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Dowell, Benjamin Shacklett (1818–1880)

Nancy Hamilton Biography Entry

Benjamin Shacklett (Uncle Ben) Dowell, pioneer settler and first mayor of El Paso, son of James Board and Barbara (Shacklett) Dowell, was born in Meade County, Kentucky, on November 30, 1818. He served with Company G, First Regiment, Kentucky Cavalry, in the Mexican War (1846–47), during which he was taken prisoner at La Encarnación. About 1850 he moved from Kentucky to Texas and was employed by Juan María Ponce De León, whose ranch occupied the site of present downtown El Paso. After a brief sojourn in Los Angeles (1854) he returned to El Paso, where his business interests came to include a saloon, general store, post office, stagecoach stand, billiard parlor, and hotel in the downtown area, plus an extensive ranch on the Rio Grande above the town.

After the incorporation of El Paso by the legislature in 1873, Dowell was elected the first mayor, in which office he supervised the water supply from the acequias fed by the Rio Grande and established a taxation system. After he lost his bid for reelection in 1875, the town government was dormant until 1880, when he was elected an alderman among a new group of officials. He also served as the town's third postmaster (1857–60) and as El Paso county commissioner (1878–80). He is reputed to have been the first El Pasoan to fly a Confederate flag. He served with the Confederate Army as a captain at San Antonio and Galveston and tried unsuccessfully to run the Union blockade with a shipment of cotton.

Dowell was among pioneer Masons of far West Texas; he served as worshipful master of El Paso Lodge No. 130 (1868–69) and as district deputy grand master for an area reaching to the Big Bend (1870–80). He was married in 1838 to a Kentucky neighbor, Melvina Stith, from whom he was divorced before moving to Texas. In El Paso County, about 1852, he married Juana Márquez, daughter of a Tigua Indian cacique of Ysleta. They had five children. Their daughter, Mary, who was married to Warner Phillips, became an early teacher in El Paso, and Dowell School, opened in 1959, was named in honor of her and her father. Dowell died at his ranch on November 8, 1880. His widow died in 1891.

Nancy Hamilton, Ben Dowell, El Paso's First Mayor (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1976).

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

Nancy Hamilton, “Dowell, Benjamin Shacklett,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed March 06, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.