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The 1958 Esso El Paso Map That Solved A Border Dispute

Maps - we use them to figure our way around places, to get from one place to another.  Or sometimes, highlight them to mark where we've been.  But a gas station road map used as an integral part of solving an international border dispute?  That's what a 1958 Esso Map of El Paso, Texas did.

The 1958 Esso El Paso, Texas map that help resolve the Chamizal dispute.

The central issue was the boundary between El Paso, Texas, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and the shifting Rio Grande.  

Background:

Ending the Mexican-American War, the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago sets the Rio Grande as the Texas/Mexico Border.  Sixteen years later, in 1864, severe flooding changed the course of the Rio Grande around El Paso starting a century-long border dispute.

The Rio Grande shifted southward, and an area of Mexican farmland known as the Chamizal Tract was now in the United States.  An 1884 agreement between the two countries established that the center of the river's deepest channel would be the boundary.  It also stipulated that if the river/channel shifts, the old boundary remains in place.

A replica of a US/Mexico boundary marker at Chamizal National Memorial.

At the start of the 20th century, the Rio Grande was straightened as part of a flood control measure.  A northward bend in the river was re-routed southward. But per the 1884 agreement, this land, known as Cordova Island, remained part of Mexico.  During the 1920s and 30s, this small part of Mexico north of the Rio Grande was a safe haven for alcohol and smuggling during the Prohibition period.

Cordova Island was marked with boundary markers and later a four-mile wire fence.  As the area grew, many Americans settled in the areas of Chamizal that were once part of Mexico.

Remnants of the former US/Mexico boundary fence at Chamizal National Memorial.  In 1962, I would be standing in Mexico.

It wasn't until the 1960s that significant progress was made to resolve the dispute.  In 1962, the Kennedy administration approached the Mexican government to solve the Chamizal issue.  The negotiators would use a 1958 Esso Map of El Paso to display different proposals.

According to Frank V. Ortiz, one of the negotiators from the United States, "To keep the negotiations confidential and unofficial I used ESSO gas station maps of El Paso on which lines were drawn by both sides showing various possible solutions."

The Chamizal Convention ratified the agreement on August 29, 1963.  The treaty authorized the construction of a new concrete channel for the Rio Grande.  The new river channel would serve as the new United States/Mexico border and further flood control in the area. As a result of the agreement, the US would gain some land from the former Cordova Island.  In turn, Mexico would regain territory lost after the 1864 floods.

Construction of the new channel and relocation of residents would be quick.  The land exchange between the two countries occurred in October 1967.  Fourteen months later, in December 1968, the new channel was completed, and the Rio Grande followed its new course.

Much of the Cordova Island territory the United States gained is home to the Chamizal National Memorial.  Chamizal National Memorial opened in 1974.  In addition to celebrating the culture of both countries, the park is home to numerous recreational trails, picnic areas, and an amphitheater.  During the Summer, Chamizal hosts many outdoor concerts.

The US Port of Entry and a small part of Interstate 110 are located in what was once Cordova Island.

In addition, parts of Interstate 110, the United States Port of Entry on 110, and the Bridge of Americas make up the eastern boundary of Cordova Island.  So for a trivia answer, parts of Interstate 110 are located on land that was once part of Mexico as late as the 1960s.

On the Mexican side, the country and Ciudad Juarez reserved their new land for the Parque de Chamizal.  The park would be the city's first urban park.  It is home to a soccer stadium, water park, ballfields, and Mexico's memorial to the Chamizal agreements.  The park is accessible by crossing at the Bridge of the Americas.

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