Research Packet and Narrative by: Carlos Montes and Dr. George D. Torok
Honors Project, Spring 2002
National Endowment for the Humanities Historical Markers Project
Fusselman Canyon is the largest canyon in the Franklin Mountains and is named in honor of Texas Ranger and Deputy U.S. Marshall Charles H. Fusselman. The Franklin range is in the northern part of the Chihuahua Desert and forms a barrier between the Rio Grande Valley and the desert basin to the east. Fusselman Canyon separates the North and South Franklin peaks. Both the canyon and range are located in Franklin Mountains State Park, in El Paso, Texas.[i]
Fusselman Canyon near Transmountain Road. Image provided by George D. Torok
For centuries the canyon served as a source of seasonal water, plants and animals for the many Native-Americans who inhabited the region, perhaps as far back as 11,000 years ago. Indian populations hunted and gathered in the Franklins and later built rock shelters and left rock art depicting their lifestyle and beliefs. Spanish and Anglo-American settlers used the Franklins for mining, ranching and military activities. Beginning with the earliest inhabitants, Fusselman Canyon provided a natural corridor for the movement of people, livestock, and goods through a pass that became known as Smugglers’ Gap.[ii]
In the late 19th century downtown El Paso was a booming railroad town but the surrounding areas were still plagued by frontier conditions. Along the Rio Grande, thick bosques, or river forests, were the homes of outlaws and cattle rustlers. On the evening of April 16, 1890, John Barnes, a local rancher from the Mundy Springs area had all of his horses and a few cattle stolen. He came into El Paso the next morning and reported the incident to Sheriff Frank B. Simmons. Charles H. Fusselman, a 24-year-old Texas Ranger from the Marfa area who was in town for a court case, was in Simmons’ office at the time. Fusselman was deputized and offered to take Barnes and a city policeman, George Harold to chase the rustlers. The three men headed toward the Franklin Mountains where they overtook one of the rustlers, Ysidoro Pasos. The rustlers intended to drive the horses and cattle through the canyon, along the path of today’s Transmountain Road, and on to the Rio Grande bosque near Canutillo. A few minutes later the deputies encountered the outlaws’ camp and were met with a barrage of gunfire. Fusselman was fatally shot in the head and fell from his horse. The two other men decided they were outnumbered so they left the prisoner Pasos and fled the scene. The rustlers escaped and Fusselman’s body was later recovered. It took ten years for lawmen to track down rustler gang leader Geronimo Parra, the man who shot Charles Fusselman. He was arrested, tried and convicted of the murder and sentenced to death. On January 6, 1900, Parra was legally hanged in El Paso.[iii]
Soon after, the canyon became known as Fusselman Canyon, in honor of the slain deputy. It remained a little-known area of El Paso until 1970 when Woodrow Bean Transmountain Road, a major cross-city thoroughfare cut through Fusselman Canyon. In the following years, urban growth quickly threatened the land around the canyon. In 1979, with the establishment of Franklin Mountains State Park, the canyon became part of a protected natural area of 24,000 acres. In the 1994, a long-range management plan for the park suggested that interpretive sites be developed to better portray the natural and historical features of the landscape, including Fusselman Canyon. An historical marker would play an important role in telling the story of Charles H. Fusselman and Fusselman Canyon.[iv]
Fusselman Canyon: Marker Text
Below is Fusselman Canyon, the largest canyon in the Franklin Mountains. It separates North and South Franklin peaks and is named in honor of Texas Ranger and Deputy U.S. Marshall Charles H. Fusselman (1866-1890). In the late 19th century, El Paso was a booming town but outlying areas were still plagued by frontier conditions. On April 17, 1890 a local rancher reported that his horses and cattle had been stolen. Later that day, Charles Fusselman, a 24-year-old Texas Ranger from the Marfa area, was deputized and led two men into the Franklin Mountains to chase the rustlers. The thieves intended to drive the horses and cattle through the canyon, along the path of today’s Transmountain Road, through Smugglers’ Gap, and into the Rio Grande bosque near Canutillo. The deputies encountered the outlaws’ camp and were met with a barrage of gunfire. When Fusselman was fatally shot in the head, the other two men fled the scene allowing the outlaws to escape. Fusselman’s body was later recovered and returned to Lagarto, Texas where he was buried. For the next ten years lawmen tracked the rustlers. The outlaw leader was finally arrested, tried and found guilty of Fusselman’s murder and legally hanged on January 6, 1900 in El Paso. The canyon became known as Fusselman canyon, in honor of the slain deputy.
[i] Ron Holliday, Bill von Rosenberg, and Dwight Willford, Franklin Mountains State Park Management Plan (El Paso, TX 1994), 25.
[ii] Ibid., 26-27; W.H. Timmons, El Paso: A Borderlands History (El Paso, TX 1990), 3-4.
[iii] Antonio Croce, “In the Line of Duty,” The Texas Gun Collector (Fall 1996), 13, 17; C.L. Sonnichsen, Pass of the North: Five Centuries on the Rio Grande (El Paso, TX 1968) I, 312-13. Croce uses the spelling Harold while Sonnichsen refers to him as Herold.
[iv] Timmons, El Paso, 249; El Paso Times, Sept. 26, 1965; Holliday, von Rosenberg, and Willford, Franklin Mountains State Park, 43.
Apostolides, Alex. The Franklin Mountains: Beginning of the Rockies. El Paso, TX: Rainbow in a Tree Publications, 1990.
Binion, Charles H. An Introduction to El Paso’s Scenic and Historic Landmarks. El Paso, TX: Texas Western Press, 1970.
Martin, Jack. Border Boss: Captain John R. Hughes. San Antonio, TX: Naylor Press, 1942.
Holliday, Ron, Bill von Rosenberg and Dwight Willford. Franklin Mountains State Park Management Plan. El Paso, TX: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 1994.
Sonnichsen, C.L. Pass of the North: Four Centuries on the Rio Grande. 2 vols. El Paso, TX: Texas Western Press, 1968.
Webb, Walter Prescott. The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1935.
Articles and Unpublished Sources:
Croce, Antonio. “In the Line of Duty.” The Texas Gun Collector Fall 1996. 13-17.
Metz, Leon. Unpublished manuscript on Franklin Mountains. n.p., n.d. 19-21, 175-77.
Metz, Leon. “Fusselman was intrepid Ranger.” El Paso Herald-Post, n.d.
Metz, Leon. “Fusselman Canyon.” Unpublished text and references for historical marker, 1993.
Parrish, Joe. “Hanged by the Neck.” Password 3 (April 1958). p. 72-5.
Texas Historical Marker 3008. Lagarto Cemetery, Lagarto, TX.
(El Paso, TX) El Paso Times. April 18, 19, 1890; January 7, 1935; September 26, 1965; March 16, 1976.