Louis Cardis, El Paso political figure and first casualty of the Salt War of San Elizario, was born in the Piedmont region of Italy in 1825. He served as a captain in Giuseppe Garibaldi's army before immigrating to the United States in 1854; he applied for citizenship in New York on March 28, 1864. He moved to El Paso that year and became a citizen on July 19, 1869. In El Paso, Cardis ran a store and became a subcontractor of the San Antonio-El Paso stage line. He spoke fluent Spanish and took an active role in local politics, becoming associated with Father Antonio Borrajos, the priest of San Elizario parish. Their roles as unofficial leaders of local Mexican Americans did not, however, prevent them from joining William Wallace Mills, Albert J. Fountain, Benjamin S. Dowell, and others in the 1866 formation of the Salt Ring. This was a group of El Paso businessmen who sought to acquire title to the salt beds at the foot of the Guadalupe Mountains, ninety miles east of the city, and begin charging fees from the Mexican Americans of the valley communities, who had for years collected salt there without charge.
The Salt Ring fell apart in 1868 after a quarrel between Mills and Fountain. The latter thereupon became the leader of the so-called Anti-Salt Ring, but the scheme persisted, as did Cardis's involvement in political affairs. In 1871 an opponent described Cardis as Mills's "right-hand man," and he became closely allied with the Democrat Charles H. Howard, who opposed Fountain, after Howard's arrival in 1872. In 1874 Cardis helped secure Howard's election as district attorney, while Howard aided Cardis's successful campaign for the state legislature. Within two years the two men had quarreled, most probably over Cardis's attempts to revive the salt scheme, and Howard wrote that Cardis was "a liar, a coward, a mischief maker, a meddler; such a thing as could only spring from the decaying carcass of an effete people." In June 1875 Howard opposed Cardis for delegate to the state constitutional convention at Austin and defeated him at the precinct and district conventions; but Cardis ran as an independent and defeated Howard in the election.
In 1876 Cardis was reelected to the state legislature, which had cleared the way for Howard's appointment as district judge by removing the incumbent. The feud between the two turned even uglier, as Howard twice attacked Cardis physically, once in Austin and once in San Antonio. After Howard filed in the name of his father-in-law on the unlocated portions of the salt lakes, taking over Samuel Maverick's ten-year-old claim, Cardis fanned the discontent of the Mexican Americans in the Rio Grande valley. In late June 1877 Howard encountered Cardis at the latter's Fort Quitman stage station and beat him again. This time Cardis filed charges against Howard and had him indicted, and in September a mob of angry Mexican Americans held Howard for three days in San Elizario. Eventually Howard agreed to let the courts settle the matter of the salt lakes and to leave the area forever.
On October 7, 1877, however, he returned to El Paso from Mesilla, New Mexico, where he had taken refuge. Three days later he found Cardis dictating letters in the store of Solomon Schutz. Howard killed Cardis, who had attempted to hide behind a desk, with two shotgun blasts. Just over two months later Howard and two associates were executed by a mob in San Elizario.
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J. Morgan Broaddus, The Legal Heritage of El Paso (El Paso: Texas Western College Press, 1963). C. L. Sonnichsen, The El Paso Salt War (El Paso: Hertzog, 1961).
Politics and Government
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Martin Donell Kohout,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 28, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
September 11, 2019