Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lake Chapala's south shore treasures Part 1: Hacienda de San Francisco Javier

The cool shade of the Hacienda veranda was enticing on a hot afternoon. We knew virtually nothing about the ruined hacienda on our map when we visited Tizapan el Alto with our friends Denis and Julika. However, a later internet search yielded more--but sometimes contradictory--information. I'd like to offer special thanks to Tony Burton for his help in my research. Tony is the author of several excellent books about the Lake Chapala area. For a start, Tizapan's name means "white land rising", referring to the chalk deposits in the area. In 1524, Captain Alonso de Avalos subdued the Chichimeca indians then inhabiting the area. He was a relative of the Conqueror Hernan Cortes, who liked keeping things in the family. Avalos was granted huge estates as his reward. The Province of Avalos, part of the Kingdom of New Galicia, was named after him. In 1542, construction began on one of his many estates, the Hacienda de San Francisco Javier.

To reach Tizapan el Alto from the north shore area of Lake Chapala, one must drive west to Jocotopec, and then south and east along Highway 15. The one-hour drive runs along the south shore of the Lake and is very scenic. The Hacienda is located on the extreme west end of present-day Tizapan el Alto, near the Fracciamento San Francisco. Although it was marked on our map as a ruin, I found out later it is owned privately by the Garza family. The Garzas don't seem to understand the tourist gold mine they possess. There are no facilities for tourists, and no informational signs or materials. A young Mexican man and his family inhabit the ruined main house. He spoke no English and my Spanish is still poor, but I was able to elicit permission for us to wander about as we liked. No fee was requested, but I gave him 10 pesos for his trouble.

A giant grindstone dominates the porch. The square hole in the middle would have held the drive shaft as it turned the wheel and ground the corn the indians would bring in from the fields. No doubt the indians were lucky to walk away with any significant portion of the product of their labors. The hacienda system was not set up for charitable purposes. In the early days, the indians were enslaved to work the fields and the various industries. The word hacienda means "a place where something is made or done". Haciendas were self- contained enterprises whose purpose was to enrich the Patron.

A Spanish Patron lived in relative luxury. With slave labor, it becomes affordable to install lovely touches such as the graceful arches and patterned tile floors of the main veranda. The Avalos family prospered for many generations while they enjoyed the fruits of Hacienda San Francisco. They increased their holdings in New Galicia through grants from successive Spanish Viceroys in 1567, 1591, 1593, and 1601.

The eastern end of the veranda was more roughly made. The floor is not patterned tile, but cobblestone and the doors and windows have a more utilitarian appearance. These rooms may have been offices or small workshops. Since the Hacienda functioned for almost 500 years, and underwent many changes during that time, it is difficult to say what may have happened in any particular room or building. Today, the rooms on the left are used to store equipment for the horses that are still stabled on the property. Chickens wander about at will.

Well-maintained equipment shows this is still a working ranch. The "trees" hanging from hooks on the ceiling of this stone and brick room are looped with lariats and other belts and straps used by horsemen. While I took photos, a large black chicken stalked me, angrily clucking at my invasion of her turf.

Beautifully worked wood and leather saddles show pride of ownership. These were two of several saddles lined up on a rail along the wall. All the Mexican cowboys I have encountered around the Lake seem to take great pride in the appearance of their horses and equipment.

Bridles hung in rows on the back wall. Everything was neat, clean, and orderly, in contrast to the shabby condition of the other buildings on the hacienda.

Sleek and well groomed, this horse patiently waited for its rider. We encountered a number of horses in equally good condition on the Hacienda grounds. They were remarkably friendly when approached, a indication that they have been treated well by their owners.

A stately entrance to a crumbling building. This may have been one of the structures that originally had a more august function. Presently it is a combined stable and chicken coop. In the early part of the 1600's the Hacienda de San Francisco Javier passed into the hands of Don Joaquin Fermin Echauri, from Tudela, Spain. Echuari acquired many other properties in the area. He was often entangled in legal disputes at the Royal Audiencia in Mexico city. Eventually, the Echuari family became one of the richest in all of Nueva Galicia. One source indicates that in 1757, the Hacienda was producing wheat and corn, operating a "pan mill" and a sugar mill, and was breeding cattle, mules, and horses. The labor for all this came from the indians, of course. No longer slaves, they were bound to the land by debts incurred at the Hacienda store. Since a hacienda patron controlled all the records of debt, and the indians were virtually all illiterate, there was no way to ever pay off the debt. The centuries of servitude rolled quietly by.

Ancient adobe crumbles in the warm afternoon sun. This may be one of the older buildings on the property. Brick, a more durable but more expensive construction material, was introduced later. I love how adobe ages into soft curves and how--being essentially dirt, pebbles, and straw--it gradually melts back into the earth where it originated. Notice how the cactus plant has grown out of the side of one of the walls.

A stately two-story building graced the north side of the complex. Two horses wandered freely in the ruins. The mix of brick and rough stone in the construction puzzled me. Perhaps brick was so expensive that it could only be used on some parts. Plaster would have covered up a multitude of sins in construction. The Echuari family held on to the Hacienda de San Francisco for almost 250 years, but the fortunes of the family gradually declined. One reason for the decline was the destruction and killing in the Tizapan el Alto area during the War of Independence. However, one source comments that the last Echuari, Dona Gertrudis, "lacked the administrative skills of her ancestors".

An oval window stares out like the empty eye-socket of a skull. There were several oval windows of various sizes within this extensive ruin. Some of the original plaster still covers the wall you can see on the right. In 1810, the War of Independence broke out. It did not touch Tizapan el Alto or the Hacienda at first, but there was much sympathy for the insurgent cause. The indians hated the Spanish as the oppressors at the top of the heap. The hacienda owners were divided in their sympathies. On the one hand, they didn't want to do anything to endanger their own position or properties. On the other, unless they were first generation Spanish, i.e. born in Spain, they were second-class citizens in Nueva Galicia and considered socially inferior no matter what their wealth and accomplishments. Tizapan el Alto and its Hacienda threw their support to the insurgents, who had created a fortress on the island of Mezcala across the Lake. Local heros of the struggle on the south shore were J. Encarnacion Rosas and Jose Santana who organized the indians to support Mezcala and fight the Spanish.

These buildings were probably related to the sugar mill. Behind the buildings you can see the tall smoke stack used in the sugar mill. The support for the insurgents at Mezcala carried a price. At one point, Spanish Lt. Angel Linares invaded Tizapan el Alto and massacred the population and burned portions of the Hacienda. The few survivors fled to the Sierra del Tigre mountains. Lt. Linares got his comeuppance, however. He arrogantly approached Mezcala by canoe with an insufficient force and was captured. He was duly tried, brought back to the ruins of Tizapan el Alto and hanged in the square. To his body was pinned a sign: "where he killed, he died". Very probably, the destruction or dispersal of the working population, even more than the destruction of Hacienda properties, triggered the beginning of a long decline.

Rider out of the past. While we were walking along the main street in the Hacienda, a cowboy in full regalia came galloping through the main entrance and down the street, almost as if on cue. I was instantly reminded of various Clint Eastwood movies of the "Fistful of Dollars" series, which were full of similarly crumbling Mexican haciendas. In 1853, Dona Gertrudis died and the Hacienda passed to Don Felipe Macias and his family. The area was plagued with bandits and the property further suffered as the indians drifted out of the control of hacienda owners across the country. When Porfirio Diaz became Mexico's President, effectively its dictator, he decreed that the hacienda owners should keep the peace with "blood and fire" using what one source called the "White Guards". These were apparently private armies of thugs employed by the haciendados to bring the indians back under their control. The source says that "the Mexicans had left the subjugation of the Spanish but had fallen back into another kind of slavery as laborers who were nothing but slaves to the gentlemen ranchers".

The end of the line. Visitors to the Hacienda pass through this impressive arch. One source claimed that the arch was built in the 1500's as part of an aqueduct system to bring water to the property. Tony Burton is doubtful of this story. The last chapter of the Hacienda story begins with the end of the Diaz dictatorship, and the beginning of the Revolution in 1910. Little changed for the first five years of the Revolution, then in 1915, General Francisco Murguia plundered Tizapan el Alto and burned the barns of the Hacienda. He drafted the peons, gave them rifles, and marched them as cannon fodder against the forces of General Alvaro Obregon at Ocotlan, across the lake. The peons' lack of experience led to a slaughter.

However, the local people benefited from a series of land reforms between 1919 and 1937 which broke up the Hacienda and redistributed the land. The source noted that it may have been a mistake to let the Hacienda facilities fall into ruin as a result of the land reform, because the mills on the property, which manufactured sugar, alcohol, soap, flour, and tanned leather, represented the only industry in the area. Consequently, for the last 60 years, there has been little industrial activity creating jobs for local people. Instead, they have supported themselves by farming and fishing. In recent years, NAFTA has led to large-scale dumping of corn and other agricultural products in Mexico by American agribusiness, and upstream factory pollution has damaged the fishing. Many people have migrated across the border to the US to survive.

This concludes my posting on the south shore's Hacienda de San Francisco Javier. I found the Hacienda visit romantic, melancholy, and mysterious. It is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area, particularly now that you are armed with some knowledge of its history.

Hasta luego! Jim


  1. Fantastic photos, and impressive research. Thanks for making our trip to the south shore of Lake Chapala so memorable!

    Julika Bond

  2. Nice write up and nice photos. You did capture some of the mystery of the place.

  3. Jim, I thoroughly enjoy reading your descriptions and seeing your photos. Makes me want to return to Lakeside sooner rather than later.

  4. It's so nice to see stories like this about the Hacienda. I always tried to picture how it was back in the day, when it was complete. You can tell by the details that it was beautiful. I absolutely love it, especially when my father and my grandfather used to tell me stories about it.

  5. Monica- I never dreamed a member of the family who now owns the Hacienda would see my blog. Thanks so much for your comments. I am glad that I was able, in some small way, to shed some light on the old place. As you can tell I was mesmerized when I first came across it. I would like to meet you sometime and hear the stories your father and grandfather told about it. Do you live in the Lake Chapala or Guadalajara area? You can contact me at the email at the bottom of the comments box. Jim

  6. As usual great photos! I love the street art. And Burro Hall - love Frank's style!

  7. well i was looking at your page i love mezcala my family is from there. i go once every 2-3 years i just cant enough of it.

  8. My wife & I visited the hacienda yesterday, not realizing that it wasn't set up for tourists or that the main house is still occupied by the family. We live in Tizapán and it was time well-spent. Thanks for this blog.

  9. Wow.. i read through ur blog and it made me want to go and explore the hacienda.. my parents are origionaly from Tizapan but like u said they migrated north although they did take me and my siblings to "Tiza" every summer while i was growing up.. were my greatest summer memories were made.. i was surprised to find out that although they had gone to explore the hacienda they didnt know its history.. they were so happy to learn about it.. and were upset at the fact that the hacienda hadnt been kept up.. if it had we might have been a lot closer to our family.. thank you so much for giving us part of our history..


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim