Sep 162013
 

In this post, we consider the unfortunate plight of the Tohono O’odham people, whose ancestral lands now lie on either side of the Mexico-USA border.

How did this happen?

Following Mexico’s War of Independence (1810-1821), the rush was on to draw an accurate map of all of Mexico’s territory. Mexico’s boundaries following independence were very different to today. At that time, the major flows of migrants linking the USA to Mexico were from the USA to Mexico, the reverse of the direction of more recent flows, where millions of Mexicans have migrated north.

As this map of Mexico in 1824 shows, Mexico’s territory extended well to the north of its present-day limits.

Map of Mexico, 1824

Map of Mexico, 1824

At the end of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded over half of Mexico’s territory to the USA. A few years later, under the 1853 Gadsden Purchase (Treaty of La Mesilla), northern portions of Sonora and Chihuahua (shaded brown on the map below) were transferred to the USA.

Mexico 1853

Source: National Atlas of the United States (public domain)

With minor exceptions since, to take account of changes in the meanders of the Río Bravo (Grande), this established the current border between the two countries.

Impacts on the Tohono O’odham people

One of the immediate impacts of the Gadsden purchase was to split the lands of the Tohono O’odham people into two parts: one in present-day Arizona and the other in the Mexican state of Sonora, divided by the international border. The O’odham who reside in Mexico are often known as Sonoran O’odham.

There are an estimated 25,000 Tohono O’odham living today. Most are in Arizona, but about 1500 live in northern Sonora. In contrast to First Nations (aboriginal) groups living on the USA-Canada border who were allowed dual citizenship, the Tohono O’odham were not granted this right. For decades, this did not really matter, since the two groups of Tohono O’odham kept in regular contact for work, religious ceremonies and festivals, crossing the border when needed without any problem. Stricter border controls introduced in the 1980s, and much tightened since, have greatly reduced the number of Tohono O’odham able to travel freely. This is a particular problem for the Tohono O’odham in Sonora, most of whom were born in Mexico but lack sufficient documentation to acquire a passport.

Tohono o'odhum border protest

Tohono O’odham border protest

Since 2001, several attempts have been made in the USA to solve the “one people-two country” problem by granting U.S. citizenship to all registered members of the Tohono O’odham, regardless of their residence. So far, none has succeeded.

The largest community in the Tohono O’odham Nation (the Arizona section of Tohono O’odham lands) is Sells, which functions as the Nation’s capital. The Sonoran O’odham live in nine villages in Mexico, only five of which are offically recognized as O’odham by the Mexican government.

The border between the two areas is relatively unprotected compared to most other parts of the Mexico-USA border.

The Tohono O’odham Nation is often called upon to provide emergency assistance to undocumented workers (and drug traffickers) from south of the border who have underestimated the severe challenges of crossing this section of the harsh Sonora desert. Tribal officials regularly complain about the failure of the U.S. federal government to reimburse their expenses.

ABC News reports (Tohono O’odham Nation’s Harrowing Mexican-Border War) that the border “has made life a daily hell for a tribe of Native Americans” and that drug seizures on the Tohono O’odham Nation’s lands have increased sharply.

Want to read more?

Sep 142013
 

Welcome to our sixth quiz about the geography of Mexico.

Previous quizzes:

How many of the following can you answer correctly?

If you answer a question incorrectly, you can have more attempts at each question before the answer is revealed.

Good Luck!

Geography of Mexico Quiz 6

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Sep 122013
 

Production of gold has more than tripled from the 23.5 metric tons recorded in 2000 to 88.6 metric tons in 2012, 3.2% of world production, 5.3% more than the previous year, and the ninth consecutive year-on-year increase. Analysts believe that gold production will double again between now and 2020.

Mexico is the world’s 11th largest producer of gold, well behind China (13% of world total), Australia (10%)  the USA (9%) and Russia (7%). Mexico exports gold, mainly to the USA and Switzerland.

