Wednesday, July 29, 2020

San Sebastian del Oeste Part 2 of 6: Hacienda Jalisco provides a peek into of Mexico's silver mining history

View of the casa grande. Hacienda Jalisco is a well-preserved example of San Sebastian del Oeste's old haciendas which processed silver and gold throughout the area. My friends and I visited this lovely site during our trip to this old pueblo, the original name of which was Real de San Sebastian. The term Real  (Royal) was a colonial designation for a mining district. The pre-hispanic name of the area, in the Nahuatl language of the Teco people who lived there, was Hostipac.

This posting will focus on the casa grande and its outbuildings, as well as some of the work areas. Very few documents about Hacienda Jalisco have survived the tumultuous years of the Mexican Revolution. To fill in the gaps and provide some context, I am including a brief history of Mexican gold and silver mining from the time of the Conquest through the Mexican Revolution. I will also describe Hacienda Jalisco's mid-20th century transformation from a semi-ruin into a rustic getaway for Hollywood stars.

The approach

The hacienda's long, cobblestone driveway is lushly lined with ferns. To get to Hacienda Jalisco, follow Highway 544 (either from Mascota or Puerto Vallarta) to the pueblo of La Estancia. There, signs from either direction point you to the turnoff to San Sebastian del Oeste, which is 9.2 km (5.7 mi) away. The hacienda is located on the western outskirts of San Sebastian. The turnoff is easy to miss, so look for this sign approximately 1 km (0.62 mi) before reaching San Sebastian.

In 1519, Hernán Cortéz and his Conquistadores arrived in Mexico, which in colonial times was called Nueva España. Their first priority was to gather up all the gold, silver, and precious stones upon which they could lay their hands. At a distant second and third place were the conquest of new lands for the Spanish King and Christianizing the "heathen." Cortéz and his men were freebooters and adventurers as much as they were Spanish soldiers.

The driveway passes across a stone bridge, before arriving at the hacienda's main gate. The structure on the left is the gate house, now the home of the caretaker's family. To the right of the gate is the rear of the casa grande. The silver ore processed here came from mines further up the mountainside. The resemblance to a castle's drawbridge and gate is probably no accident. The refined silver needed protection from bandits. Men firing from the gatehouse window and the casa grande's rear balcony could easily forestall an attack from this direction.

At the time the Spanish arrived, the Aztecs had only recently become familiar with metal working. They had initially acquired gold and silver jewelry through tribute from subject populations such as the Mixtecs of Oaxaca. Over time, some of the metal working artisans from those areas migrated to the Aztec cities to join the burgeoning artisan class. Another source was trade with the metal-working peoples of Western Mexico, never subjugated by the Aztecs, who had acquired their skills from the metal-working cultures of northwestern South America. Cortéz carefully studied the Aztec Emperor's tribute records and questioned the traveling Aztec merchants, called pochteca. Using those sources as a guide, he dispatched expeditions in all directions, seeking the mines that produced the precious metals. 

View of the bridge from the casa grande's balcony. Underneath it flows a shallow stream that once played a part in powering ore processing machinery. As you can see, a rifleman in this position could easily cover the bridge approach to the gate. The stream itself forms a kind of moat in front of the hacienda's wall. Today, long tendrils of ferns dangle from the bridge as the stream tranquilly burbles beneath it.

In 1524. an expedition under the command of Francisco Cortéz, nephew of Herñan, stopped briefly in the area of San Sebastian. They found little of interest in the rugged, heavily forested mountains and soon passed on to the fertile valley of Mascota. Expeditions to other areas were somewhat more successful. They found and seized indigenous mines, but these yielded only modest amounts of precious metals. Finally, in 1534, rich silver veins were discovered at Pachuca, north of Mexico City, and at Taxco, in the mountains south of Cuernavaca. These discoveries set off stampedes of Spaniards to those areas and whetted Spanish appetites for more expeditions ever further afield.

