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This campsite, between the east bank of the Río Grande and the Organ Mountains, was used by Lafora on August 7, 1766. He located it some 20 leagues north of the place where he crossed the river. From this paraje, Lafora went to Robledillo (Alessio Robles 1939:90-91).
Robert Julyan places the modern “Brazito” five miles south of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and noted that only a schoolhouse remains of the settlement. He added that in 1776 it was known as “Huerto de los Brazitos” and was part of a the nineteenth-century “Brazito Land Grant” to Juan Antonio García, which stretched along the Río Grande for eight miles south of Las Cruces (Julyan 1996:49). Rancho del Bracito was the exchange point for mail runs between Santa Fé and Chihuahua in the 1820s (Bloom 1913:16; Moorhead 1957:112).
On Christmas day, 1846, the Missouri Volunteers under Colonel Alexander W. Doniphan defeated a Mexican unit at the Battle of Bracitos and then went on to occupy El Paso and invade Chihuahua. George Rutledge Gibson, a soldier in Doniphan’s army, wrote that the name Bracito referred to a bend in the river just above the battlefield. The U.S. army had stopped to camp by the river just north of the site where the engagement took place. The Mexican army was at an elevation and had the mountains to their backs as the battle began (Bieber 1935:300,303-305,308-309). A contemporary map reproduced in the 1997 edition of the Hughes journal gives little context but appears to show the river at its closest approach to the hills. It also shows the island formed by the Bracito from which the name was derived (Hughes 1997:133). In February 1847, Susan 153 Shelby Magoffin visited the site of the battle and described it as a “perfect plain” (Drumm 1926:202). According to Max Moorhead, the “Paraje de Bracitos” was “on a little arm of the Río Grande encircling a sandy island” (Moorhead 1958:19).
A soldier, Marcellus Ball Edwards, recounted being in a camp about a mile below Doña Ana on 20 December 1846. His company was directed to go a few miles and set up an outpost, but went 12 according to his estimate, before finding a suitable place. There, the river ran close enough to the hills on the east side of the valley that the road ran over sand hills. On Christmas Eve, this company went another mile, and on Christmas, twelve miles to the site of the battle. That adds up to an estimate of 26 miles from Doña Ana and the site of the Battle of Bracitos (Bieber 1936:224-228). John Taylor Hughes, another soldier with Doniphan, confirms that the camp described by Edwards was about 12 miles from Doña Ana, but placed the camp one mile below as 15 from Doña Ana. He thought it another 18 from there to Bracito (Hughes 1997:130-131). Gibson recalled marches of 12 and 14 miles, a total of 26, between a camp near Doña Ana and the battlefield (Bieber 1935:298- 300). The consensus of these estimates is that it was some 26 miles from the town of Doña Ana to Bracitos by the road on which the army traveled. When he passed by in 1855, W.W.H. Davis placed Fort Fillmore, built in 1851, a few miles above the battlefield of Bracito (Davis 1938:212; Frazer 1965:99).
There is some historiographical confusion surrounding the relative locations of historical sites in this section of the Río Grande valley. Max Moorhead wrote that the paraje was a few miles south of the site of the 1846 battle (Moorhead 1958:19). William A. Keleher located Fort Fillmore on the site of Bracito and estimated that it was about four miles south of Las Cruces, about the same distance north of Mesilla, New Mexico, and 36 miles from El Paso, Texas (Keleher 1952:196, n.9). Robert W. Frazer placed Fort Fillmore six miles south of Mesilla (Frazer 1965:99). However, Robert Julyan put Fort Fillmore, 1852-1863, six miles south of Las Cruces and one mile east of Bracito (Julyan 1996:134).
The precise location of the point on the Río Grande known as el Bracito, by which the paraje was known, can best be identified from testimonies and evidence given in the Bracito (Hugh Stephenson), Doña Ana, Mesilla, and Santo Tomás de Iturbide land grant cases before the Surveyor General and Court of Private Land Claims. According to testimony, in 1864 floodwater caused the Río Grande to break away from its old channel and change course substantially. The eventual disposition of the above named grants hinged upon the definition of the riverbed of the 1850s. Through witnesses and surveys, the bed of the Río Grande before 1864 was determined. Therefore, the boundaries of those grants can be taken as the riverbed of the 1850s. It is also clear that the course of the river could have changed more than once since the opening of the Camino Real. That cautionary note should make researchers wary of unequivocal statements regarding the locations of the road, paraje, or the river bed in the lower Río Grande valley of centuries ago.
Most importantly for locating El Paraje de los Bracitos, descriptions of the Bracito Grant show that at its inception its northwestern corner was on the old river bed at the point that was known as Bracito in 1805. In subsequent testimonies, descriptions, and maps, that description is sustained. At its inception it was specified that the grant began at a point known as “el Brasito” and that name continued to be used to describe the same location. In 1820, it was specified that the acequia of the same name was taken from the river at “el Paraje que nombran el Brasito”. In the documents filed after the United States occupation of New Mexico that particular acequia was used as the landmark (Hugh Stephenson Grant: 892, 901, 964, passim).
In his map, “Plano del Rio del Norte desde San Elceare hasta el paraje de San Pasqual” (1773), Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco shows Bracitos at the southernmost eastward bend of the river that defined the Ancón de Doña Ana before the flood of 1864 (Adams and Chávez 1956:268). The point at which the northern boundary of the Bracito or Stephenson Grant leaves the old river bed, its western boundary, and extends east is, then, the place given in 1805 as El Bracito. That also conforms to the Miera y 154 Pacheco map. The paraje, while not a precise and enclosed point, was likely centered on that location. Charles M. Haecker, “Brazito Battlefield: Once Lost now Found.” New Mexico Historical Review, 72 (July 1997) no. 3, pp. 229-238.