Monday, June 17, 2019

Exploring Old Jalisco: The ruins of a mysterious hacienda

The hacienda's capilla is framed by the the old carriage gate. Finding this old site was an unexpected treat. After we left Hacienda La Capilla, we headed for Hacienda Vieja del Castillo, another site I had previously visited and photographed. Unfortunately, I missed the turn and we ended up approaching from the north rather than the west. I asked my cousin Terry to use her GPS to guide us. When we breezed right by the correct turnoff, I was really confused. However, Terry was confident she had it right. Soon, we turned down a side road and found the ruins of an old hacienda. However, it wasn't Hacienda Vieja del Castillo!

This site is not in any of my hacienda research materials and its identity stumped me. The ruins are very near to an old railroad station marked El Castillo. In addition, the name of a nearby church is San José del Castillo. Since churches and railroad stations were often closely associated with old haciendas, the most likely name for this mysterious site is Hacienda San José del Castillo. If anyone out there can supply a more accurate title for the site, please do so. In the mean time, that is the name I will use. To find the site on a Google map, click here.

Part of the casco wall that once surrounded the site. As I noted in my last posting, the casco is the nerve center of a hacienda. Its walls protect the casa grande (big house) which is both the residence of the hacendado (owner) and the headquarters of the whole operation. The casco wall seen above is adobe except for some red bricks which are set along the top. Nearly all the other structures we examined are also adobe. This indicates that the site may be quite old, possibly dating back to the 18th century or even earlier. It wasn't until the 19th century that red brick became a common building material in haciendas.

A hacendado seated on a fine horse declines a drink offered by a subordinate. A demure, well-dressed female stands nearby. I thought it might be difficult for some people to relate to a site completely in ruins. So, I searched my hacienda photo files for old paintings and photos showing the sort of people who would have lived and worked at a place like this. Seated on his spirited white horse, the hacendado wears a broad-brimmed sombrero, a serape, and sharp Mexican spurs on his boots. The woman, probably a member of his family, wears a blue rebozo (shawl) and skirt with multiple petticoats. Their clothing places the scene somewhere in the 19th century. (Photo from mural at Hacienda Buena Vista, in Michoacan).

The Chapels, New & Old

The new capilla (chapel) stands just outside the casco wall. "New" is a relative term. I would guess that this structure was built in the late 19th to early 20th century. It is possible that the hacendado felt the old capilla was too small or dilapidated. It may also be that he wanted to use the old capilla structure for some other purpose.

There is still another possibility. After the 1910 Revolution, many haciendas were broken up and their lands distributed to the campesinos  (farm workers). Many old haciendas evolved into the current pueblos that dot the countryside. The rural people were, and still are, very religious. It is possible that it was they who decided to replace the crumbling old capilla with a new church. This is another of the many mysteries of this site.

The old capilla's entrance is choked with brush. At first, I wasn't certain what this structure was. The roof is missing and the interior is filled with debris. However, haciendas follow a fairly consistent architectural pattern. Four clues strongly suggest that this was the old capilla. 

First, it has a long, rectangular shape, typical of the nave of a church. Second, the structure's physical relationship with the rest of the complex is typical of a capilla. Third, although the entrance is now filled with brush,  it is similar to other hacienda chapels I have seen. Finally, the new capilla stands only a few feet away. My good friend Jim B has accompanied me on almost 100 hacienda visits. After comparing notes, we agreed that this had to be the old capilla.

A young woman reverently kisses the hand of a cura (priest). Typically, curas would make regular circuits of the haciendas in their parroquias (parishes). If a hacienda was large and rich enough, it might have a resident priest. However, the relatively small size of Hacienda San Jose del Castillo indicates it was probably part of the circuit of a non-resident cura.

The cura took confessions and gave absolution for sins, performed marriages, baptisms, and funerals, and presided over a host of religious fiestas. This gave him a great deal of power over the people within the parroquia, and they paid him substantial fees for each of these services. Sometimes, a hacendado would loan a worker the money to cover these fees. This, along with the tienda de raya (company store), became one of the ways in which the system of "debt slavery" was established on haciendas to maintain a stable labor force.

