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Floods repeatedly washed away agricultural fields and destroyed buildings and settlements, forcing the Spanish and Indian laborers to repeatedly reconstruct them or move them to new locations.
Progressively moving southwestward from its established channel, the river changed course repeatedly, ultimately leaving the missions, native pueblos, and small Spanish communities on its opposite sidethe north bankin territory that would ultimately become Texas.
In El Paso, the categorizations may not have been as rigid as in some other areas.
Nestora Piarote Granillo, a Tigua potter, stands next to a "horno" in the Old Ysleta Pueblo, circa 1876.
This dramatic landscape is the stage for the story of the missions and settlements of the El Paso valley and its evolution into one of the most productive agricultural areas in the region during the Spanish reign.
The areas original inhabitantspeaceful hunter-gatherers who roamed throughout the valley and traded their pottery and goods across the desert Southwestfell victim to disease and warfare brought by the Spanish as well as more hostile Plains Indians from the north.
Their traditional way of life was replaced by the Spanish system of government, economy, and religion.
Over time, El Paso was home to Mansos, Piros, Janos, Sumas, Tanos, Tiguas, Tompiros, Apaches and Jumanos, as well as many more ancient groups whose names have been lost to history.
Descendants of some of these diverse ethnic groups survived into the late 19th century and were interviewed by Southwest historian and archeologist Adolph Bandelier.
Painting by Jose Cisneros, courtesy of the University of Texas at El Paso Library Collection.