The vast majority of gold and silver production in Mexico comes from a handful of major corporations, led by Canadian mining firm Goldcorp, whose main mines are at Los Filos (Guerrero) and Peñasquito (Zacatecas).

Gold production in Mexico, 2011. Data: INEGI. Credit: Tony Burton/Geo-Mexico

Gold production in Mexico, 2011. Data: INEGI. Credit: Tony Burton/Geo-Mexico

The map shows the six main gold mining states in Mexico. Production in Sonora has grown rapidly in the past decade and that state is now responsible for 32% of national production, ahead of Zacatecas (20%), Chihuahua (15%), Guerrero (13%), Durango (9%) and San Luis Potosí (7%).

The main gold-mining municipalities in each of these six states are:

  • Sonora: Caborca, Sahuaripa, Santa Ana, Álamos, Altar and Trincheras
  • Zacatecas: Mazapil, Luis Moya, Ojocaliente, Fresnillo and Concepción del Oro
  • Chihuahua: Urique, Chinipas, Ocampo, Madera
  • Guerrero: Eduardo Neri and Coyuca de Catalán
  • Durango: Santiago Papasquiaro and San Dimas
  • San Luis Potosí: Villa de la Paz

We will explore the controversy surrounding Goldcorp’s Los Filos opencast mine in Guerrero, billed as Latin America’s largest gold mine development, and some other mining controversies in Mexico, in a future post.

Mining towns described briefly previously on Geo-Mexico.com include:

Related posts:

Sep 092013
 

Prior to European contact in 1519, what did the Aztec people eat?

The basis of Aztec diet was corn (maize). They cultivated numerous varieties of corn, as well as many other crops including beans, amaranth and squash. Some dishes were seasoned with salt and chili peppers. This mix of items provided a balanced diet that had no significant vitamin or mineral deficiency.

In addition, the Aztec diet included tomatoes, limes, cashews, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peanuts, cacao (chocolate), wild fruits, cactus, mushrooms, fungi, honey, turkey, eggs, dog, duck, fish, the occasional deer, iguana, alongside insects such as grasshoppers. From the lake water, they scooped high protein algae (tecuitlatl), which was also used as a fertilizer.

How did they obtain their food?

The Mexica (who later became the Aztecs) faced a particular dilemma, largely of their own making. Mexica (Aztec) legend tells that they left their home Aztlán (location unproven) on a lengthy pilgrimage lasting hundreds of years. They were seeking a specific sign telling them where to found their new capital and ceremonial center. The sign was an eagle, perched on a cactus. Today, this unlikely combination, with the eagle now devouring a serpent, is a national symbol and appears on the national flag.

Artist's view of the  Aztec capital Tenochititlan in the Valley of Mexico

Artist’s view of the Aztec capital Tenochititlan in the Valley of Mexico

The dilemma arose because they first saw this sign, and founded their new capital Tenochtitlan, on an island in the middle of a lake in central Mexico. An island linked by causeways to several places on the “mainland” might have had some advantages in terms of defense, but supplying the growing settlement with food and fresh water was more of a challenge.

Much of their food came from hunting and gathering, and some food was brought by long-distance trade, but space for farming, especially on the island, was at a premium.

The Aztecs solved their dilemma of how to supply food to their island capital by developing a sophisticated wetland farming system involving raised beds (chinampas) built in the lake (see image below). Originally these chinampas were free-floating but over time they became rooted to the lake floor. The chinampas were separated by narrow canals, barely wide enough for small boats or canoes.

Artist's representation of chinampa farming

Artist’s representation of chinampa farming

From an ecological perspective, these chinampas represented an extraordinary achievement, a food production system which proved to be one of the most environmentally sustainable and high-yielding farming systems anywhere on the planet!

Constructing and maintaining chinampas required a significant input of labor, but the yields per unit area could be very high indeed, especially since four harvests a year were possible for some crops. The system enabled fresh produce to be supplied to the city even during the region’s long dry season, whereas food availability from rain-fed agriculture was highly seasonal.

Artist's interpretation of chinampa construction (from Rojas 1995)

Artist’s interpretation of chinampa construction (from Rojas 1995)

The planting platforms or chinampas were built by hand, with alternate layers of mud, silt and vegetation piled onto a mesh of reeds or branches. Platforms, often but not necessarily rectangular, were about 10 meters wide and could be 100 meters or more in length. Willow trees were often planted on the edges of platforms to help stabilize them and provide shade for other plants and for the canals that separated the platforms. Interplanting crops was common, and polyculture was the norm. For many crops, multicropping (several crops in a single year) was possible.

Because the planting platforms were close to water, extremes of temperature were dampened, and the likelihood of frost damage to crops reduced. The root systems of crops had reliable access to fresh water (sub-irrigation). The canals provided a variety of habitats for fish. The mud from the bottom of canals was periodically dredged by hand and added to the platforms, supplying nutrients and preserving canal depth. Together with the regular addition of waste organic material (compost), this replenished the platforms and meant that their fertility was maintained over very long periods of time.

The system could even cope with polluted water, since the combination of constant filtration on the platforms, and aquatic weeds in the canals, partially removed most impurities from the water.

Where can chinampas be seen today?

Archaeologists have found vestiges of chinampas in several regions of Mexico, some dating back almost 3000 years.

Mexico’s best known chinampas today are those in Xochimilco on the south-eastern outskirts of Mexico City. Xochimilco is a Unesco World Heritage site, but faces heavy pressure from urban encroachment and highway construction. Xochimilco’s canals (with chinampas separating them) are some of the last surviving remnants of the large lake that occupied this valley when the Mexica founded Tenochititlan.

Xochimilco (Wikipedia; creative commons)

Xochimilco (Wikipedia; creative commons)

Visiting Xochimilco’s canals and market is a popular weekend excursion for Mexico City residents and tourists alike. However, the modern-day chinampas of Xochimilco are not the same as they would have been centuries ago. First, the total area of chinampas in Xochimilco is only a fraction of what once existed. Secondly, some of the chinampas have been abandoned, while on others chemical fertilizers and pesticides are often used. Thirdly, the area now has many exotic species, including introduced species of fish (such as African tilapia and Asian carp) that threaten native species. Numbers of the axolotl (a local salamander), a prized delicacy on Aztec dinner tables, are in sharp decline. Fourthly, the water table in this area dell dramatically during the last century as Mexico City sucked water from the underground aquifers causing local springs that helped supply Xochimilco to dry up completely. Rubble from the 1985 Mexico City earthquake was also dumped in Xochimilco’s canals.

Lakes is some other parts of Mexico were also used for chinampa farming. For example, in Jalisco, just west of Guadalajara, Magdalena Lake was a prime source of food for the 60,000 or so people living close to the Guachimontones ceremonial site (settled before 350 BC) in Teuchitlán. They learned to construct chinampas, fixed mud beds in the lake, each measuring about 20 meters by 15 meters, which they planted with a variety of crops… The remains of hundreds of these highly productive islets are still visible today.” (Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury, p 69)

Chinampa farming was one of the great agricultural developments in the Americas. Ir was, and still can be, an environmentally-sensitive and sustainable method of intensive wetland agriculture.

Want to read more?

Related posts

Sep 072013
 

By way of contrast to the much-criticized, and now collapsed, Maya Biosana chocolate project, the Tikul Plantation, near Merida (Yucatán), is a well thought out cacao-growing project, with an educational component, being carried out by people who have decades of real experience with cacao. (Follow the link for a series of photos which gives a good idea of what is involved). Among the principles adapted by the Tikul project is biodynamic farming, which in this case means that “grafting is carried out when the moon is waxing and we harvest the pods when the moon is waning”.