The gate and gatehouse, viewed from the front balcony of the casa grande. When the hacienda was in operation, the gate house probably functioned as an office and/or a tienda de raya (company store), as well as living quarters for the gatekeeper.

Most of the early discoveries of precious metals occurred in the central and southern parts of Mexico, areas which had long been settled by the civilized people of pre-hispanic Mexico. However, the northern territories were composed of rugged mountain ranges and vast deserts. They were thinly populated by a people whom the Aztecs called the Chichimeca, a catchall term for a group of fierce nomadic tribes. For millennia, these nomads had raided and even invaded the southern civilizations.  

In short, the northern territories were a forbidding environment full of danger. As a result, it was not until 1540 that Francisco Coronado set out to look for the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, reputed to be filled with gold. After an epic journey involving great hardship, Coronado and his men finally reached central Kansas, but found nothing but vast, empty plains.

We were welcomed to the hacienda by Blanca, our hostess. She and her family live in the gatehouse and act as caretakers. Blanca greeted us with a wonderfully warm smile. We gladly paid her the modest entry fee of $20 pesos (89 cents USD). After that, she gave us free run of the place for as long as we liked. It must have been a slow day because there were no visitors other than our party. We never encountered Blanca's husband, but we could tell she had kids from the children's clothes drying on a line stretched across the front of the gatehouse.

Several more expeditions followed Coronado's abortive venture. Finally, in 1546, a Basque noble named Juan de Tolosa arrived near today's Zacatecas. There, he encountered a group of native people who presented him with a nugget he recognized as silver ore. This immediately set off a new mining stampede and Real de Zacatecas was founded in that same year. The mines proved to be almost unbelievably rich. Even today, Zacatecas produces 53% of Mexico's silver and 21% of its gold

Over the thirty years following Tolosa's discovery, more silver and gold were discovered in areas to the north and west of Zacatecas. The frenzied search for mineral riches continued. Later in the 16th century, rich silver veins were discovered in Guanajuato and San Luis Potosi, as well as many smaller discoveries elsewhere. Ironically, the bulk of the bullion produced by Nueva España's mines was shipped to Spain, causing chronic shortages of currency throughout the colonial period.

The Casa Grande's exterior

The casa grande from the caretaker's vegetable garden. The two-story building has an arcade along the front, supported by arched portales. Above the arcade is a 2nd story balcony, also running the length of the structure. Its four doors open into bedrooms. There is an identical balcony on the rear. In front of the casa grande is a broad, cobblestone courtyard where some of the ore processing work was done.

Spanish prospectors had discovered silver and gold at Hostipac (San Sebastian) in 1542. However, it was not until 1605 that the boomtown was given the name Real de San Sebastian to designate it as a mining district. By then, many mine shafts had penetrated the mountainsides and haciendas to process the ore were well-established in the narrow valley 

The term hacienda comes from the Spanish verb hacer, which means to do or make something. Mining was the core function of many early Mexican haciendas, including Hacienda Jalisco. Sometimes crops or livestock were raised at mining haciendas, but mostly these were for the use by the hacienda itself, rather than being offered for sale. 

Our group took a break along the casa grande's front arcade. The gatehouse can be seen through the arch at the end. Almost everyone on this trip is a veteran of the monthly day-trips that I organize to search out Jalisco's old haciendas. Many of them are also fellow hikers. Needless to say, this is an adventurous group!

The pursuit of wealth through mining has shaped the economic, political, and social history of Mexico from the earliest days of the Conquest. Even religion was impacted. An early Franciscan evangelist once remarked that "where there is no silver, there is no Bible." By this, he meant that exploration and settlement in pursuit of mining wealth created an environment within which friars like himself could safely evangelize the newly subdued tribes in the areas around the strikes. 