A cura, whether visiting or in residence, would always attempt to stay on the right side of the hacendado and his family. In fact, the priest might well be a relative, perhaps a son who was not the heir. Hacendados would often pledge a stipend to support a relative who entered the church. That, in turn, was a way for the hacendado to stay on the right side of the Church. (Photo of a mural at Hacienda del Carmen, in Jalisco)

The Courtyard

View through the carriage gate into the courtyard of the casa grande. This is one of the courtyard's two primary entrances. Through it would pass the carriages of visiting hacendados, government officials, or traveling merchants. The gate stands just to the left of the old capilla's entrance. The carriage entrance would have had a large, wooden gate, studded with iron bolts, hinges, and other fittings. The arch and its pillars appear to be built with red brick, but the walls around it are adobe.

A carriage waits for its passengers in a hacienda courtyard. A small dog lounges in the shade by the wheels. The hand-written caption below the photo reads: "Carriage for trips to the Hacienda de San Ignacio (2.8 km) in the interior patio of the Hacienda El Carmen." Without a doubt, similar scenes regularly occurred in the courtyard of Hacienda San José del Castillo. A hacendado's family would often travel to a neighboring hacienda to visit friends and would receive visits in return. Note the arched portales supported by columns with large square blocks at their base. (Photo on display at Hacienda del Carmen in Jalisco)

The casa grande's courtyard has space sufficient to handle multiple, simultaneous activities. The large, arched doorway on the left was part of the main entrance to the whole complex. Most of the rooms of the casa grande are entered through doors set in the walls of this courtyard. You can see several of them to the right of the large entrance.

The main courtyard of the casa grande was the center of life on a hacienda. Visitors arriving in carriages or on horseback would be greeted here. Household staff might use the space to perform tasks related to their jobs, such as husking corn, cleaning clothes, repairing saddles, etc. On social occasions, the hacendado's family might entertain guests here, including dances to which the families of neighboring haciendas would be invited.

One of the square bases on which the portales columns rested. They are similar in appearance and function to those seen in the old photo of the carriage. When I found the first one, I wasn't sure of its purpose. Then I noticed the second, third, and fourth. The brush probably concealed even more. From their positions in a line several feet from the walls, it was clear that these were the bases of the now-vanished portales

The covered walkways allowed a person to move around the perimeter of the courtyard without exposure to rain or the harsh mid-day sun. They also created a comfortable space to work or just to relax and socialize. Similar portales can still be found throughout Mexico, not only at haciendas but in the plazas of old colonial towns and cities.

A couple of dashing young vaqueros pay court to several local señoritas. The men can be identified as vaqueros (cowboys) by their clothing and the lariat one carries. In general, vaqueros were fairly well paid and higher in status than simple farm laborers. However, they would still have ranked well below the hacendado or even the hacienda's administrator and mayordomos (section heads)

The women's clothing also indicates that they occupy a higher status than farmworkers' daughters. However, they are probably not members of the hacendado's family. It is likely that they are the daughters of the hacienda's other skilled workers. The higher an individual's status, the more formal the courtship process would be. Normally, the young people in the scene above would be discreetly observed by an older female family member who would ensure nothing even mildly scandalous occurred. (Photo from mural at Hacienda Buena Vista in Michoacan)

Main Entrance, Zaguan, & Courtyard Rooms

The main entrance and the zaguan, viewed from the courtyard. A zaguan is the passage or hallway between the courtyard and the outside door. It is one of the distinguishing features of a casa grande's main entrance. The carriage entrance, in contrast, doesn't have a zaguan. These passageways are often decorated with photos, religious images, and other wall hangings. Sometimes hacendados  commissioned murals on the zaguan walls to impress visitors.

Mural on the wall of the zaguan showing Utah's Monument Valley. It is not unusual to find fragments of painted designs or even murals on hacienda walls. However, when I looked closely, I recognized the scene as Monument Valley, the Navajo Tribal Park in southern Utah. The Monument Valley area, along with the rest of the Southwest US, once belonged to Mexico. Then, in 1846, the United States invaded and seized the Southwest at the point of a gun.

Because of its remoteness, it is unlikely that many in Mexico were aware of this remote desert with its spectacular buttes and mesas, even when it was part of their country. Therefore, it seems unlikely that the mural was painted before 1846. In fact, Monument Valley remained obscure even in the US until well into the 20th century. Just how and why this mural was painted in such an important location is yet another of the ruin's many puzzles.

Courtyard Rooms

The courtyard walls are lined with a series of doors opening into rooms. The arch in the background was part of the arcade that once ran along this wall. The only way to move from one room to another would have been to walk along the covered arcade, since there is no evidence of internal doorways between rooms.  Uses of the rooms included bedrooms, offices, and storerooms. In addition, the doorway just beyond the arch leads into a kitchen.

All of the rooms have high ceilings, which would have made them cooler. The thick adobe walls are covered with painted plaster. In addition to rooms for the hacendado's family and high-status permanent staff (administrator, teacher, priest, etc.) there would have been several rooms set aside for guests.

In Mexico, the old tradition of hospitality is "mi casa es su casa" (my house is your house). This custom is still very much in effect today. Throughout the colonial period and most of the 19th century, there were few hotels. Those that existed were mostly in the larger towns and cities. Travelers through the countryside would often stop at a hacienda for the night. In return for the hospitality they received, they provided news of the outside world and a welcome break from routine.

High-status travelers such as government agents, church officials, well-to-do merchants, and other hacendados would generally stay in the casa grande. Persons of lesser status might also be allowed to stay the night on hacienda property. However, it is likely that they stayed outside the casco walls, either in the cottages of the peones acasilados (workers with housing as a benefit) or in a convenient campsite.

A sink and counter space indicate that this was once a kitchen. Both are tiled, along with the wall behind them. I noticed a small chimney on the roof, another clue that this room was used for cooking. Under the tile is plaster and below that is adobe.

A woman grinds maiz (corn), using a mano and metate. When the flour is fine enough, she will add water to form masa, the dough used to prepare tortillas. Just beyond her, three tortillas cook on a comal (griddle). The tray on which she grinds the maiz is called a metate and the cylindrical roller is a mano. This would have been a common scene in the hacendado's kitchen, as well as in the cottages of all of his workers.

The use of manos and metates dates back far into pre-hispanic times, possibly even pre-dating the development of agriculture. Very primitive versions were apparently used to grind seeds more than 10,000 years ago in the Paleolithic Era (Old Stone Age). Implements virtually identical to those in the painting have been found in Olmec sites dating back to 1400 BC. As old as this technology is, manos and metates are still sold in Mexican stores for use in today's kitchens. As they say, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." (Photo of a painting by Mexico's great muralist Diego Rivera, in Mexico City).

Work Areas

The adobe walls of a workroom still contain the holes where the ceiling rafters were inserted. Absent tools or equipment, it is difficult to determine the function of any specific room. However, we know that the area around Guadalajara was devoted primarily to ranching in the early part of the colonial era. Beginning in the 18th century, many haciendas gradually shifted over to agricultural production, primarily maiz and trigo (wheat). The transition to farming gained speed as Guadalajara and other markets grew, and as the labor force recovered from the devastating epidemics of the first 150 years of the colonial period.

Adjacent to the casco wall, I found this curious little maze of brick structures. The brick indicates a 19th or early 20th century date of construction. The spaces inside the structures are too small for horses and the overall layout does not resemble any stable I have ever seen. It is possible they are storage areas for produce or tools. On the other hand, they could have functioned as pens for pigs or chickens, although their proximity to the casa grande makes me doubt that. Still another mystery, I guess.

A worker with a two-wheeled carreta chats with a hacendado while a woman draws water. The carreta, pulled by a brace of oxen, was the primary vehicle for transporting produce and other goods from the earliest colonial times until well after the Revolution. Yokes for a brace of oxen are often used as decoration on the walls of restored haciendas. With the advent of railways and paved roads, carretas have largely disappeared. However, you can still find them on the backroads in rural Mexico, usually with with rubber tires rather than wood wheels rimmed with iron.