Tikul-logoThat cacao plantation, begun in 2008 by Belgian firm Belcolade, already has 10 hectares of land planted with 10,000 cacao trees (planting density of 1000 cacao trees/hectare). In addition, “20 more hectares have been cleared and cedar and mahogany trees, amongst others, have been planted”. The developers of that project already have the 20,000 cacao trees to be grafted to complete the planting of this area. The shade plants that have been planted include 2000 yucca (cassava), 4000 banana plants,  10,000 cedar trees and 5000 mahogany trees. This means an average planting distance of “a cacao tree every 3 meters, a cedar tree every 6 meters and a mahogany tree every 12 meters”.

Belcolade produces high quality Belgian chocolate for distribution to over 100 countries. “Belcolade, the Real Belgian Chocolate, is produced solely in Belgium following a long tradition of craftsmanship, quality and refinement. It is made from carefully selected cocoa beans using production processes that have been perfected over time, thus assuring that Belcolade’s exquisite taste is in line with consumers’ expectations.”

Visitors to the Tikul Plantation are introduced to the importance of cacao to the Mayan culture in the “Cacao EcoMuseum” near the Plantation’s entrance.

The Cacao Ecomuseum is not without its critics. According to this article in the Yucatán Times, Becolade never received the appropriate permits from the National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH) to build a structure in a protected zone. The article alleges that construction was only possible because certain INAH officials acted corruptly.

Meanwhile another enterprise Choco-Story, with local partners, (and which has no connection to Belcolade as we incorrectly claimed in an earlier version of this post) has come under heavy fire in the press in recent months because it also started to build Chocolate Museums on the archaeological zones of Chichen Itza and Uxmal. Construction of both has now been halted, with INAH officials ordering that the partially-completed structures be demolished. The latest reports are that the conflict at Uxmal has been resolved and that the Choco-Story museum at that site will open sometime next year.

Related posts:

Sep 052013
 

As the US Congress debates new immigration reform legislation there is considerable confusion concerning the fiscal impact of immigrants. One side argues that immigrants pay relatively little in taxes and absorb costly benefits in terms of public health, education, welfare, etc. Others note that immigrants often pay significant amounts in taxes and get little back in terms of benefits. Obviously, it depends on the immigrant and perhaps on their legal status.

OECD-migrationIn June 2013, the OECD published “International Migration Outlook,” a study on the budgetary impacts of immigrants to OECD countries. (OECD countries Mexico and 29 other mostly rich and mainly European countries). The study compares native-born with foreign-born residents, some of whom may have already become citizens. The study suggests that immigrants may have a slightly positive impact on fiscal budgets. The average for all OECD countries was 0.3% of GDP; the comparable figure for the USA was 0.03%.

Immigrants tend to have lower incomes, pay a bit less in taxes, but receive less in benefits. They tend to be younger and thus receive less in public health benefits. If they have children, they receive considerable education benefits. Obviously these are gross generalizations as some immigrants are highly paid executives and scientists, who pay significant taxes, while others may work as domestics or laborers, paying far less in taxes. Given that many public costs, including defense and debt service, are very hard to allocate to migrants versus native-born, the study suggests that immigration appears to be neither a drain nor a gain on fiscal budgets.

A big issue in the USA is the specific impact of Mexican immigrants on the fiscal budget, particularly the impacts of undocumented immigrants. Many legal immigrants from Mexico are family members joining their relatives. They may or may not be employed and thus may not pay income taxes. On the other hand, virtually all illegal immigrants seek employment. Furthermore, many obtain formal sector jobs by using fake Social Security cards or “Individual Tax Identification Numbers.” Their employers deduct federal and state income tax from their paychecks and forward these funds to government tax agencies.

Undocumented immigrants rarely file tax returns and thus very rarely receive the tax refunds to which they might otherwise be entitled. All immigrants pay considerable amounts in gasoline and sales taxes as well as property taxes, either directly or indirectly as part of their rent. Given that most illegal immigrants are rather young, relatively healthy and without children, they may have only a small impact on public education and health expenses. Their children are often born in the US, are US citizens, and should not be considered immigrants. It appears that undocumented immigrants might be paying more into the public coffers than they receive in benefits. A closer look at the data may provide some answers.

