Satterthwaite, John Fisher (1844–1930)

By: Claudia Rivers

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1995

John Fisher Satterthwaite, financier and real estate developer, was born in Nutley, New Jersey, on July 4, 1844, to Thomas Wilkinson and Ann Fisher (Sheafe) Satterthwaite. He had two brothers and two sisters. He attended Dr. Bell's School in Peekskill, New York, then later served in the Seventh Regiment of the New York Volunteers and the Twenty-second Regiment, New Jersey Volunteers, during the Civil War. In 1878–79 he made a trip through El Paso to the Mexican state of Chihuahua, thinking of investing in mines in the area of Batopilas. While in Mexico, he was the guest of Governor Luis Terrazas in Chihuahua and Alexander Shepard in Batopilas. His El Paso Times obituary recounts a tale of Satterthwaite's close brush with violence on the trip: when he reneged on a purchase of a silver mine after learning it had been "salted" with ore from another site, the prospective seller became enraged and swore out a warrant for Satterthwaite's arrest. He fled on horseback at breakneck speed from a squad of soldiers sent to arrest him; Juan Terrazas, son of Governor Luis Terrazas, accompanied him back to the United States. Though he did not invest in Mexican mines, he saw potential for real estate investment in El Paso, since railroad lines were planned to pass through the community. According to newspaper accounts, he loaned $500 to an executor of the Simeon Hart estate against some land, and later foreclosed when the debt was not repaid. County records, however, merely indicate that James P. Hague, executor of the Hart estate, sold about fifty blocks of land in a private sale to Juan de Dios Ochoa, who in turn sold it to Satterthwaite in 1880. The land was northwest of the town center on rocky hills overlooking the Rio Grande. Satterthwaite spent an initial $30,000 to grade streets and to lay water and gas lines. By 1885 he had built more than ninety houses. The area, the first planned residential development in El Paso, was known as the Satterthwaite Addition. Satterthwaite later lost the land because of financial reverses in the 1890s, and in 1899 the development was renamed Sunset Heights.

Satterthwaite was active in El Paso city politics; he ran for mayor in 1885 and for several years served as street and park commissioner. He was instrumental in landscaping the city's main plaza (San Jacinto Plaza), and he paid for some of the improvements himself. He constructed a popular gathering place, Mesa Garden, on a hill overlooking El Paso. A staunch Republican, he was involved in 1889 in a takeover of city hall that nearly resulted in a shoot-out between Democrats and Republicans. Satterthwaite, a self-styled capitalist, had financial interests in New York, and at one time was president of the Produce Bank of New York City. Even when his activities in El Paso were at their height, Satterthwaite spent six months out of each year in New York or New Jersey, where he had real estate interests. Evidently, he is one of many who lost his fortune in the financial crisis of 1894. Some of his El Paso properties were foreclosed on in 1895 and 1896; he is not known to have been in El Paso after that time. By 1898 he could say in a letter to a friend that he had no more properties in El Paso. Satterthwaite was never married. He died on December 30, 1930, in San Diego, California. His death certificate states that he had lived in San Diego for fifteen years at the time of his death.

El Paso Herald, December 9, 1899. El Paso Times, January 1, 1885, January 9, 1931. San Diego Union, January 2, 1931. C. L. Sonnichsen, Pass of the North: Four Centuries on the Rio Grande (2 vols., El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1968, 1980).

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

Claudia Rivers, “Satterthwaite, John Fisher,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 19, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1995