In the early centuries, the pots the woman is filling would have been made from local clay and she would have draw the water from a nearby stream or pond. Hand pumps for wells and factory-made pots came into fashion in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the scene, the woman works industriously, while the men idly chat. Apparently, some things change very slowly. (Mural from Hacienda Huejotitán, near Lake Chapala in Jalisco)

The Railroad Connection

An old railroad station stands only a block away from the hacienda ruins. An empty set of tracks runs in front of the graffiti-covered, 19th century building. In back, a train passes on another set. The station was clearly intended to handle the produce of Hacienda San José del Castillo. At the time of its construction, there would have been nothing else in the immediate area to justify a stop. The name El Castillo is painted on one end of the building, further reinforcing my belief that the station got its name from the hacienda.

A number of other haciendas I have visited have train stations in close proximity. Some historical records show that the stations were built at the behest of hacendados anxious to gain an easy way to ship their goods to market. The Hacienda San Isidro Mazatapec (west of Guadalajara) is an example of this The hacienda owner had enough wealth and power to force the railroad to make a considerable diversion from its intended direction so that a station could be built on his property.

Steam engines like this hauled cargo all over Mexico, enriching haciendas in the process. During the last quarter of the 19th century, there was a frenzy of railroad construction in Mexico. Porfirio Diaz, the country's dictator, used his power to push his nation from feudalism into modernity. He invited US and British corporations to build the rail networks, as well as to modernize the ports. Rail transport enormously increased the capacity of haciendas to get their products to market and similarly increased their profits.

Ironically, the overthrow of Diaz came about, in part, because of the railroads he pushed for so strongly. Revolutionaries like Pancho Villa quickly recognized the value of trains for rapid troop movements. Less than a year after the revolt started, Diaz was on his way to exile. The importance of railways can be seen in many old photos taken during the Revolution in which trains or railroad tracks appear in the background. (Photo taken at the Railroad Museum in Aguascaliente, Mexico).

This completes my posting on Hacienda San José del Castillo. I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email them to me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section PLEASE include your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Exploring Old Jalisco: Hacienda La Capilla

A three-bell campanario sits atop Hacienda La Capilla. The bells of this old campanario ("belfry") are still rung by hand. I picked this photo to start my posting because the Spanish meaning of La Capilla is "the chapel". To find this 18th century hacienda, I led three carloads of expats into the countryside southeast of Guadalajara. To locate La Capilla on a Google map, click here.

I started organizing these adventures about ten years ago. To date, we have visited more than one hundred old haciendas. Eventually, we began to call ourselves Cazadores de Haciendas (Hacienda Hunters). Embroidered patches and t-shirts followed, soon thereafter. Some of the Cazadores are long-time veterans of these adventures, but I always try to save a few seats for newcomers.

Most sites we have visited are located in Jalisco, but some are in neighboring states such as Michoacan, Nayarit, Aguascalientes, and Zacatecas. Others are as far away as Yucatan. If you check out the "Haciendas" section in the blog's Index of Topics, you can find some of our previous adventures.

The Cura of La Capilla del Refugio

The Cowboy Priest of La Capilla del Refugio. Señor Cura Rodrigo Aranda Garcia was our guide and, as you can see, he is quite an interesting character. Padre Rodrigo has only been cura (Catholic priest) of La Capilla for a couple of years. He replaced the previous cura, who was killed in an unfortunate auto accident in 2017.

Asked about his striking attire, he said that he grew up riding horses, although he doesn't ride anymore. One of his old saddles is displayed in the hacienda. Padre Rodrigo told us that he was the "crazy one" among his siblings, which somewhat explains his striking appearance. He has traveled widely and showed us a photo of himself dressed in a Peruvian poncho in the countryside of Italy.

Prior to meeting the padre, we had encountered some of the local women affiliated with the church. When we asked them how to access the hacienda, they assured us that the priest would be glad to let us in. However, they warned us that we might find him a bit "unusual". Apparently, his flamboyant ways at first startled the pueblo's people and it took a little time to get used to him. However, they soon warmed to him because of his friendliness, approachability, and down- to-earth attitude.