A 2007 study by the US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) entitled “The Impact of Unauthorized Immigrants on the Budgets of State and Local Governments” directly addressed this issue. The study notes that at the Federal level roughly 50% of illegal immigrants pay income or payroll taxes, which include Medicare taxes. But they generally are excluded from such Federal benefits as Social Security pensions, Medicare and Medicaid (other than emergency services), Food Stamps, and Assistance to Needy Families. The data suggest that in general illegal immigrants usually pay more in federal taxes than they receive in benefits. On the other hand, a number of court cases mandate that state and local governments cannot withhold from illegal immigrants certain services such as education, selected health care, or law enforcement. Many illegal immigrant children do not speak English; therefore their education may be more costly.

In assessing the fiscal impact on state and local government budget, the CBO analyzed 29 reports published since 1990. The study noted that undertaking such an analysis is very challenging and involves many big assumptions. Still the CBO analysis concluded that the relatively small amount spent by state and local governments on services for illegal immigrants is not fully offset by the even smaller amount of tax revenues collected from them including federal revenues they may receive for this purpose.

In conclusion, available research suggests that the impact of immigrants on public budgets is not very clear. With respect to all immigrants, there appears to a slight positive fiscal impact according to a recent OECD study. The older CBO analysis indicates that undocumented immigrants appear to have a positive impact of the federal budget, but a negative fiscal impact for state and local governments. Of course, the impact varies enormously among migrants depending on their incomes, tax brackets, consumption patterns and needs.

Related posts:

Sep 022013
 

Mexico is the world’s leading producer of silver. Mexico’s output of silver rose 8.3% in 2011 to 4,777 metric tons, its fifth consecutive annual increase. Mexico is responsible for 19% of global production, followed by Peru and China (about 17% each) and Australia (8%). About 70% of silver produced in Mexico is exported, the remainder is sold on the domestic market.

Zacatecas is Mexico’s leading silver producing state (46.5% of total; see map), well ahead of Chihuahua (16.6%), Durango (11.3%) and Sonora (6.9%).

Silver production in Mexico, 2011. Data: INEGI. Credit: Tony Burton/Geo-Mexico

Silver production in Mexico, 2011. Data: INEGI. Credit: Tony Burton/Geo-Mexico

In Zacatecas, silver mining is especially important in the municipalities of Fresnillo (24% of total national silver production) and Mazapil (15%) as well as Chalchihuites and Sombrerete (3% each). The main silver mining municipality in Chihuahua is Santa Bárbara (3% of national total). In Durango, San Dimas and Guanaceví are each responsible for about 3% of national production, while the leading municipality for silver in Sonora is Nacozari de García (1%).

The legacy of silver

The importance of silver mining in colonial New Spain can not be over-emphasized. For instance, during colonial times nearly one third of all the silver mined in the world came from the Guanajuato region!

Even today, the cities and landscapes of many parts of central and northern Mexico reveal the historical significance of silver mining. The legacies of silver mining include not only the opulent colonial buildings in numerous major cities such as Zacatecas and Guanajuato, as well as innumerable smaller towns, but also the deforestation of huge swathes of countryside.

The landscape of states like San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas and Guanajuato was forever changed by the frenzied exploitation of their woodlands. Silver mines needed wooden ladders and pit props. The smelting of silver ore required vast quantities of firewood. Barren tracts of upland testify to the success of those early silver mines. Mining played a crucial role in the pattern of settlement and communications of most of northern Mexico. The need to transfer valuable silver bullion safely from mine to mint required the construction of faster and shorter routes (see, for example, El Camino Real or Royal Road, the spine of the colonial road system in New Spain), helping to focus the pattern of road and rail communications on a limited number of major cities.

Once workable ores ran out, smaller mining communities fell into obscurity and many became ghost towns. Some of these settlements, such as Real de Catorce and Angangueo, have enjoyed a new lease of life in recent years due to tourism.

