While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Martin Donell Kohout

HOWARD, CHARLES H. (1842–1877). Charles H. Howard, judge and both instigator and victim of the Salt War of San Elizario, was born on Februrary 3, 1842, in Virginia, the son of William Henry and Sarah Catherine (DuVal) Howard. By 1860 the family had moved to Gonzales County; Charles's sister Susan married William Lewis Davidson there in 1870. Charles served as a private in the Eighth Texas Cavalry, better known as Terry's Texas Rangers, during the Civil War. He settled in Austin, Texas, in 1870 or 1871, then moved to El Paso in 1872.

At that time El Paso was a stronghold of Radical Republicanism, but Howard saw an opportunity to establish the Democratic party there, singlehandedly if need be. At least initially, his efforts met with considerable success. He was appointed district attorney in 1873 and allied himself with Louis Cardis and Father Antonio Borrajo, the parish priest of San Elizario, against the Radical Republicans and the "Anti-Salt Ring" led by Albert Jennings Fountain. In February 1873 the three drew up a petition to the state legislature asking for the removal of the El Paso district judge, a political ally of Fountain, and calling Fountain himself, who was then serving in the legislature, "a disgrace to our county and a blemish upon Your Honorable Body." The petition bore more than 350 signatures, and although many were written in the same hand, the legislature decided to take action. The judge was removed in April 1874, and Howard was appointed to replace him.

Unfortunately, the alliance between Howard and Cardis was about to rupture. Howard resigned as district judge in 1875 and married Mary Louisa Zimpleman in Austin on December 31 of that year. She died on June 25, 1877. Shortly before her death, her father, George Barnhard Zimpleman, an Austin banker, had moved to El Paso, apparently enlisted in a lucrative scheme by Howard. Howard filed on the salt deposits at the western foot of the Guadalupe Mountains in the name of his father-in-law, thus outraging the salineros, or salt dealers, of the El Paso area, who had regarded the salt deposits as a public commodity.

One scholar implies that Howard reneged on a secret deal with Cardis and Borrajo by which the three would split the fees to be charged for collecting salt. Regardless of what actually happened, Howard and Cardis became bitter enemies. Howard assaulted Cardis in Austin and in San Antonio, but Cardis refused to take action. In June 1877, while Howard was en route to survey the salt deposits, he encountered Cardis at Fort Quitman and attacked him again. Meanwhile, he had two salineros arrested for taking salt without paying the required fee. On his way back to El Paso, Howard stopped at Ysleta to talk with the sheriff. An armed group of Mexicans and Mexican Americans seized him there and took him to San Elizario; they might have killed him then and there but for the intercession of Cardis, who wanted to avoid a major conflagration. They made Howard promise to renounce his ownership of the salt deposits and leave El Paso County immediately.

The outraged judge went to Mesilla, New Mexico, where he took refuge at the home of his old opponent, Fountain, and wired the governor of Texas that an invasion from Mexico was imminent. Howard blamed Cardis for his humiliation in San Elizario; he returned to El Paso on October 7, 1877, and three days later shot Cardis to death. He was arraigned for the murder on November 17 but was freed on $4,000 bail.

On December 12 Howard bravely or foolishly went to San Elizario, intending to make good on his threats to prosecute those who refused to pay the fee for collecting salt. He and his escort of Texas Rangers were surrounded and besieged by an angry mob for several days before Howard gave himself up. On December 17 he was taken out and shot by a firing squad of five men, all from the Mexican side of the river. After they fired, Jesús Telles ran up and attempted to slash Howard's face with a machete. He swung his weapon, but Howard twisted away, and Telles cut off two of his own toes instead. The bodies of Howard and two of his agents, also shot by the firing squad, were mutilated and dumped down an old well about a half mile away. Howard was later buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin.


J. Morgan Broaddus, The Legal Heritage of El Paso (El Paso: Texas Western College Press, 1963). C. L. Sonnichsen, The El Paso Salt War (El Paso: Hertzog, 1961). C. F. Ward, The Salt War of San Elizario (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1932).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


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

Handbook of Texas Online, Martin Donell Kohout, "HOWARD, CHARLES H.," accessed May 29, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fhopy.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on November 6, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...