The Casa Grande and Capilla

The campanario sits atop the casa grande, or "big house" that faces the pueblo's plaza. The six arched portales support a covered, open-air arcade along the front of the building. This architectural feature is typical of casas grandes. The half-walls and bars between the portale arches are modern additions, added for security. Originally, the spaces separated by the columns were open.

The local women told us that the cura was at his uncle's house around the corner. Since they said he was having breakfast, I was a bit reluctant to disturb him. However, the women marched us right into the house and up to the table. My cousin Terry speaks excellent Spanish and was able to convey our interest in touring the hacienda. As his parishioners had assured us, Padre Rodrigo was very friendly, open, and casual. He promised to meet us back at the casa grande as soon as he finished his meal.

Interior of the casa grande's arcade. One of the portales can be seen on the left. The barred door on the right is the entry to the dining room, which I will show later. The large door in the middle is the entrance to the capilla. The vast majority of haciendas have a capilla attached or adjacent to the casa grande. The position of the entrance to the capilla at one end of the casa grande's arcade is typical of many I have visited.

After the 1910 Revolution, most of Mexico's haciendas were broken up and the lands distributed to the campesinos (farmworkers). Since it was the land that enabled the upkeep of the buildings, the owners sometimes abandoned them. Often, the structures were left to crumble into ruins. However, other hacienda structures were sometimes converted to other uses, such as a school, orphanage, or city hall. The capillas were nearly always carefully preserved and often became the church of the newly formed pueblo.

The old capilla is still in use. We quietly observed from the entrance, where I took this photo. Some of the parishioners were praying when we arrived. . Notice the flowered streamers from a recent fiesta. A few years ago, the previous cura organized the construction of a much larger church next door. When we toured the new church, we found it empty, while the old capilla had people in most of its pews.

Although many capillas are quite small, they may be extravagantly decorated in 17th, 18th, or 19th century styles. They were built to serve the hacendado (owner), his family and guests. Other hacienda residents worshipping here might have included the administrator and some of the staff who lived on the property. Usually the bulk of a hacienda's workforce resided in a village a few miles away, which often had its own church. While some of the biggest and richest haciendas have capillas capable of holding substantial congregations, these are the exceptions. Most capillas that I've seen are about the size of the one above.

The Cura's Quarters and Patio

The rear of the casa grande has been converted into the cura's residence. I was standing on the steps of the new church when I took this shot. The two doorways on the right are entrances to his bedroom. The third doorway from the right is the kitchen entry. The little patio area in the foreground was decorated with plants, old farm implements, and a fountain.

The casas grandes of most haciendas are one-story structures. A few I have visited had two stories, but almost none are taller than that. Even so, the structures are often large, in terms of the area that they cover. The most common architectural plan is a square built around an open courtyard. The offices, bedrooms, kitchen, dining room and household storage areas are usually located along one of the four sides of the square, facing inward to the courtyard. Often there will be an interior arcade with portales along one or more sides of the courtyard.

Antique farm equipment decorates the garden. This 19th or early 20th century implement probably had something to do with crop cultivation. Old equipment like this can be found lying around many abandoned sites. In the places where the casa grande has been restored, they are often used for decoration.

According to Padre Rodrigo, the hacienda's earliest use was for raising cattle. This fits with my knowledge of the early economic history of Jalisco. The 16th and 17th century epidemics, brought by the conquistadors, rapidly swept through the indigenous communities. The result was a population crash of as much as 90% of the indigenous community. This caused an acute labor shortage that made large-scale farming impractical in many areas.

At about the same time, huge herds of feral cattle began roaming the broad, grassy valleys. The cattle, like the diseases, had been brought from Spain. Inevitably, some escaped. With plentiful food and few predators, the cattle population exploded. Unlike farming, ranching required only a few skilled men to round up wild cattle and drive them to market. The growing colonial city of Guadalajara and the mining communities of Zacatecas were hungry for the meat. In addition, leather from the cowhides was an all-purpose material, a bit like today's plastic. Among its many uses were belts and shoulder straps, bridles, saddles, and harnesses. Leather was also important in mining machinery.

