Article first published in Vol. 23 (2004-2005)
By Gretchen Dickey and Sara Flores
In 1880, El Paso, Texas, was a rough, wide-open town of 736 residents. However, its neighbor across the river, El Paso del Norte, Chihuahua, Mexico, had over 10,000 residents. It was a turbulent time with heated racial unrest, cattle rustling, horse stealing, Indian raids and a few prostitutes and gamblers who had already made the small village their home.
Image caption: Solomon Schutz, El Paso's third mayor & prominent merchant, raised a large family in El Paso. Photo courtesy of Janet Conk
People came and went between the two countries easily, making outlaws even more difficult to apprehend. It would take a man by the name of Solomon Charles Schutz to begin the process of bringing law and order to a town that had earned the unfortunate name of "Hell Paso."
Solomon's uncles, Samuel and Joseph Schutz, had come to the border city then called Franklin in 1854 and 1859, respectively, becoming the first Jewish men to arrive here. Samuel and Joseph opened a general merchandise store called S. Schutz and Bro. on San Francisco Street, located on the site of the Arts Festival Plaza near the current Museum of Art, writes historian Fred Morales in his book, History of Downtown El Paso Vol. 1.
Solomon Schutz, nephew of Samuel and Joseph, was born in Westphalia, Germany, in 1846. He came to El Paso from New York by stage and by foot in 1865. Solomon married Frieda Heiman from Germany and had five children: Adelia, Alfred, Henry, Will and Amy. Masonic records show that another daughter died at three months of age and is buried in the Masonic section of Concordia Cemetery. Solomon Schutz became the postmaster of El Paso in 1875. In a June 25, 1916, El Paso Times article, Solomon reminisced about how excited the citizens of Franklin were as they anxiously awaited the arrival of the stage bringing the monthly mail.
When bandits continually robbed the stagecoach of the payroll intended for the troops stationed at Fort Bliss, Schutz came up with a solution to foil the robbers. He developed the system of check payments to the troops and implemented the first money order division.
After his stint as postmaster, Solomon Schutz opened a general store called S. & A. Schutz with his brother Albert and another store across the Rio Grande in Paso Del Norte, present-day Juárez, Chihuahua, going into direct competition with his uncles. Solomon Schutz contracted with a young man also from Westphalia, Ernst Kohlberg, to work in his stores to pay for his passage and to learn merchandising.
Image caption: Receipt letterheads for S. & A. Schutz & Bro. show that two stores existed during the time of the Salt War. Courtesy of El Paso Masonic Lodge 130
In the Southwestern Studies monograph entitled Letters of Ernst Kohlberg, the young man described a dispute between Solomon's uncles, who owned S. Schutz & Bro. general store, and Solomon and Albert, who owned S. & A. Schutz mercantile. Kohlberg wrote:
"They have been bitter enemies for a number of years and they are also at outs with some other cousins. One cannot imagine a greater hate than that they hold for each other. My bosses induce wholesalers from St. Louis and Santa Fe to come here to sell goods in order to ruin their uncle's wholesale trade. The uncles on the other hand sell retail at wholesale prices to spoil our business and to embarrass us with our customers. In this way this jumbles [sic] of relatives seek to annoy each other and to make their lives miserable. This bitter feeling disturbs social intercourse in such a small community and makes it harder to live here".
Disputes among the families were not the only problems for Solomon. Schutz. In 1877, he served as the U. S. Commercial Agent (Consul) at Paso del Norte, Mexico. In letters written to the 45th U. S. Congress a report entitled "El Paso Troubles in Texas (EPT)" Solomon repeatedly asked for government protection and intervention in various situations.
Kohlberg writes about one such incident that occurred when he was working in Solomon's store in Paso Del Norte. Colonel Paulino Machorro, head of the 2nd Regiment of the Mexican Infantry, twice entered the Plaza and levied a "préstamo," or forced loan of $100 to $300 from businessmen to sustain his position and to pay his troops. The second time, the merchants had no money, so Machorro tried to extort money from the peasants. They took up arms against Machorro, leaving three of his men dead and several wounded.
Solomon Schutz was called in to mediate. The mediation failed when the citizens of Paso del Norte demanded that Machorro totally surrender. He fled, swimming the Rio Grande to El Paso, Texas, almost drowning. After writing several letters to Washington reporting this incident, Schutz ended letter No. 9 EPT with yet another plea for protection:
"The American and other foreign citizens on this side mainly look to me for protection of life and property, but not having an "exequatur" or official recognition, nor being able to threaten any lawless bands with United States military power, I am afraid I will not be in a position to render them much assistance ... . In the mean time, I shall do everything in my power, as far as my official position will warrant, to protect American interest."
The violence continued on the border, and Schutz would find himself in the middle of what Leon Metz, in El Paso Chronicles called "the bloodiest civil disorder in the county's history."
In a long-standing political scheme that came to be known as the "Salt War", Luis Cardis and Judge Charles Howard became entangled in a feud which came to a head in 1877. The two were once business associates in the Guadalupe salt beds. The Italian Cardis spoke fluent Spanish and became the champion of Mexicans who had always visited the salt beds for their needs. Howard came to El Paso in 1872 and for a while, joined Cardis and his associates, but when Howard filed a claim for the salt beds, he and Cardis parted ways. Sides had been established along racial lines. On October 10, 1877, Howard found Cardis in S. Schutz and Bro. (Samuel and Joseph's store) and killed him with a shotgun.
Two months later in San Elizario, Howard and several other men were brutally killed by a group of Mexicans as the Salt War continued. Even Company C of the Texas Rangers, led by John Tays, surrendered to the angry mob. Once more left without protection, Schutz continued to plead with the U. S. government for help.
