Anson Mills – Brigadier General, United States Army

Born on a farm in Boone County, Indiana on 31 August 1834, he attended West Point from 1855-57, but did not graduate. Hw was engaged in land surveys and engineering projects in Texas, where he laid out the first plans for the city of El Paso.

He left Texas in 1861 in order to volunteer for the Union Army. Was appointed to the 3rd US Cavalry. During the Civil War he was never absent either on leave or from sickness, but was present at all engagements of his regiment. Participated in the Indian Wars and commanded US troops at the battle of Slim Buttes, Dakota, September 9, 1876. Invented the woven cartridge belt for the Army. Was a member of the Mexican Boundry Commission. Wrote, “My Story,” in 1918.

By Theresa Seañez and Juan Aleman

Surveyor. Army officer. Inventor. Developer. Boundary Commissioner. One of El Paso’s foremost pioneers, Anson Mills is known as the “Father of El Paso” because of his many contributions to the area.

Mills was born in Thorntown, Indiana, on August 31, 1834, the first of nine children. His parents valued education and sent him at age six to a long school furnished with benches made of sawmill slabs with four legs and no back.

At sixteen, Mills traveled by rail for five or six days to attend school at the large, coed Charlottesville Academy in New York. His classmates called him the “Russian Ambassador from the Woolly West” because of his country dialect and his large, dark moustache. Accepting a nomination to West Point, Mills found that he continued to be teased. After two years, Mills dropped out because of low math scores.

Too embarrassed to return home, Mills traveled to the real “Woolly West” and tutored the children of Judge R. L. Waddell in McKinney, Texas, in 1857. A year later, he arrived in El Paso, a small settlement then named Franklin. It was across the river from a large, thriving town known as Paso del Norte. Even then, Mills recognized the valley would become an important place. Soon after his arrival, the Butterfield Overland Mail Company hired Mills to build its stage offices in El Paso, the halfway point of the Trail. The building, completed in September 1858 and located on two acres, remained the most imposing structure in El Paso for forty years. Historian W. H. Timmons says it was the largest and best-equipped office on the Butterfield Trail.

On the recommendation of several acquaintances from West Point then at Fort Bliss, Mills became district surveyor. He surveyed Fort Quitman, Fort Stockton, Fort Davis and Fort Bliss for the military. The El Paso Company, a group of prominent citizens developing the land originally known as Ponce’s Rancho, hired Mills to survey the settlement known as Franklin. Leon Metz notes that Mills completed a plat or map of the town that looked much like today’s downtown. Mills noticed that the streets resembled a cow trail. Houses were built at random, and few streets were parallel or at right angles. One reason for this is that William Smith who had purchased Ponce’s Rancho in 1854, sold property to his friends without marking boundaries, and lots were shaped irregularly. This made it impossible to straighten streets.

Mills named the principal streets for the stage lines of the Butterfield Overland Mail. St. Louis and San Antonio Streets headed eastward toward those cities; San Francisco pointed west, and Santa Fe headed north. Overland Street led to the stage office.

Anson Mills is responsible for changing the name of Franklin to El Paso. In his autobiography, “My Story,” Mills says: “As this was not only the North and South Pass of the Rio Grande throughout the Rocky Mountains, but also the feasible route from east to west crossing that river for hundreds of miles, I suggested that El Paso would indicate the importance of the location.” Mills received $150 plus the title to several lots for surveying the town.

For a while, Mills pitched a tent on a lot and set up housekeeping. Later, Mills and his two brothers, William Wallace and Emmett, built a ranch 18-miles north of El Paso. They named it “Los Tres Hermanos.” While building his house, Mills supervised the building of other neighbors’ homes.

When the Civil War broke out, Mills and his brother William were the pnly two in El Paso who voted against the secession of Texas from the Union. In 1861, Mills left town to join the Union Army. He became a career soldier, retiring as a brigadier general. He invented a woven-web ammunition belt that would make him wealthy. After the war, he returned to El Paso.

In 1883, Mills along with Josiah Crosby built the Grand Central Hotel, which was “the acme of luxury and comfort,” according to the January 1, 1885, El Paso Times. A spectacular fire destroyed it in 1892 because firemen could not get water to the fourth floor.  Leon Metz says that in 1910, Mills built the “tallest concrete monolith in the world” on the same site of his hotel, but this time with fireproof materials. A storefront first floor of the Mills Building housed the White House Department Store, the Modern Cafe, the United States Public Defender and, later, the El Paso Electric Company. Located on the corner of Mills Avenue and Oregon Street, the Mills Building continues to be a landmark in downtown El Paso. Among the most important of Mills’ contributions to the area include his work on the International Boundary Commission to which he was named in January 1894. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had set the Rio Grande as the border between Mexico and the U.S. but had not considered the results of flooding which frequently moved land from one country to the other. In 1895 Mexican farmers sued to reclaim some 630 acres of land from the United States.

After the two countries could not agree on a settlement, the “Chamizal” dispute was submitted to arbitration by the International Boundary Commission. Anson Mills, representing the U.S., rejected the decision to return the land to Mexico, and this area would remain in limbo until 1962 when the land in question was divided, with the U.S. receiving 190 acres and Mexico, 437 acres.

Mills was successful in 1905 in negotiating a treaty for the elimination of “bancos,” horseshoe bends in the river that shifted water  channels often clouding international boundaries. Metz says that engineers sliced through the necks of the bancos, and those loops extending into Texas belonged to the United States and the ones falling below the river belonged to Mexico. By 1970, 30,000 acres of land had changed ownership, and 241 bancos had been eliminated.

Because settlements in Colorado and New Mexico used so much water from the Rio Grande, El Paso and Juarez farmers often ran short of water. In 1888, Mills suggested building an international dam one mile north of where ASARCO is located today. It would regulate the flow of the Rio Grande, provide irrigation water for about 20,000 acres of valley land and fix boundary problems. Mills went to Washington to win approval for his idea, but the Secretary of Interior had licensed a private company to build a dam in Elephant Butte 120 miles north of El Paso. Mills tried proving that a dam there would dry up the Rio Grande, making it too shallow for navigation, but in spite of his efforts, his idea was rejected. However, Mills was able to negotiate a treaty called “An Equitable Distribution of the Water of the Rio Grande” in 1906, which guaranteed Mexico 60,000 acre-feet of water annually from Elephant Butte Dam.

Anson Mills’ accomplishments were many, not the least of which were in the field of politics. Mills’ vote against secession symbolized his viewpoints on important topics: he disagreed with many in town and held opinions considered ahead of his time. Leon Metz writes that Mills considered war the most destructive of man’s evils. He supported women’s suffrage and racial equality and backed prohibition.

In 1913, the city council honored Mills by changing the name of St. Louis Street to Mills Avenue. In 1918, Anson Mills wrote his autobiography, “My Story.” On November 5, 1924, at the age of 90, he died at his home. He was buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Downtown El Paso serves as a fitting tribute to this man of vision.

Source: History of Boone County, Indiana, by Hon. L.M. Crist, 1914

Anson Mills, soldier and inventor, was born at Thorntown, Indiana, August 31, 1834, son of James P. and Sarah (Kenworthy) Mills, grandson of James and Marian Mills, great-grandson of James and Joanna (Neels) Mills, and great-great-grandson of Robert Mills, son of Amos and Mary, the first of the family in America, who came from England with William Penn in 1670 and lived in Newberry township, York, Pennsylvania. Both paternal and maternal ancestors were Quakers, and for several generations followed farming as a vocation. Anson Mills received his early education in the Charlotteville (N.Y.) Academy, and was a cadet at the United States Military Academy during 1855-57. He was appointed first lieutenant of the Eighteenth United States Infantry on May 14, 1861, having received the indorsement of the entire class at West Point in 1861. Appointed captain April 27, 1863; transferred to Third Cavalry April 4, 1871; major, Tenth Cavalry, April 4, 1878; lieutenant-colonel, Fourth Cavalry, March 25, 1890; colonel, Third Cavalry, August 16, 1892, and brigadier-general, June 16, 1897.

Retired on his own application June 27, 1897. He was brevetted captain December 31, 1862, for gallant and meritorious services in the battle of Murfreesboro, Tennessee; major, September 1, 1864, for gallant and meritorious services in the battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, and during the Atlanta campaign; lieutenant-colonel, December 16, 1864, for gallant and meritorious services in the battle of Nashville, Tennessee, and colonel, February 27, 1890, for gallant services in action against the Indians, at Slim Buttes, Dakota, September 9, 1876.

After leaving West Point he went to the frontier of Texas, and engaged in engineering and land surveying, and laid out the first plan of the city of El Paso. In 1859 he was surveyor on the part of Texas on the boundary commission establishing the boundary between New Mexico, Indian Territory and Texas. In March, 1861, he went to
Washington and joined the Cassius M. Clay Guards, which were quartered, armed and equipped by the Federal government, and served there, protecting Federal officers and property until relieved by volunteers. He was with his regiment in the army of the Ohio and department of the Cumberland to October 22, 1864, and was acting inspector-general, district of Etowah, to February 25, 1865. He participated in the siege of Corinth, the battles of Perryville, Kentucky; Murfreesboro, Tennessee; Hoover’s Gap, Tennessee; Chickamauga, Georgia; the siege of Chattanooga, Tennessee; Missionary Ridge, Tennessee; Tunnel Hill, Georgia: Buzzard’s Roost, Georgia; the Atlanta campaign, Resaca, Georgia; Dallas, Georgia; New Hope Church, Georgia; Kenesaw Mountain, New Dow Station, Peach Tree Creek; Utoy Creek, Georgia, where he was wounded, and Jonesboro, Georgia, and while on the staff of General Stedman, in the battles of Nashville, Tennessee, and Decatur, Alabama.

During the four years’ war he was never absent, either on leave or from sickness, and was present in all the engagements of his regiment. Fox’s “Regimental Losses” states that his regiment (Eighteenth Infantry), lost more in killed and wounded than any other regiment in the regular army, and that his company (H), First Battalion, lost more in killed and wounded than any other company in the regiment.

After the war he served at Fort Aubrey, Kansas; Forts Bridger and Fetterman, Wyoming; Fort Sedgwick, Colorado; Fort McPherson, Georgia, and Columbia, South Carolina. He joined the Third Cavalry April 15, 1871, and served with it at Forts Whipple and McDowell, Arizona; Fort McPherson, Nebraska; North Platte, Nebraska, and was in the field commanding the Big Horn expedition from August to October, 1874. At Camp Sheridan, Nebraska, and Fort D. A. Russell, Wyoming, to May 18, 1876. He commanded expeditions against the Indians at Tongue River, Montana, June 9; at Rose Bud river, Montana, June 17, and at Slim Buttes, Dakota, September 9, 1876. At Camp Sheridan, Nebraska, to May 21, 1877, where he had charge of Chief Spotted Tail and his tribe of six thousand Ogalala Sioux Indians. He joined the Tenth Cavalry in April, 1879, and served at Forts Concho and Davis, Texas (and commanded battalion of regiment at Fort Sill, Indian Territory, during the Indian outbreak to November, 1881), to April 1, 1885; commanded Fort Thomas, Arizona, to August 26, 1886, and Fort Grant, Arizona, being frequently in the field, to September 24, 1888; on duty at Fort Bliss, Texas, under special orders, assisting officers of the interior department (U. S. geological survey) in surveys near El Paso, Texas, with the object of reclaiming arid lands in the Rio Grande valley, to April 2, 1890, when he was transferred to the 4th cavalry, and served at Presidio, California, to October 31, 1891. Commanded regiment and post of Fort Walla Walla, Washington, to February, 1893. Joined Third Cavalry as colonel February 28, 1893, and commanded post at Fort McIntosh, Texas, and Fort Reno, Oklahoma, to August, 1893; made brigadier-general and retired.

General Mills invented the woven cartridge belt and loom for its manufacture and founded the Mills Woven Cartridge Belt Company, of Worcester, Massachusetts, which manufactures woven cartridge belts and equipment for all the world. He was a member of the board of visitors at West Point in 1866, and was United States military attache at the Paris Exposition of 1878. Since October, 1893, General Mills has been United States commissioner on the international boundary commission, United States and Mexico, during which he originated the principle of eliminating bancos (small islands) which are formed by the action of the Rio Grande and much complicated the boundary question previous to the treaty of 1905 for the “elimination of bancos in the Rio Grande,” which he prepared. He was also appointed commissioner in 1896 to investigate and report upon a plan for an international dam near El Paso, Texas, for the purpose of equitably distributing the waters of the Rio Grande between the United States and Mexico. The American section of the boundary commission has published, under General Mills’ direction, many valuable reports, including the proceedings of the commission, in two volumes (1903); two reports on Elimination of Bancos in the Rio Grande (1910-12), and Survey of the Rio Grande, Roma to the Gulf of Mexico (1913).

He sat on the arbitral commission for the hearing of the Chamizal case, Hon. Eugene La Fleur, of Canada, presiding, which case involved the question of international title to land forming part of the city of El Paso, Texas, and his dissenting opinion in the findings of the arbitral board was approved by his government.

General Mills is a member of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, and was commander of the Washington commandery in 1908; Order of the Indian Wars of the United States and was commander in 1911, Society of the Army of the Cumberland, American Society of International Law, honorary member Society of
Indiana Engineers, Army and Navy Club and Metropolitan Club of Washington. He was married October 8, 1868, to Hannah Martin, daughter of William C. Cassell, of Zanesville, Ohio, and had two sons, Anson Cassel and William Cassel Mills (both deceased), and one daughter, Constance Lydia, wife of Captain Winfield Scott Overton, United States army.


Washington, February 24, 1897.

Statement of the military service of Anson Mills, of the United States Army, compiled
from the records of this office:

He was a cadet at the United States Military Academy, July 1, 1855, to February 18,

He was appointed first lieutenant, Eighteenth Infantry, 14th May, 1861; Captain, 27th April, 1863; transferred to Third Cavalry, 1st January, 1871; major, Tenth Cavalry, 4th April, 1878; lieutenant-colonel, Fourth Cavalry, 25th March, 1890; colonel, Third Cavalry, 16th August, 1892.

He was brevetted captain, 31st December, 1862, for gallant and meritorious services in the battle of Murfreesboro, Tennessee; major, 1st September, 1864, for gallant and meritorious services in the battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, and during the Atlanta campaign, lieutenant-colonel, 16th December, 1864, for gallant and meritorious services in the battle of Nashville, Tennessee, and colonel, 27th February, 1890, for gallant services in action against Indians, at Slim Buttes, Dakota, September 9, 1876.


He was on recruiting service July 19, 1861, to February 17, 1862, with regiment in Army of the Ohio, and Department of the Cumberland, to October 22, 1864, and Acting Inspector-General, District of Etowah, to February 25, 1865. He participated in the siege of Corinth, April 29th, to June 5, 1862; battles of Perrysville, Kentucky, October 8, 1862; Murfreesboro, Tennessee, December 29, 1862, to January 5, 1863; Hoover’s Gap, Tennessee, June 25 and 26, 1863; Chickamauga, Georgia, September 19 and 20, 1873 (is this supposed to be 1863?); siege of Chattanooga, Tennessee, September 21, to November 4, 1863; Missionary Ridge, Tennessee, November 24 and 25, 1863; Tunnel Hill, Georgia, February 23 and 24, 1864; Buzzard’s Roost, Georgia, February 25 and 26, 1864; Atlanta campaign, May 3 to September 8, 1864; Resaca, Georgia, May 13 to 15, 1864; Dallas, Georgia, May 24 to June 5, 1864; New Hope Church, Georgia, May 29 to 31, 1864; Kenesaw Mountain, June 22 to July 3, 1864; Neal Dow Station, July 4, 1864; Peach Tree Creek, Georgia, July 20, 1864, where he was slightly wounded; Utoy Creek, Georgia, August 7, 1864; Jonesboro, Georgia, September 1, 1864, and Nashville, Tennessee, December 15 and 16, 1864.

He was on recruiting service from February 25, 1865, to November 15, 1865, when he rejoined his regiment and served with it in Kansas to March, 1866; on leave to October, 1866; (member of Board of Visitors at United States Military Academy, in June, 1866); with regiment at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, to October, 1867, and at Fort Fetterman, Wyoming, to May 10, 1868; on leave to July 10, 1868; with regiment at Fort Sedgwick, Colorado, to April, 1869, and in Georgia and South Carolina, to January 15, 1871.

He joined the Third Cavalry, April 15, 1871, and served with it in Arizona, to December 1, 1871.

He commanded his troop at Fort McPherson, Nebraska, January 17 to May 1, 1872; at North Platte, Nebraska (on leave December 2, 1872, to March 9, 1873), to August 13, 1874; in the field commanding the Big Horn expedition, to October 13, 1874; on leave to January 18, 1875; commanding troop and post of North Platte, Nebraska, to April 14, 1875; at Camp Sheridan, Nebraska, to November 20, 1875; at Fort D. A. Russell, Wyoming (in field February 21 to April 26, 1876, being engaged in action against Indians at Little Powder river, Montana, March 17, 1876), to May 18, 1876; commanding battalion of regiment in the field on expedition against hostile Indians, to October 24, 1876, being engaged against them at Tongue River, Montana, June 9, at Rose Bud River, Montana, June 17, and at Slim Buttes, Dakota, September 9, 1876 (where he commanded), commanding his troop at Camp Sheridan, Nebraska, November, 1876, to May 21, 1877, and on leave of absence to February 27, 1878; on duty in Paris, France, with the United States Commissioner, Paris Exposition, to November, 1878, and on delay to March, 1879.

He joined the Tenth Cavalry, April 11, 1879, and served with regiment in Texas (on leave March 23 to June 30, 1880, and August 26, 1880, to March 21, 1881), to May 21, 1881; commanding battalion of regiment at Fort Sill, Indian Territory, to November, 1881; on duty at Fort Concho, Texas, to July, 1882; at Fort Davis, Texas (on leave October 26, 1883, to January 2, 1884), to April 1, 1885; commanding post of Fort Thomas, Arizona, to August 26, 1886; on leave to March 27, 1887; on duty at Fort Grant, Arizona, being frequently in field to September 24, 1888; on sick leave to May, 1889; on duty at Fort Bliss, Texas, assisting officers of the Interior Department in surveys (before Congressional Committee in this city, January to March, 1890), to April 2, 1890, and on leave and under orders to July, 1890.

He joined the Fourth Cavalry, July 13, 1890, and served at the Presidio of San Francisco, California, to October 31, 1891; commanding regiment and post of Fort Walla Walla, Washington, to February 11, 1893.

He joined the Third Cavalry, February 28, 1893, and commanded it and the post of Fort McIntosh, Texas, to June 21, 1893, and the post of Fort Reno, Oklahoma, to August 12, 1893; on leave to October 26, 1893, and since then on duty as Commissioner of the United States International Boundary Commission of the United States and Mexico.

(Signed) GEO. D. RUGGLES, Adjutant General.


He left West Point in 1857, went to the frontier of Texas and engaged in engineering and  land surveying; laid out the first plan of the city of El Paso; in 1859 was surveyor to the  Boundary Commission establishing the boundary between New Mexico, Indian Territor y and Texas; in February, 1861, on submission to the popular vote of the state of Texas,  the question of “Separation” or “No Separation,” he cast one of the lonely two votes in  the county of El Paso against separation, to nine hundred and eighty-five for separation;  in March, 1861, he abandoned the state, going to Washington, and there joined the  military organization known as the “Cassius M. Clay” Guards, quartered, armed and  equipped by the United States government, and served there protecting federal officers  and property, until relieved by volunteer forces called out by the President. On May 14, 1861, was appointed first lieutenant Eighteenth Infantry on the following  recommendation from the then first class at the military academy.


West Point, N. Y., April 30, 1861. Lorenzo Thomas, Adjutant-General, Washington, D. C.

Dear Sir: We, the undersigned, members of the First Class at the United States Military  Academy, respectfully recommend to your favorable consideration the claims of Mr. Anson Mills, an applicant for a commission as second lieutenant in the United States army.

Mr. Mills was formerly a member, for nearly two years, of the class preceding ours, when he resigned.

During that time his habits and character conformed to the strictest military propriety and discipline, and we feel assured that he would be an honor to the service and that its interests would be promoted by his appointment.

Respectfully submitted,

James F. McQuesten, Charles E. Hazlett, Henry B. Noble, Francis A. Davies, John I. Rogers, J. W. Barlow, W. A. Elderkin, A. R. Chambliss, Emory Upton, Eugene B. Beaumont, J. Ford Kent, J. S. Poland, Addelbert Ames, A. R. Buffington, C. E. Patterson, Leonard Martin, Sheldon Sturgeon, Wright Rives, Charles C. Campbell, M. F. Watson, Ohio F. Rice, Erskine Gittings, Franklin Howard, Charles Henry Gibson, J. H. Simper, H. Dupont, J. Benson Williams, Charles M. K. Leoser, R. L. Eastman, Leroy L. Janes, Guy V. Henry, N. W. Henry, John Adair, Jr., Judson Kilpatrick, S. O. Sokalski, Samuel N. Benjamin, J. B. Rawles, L. G. Hoxton.

During the four years of the war he was never absent either on leave or from sickness and was present in all of the engagements of his regiment.

Fox’s “Regimental Losses” states on page 3, that his regiment (Eighteenth Infantry), lost more in killed and mortally wounded than any other regiment in the regular army and that his company, H, First Battalion (page 420), lost more in killed and mortally wounded than any company in his regiment.

He invented the woven cartridge belt (and loom for manufacture) now adopted and exclusively used by the army and navy of the United States.

He stands No. 24 on the lineal list of seventy-one colonels in the army.


Joint resolution permitting Anson Mills, colonel of Third Regiment United States Cavalry, to accept and exercise the functions of boundary commissioner on the part of the  United States.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Anson Mills, colonel Third Regiment United States Cavalry, having been nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate as a commissioner of the United States under the convention between the United States of America and the United States of Mexico concluded and signed by the contracting parties at the city of Washington, March first, eighteen hundred and eighty-nine, is hereby permitted to accept and exercise the functions of said office of commissioner; Provided, Said officer shall continue to receive his emoluments in pay and allowances as colonel in the army while holding said office of commissioner the same as he would receive were he performing such duty under military orders and no other or additional pay or emoluments for his services as such commissioner.

Approved, December 12, 1893.


One of the final acts of the Indiana Engineering Society convention at Indianapolis, was the election of three honorary members, one of whom was Gen. Anson Mills, of Washington, D. C. General Mills was born in Thorntown, Indiana, seventy-two years ago. In answer to the telegram notifying him of his election, he sent the following: “I appreciate most highly my election as an honorary member of the Indiana Engineering Society and accept the honor. This is especially grateful as coming from my native state and from a society which has accomplished so much for the profession.”

Civil and Indian Wars Veteran Had Struggles in Early Life

WASHINGTON, November 5, 1924 – Brigadier General Anson Mills, retired, died here today.  Born in Boone County, Indiana, August 31, 1834, he was a veteran of Indian and Civil Wars.  He invented the woven cartridge belt and loom, for its manufacture used in the American Army and Navy.

General Mills’ story, as told in his book, “My Story,” which, about six years ago was published for private circulation among the officer’s friends, was one of early struggles and poignant disappointments in his youth.

In early boyhood he worked at the loom, where he spun his own clothing.  When 21 years of age he was appointed to the United States Military academy at West Point.  For two years he continued at the institution when, after failing in mathematics, he resigned from the Academy.  This disappointment, as he said in his book, was one of the keenest of his life, for he had always fostered the ambition to become an officer in the Army.

Foloowing his departure from West Point he went to Texas where, as a land surveyor and civil engineer, he laid out the first plan of the City of El Paso in 1859.


  • DATE OF DEATH: 11/05/1924
  • DATE OF INTERMENT: 11/10/1924


  • DATE OF DEATH: 07/25/1899


  • DATE OF DEATH: 05/14/1917

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