A quiet, shady garden provides a sense of serenity. Notice how a wagon wheel has been built into the window. Padre Rodrigo allowed us a moment to enjoy his garden before continuing the tour. He pointed out parts of the new church that were once part of the hacienda's working areas. These included a courtyard that had been the corral for the hacendado's horses.

The population crash bottomed out around 1750. By 1850 there was again a surplus of labor. Both the indigenous population and the burgeoning mestizo (mixed-race) group were growing rapidly. By that time, the feral herds had been decimated by over-harvesting, causing ranching to decline in importance. The labor surplus meant that large-scale crop cultivation was now possible. Hacienda owners began shifting their focus to grains like wheat, aiming to satisfy the Spanish craving for white bread. Padre Rodrigo confirmed that this shift also happened at La Capilla.

Large metal wheel from a 19th century farm implement. Until the last quarter of the 19th century, most haciendas were only marginally profitable, particularly compared to silver mines or the merchant trade. Then, Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz came to power in 1876. His goal was to drag Mexico from a semi-feudal society into the industrial age. To accomplish this, he encouraged foreign investment, particularly in railroads, ports, and telegraph lines.

The railroads, in particular, radically transformed the hacienda economy. Since the conquistadors landed in 1519, the main vehicle for commercial transport had been the carreta. The two-wheeled cart was pulled by a pair of oxen. This severely limited the possible markets for hacienda products. This was particularly so since most roads were rough dirt tracks. In good weather, a carreta could cover about 10-15 miles in a day.

Railroad transport meant that products could get to distant markets in hours rather than days or weeks. Port improvements added foreign markets as a possibility. Telegraph communication meant that a hacendado could quickly determine market conditions in distant locations, prior to dispatching his goods. The profitability of many haciendas skyrocketed. Many in Jalisco began to focus on cash crops such as sugar and agave (for tequila). Some hacendados began to accumulate vast fortunes, even as the pay of their campesinos stagnated.

Interior of the Cura's Quarters

The caretaker of the cura's quarters. I have noticed that rural women of this generation often bear a striking similarity in their appearance. Her apron and dark rebozo (shawl) are almost a uniform. She was shy and soft-spoken, but very sweet. The sudden appearance of a dozen foreigners seemed a bit overwhelming to her. Unfortunately, I was busy with my photography and neglected to write down her name. According to my cousin Terry, she has been the caretaker of the cura's residence for the last 25 years.

The cura's quarters include the kitchen, bedroom, and dining room. The caretaker told us that this area had formerly been roofed with cane and thatch. Recently, it was remodeled and modernized, while still maintaining the flavor of the old style.

The kitchen of the cura's home was colorfully decorated with talavera pottery. Talavera ceramics are hand painted and follow a tradition that dates back to the medieval Spanish town of Talavera de la Reina. Cups and plates were arranged in complex designs on the walls. Although beautifully decorated, the kitchen was clean and fully functional. The caretaker clearly takes her job seriously.

A design over the door to the bedroom caught my eye. The horseshoe with the "S" and horizontal bar was the brand mark of the hacienda in its heyday. I have often noticed these kinds of brands at the haciendas I have visited, particularly those with a history of raising horses and cattle. Their use in Mexico dates back to the 1530s.

Soon after livestock became important in Nueva España (Mexico's colonial name), the owners formed mestas, or stockmen's associations. The mesta tradition goes far back into Spain's history. They were quasi-governmental organizations that regulated the trade, set the rules for long-distance drives of livestock, maintained the system of branding to establish ownership, and worked to discourage rustling.

In fact, the whole system and technology that people in the United States call the "cowboy culture" was actually invented in Mexico. It had been in existence for more than 300 years when the first Texan tried on a pair of spurs.

The cura's bedroom. Like the rest of the house, this room is very attractively decorated. The style fits well with the old structure. Although neither Padre Rodrigo nor his caretaker had any reason to expect visitors, everything was neat and tidy.