The Secretary of War sent troops from Fort Bayard, Fort Stanton and Fort Davis, and a ragtag posse was formed, mostly with volunteers from Silver City, N.M. The defeated Company C of Texas Rangers regrouped, and C. L. Sonnichsen writes that "the invasion of San Elizario got underway." Murders, executions and rapes were committed in the name of revenge. Although a Congressional investigation of the Salt War ensued, no one was tried or even arrested. The report, however, would become part of the "El Paso Troubles."
In 1878, Fort Bliss was reestablished and the men drilled in the downtown El Paso plaza. Nevertheless, Solomon Schutz wrote in a letter to Congress that "should these forces be withdrawn, no American in El Paso County would be allowed to live long, as repeated threats have been made against many of the prominent citizens."
Even though the Salt War was now over, the growing problem of the desperados who found sanctuary in the border town would continue to escalate. Metz writes that Masonic lodge members met in the home of Solomon Schutz instead of their rented meeting room "for safety, security, privacy and comfort" because of the danger inherent in public gatherings.
In 1880, Solomon Schutz became the city's third mayor. Anticipating the arrival of five railroads, El Paso was a breeding ground for a multitude of unsavory characters. Saloons began to pop up on every corner and gambling houses, opium dens and brothels became the order of the day. Businessmen and city leaders all wore six-shooters for protection, and the James Boys and rustler leader John Kinney were household names as they went throughout the town shooting those who opposed them.
In the 1916 interview with the Times, Schutz explained that the citizens were tired of the outlaws, so a league of about 35 men, including Colonel F. B. Cotton, Major Noyes Rand and Adolph Krakauer, joined together in an attempt to bring order. They met in secret by candlelight and oil lamps, planning how to establish order in the town that had no established law.
Schutz hired ex-ranger John B. Tays as El Paso's first marshal. With no budget to pay the new marshal, Schutz used the fines received in the Recorder's Court to pay Tays. But Tays was hopeless as a marshal, and he was fired four months later when he was asked to repair a hole on San Francisco Street and did so by filling it with trash. Mayor Schutz then appointed George Campbell as marshal in December of 1880.
When "armed thugs" went through town on New Year's Day 1881, shooting into the homes of Mayor Schutz and some of his aldermen, Campbell did nothing to stop them. Schutz and Campbell argued, and Campbell challenged his boss with a gun. An angry Schutz sent Deputy Bill Johnson and some rangers to arrest him. Metz writes, "The officers sympathized with the marshal, and chuckled when Campbell scribbled obscenities across the warrant and then spat on it." Campbell resigned after charges were dropped.
It did not take long for Schutz and the council to realize that one marshal was not able to handle the enormous problems of El Paso. The city fathers wrote to Governor O.M. Roberts, requesting that a company of Texas Rangers be stationed in El Paso. The city council went on to point out that the railroads were about to enter the city, and the area was swamped with "hoards of vagabonds, gamblers, burglars, thieves and particularly murderers."
On April 11, 1881, the mayor swore in another marshal, ex-Texas Ranger Dallas Stoudenmire, who immediately fired the ineffectual deputy, Bill Johnson, and made his presence known. Three days later, the marshal was on the street when he saw a gunfight between former lawmen and their friends. Within seconds, four men were dead, three of them by Stoudenmire's guns. The citizens of El Paso took notice that the law had come to town. Now Schutz could turn his attention to the most important moment in El Paso's history.
On May 13, 1881, Mayor Schutz welcomed the Southern Pacific to El Paso. Even though the railroad would bring in all sorts of unsavory people, a foundation for law and order had been established in El Paso. The town had its first banks, several newspapers and a water company.
Solomon Schutz, his aldermen and the Texas Rangers had weathered four of the roughest years in El Paso's history, and the town had not only survived but prospered. Schutz served as Mayor until August 9, 1881, when Joseph Magoffin replaced him.
Solomon Schutz remained an active Mason and served as the 12th Worshipful Master from 1879 to 1884. Nancy Hamilton says that Schutz demonstrated his generosity and compassion during his 1879 installation by introducing a small green bag symbolizing the collection of funds for charities. In 1883, Schutz redeemed lodge property that had been auctioned off.
His daughter Adelia and E. G. Williams began the El Paso Piano Company in 1896, located at the Solomon Schutz residence at 217 Myrtle Avenue. In the beginning, the pianos came to town by rail and were transferred to horse-drawn carts for delivery to the store or the customer's home.
The company was the first in El Paso to carry the popular pipe organs when they became available. The company also installed the Wurlitzer organ in the Plaza Theater. (The organ is now at Sunland Park Mall food court.) Update: with the reopening of the Plaza Theater in 2006, the organ is back where it belongs! In 1904, Schutz's son Will went into the family business and bought out Williams in 1908.
In 1898, Solomon Schutz became a member of the newly established Temple Mt. Sinai, the first Jewish Temple in El Paso. El Paso Scottish Rite records indicate that Solomon lived in Mexico in 1908 but returned prior to the Mexican Revolution.
Will Schutz converted to Catholicism, and during World War I, he Americanized the family name to Shutes because of negative feelings toward Germany. The Shutes Piano Company stayed in family hands until 1981, when it closed.
Solomon Schutz died on May 21, 1925, while visiting his daughter Amy in California, and was buried at Concordia Cemetery in the Jewish section. At the time of his death, he was the honorary president of the El Paso County Pioneers' Association.
A handful of men who came to El Paso before the railroad remained to help build the city. Men like Solomon Schutz carved out their future in the dusty streets of this border town and worked to establish a safe community that others could call home.