CHAPS, community pave path for Civil War trail
Posted: 06/28/2014
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It's not too well known that the Rio Grande Valley played a key role in the American Civil War, but Dr. Russell Skowronek, a history professor at The University of Texas-Pan American and principal investigator of UTPA's Community Historical Project with Schools (CHAPS), hopes to change that.

Skowronek and his team at CHAPS are joining with historians throughout the Valley and beyond to develop a Civil War trail here.

"It's a very important thing for our region, an entity, once it is created for our region because it will actually knit together the entire valley from the Gulf of Mexico to Laredo and we'll be able to talk about the significant activities that took place here, basically from the 1840s to the 1870s," Skowronek said.

The trail will highlight important landmarks from Laredo to Brownsville. Sites include Palmito Hill Ranch near Brownsville, where the last battle of the Civil War was fought, as well as Forts McIntosh in Laredo, Ringgold in Rio Grande City, and Brown in Brownsville.

Recently, a group of a few dozen historians, educators, as well as representatives from state and federal agencies, met at UTPA's McAllen Teaching Site to begin work on this endeavor.

Dr. Tony Zavaleta, a professor of anthropology at UT Brownsville and owner of the Palmito Hill Ranch battle site, said he supports the creation of the trail because it will tell the story of the Civil War that not many have heard and create more tourism to the area.

"It's important to develop this project because not only is it historical development, it's economic development," Zavaleta said. "One of the things that we Valley natives have not done completely enough is to promote our eco-tourism and our historical or cultural tourism. Once people realize and recognize that there's a Civil War trail in south Texas they'll come to south Texas, not only to see birds and butterflies, but to stand on a site."

Dr. Stephen McBride, director of interpretation and archaeology for Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park in Kentucky, a Union recruiting center for black troops during the Civil War, shared Zavaleta's sentiments on why the trail should be created.

"There is a lot of history here and a lot of really important events that took place that need to be brought out to the public," McBride said. "It has the potential to bring other people and visitors in."

Skowronek said he and his collaborators hope to garner community support so that they can have a website, podcast and brochure promoting the trail by the beginning of next year.

"This is a legacy that will have payback in this Valley for a century to come, perhaps longer, Skowronek said. "Right now we are marking the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War; more people died in that war than all other wars combined for the United States. Here the war ended, the last battle was fought in 1865, and here we're hoping we can mark this so that, by the time that we are marking the bicentennial of the civil war in 50 years, those children that will be part of that will be able to say well there's always been a civil war trail."

Learn more about the project in this video: