Third Sergeant John E. McBride

Third Sergeant John E. McBride

Texas Rangers, Texas

End of Watch Monday, December 17, 1877

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John E. McBride

The El Paso Salt War began in the late 1860s as a political struggle between one faction desiring to acquire title to the salt deposits at the foot of Guadalupe Peak, 100 miles east of El Paso, and another faction wanting the salt flats to remain open to the public. Arguments between the two factions broke into open warfare in 1870. In 1872, Charles Howard tried to claim ownership of the salt flats. This act outraged local citizens who seized Howard and released him on bond if he left the state.

On October 10, 1877, Howard returned and killed a rival political leader. On November 11, 1877, Lt. John B. Tays took command of newly organized Company C of the state ranger forces. Howard was arraigned for the murder and admitted to bail. He was being guarded at some abode houses the rangers were using as quarters in San Elizario. A mob gathered and a detachment of U.S. troops soon arrived, but were told by the mob to mind their own business, so the troops returned to El Paso. The mob roped former El Paso County Sheriff Charles Ellis, who was a Howard associate, and dragged him through the streets, slashed him to death with knives, and mutilated his corpse.

On December 13, John Atkinson, an ex-El Paso police lieutenant and San Elizario businessman, managed to get through the mob and into the ranger quarters with a trunk containing about $11,000. Ranger Sergeant C. E. Mortimer was walking between the buildings when a single shot from a sniper passed through his body. Mortimer staggered a few steps; then crumpled up quietly in the middle of the road. Lt. Tays ran into the street and carried Mortimer inside. Mortimer died just before sundown. The rioters charged several times, but were beaten back.

On December 17, Lt. Tays met with the ring leaders who advised the rangers to surrender Howard or they would blow up the ranger quarters. Howard was not fooled by guarantees of his safety, and against Tays' advise, he agreed to surrender to save the rangers. Atkinson offered the mob the $11,000 to save Howard and Ranger Sergeant John E. McBride, who had been acting as Howard's agent in San Elizario prior to his enlistment. The ring leader agreed and swore to uphold his end of the agreement. Atkinson returned with a flag of truce to the ranger quarters and told the rangers Tays had ordered them to surrender. They agreed and it was only time in history that Texas Rangers had surrendered.

Lt. Tays was not aware of this, and when he saw the rangers file out unarmed, he was furious. The mob decided to execute Howard, Atkinson and McBride despite guarantees not harm them. Each man was executed by a firing squad and their bodies were stripped, mutilated and thrown in a well. The mob then wanted to kill the 20 or so rangers, but the ring leader regained control of the mob, and the rangers were released on December 18. Four days later, rangers, U.S. troops and a sheriff's posse descended on San Elizario, killing four or five men and wounding several others. The leaders of the mob and many of their followers fled to Mexico. Indictments were made out against some of them, but no one was ever arrested or brought to trial.

No personal information is known about either Mortimer or McBride.


  • Age Not available
  • Tour 1 month
  • Badge Not available

Incident Details

  • Cause Gunfire
  • Weapon Rifle
  • Offender Not available

Most Recent Reflection

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T/Sgt. McBride,
On today, the 139th anniversary of your death I would just like to say thank you for your service and sacrifice for the citizens of the state of Texas.


United States Border Patrol

December 17, 2016

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