Sunday, August 28, 2011

Exporing Jalisico's old haciendas: Part 3, the small city of Etzatlán

A busy afternoon at Etzatlán's Plaza de Antonio Escobedo I. Danza. In the background, the steeples of the Templo de la Purisima Concepción rise against the sky. My hiking buddies Jerry, Chuck, and Lee accompanied me on a visit to this small city about an hour's drive west of Guadalajara. It's about the same driving time, or a possibly bit more, from my home in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. Etzatlán lies in the heart of Jalisco's old hacienda country. The town once served as a hacienda supply point, and also as a transit point on the road from the old colonial port of San Blas to Guadalajara and other points in the interior. To locate Etzatlán on a Google map, click here.

In the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, Ezatlán means "place of the Itzás". The first Spanish arrived in 1524 under Don Francisco Cortés de San Buenaventura, a close relative of Hernán Cortés. They found a community of about 19,000 people led by a chieftain named Coyula. The Spanish believed that the people were a mixture of Toltec and Aztec. They mistakenly connected them to the Itzá, a Maya people who built Chichen Itzá in faraway Yucatan. Hernán Cortés, in his letters to the King of Spain, described the community his relative Fransico had discovered as Itzatlán. However, it is unlikely the people Don Fransico found were Itzás because Chichen Itza is more than 1945km (1208mi) southeast of what Cortés called Itzatlán. Further, several centuries before Cortés' time, the Itzá tribe had abandoned Chichen Itzá and retreated even further away to northern Guatemala, making the connection even more unlikely. At any rate, the name stuck and eventually evolved into present-day Etzatlán.

Two of my compañeros on this adventure. Jerry (left) and Chuck (right) have accompanied me on numerous hikes and adventures. They immediately volunteered when I suggested a expedition to locate and explore some of Jalisco's old haciendas. On the way to Etzatlán, we stopped off at ex-Hacienda San Isidro Mazatepec (see Part 2 of this series). By the time this picture was taken, the old hacienda home and most of the other plaza structures had been repainted to the light green you see above.

A couple of conquistador brothers, Juan and Pedro Escárcena, were granted the first encomiendas over the indigenous people in the area of Etzatlán. The encomienda system was a form of slavery that became the preferred method of controlling the colonial-era hacienda labor force. A couple of years later, Franciscan friars Andres de Córdoba and Francisco Lorenzo arrived to instruct the local people in Catholicism, a requirement of the encomienda grant. When the greedy and murderous Nuño Bentran de Guzmán showed up in 1530, he tried to get the Escárcena brothers and the Franciscans to agree that the area should fall under his jurisdiction. Loyal to Francisco Cortés, they refused. Beltran de Guzmán hung around for awhile, hoping the depredations of his army would force an indigenous uprising that would justify his intervention. Juan Escárcena outsmarted him by telling the people to flee into the mountains rather than fight. In frustration, Beltran de Guzmán departed to carry out his murderous rampages elsewhere.

Templo de la Purísima Concepción was originally built by the Franciscans. The beautiful old church was closed when we visited, so I don't have any interior photos. However, a couple of important artifacts are said to be inside. One is the first carved stone baptismal font ever crafted by indigenous people for the Spanish. The other is a 16th Century crucifix made by the Cerda brothers of Patzcuaro, with a corn stalk paste image of Jesus. My friends and I were charmed by the colorful old town. At the time we had very little information about Etzatlán, so we began to poke around, seeing what we could find.

Construction on the church began in 1527, only 3 years after Don Francisco arrived. Eminent Franciscan Fray Martin de Jesús got the ball rolling and other Franciscans supervised its construction using encomienda labor. According to early records recently discovered in the Vatican, when the Spanish arrived, they found palaces, a ball court, and temples. The church is built on the foundation of one of those temples. Local legend has it has it that there are tunnels leading from the homes of prominent colonial parishoners to the church. By 1534, the indigenous congregation had grown, but the newly Christianized people were so harassed by a warlike tribe of Chichimecs called the Coan, that recently-arrived Captain Diego Vasquez was forced to intervene militarily on their behalf. In 1537, Etzatlán was granted the title of "town".

In front of Purísimo de la Concepción are 4 statues of early Franciscans. The one above is Fray Juan Calero of Seville, Spain who died in nearby Atliltic, Jalisco on the 5th of June, 1541. He was one of several local priests killed in the Mixtón War, an indigenous uprising resulting from the cruelties of Beltran de Guzmán, and the injustice of the encomienda system. The church seen behind Fray Calero is the Capilla de Santa Cuevita (Chapel of the Virgin of the Holy Cave), built in 1825-1826 by the brothers Manuel and Jose Maria Ramos. It is one of only two such chapels in Mexico devoted to the Virgin of the Holy Cave.

In 1540, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado set off in his ill-fated quest to find the fabled "Seven Cities of Cibola", supposedly built with gold. His expedition through the Southwest US and into Kansas stripped the defenses of Nueva Galicia (present-day Jalisco), and left it in a weakened condition in the face of rising unrest among the indigenous people. When the Mixtón revolt erupted, it nearly overwhelmed the Spanish and resulted in a siege of Guadalajara so severe that the commander, Captain Cristóbal de Oñate, was forced to appeal to Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza for help. With the assistance of Aztec and Tlaxcalan mercenary troops, the Viceroy finally managed to crush the rebellion. Spanish could never have held New Spain (modern Mexico) without the collaboration of such indigenous allies. Ironically, for all the damage his absence caused, Coronado found no gold and died bankrupt in Mexico City.

Bordered by gracefully arched portales, a shady walkway runs along one side of the plaza. The steeple of La Purísima de la Concepción rises in the background. The building lined by the portales appears to be occupied by government offices.

In 1542, Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza visited Etzatlán and the local indigenous people greeted him warmly. Most of them had not been involved in the Mixtón unpleasantness and perhaps they were happy they had escaped the fate of those who lost the struggle to lift the Spanish yoke. In 1543, Captain Cristóbal de Oñate discovered silver in the area, setting off a mining boom that lasted well into the 20th Century. The ruins of the Amparo mine and several others can be found within a few miles of Etzatlán. While silver mining enriched the haciendados who ran the mines, along with the Spanish Crown, it was a disaster for those indigenous people drafted as miners under the encomienda system. They often worked  until the day they died. They worked in sweltering holes deep underground  from before sunup to well past dark. They often never saw daylight again from their first day at the mine until the day they died.

A young boy clutching a book races along past the portales. Probably late again. We were impressed at how prosperous, and well-scrubbed everything in Etzatlán looked. Clearly the people in this community have a lot of pride in their public areas.

In 1677, 153 years after Don Francisco Cortés arrived, the indigenous people of Etzatlán finally caught a break, at least in a small way. Governor Francisco Romero of New Galicia prohibited branding the foreheads of indigenous people with a hot iron. Such branding had been a routine practice since the early days of the Conquest. Little else changed as decades, then centuries, rolled by.

Old, yet not out of date. An ancient stone water trough seemed anachronistic on the sidewalk next to the shiny new cars parked at the curb. However, I remembered that horsemen are still common on the streets in these old towns, and horses get thirsty too.

Suddenly, with the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1810, things began to change. A local priest, Cura José Maria Mercado seized Etzatlán for the rebels with a group of 50 men. He encountered no resistance, and proceeded on to the Pacific Coast port of San Blas in an attempt to stop the escape of the Spanish. Later that year, Father Miguel Hidalgo, the first great hero of the Independence War, passed through the Etzatlán area on his way to Guadalajara. At about this time, the energetic Cura Mercado took Tepic with 200 men. In January of 1811, the body of the Cura was found in a canyon outside of San Blas, apparently betrayed to the Spanish. The Royalists took further revenge on Cura Mercado's family by arresting his father, José, in Etzatlán. He was hanged in San Blas for the crime of having a rebel son. Things seem to have quieted down in Etzatlán after that, and not much of note happened there during the rest of the War of Independence.

Many Mexican woman carry umbrellas for shade against the brilliant sun. The store this woman is passing apparently sells everything from plastic buckets to balls. Plazas in Mexico usually have a church on one side, a government building on another, and the remaining two sides are filled with small shops like this, along with restaurants and ubiquitous ice cream parlors.

After the end of the War of Independence in 1821, Etzatlán, like the rest of Mexico, was torn with conflicts--called the Reform War--over the proper form of government. Nationally, the conservatives wanted a continuation of the old, highly centralized Spanish model, with the lower classes tightly controlled, and wealth and power in the hands of the elite. The conservative base included the haciendados, the military, and the clergy. The liberals wanted a federal republic, similar to that in the United States, with power decentralized to the state governments, freedom of speech and the press, and a reduction in the power of the Catholic Church. Oddly, both factions became identified with Masonic lodges, the conservatives with the Scottish Rite branch, and the liberals with the York Rite. These lodges became the basis for the early Mexican political parties. Initially, the federalists won the argument when the Constitution of 1824 was written. However, this was followed by conservative revolts and liberal counter-revolts from 1824 until 1876 when Porfirio Diaz took power and established a 30 year dictatorship. All during this time, control of Etzatlán see-sawed between the York Rite/ federalist/ liberals and Scottish Rite/ centralist/ conservatives.

Plaza Antonio Escobedo I. Danza was named after an Etzatlán "native-son" who became Jalisco's Governor. The original name was Plaza de Armas. According to the Vatican documents cited earlier, the plaza was built over the ancient Ball Court of the pre-hispanic city that occupied this site. The kiosco seen above, as well as the wrought-iron benches and other features, were constructed in the style popular during the Portifio Diaz era, and contributed to the city by the Government of France.

In 1846, a federalist Colonel named Santiago Felipe, based in Etzatlán, launched a revolt against the centralists. His effort succeeded in reviving federalist fortunes in Jalisco and later throughout Mexico. Twelve years later, in 1858, 15 federalists held off centralist Colonel Sánchez Román during a two-day siege. The federalists, stationed in the steeples of La Purísima Concepción and led by Norberto Cerritos, fired down on Colonel Sánchez Román's men in the plaza below. Cerritos and two other men were killed in the fighting. The struggle had become very bitter by this time. The federalists were especially angry about the Catholic Church's support for the centralists. In 1859, federalists removed the bones of the Franciscan friars martyred in the 1541 Mixtón War from La Purísima Concepción and threw them in the street.

Lee makes a connection. Lee (right) is very gregarious, as you can see above. He retired as a public employee in Texas and recently moved with his wife Cindy to Ajijic. They are thoroughly enjoying their new life, and Lee is getting a real bang out of adventures like this.

The Reform Wars, followed by the invasion of the the French and their Austrian puppet Maximilian in 1862, caused a great deal of social disruption. The victory of Benito Juarez in 1867 resulted in the demobilization of thousands of soldiers. Many of these took to banditry out of boredom or as a way to support themselves. They preyed on the haciendas and silver mines to such an extent that in 1869 the government in Guadalajara decreed the death penalty for thieves and robbers. Under the dictator Diaz, the haciendas and their owners prospered. The remains of three of these haciendas can still be found in the area around Etzatlán. Hacienda San Sebastian was built in the 17th Century. It produced mostly corn on 1000 hectares of land (1 hectare = 10,000 sq. meters). Hacienda San Rafael produced mostly livestock. Hacienda Santa Clara operated a mill to crush ore and produce silver ingots.

Flying dragons hover over the plaza. The dragons white ball lamps are another touch from the Diaz era. Mexican whimsy is often expressed in the architectural features of public areas.

The tranquility and prosperity (at least for the wealthy elite) of the Diaz period came to an end with the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. The Revolution arrived in Etzatlán in 1913 with the Revolutionary forces (called Constitutionalists) under Julio Dominguez. They were followed shortly after by those of Constitutionalist General Alvaro Obregón. However, counter-revolutionaries under Julian Medina attacked Etzatlán in 1914 and burned the City Hall. Later that year, General Obregón returned. Etzatlán briefly became the seat of government of Constitutionalist Jalisco.  The war officially ended in 1917, but fighting continued in fits and starts until the end of the 1920s. In 1920, Etzatlán's population stood at approximately 15,000. This was 4,000 less than Don Francisco Cortés found when he arrived in 1524. Over all, Mexico lost 1 out of 7 of its people to the holocaust unleashed by the Revolution.

Relaxing in the plaza, this elderly couple was amused by my request for a photo. They were very good-natured about it and the man straightened up on his perch, not quite able to suppress a smile. His wife impishly stuck her tongue out at me when I clicked the shutter. The easy good humor of Mexico's country people make them a joy to be around.

In 1926, Mexican President Elías Calles began to strictly enforce the anti-clerical provisions of the 1917 Constitution. Some of these harkened back to the provisions enacted by Benito Juarez in the 19th Century Reform War. Church property was siezed, the numbers, movements, and activities of priests were limited, monasteries and convents were abolished, and education was secularized. Catholic reactionaries revolted in the bitter and brutal Cristero War (1926-1929). On November 11, 1926, fighting broke out in Etzatán. In 1927, government troops arrived and set up a barracks in the former convent. They remained there, as they fought the Cristeros, until the war ended in September of 1929. In the 1920s and 30s many of the old haciendas were broken up and their lands distributed to impoverished campesinos. In 1935, Etzatlán resident Everardo Topete was elected Governor of Jalisco. He was a friend to campesinos and workers, accelerating land distributions and supporting laborers when they struck for better wages and working conditions. In 1977, Etzatlán was officially recognized for its contributions to pre-hispanic, colonial, and Mexican history, and in 2006 the town inaugurated its Casa de la Cultura (Cultural Center) to highlight and celebrate these contributions.

This completes Part 3 of my 3-part series on Jalisco's haciendas. Our visit to Etzatlán, and my research for this posting has inspired me to organize another expedition to explore the haciendas, silver mines, and pre-hispanic ruins in the area, as well as to check out the various colonial buildings in the town itself. So there may ultimately be a 4th part to this series. We'll see. If you would like to leave a comment, please use the Comments section below or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. Ahem!

    "Elderly couple" doesn't look so elderly to me! Surely there is a better word for those of us 60+ years of age, well before we reach elderly status.

    I think "elderly" begins at about 80.

    The preferred word? I don't know. I'm working on it.

  2. This is a terific post, Etzatlan as you present it is quite a framework for MX history!I've been off the air a bit (bad internet reception in rural NM and AZ)and must catch up on the two previous posts to get the complete story!

  3. All three Hacienda posts were great.
    Good job on history.

    Chuck from C And G Chronicles

  4. Interesting post and thanks for the additional history of this area! We are building a home in nearby village of Oconahua and have heard many stories from local elders about the time of brutal Cristeros. If you come back again, be sure to migrate to Oconahua and look up the Ocomo for some additional information to add to your stories.

  5. Statue of Jose Antonio Escobedo, native son of Etzatlán and former Jalisco Governor. Etzatlán figured in many of the most dramatic episodes of the history of Nueva España and Mexico from the very earliest days of the Conquest. To find out about this history, and to see more of my photos of Etzatlán, check out my earlier posting on the town.
    Hello: I love your blog. I tried to click on the link to read your previous posting about this town. The link did not activate. I thought I'd let you know.



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