Even as the evangelizing missions sprouted like mushrooms, so did grain and livestock haciendas. Leather from cattle hides was an essential part of mining machinery and mules provided the power. In addition, the mine workers needed food and other daily necessities. Many haciendas were established near the mining communities to fill these needs. 

An open gate leads to a cobblestone walkway along the side of the casa grande. Everything about this place feels warm and welcoming. Before exploring the inside of the casa grande, I decided to examine the exterior.

Long caravans of mules and ox-carts transported the silver along the Camino Royal (Royal Road). This route led to Guadalajara and from there to Mexico City and on to the Gulf port of Vera Cruz for shipment to Spain. Caravans moving in the other direction brought goods, often imported from Spain, that couldn't be produced in the mining areas. 

In order to protect these caravans from hostile Chichimeca and bandits, Spanish authorities established military posts along the routes. Enterprising Spaniards then founded new haciendas to supply the outposts and caravans with food, draft animals, riding horses, and other necessities. Some of these posts, like  Aguascalientes, later became major cities and the capitals of Mexican states.

Rear view of the casa grande from the patio. The rear mimics the front, with a ground-level arcade supported by six pillars and a second floor balcony. Both run the length of the building. A stairway leads up from the arcade to the second floor. This appears to be the only way to reach the rooms on the top floor. The patio area would probably have been used for domestic tasks such as clothes washing, corn shelling, and grinding the kernels into flour for tortillas.

From the Conquest through the Revolution, there were close relationships among the mines, the haciendas raising food and animals, and the city-based mercantile establishments. Each depended symbiotically on the others both as customers and suppliers. From the 16th through the 19th centuries, they were the three primary routes to wealth, unless you count the graft and self-dealing associated with Royal Officials and the Church. However, all through this time, the most important source of wealth was bullion from the mines. 

View of the patio from the second floor's rear balcony.  The circular fire-pit was probably added when the property was transformed into a rustic hotel. The one-story building in the background contains rest rooms, but fulfilled other functions in mining times, possibly including workshops and storage. 

The relationship between the mines, haciendas, and mercantile establishments was not just economic but social. Typically, a young man from a good but penurious family in Spain might seek his fortune in Nueva España. Quite often, he would carry a letter from his father to a relative or friend who was a merchant in Mexico City. If he was industrious, he might set up his own store after a few years clerking. Such businesses often supplied the mines, requiring periodic visits to the mining districts. There, the young man would meet the mine owners and might invest some of his store's profits in one of their operations. 

As his wealth grew, the man would to look around for a suitable wife. His ready access to cash would make him quite attractive to a land-rich but debt-ridden hacienda owner with unmarried daughters. As a dowery, his new father-in-law might provide some land, or even a whole hacienda. When his father-in-law passed on, the young man might gain control of even more land. The acquisition of a large estate was always attractive to up-and-coming Spaniards. Land-ownership was equated with membership in the gentry and hacendados who won favor with the King could sometimes even enter the nobility. This path of social advancement was fairly typical during the period from the 16th through the 19th centuries. 

The front balcony is virtually identical with the one in the rear. At the far end of the balcony, my friend Jerry takes a picture of his wife Lori. They regularly appear in a YouTube series called Jerry Brown Travels which has gained a considerable international following.

The people who worked in the mines or processed the ore were recruited in a variety of ways. In the early years, many were slaves. Almost from the moment Hernán Cortéz landed in 1519, he enslaved native people to work as porters and cooks for his army. Some of the women were taken as sex slaves for the soldiers. 

After they overthrew the Aztecs, the Spanish put their slaves to work on a wide variety of tasks. In fact, the lowliest Spanish soldier considered himself an hidalgo (gentleman) and therefore superior to any indigenous person. Given their new status, and the ready availability of slaves, Spaniards at all levels eschewed physical work. As the gold and silver mines developed, somebody had to work them and many slaves ended up there. Naturally, all this led to gross abuses. 

Inside the Casa Grande

The Great Room of the casa grande. Here, the hacendado and his family would have entertained guests and passing travelers. The large fireplace built into the far corner of the room would have provided warmth and light. The door on the left leads to the rear arcade and the patio area.

By 1542, the abuses of native slaves were rampant. Protests by evangelizing friars finally reached the King and slavery of indigenous people from the pacified areas was abolished. This was greatly resented by the conquistadores, as well as all the relatives and other hangers-on who began pouring in once the dust of the Conquest had settled. Often, the King's edicts were resisted, subverted, or simply ignored. In fact, the last vestiges of indigenous slavery in Mexico did not disappear until the beginning of the 20th century.  

Another system of forced labor, called the encomienda, was also in use during the 16th and early 17th centuries. An encomienda was intended as a royal reward to Spaniards who had served in the Conquest. The holder of an encomienda, called an encomendero, would promise to teach Christianity to a group of native people and in return could demand tribute from them, including free labor.  Often, the people subject to an encomienda were rented out by the encomendero to work in the mines. While the King regularly promulgated new edicts against abuses of the encomienda system, the rules were often resisted or flouted. 

An anthropomorphic pot sits on the floor of the Great Room. Archeologists refer to an object as "anthropomorphic" when it has been crafted to show human characteristics. The style is that of the Shaft Tomb Culture found in the Mexican states of Colima, Jalisco, and Nayarit. The culture got its name from the long shafts they would dig straight down into the volcanic soil, with one or more funeral chambers at the bottom. Some very early shaft tombs have been found in the Mascota Valley, not far from San Sebastian del Oeste. The pot shown above may be authentic, but is probably a reproduction.

What really curtailed slavery and the encomienda system were the great epidemics that decimated the indigenous population from the earliest days of the Conquest through the middle of the 17th century. These included smallpox, influenza, measles, and other European diseases from which the native people had no natural immunity. In many areas, the indigenous population plummeted by 90%. Entire villages were wiped out, depopulating large swaths of the countryside. The result was an acute labor shortage that brought many mining operations to a halt, and depressed much of the rest of Nueva España's economy. 

The Spanish adopted several methods for solving their labor problem. Since the King's anti-slavery edicts applied only to native people in pacified areas, Chichimeca war captives from the un-pacified areas were put to work in the mines. However, Spanish officials complained that the fiercely independent Chichimeca often did not make good workers. Imported African slaves were also exempt from the King's edicts and the mine owners put them to work. Since they adapted more readily than the Chichimeca, many African slaves ended up in the mines. 

An old-fashioned wood stove fills one wall of the kitchen. The four square holes along the front were for feeding wood into the fire. The smaller holes along the top were where pots were placed. I have seen similar stoves in hacienda ruins all over Jalisco.

Another labor source was the repartimiento. This institution transformed the right to demand forced labor into a state function, taking it out of the hands of individual encomenderos. The repartimiento was less abusive than the encomienda because there were time limits on the work that could be demanded. Further, wages were required, although they were substantially less than those paid to free workers. Finally, the repartimiento could only be exercised over villages within a 20 league radius (83.6 km or 52 mi) of a mine. However, since the royal officials who ran the repartimiento system were often friends, relatives, or even partners of the mine owners, there were many opportunities to abuse the system. This most often occurred in regions far removed from the seats of royal authority.

The windows were tall and could be covered by wood shutters. Notice how thick the walls are. The material under the plaster is adobe, an excellent insulator. A house with walls like this would be cool in the summer and could be kept comfortably warm in winter.

Repeated epidemics and abusive work conditions reduced the pool of  forced laborers, although both slave labor and the repartimiento continued for a time. As mine owners increasingly turned to free workers, that method of mine recruitment became dominantMost of the free workers were mestizos (mixed Spanish and indigenous) who were rapidly increasing in numbers. Since they were neither of African descent nor pure indigenous, the mestizos were not subject to slavery or the repartimiento. 

In the 17th century and the first part of the 18th, the lot of free mine workers was fairly good. The demand for labor was such that they could command decent wages. If they didn't like the offer, or considered the working conditions abusive, they could sign up at another mine or even take off for another mining district. They were a highly mobile work force.

The master bedroom is one of several on the second story. The old wooden lintel over the door may be original to the house. When the hacendado and his wife visited Hacienda Jalisco on periodic inspection tours, this is where they would spend the night. Hacendados quite often did not live full-time on their properties. They typically preferred the comforts and culture of the city and would usually employ a professional administrator to run the mining operation.

As new mines cropped up all over northern Mexico, owners scrambled to attract free workers. As an employment incentive, mine workers were even offered a share of the ore they produced. The requirement for a normal day's pay was to fill a 100 lb "quota bag" during the work shift. Once the bag was filled, the mine worker could keep half of any additional ore that he produced . This was called the "partido". The arrangement not only increased a worker's income but it became a matter of status and pride. Those who were entitled to the partido considered themselves part owners of the mine, or at least of its production.

A ornate fireplace provided warmth for the hacendado's bedroom. Notice the pair of tall human figures that frame the fireplace opening. Fireplaces like this are the only way of heating the casa grande's rooms. However, the mild climate doesn't require extra heat very often.

In the 18th century, conditions for mine workers began to worsen. A chronic problem in operating the mines was the royal monopoly on mercury. In the mid-16th century, much of Nueva España's high-grade silver ore had been exhausted and mine profits sagged. An enterprising Spaniard revived silver mining by introducing the mercury amalgamation process, which enabled lower-grade ore to be processed profitably. This produced a new boom and, by 1785, San Sebastian had 30 mines, with 10 haciendas to process the gold and silver ore.

The King wanted to maintain control of mining and keep his coffers full, so he established a royal monopoly on mercury. This forced mine owners to import it from royal stockpiles in Spain, significantly raising their cost of production. The problem became even more acute problem when Spanish shipping was disrupted during the episodic European warfare of the 17th and 18th centuries. Periodic mercury shortages resulted in mine shutdowns that were disastrous for mine workers and their families. 

A painted decorative frieze follows the line of the ceiling. This is a typical feature of 19th century haciendas. The design imitates carved medallions in wooden wainscoting.

The population recovery that occurred between the mid-17th and mid-18th centuries also created problems for mine workers. More people meant more competition for mining jobs. As a result, wages stagnated even as living expenses began to rise. The owners experienced cost increases of their own and responded by cutting wages and reducing or even eliminating the partido. 

Loss of the partido was a blow to both the income and the pride of mineworkers. In 1766, a mine owner's arbitrary reduction of the partido resulted in the very first labor strike in the Americas. The conflict occurred at the mines of Real de Monte in the state of Hidalgo. Key issues of the strike, in addition to the partido reduction, were wage cuts and dangerous working conditions. Workers in many other mining districts had similar grievances. Conditions continued to worsen as the the 18th century ended and the 19th began. Worker demands for improvements were met with repression by the owners, in collusion with local officials who were often their friends or even relatives.

Old ore processing remains

This massive old millstone lies in the parking area in front of the casa grande.  It was probably part of the machinery used to crush the ore brought down from mines which were located further up the mountainside. 

When the War of Independence broke out in 1810, mine workers were among the first to join the revolt. Early in the struggle, insurgents besieged the Alhondiga, a Spanish fort in the mining town of Guanajuato. A mine worker nicknamed El Pipila became a national hero by crawling through intense gunfire to set fire to the main gate of the Alhondiga, enabling its capture. Today, a huge statue of El Pipila overlooks the city and commemorates his feat. 

The independence struggle lasted from 1810 to 1821. Many mines were left in ruins or abandoned. Those that remained often operated with antique technology. Following the war, foreign investors began taking over Mexico's mines and this trend continued all through the 19th and into the early 20th century. 

In 1876, Porfirio Diaz began his the 35-year rule by welcoming foreign investment in all areas of the economy, including mining. Although machinery and refining processes were modernized by the new investors, a mine worker's job remained hard, dangerous, and poorly compensated. The days of well-paid miners proudly sharing in ore profits became a distant memory. 

The remains of the chimney for the ore ovens. The whole structure extends a number of yards in either side of the chimney. There are many openings along the low wall that were apparently used to feed in wood. The chimney and ovens form the east side of the parking area in front of the casa grande

The silver and gold mines of San Sebastian, including Hacienda Jalisco, were among those that received large infusions of foreign capital. Because of the turmoil and destruction that occurred during the Mexican Revolution, only a few records remain to tell us about Hacienda Jalisco. However, it is known that between 1885 and 1899, the mine manager was a man named Vicente Yaroni. San Sebastian's archives also reveal some of the improvements the foreign investors implemented. These included hydro-electic power from the stream that flows under the entrance bridge and installation of one of the region' few telephones.

An unidentified outbuilding molders away in the brush. This structure can be found along the lane that leads to the gate of the hacienda. It is unclear whether this was part of the processing system, an administrative building, or possibly the residence of one of the managers of the operation. I always find old ruins like this worth a photo.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the mine workers' living and working conditions continued to deteriorate. Most of the wealth generated by the modernization and foreign investment programs ended up in the hands of Diaz and his cronies. Little filtered down to people laboring in the mines, even as repression of workers and their unions increased. In 1910, the pent-up social explosion called the Mexican Revolution began. Its violent aftershocks continued into the 1930s. 

The chaos of the Revolution began causing mines in San Sebastian to shut down and the last foreign company packed up and left in the early 1920s. San Sebastian became a semi-ghost town. A city which had boasted a population of more than 20,000 in 1900 dropped to only 600 twenty years later. Miners and their families moved to Mascota or elsewhere. The old silver mining town was left far off the beaten track, with few reasons for anyone to visit. 

George and his girlfriend Allyson, taking it easy. They are enjoying the view from one of the benches along the front arcade. The couple met each other while both were living at Lake Chapala. 

In the 1960s, Hollywood actors Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor arrived in nearby Puerto Vallarta to make the movie "Night of the Iguana". They soon fell in love with the little fishing village, built a home there, and invited their Hollywood friends to visit. About the same time, a Hollywood artist named Bud Acord visited San Sebastian and discovered the the semi-ruined Hacienda Jalisco. He and his partner decided to restore the place and convert it into a rustic resort. Soon, Acord was able to persuade his Hollywood friends to visit. These included Burton and Taylor, as well as director John Huston, actress Loretta Young, and many other celebrities. Thus, Hacienda Jalisco was reborn.  

This completes Part 2 of my series on San Sebastian del OesteHacienda Jalisco is definitely worth a stop if you visit the little mining pueblo. I hope you have enjoyed this posting. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question, please leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Saturday, July 11, 2020

San Sebastian del Oeste Part 1 of 6: A colonial mining pueblo deep in the Coast Range

A lacy metal kiosco stands in the middle of Plaza Publica. The plaza dates back to 1774, but the kiosco (bandstand) and the surrounding gardens were added during an early 20th century remodeling. With this posting, I am beginning a series on the colonial-era mining town of San Sebastian del Oeste, located in the heart of Jalisco's coastal mountains. Part 1 will give you a sense of the town itself, while succeeding Parts will focus on local attractions we visited. These include a mining museum, two haciendas, and a coffee finca. 

San Sebastian is 276 km (171.5 mi) from my home in Ajijic, on the North Shore of Lake Chapala. The drive ordinarily takes about a 4.5 hours. However, slow moving vehicles on the winding mountain roads, may make the journey a bit longer. Be patient, the views are gorgeous. Coming from Lake Chapala, the drive is really too long for a day-trip. There are some hotel accommodations in San Sebastian and many more in nearby Mascota. Because Mascota was more central to all the things we wanted to see and do, our group stayed there and day-tripped to places like San Sebastian.


