with the Southern cause, and he bought Confederate bonds. Consequently, Union officials confiscated and sold at auction his properties at Concordia and Brazito. One source says that these properties were thereupon purchased by Stephenson's son-in-law, Albert French, while another says that Stephenson's old friend William Wallace Mills repurchased them for Stephenson with money from the Corralitos mines. In November 1867, after the Rio Grande flooded the old garrison at Magoffinsville, Fort Bliss was moved to Concordia and known as Camp Concordia until March 1869, when it resumed its previous name. Stephenson kept the silver mine at Corralitos and lived out the last years of his life on his son Horace's farm in La Mesa, New Mexico. He died on October 11, 1870, in La Mesa and was buried in Las Cruces.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

James Magoffin Dwyer, Jr., "Hugh Stephenson," New Mexico Historical Review 29 (January 1954). Rex W. Strickland, Six Who Came to El Paso: Pioneers of the 1840's (El Paso: Texas Western College Press, 1963). W. H. Timmons, "American El Paso: The Formative Years, 1848–1854," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 87 (July 1983).

Martin Donell Kohout

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Martin Donell Kohout, "STEPHENSON, HUGH," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fstcx), accessed August 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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