Although a hacendado and his family had quarters in the casa grande, they were usually not permanent residents. Often, they lived in a casona (mansion) in the nearest large town or city. They would only visit seasonally, or to deal with a problem requiring the hacendado's attention. The usual practice was to leave the day-to-day operations in the hands of a professional administrator. He either lived in one of the casa grande's rooms, or occupied his own designated residence nearby. He was usually educated, professional, and well-paid.

The administrator would usually have assistants, known as mayordomos, who were responsible for supervising the vaqueros (cowboys) or the peones (agricultural laborers). The mayordomos and some of the other staff lived on the hacienda property. These might include maids, gardeners, cooks, blacksmiths, carpenters, etc. They were housed in small, one-room cottages, usually located just outside the wall that surrounded the casa grande and other key buildings. These live-in workers were called peones acasilados and their housing was part of their compensation. Day laborers and seasonal workers lived in a village outside the hacienda property, sometimes several miles distant.

The dining room is just off the kitchen. The high ceiling of this room is typical of those you find in the rooms of casas grandes. The ceiling height, along with the thick adobe walls, helped keep the rooms cool in summer. The decor is also typical. Family photos, religious paintings, and animal skins adorn the walls. The elaborate iron chandelier over the table would have originally carried candles, but now has light bulbs. The equipal furniture, made of split wood and leather, is a style that dates back to the Aztecs. The Spanish adopted it because it could be easily made using local materials.

The hacendado and his family and guests would have eaten well. In addition to the beef, chicken, and pork raised on the property, there would be fresh bread baked in a beehive-style, wood-fired oven. Adjacent to the casa grande would be a huerta (garden/orchard) to provide fresh fruits and vegetables. For a change of pace, wild game such as deer, wild pigs, and game birds might be served.

The peones acasilados had a more limited diet, but it was usually adequate and often better than that of the seasonal workers living in the villages. Regular rations of maiz (corn) were distributed and they often got some of the meat from cattle or other livestock that died on the hacienda. In addition, they might be allowed to grow vegetables in small plots near their cottages. Corn, beans, squash, and occasionally beef or wild game were their usual fare.

A saddle and sombrero complete the dining room's decor. The Mexican saddle is quite similar to saddles of the western US. One of the prime differences is the large pommel, or knob, at the front. This is where a rider could grip the saddle with one hand, or wrap a rope around it when a horse or cow is lassoed. The pommel on a US saddle is usually smaller.

The typical hacendado and his family were excellent riders and took great pride in their horses. The stable for the family's personal mounts was usually in close proximity to the casa grande. In addition to horses, the more prosperous hacendados often owned one or more carriages.

The Cura's "Office"

Padre Rodrigo's "office". The Padre offered to give us a tour of his office, which he assured us we'd like. It turned out to be a miniature bar, again decorated in the appropriate style.

From the earliest colonial times, many haciendas produced a strong distilled liquor from the maguey plant. One species of this desert plant is called blue agave. It is raised in the area around the town of Tequila, from which one version of the liquor got its name. In colonial times, the Crown maintained a monopoly on the importation of spirits. Resourceful people on the haciendas began to produce their own liquor from a plant long used by the Aztecs.

For centuries before the Spanish arrival, the Aztecs had consumed a mildly alcoholic beverage called pulque, which they produced from the maguey plant. No one remembers which Spaniard had the inspiration to distill the fermented maguey into hard liquor, but it probably began as far back as the 16th century. At first, these spirits were only intended for consumption on the hacienda that produced them. However, by the 18th century, hacendados like José Cuervo were raising blue agave for tequila as a large-scale cash crop. Thus was born one of the great symbols of Mexican culture. The names of many famous tequila brands come from the original 18th century hacienda families that specialized in blue agave.

Napkin holder, made from old horseshoes. Across from the bar is a rustic wooden table, with hay-bale benches. This napkin holder represents the do-it-yourself resourcefulness typical of the old haciendas. Before the advent of railroads, few manufactured items were readily available. Those that could be obtained were often prohibitively expensive.

The workers residing on a typical hacienda included specialists such as blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers (barrel-makers), and leatherworkers, among others. These were handy folks who could use inexpensive, locally-available materials to produce whatever was needed. Recycling things like old horseshoes into other useful items would have been a normal activity.

This old photo of a small boy next to a large maguey hangs in the bar. On his head, he wears a wide-brimmed, high-crowned, straw sombrero. He is clothed in little more than rags. This was the typical attire of the peones who performed low-skilled work on the haciendas.

In the early centuries, when labor was scarce, conditions for peones were better. As the population increased, however, worker bargaining power decreased. Pay levels stagnated during the 18th and 19th centuries, even as the price of goods and services steadily increased. The expansion of the labor force made large-scale hacienda agriculture more profitable and land more valuable.

On the other hand, as indigenous communities grew, they found that the limited land available to them was not sufficient to support their families. As a result they became more and more dependent on seasonal hacienda work. Hacendados, ever hungry for more arable land, often swindled land from indigenous communities, or obtained it through illegal seizures.

In order to obtain a stable workforce to till their fields, hacendados used the tienda de raya (company store) to create a system of debt slavery. Credit was extended to peones for necessities they bought at the tienda de raya. A peon was legally bound to work on the hacienda until his debt was cleared. His death or disability meant his family inherited the debt and work obligations. He could flee, but he would often be captured by the Rurales (rural police) and returned to the hacienda. There, he would be locked in a jail often located next to the tienda de raya. Punishment for fleeing one's debts often included whipping and/or working in the fields in chains.

The Hacienda's Out-buildings

The courtyard within the casa grande is quite rustic. The courtyard was originally surrounded on four sides by the rooms of the casa grande. Two wings of the new church have replaced two of the sides. While the part of the casa grande facing the plaza, including the campanario (seen in the background), is plastered, painted, and generally well-kept, the interior courtyard is rather shabby. I took this shot from a 2nd floor church balcony.

Typical activities occurring in the courtyard would have included both work and socializing. The members of the household staff might gather in a space like this to do the washing, shuck corn, do minor household repairs, etc. At other times, the hacendado would have used this space to entertain guests. No doubt it was in better condition in those days.

Remains of adobe structures can be seen adjacent to the casa grande.  This might have been part of the bodega in which the hacienda's produce was stored, along with equipment for cultivation. Adobe buildings were a common feature from the 16th century until well into the 19th, when red clay bricks came into fashion.

Adobe bricks are relatively simple to manufacture from materials readily available in most areas. I observed some being made a few years ago in the remote mountains of the state of Puebla. They are made from mud and straw, mixed with water. Sometimes animal dung is added as a binder. The mixture is placed in a wood frame to dry in the sun. The only cost is for labor.

This wood gate was probably the carriage entrance into the casco. A thick adobe wall usually surrounded the most important buildings of a hacienda. The area within the wall was called the casco, ("helmet"). The name makes sense because a helmet protects the head and brain, and the buildings within a hacienda's casco were truly the nerve center of the whole operation. 

The purpose of the casco wall was not just to preserve the hacendado's privacy. From the earliest colonial times, haciendas were the targets of raids, first by fierce indigenous nomads and later by soldiers during the numerous wars of Mexico's turbulent 19th century. Always there was the threat of bandits. Such raids continued into the first third of the 20th century. 

The casco walls protected the casa grande, capilla, bodega and the stables for the hacendado's horses. Often a bodega would be the most highly fortified building within the casco, with guard towers on the corners and gun slits for riflemen. All this was necessary because the bodega stored the produce and livestock, which were hacienda's most valuable property. 

A crumbling building that was probably a workshop or storage area. Some areas of this adobe structure have been repaired or reinforced with red bricks. In addition, builders often used red brick for door and window frames, which were then covered with plaster. A blacksmith, carpenter, or other craftsman may have used this space as part of their contribution to the hacienda's self-sufficiency.

Local kids in small pueblos are nearly always eager to be photographed. I found this pair hanging out on the plaza during out visit. They immediately agreed to a photo and struck a pose that demonstrates their friendship.

I hope you have enjoyed this visit to Hacienda La Capilla. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, please be sure to include your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim