Stephenson, Juana María Ascárate (1800–1856)


By: Michelle N. Balliet

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 2021

Updated: December 1, 2021


Juana María Ascárate Stephenson, civic leader, early El Paso resident, and land heir, was born on February 8, 1800, most likely in the region known as El Paso del Norte. Her parents, Juan and Eugenia Ascárate, were among the eighteenth-century Spanish migrants attracted to the El Paso area and the location sites of present-day twin border cities (formerly known as El Paso del Norte) Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas. El Paso del Norte experienced significant population growth, including a sizable number of criollos (persons of Spanish descent born in New Spain), and, for their military service, the Ascárate family received land, including tracts of 13,000 acres and 900 acres, from the Spanish Crown in the 1750s. Via the construction of acequias, the Rio Grande provided an ample water supply for growing vegetables, grains, and fruits. A particular interest to Juan and Eugenia Ascárate were the pastures of the El Paso del Norte region that proved to be a prime area for stock raising, and they amassed great fortunes of wealth through cattle raising enterprises. In addition to the Ascárate land grant within the Lower Valley of El Paso, they had silver mining interests within the Corralitos area.

Their eldest daughter, Juana María, was raised in a position of affluence and social prominence. Her socio-economic status reflects the existence of Spanish mercantile aristocracy in El Paso del Norte, where wealthy landowners and merchants secured their business interests by dominating the political structure of the region. In 1828 Juana María Ascárate married Anglo American Hugh Stephenson. Stephenson, a Kentucky native who grew up in Concordia, Missouri, headed west towards the El Paso area in what appears to be the Chihuahua trade. The newlyweds purchased the 900-acre tract from Juan Ascárate and established Concordia Ranch, named after Concordia, Missouri, with their house called, “La Casa Grande el Alto,” on “the north side of the Rio Grande.” They had seven children: Horacio, Hugo Jr., Alberto, Margarita, Benancia, Leonora, and Adelaida. By 1835 Stephenson opened his first mercantile store in El Paso del Norte. In addition to the store, the Stephensons eventually provided lodging, blacksmith services, water, and other supplies for merchants and travelers, and a community known as Concordia developed by the 1840s. Around 1846 approximately 195 homes, housing Mexican workers and their families, were scattered throughout the Concordia region. In 1854 the Stephensons established the chapel San José de Concordia el Alto on their ranch.

Juana María Ascárate died on February 6, 1856. Reportedly, she was gored by a deer and died from her wounds. Stephenson buried his wife in San José de Concordia el Alto. Her burial is credited as the first grave in what became Concordia Cemetery in El Paso. Sometime before 1954 the chapel was demolished under an order to make room for the Union stockyards. Her headstone presently sits at the French family plot, located in another section of the Concordia Cemetery, in El Paso. While most sources give her date of death as February 6, 1856, her tombstone lists the date as February 5, 1857, and contains the inscription, “First Lady of Concordia.”

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El Paso Times, January 19, 2011. Nancy Gonzalez, Reinventing the Old West: Concordia Cemetery and the Power Over Space, 1800–1895 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas at El Paso, 2014). Historical Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin (Concordia Cemetery). “Juana Maria Ascarate Stephenson,” Find A Grave Memorial (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/62786064/juana-maria-stephenson), accessed November 16, 2021. Milo Kearney and Anthony Knopp, Border Cuates: A History of the U. S.-Mexican Twin Cities (Austin: Eakin, 1995). W. H. Timmons, "The El Paso Area in the Mexican Period, 1821–1848," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 84 (July 1980).  Andrew J. Torget, Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800–1850 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

Categories:
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • Pioneers
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • Spanish Texas
  • Mexican Texas
  • Texas Revolution
  • Republic of Texas
  • Antebellum Texas
Places:
  • Southwest Texas
  • El Paso

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

Michelle N. Balliet, “Stephenson, Juana María Ascárate,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/stephenson-juana-maria-ascarate.

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December 1, 2021
December 1, 2021

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