Mining towns described briefly previously on Geo-Mexico.com include:

Related posts:

Aug 302013
 

Following our critique of the Maya Biosana chocolate megaproject (Maya Biosana or Maya Bio-Insana? Chocolate megaproject in Quintana Roo),  a project which claimed it would plant four million cacao plants in four years, we have received additional information about developments in the Los Divorciados ejido where the project is based.

According to an insider, the project has now completely abandoned its plans for a massive cacao plantation. Jim Walsh, the former CEO of Maya Biosana, left the project in December 2012. Maya Biosana is now being managed by a Mexican firm AMSA (Agroindustrias Unidas de México, S.A. de CV) which is trying to convert the land into a profit-making venture producing corn and other grains.

Prior to the demise of the cacao megaproject, the organizers of Maya Biosana had released a short documentary detailing the project, and lauding its successful transformation of “a dwindling Mayan town” into a “now blossoming entrepreneurial city growing cacao fields and supporting their local community.” The film’s blurb claims that since the video was filmed, “the town has expanded and grown two-fold.”

According to recent visitors to Los Divorciados (the ejido in question—see map), this could not be further from the truth. They report that in summer 2013, the Maya Biosana project, which had started out by employing around 200 people, now had 40 workers at most. One member of the group that visited Maya Biosana estimates, “based on the number of motorcyles parked there when we were there”, that the real workforce at Maya Biosana may be even smaller, perhaps 20-25.

Google Earth image of southern Quintana Roo

Google Earth image of southern Quintana Roo

The 13-minute documentary, “Maya Biosana – The Rebirth of Mexican Cacao, A short documentary,” can still be seen (as of August 2013) via this link on the Intentional Chocolate blog. However, note that many of the images included in the video are most definitely NOT from the Maya Biosana area, or even from Quintana Roo.

The film’s badly-written blurb claims that it, “follows Maya Biosana, as it repositions Mexico as the largest organic cocoa producer in the world and bringing the sacred plant back to it’s birth home. Improving the quality of life in Mexico with it’s vision of collaboration, co-creation and intention by providing the local and surrounding communities with a new model of business utilizing their own proprietary Well Being index as the marker of change.”

According to the Intentional Chocolate blog, “The film won the best short Award in 2012 at the Awareness Festival”, a claim it has also proved impossible to verify.

The original Maya Biosana is no more, but will the new management of this area by AMSA prove to be any better for the local ejidatarios than the original megaproject fiasco? We certainly hope so, but only time will tell.

In the interim, we received an e-mail  a few weeks ago about a new megaproject underway in Avila Camacho, the next village to Los Divorciados (see map). Apparently, this megaproject is for plantations of exotic trees, which involves deforesting the jungle, extracting the wood, and planting a total of 6000 hectares with White Teak (Gmelina arborea, Spanish common name melina), a tropical hardwood, at the rate of 1000 hectares a year. So far, about 50 hectares have already been planted.  The correspondent writes that they “stole the land of the Mayan people, cheating about the pay of rent: the rent is $45US for a hectare for a year. They are destroying the jungle  and extracting the wood.” We have been unable to get independent verification of these claims as yet, but will continue attempting to do so.

Initially, some equipment from Maya Biosana was utilized on the Avila Camacho project, and our correspondent  claims that it is the same Mexican-associated company that is responsible, though we have not yet been able to confirm this.  According to a second source, the CEO of this project is Fernando Gonzalez, a “very good friend of Jim Walsh”, the former CEO of Maya Biosana, but there is no longer any direct connection between the two projects.

There may have been recent “developments” in this part of Mexico, but they certainly do not yet constitute any form of sustainable development.

Related posts:

Aug 282013
 

Kantar Worldpanel México’s survey of shopping habits for 8,500 homes across the country reveals that 70% of household expenditures are spent in one of three main “purchasing channels”.

1. The first, traditional convenience or “corner” stores receive 35% of household spending, and are the channel most frequently visited, 217 times/year/household on average. Poorer households rely more on these stores than middle-class households. Most visits (71%) are on weekdays and 44% of visits are to purchase items for immediate consumption.

2. Supermarkets are the second main channel, used by 98% of households, with a frequency of 49 trips/year. Supermarkets are favored by middle class families for their weekly or biweekly shop, usually on weekends.

3. The third main channel is door-to-door and catalog sales, used by 92% of households, with a frequency of 42 times/year.

According to the study, 74% of households choose the nearest store and 78% attach importance to the location of the store.

Cities with Oxxo Distribution Centers. Credit: Tony Burton/Geo-Mexico

Cities with Oxxo Distribution Centers. Credit: Tony Burton/Geo-Mexico

It is no coincidence, then, that Oxxo, the nation’s largest convenience store chain, recently opened its 11,000th store in Mexico. Oxxo now serves residents of 350 towns and cities, and plans to add a further 1,037 outlets before the end of this year. Its extensive network is served via a chain of 15 strategically-located distribution centers in the 13 cities shown on the map above.

Related posts:

Aug 242013
 

The city of Fresnillo, founded in the sixteenth century, is a place that most people speed by en route to somewhere else. Yet Fresnillo, in the state of Zacatecas, holds several surprises. It was once an important city on the colonial silver route (El Camino Real or Royal Road, the spine of the colonial road system in New Spain), and still boasts many fine buildings, including a lovely old theater and several churches.

fresnillo-plcFresnillo is still an important mining center today. Fresnillo plc, incorporated in the UK, is Mexico’s largest single silver mining company and the country’s second largest gold producer. It operates mines in three major mining zones in Mexico—Fresnillo (Zacatecas), Ciénega (Durango) and Herradura (Sonora)—and is actively developing or exploring numerous other sites.

Fresnillo became a major mining center from 1568, when a garrison of soldiers, complete with a fort, was installed in the town to help protect mule-trains carrying silver from Sombrerete (and the San Martín mine) further north and Zacatecas. By the mid-nineteenth century, Fresnillo’s own mines had serious flooding problems. Mine owners sent to England for experienced Cornish tin miners to come and help. The Cornishmen knew how to assemble and operate powerful steam engines, a novelty at that time in Mexico, and a reliable way to help drain deeper mine shafts.

Location of mining districts near Fresnillo. Credit: 321gold.com

Location of mining districts near Fresnillo. Credit: 321gold.com. Click to enlarge

George Ruxton, a nineteenth century traveler and author, described Fresnillo when he visited as “paltry” but “busy and frenzied” with 2500 miners hacking away at the nearby mountains. Ruxton thought the work ethic of the Cornish was superior to other English settlers and to the local Mexicans. He was especially impressed by how the miners had planted a beautiful garden, full of fruit-bearing trees, complete with a fountain and ornamental summerhouse.

Silver bars were regularly taken from Fresnillo to Zacatecas for smelting and subsequent stamping in the Zacatecas mint. The wagon-trains carrying silver bars, called conductas while under military protection, were frequently assaulted by large groups of bandits, up to several hundred strong.

Fresnillo also has significant artistic interest. Two very famous, yet very different, Mexican artists—musician Manuel M. Ponce and painter Francisco Goitia—were born in (or at least very near) the city in the same year, 1882.

The patron saint of silversmiths

From Fresnillo, it is only seven kilometers along a wide, well-paved road to Plateros, a place of pilgrimage. The baroque Santuario de Plateros was built at the end of the eighteenth century to be a suitable residence for the Santo Niño de Atocha and the Señor de Plateros (the patron saint of silversmiths). The fame of the Santo Niño de Antocha spread rapidly following a fight between two miners. One miner was sure he had killed the other but then prayed to this saint for his recovery. Lo and behold, his companion recovered! Ex-votos (retablos) tell the stories of the numerous “miraculous” interventions performed by the Santo Niño de Antocha to resolve all manner of problems in more recent years.

Source: Most of this post is based on chapter 20 of my “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” (link is to Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature), also available as either a Kindle edition or Kobo ebook.

Other Mexican mining towns previously described on Geo-Mexico.com include: