Henry L. Dexter, El Paso settler, was born in Vandalia, Illinois, on September 2, 1823. Papers admitting him to the United States Military Academy were signed by O. N. McCurdy as guardian. He was admitted on July 1, 1842, and dismissed the following January 20 for deficiency in his studies. After leaving the academy he roamed the world as an able seaman until 1849, when he headed west with the gold rush. At Santa Fe, New Mexico, he changed his mind and turned toward the El Paso area, where he arrived in 1850. In 1855 he purchased the property known as Frontera, eight miles above El Paso del Norte; he served briefly as a customs inspector there and moved back to Ysleta later that year.
In his thirteen years on the border, mostly at Ysleta, Dexter held a number of appointive and elective offices, such as justice of the peace, postmaster, customs collector, tax assessor-collector, and county judge. He established a mercantile business, speculated in local grains, and served as a newspaper correspondent and town physician. He related his experiences on the border in a series of letters to his sister Mary Roundy, the only one in the family who would correspond with him. These letters, thirty in number, were returned to El Paso when a collateral relative, Charles J. Mapel, moved to the city, and they became the basis of a seventeen-part series published in the El Paso Times. One letter, written on the back of a rare edition of the Mesilla Times while Confederate forces controlled southern New Mexico, is now in the Museum of New Mexico.
In 1861 Dexter was appointed justice of the peace in Mesilla and became increasingly outspoken in his hatred of the policies of the federal government. He fled the El Paso area in 1862 with a price on his head, and some of his properties were eventually confiscated by the carpetbagger government after the war. He had married María Soledad Luján, a native of Mexico, on January 1, 1859, but abandoned her when he left the border region.
After the Civil War Dexter lived in Guaymas and lower California, though he occasionally returned to the United States for brief visits. For a short time he lived in San Antonio. His last letter was written from the steamer Continental in the Gulf of California on December 27, 1869. He wrote that he expected to reach Guaymas the following day and that he planned to remain there, but he also said that he had become ill with a severe cold. He may not have recovered. A photograph of Dexter taken from a daguerreotype hangs in the El Paso County Courthouse, in a gallery of past county judges.