Map of the coast range area, including San Sebastian, Mascota, and Talpa, all of which we visited. Our day trip to San Sebastian del Oeste occurred during an adventure to Mascota (see previous series) that I organized for a group of friends. The distance between Mascota and San Sebastian is 48 km (29 mi). The drive, which is very mountainous, takes a little more than one hour, depending upon traffic. Many tourists also come from the coastal resort town of Puerto Vallarta, a distance of about 68 km (42 mi) taking about 1.5 hours. San Sebastian del Oeste's altitude is about 1,400 m (4,600 ft), giving it a very pleasant climate most of the year.

The coastal range is not particularly high, but is rugged and heavily forested. During a rest break in a narrow valley, I photographed this field of ripe maiz (corn) with a partially cleared mountainside in the background. The slanting rays of the early morning sun gave everything a luminescent emerald glow. Although the highway is winding and narrow in places, it is well-maintained. Occasionally, however, rainy-season landslides can block it. The stretch between Puerto Vallarta and San Sebastian del Oeste is particularly susceptible to these events, which generally occur between June and October.

Looking east over the the town from a hilltop on the western outskirts. San Sebastian nestles in the caldera of an ancient volcano. Silver and gold were discovered in the surrounding mountains in the 16th century. The town that supported the mines was founded in 1605. The layout of the town's streets does not follow the traditional grid pattern of other Spanish colonial pueblos and cities. Instead, the calles and callejones (streets and alleyways) twist and turn, following the contours of ravines and hillsides. This sort of street pattern is similar to other old mining centers I have visited, such as Zacatecas, Guanajuato, and Taxco.

Street scenes

Puente Recto (Straight Bridge). This stone bridge was built in 1884 and is known locally as La Pareja (The Partner). The name may be due to the fact that there is another bridge in town, that one curved. The single-arch Puente Recto was built to enable easy passage over a deep arroyo. It was the main route out of town for caravans of heavily-loaded burros and carretas (two-wheeled oxcarts) carrying silver and gold to Guadalajara. Salt was vital to the mining process. Other caravans brought it from a coastal fishing village called Las Peñas. That tiny pueblo later evolved into the bustling resort of Puerto Vallarta.

Calle General Aguirre, looking east. This cobblestone street was named after an illustrious native son. It crosses Puente Recto and leads directly to the main plaza. San Sebastian is one of Mexico's Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Pueblos). As of 2018, there were 121 of these, selected for their cultural, historical, and architectural significance.

A Pueblo Magico receives government financial support to upgrade its facilities and highlight those qualities that make it special. Many Pueblos Mágicos have the same white and rust color scheme you see here. The program has been spectacularly successful, enabling local people to proudly display their heritage while bringing in vital tourist money. Carole and I have visited 40 of the 121 sites, including Mascota and Talpa de Allende. We have never been disappointed.

A cobblestone callejon leads up the mountainside from Calle General Aguirre. Winding alleyways like this are typical of mining towns. From the early colonial times, most people lived on the hillsides overlooking the narrow valley. The ore crushing and smelting operations, as well as the government offices and merchants' stores, were located in the base of the valley.

The original name of the town was Real de San Sebastian. The colonial-era term "real" (royal) designated a mining district. San Sebastian's production of precious metals became so important in the 18th century that Spanish King Charles V took a direct hand in setting the rules for it. During the colonial period, the King got his "quinto real" (royal fifth) of everything produced by New World mines.

By 1785, ten haciendas were operating more than 25 gold and silver mines in the area, along with several foundries. In 1812, the booming town was awarded the title of city. Real San Sebastian reached its peak in the 1830s, when more than 30,000 people lived in and around it.

A two story building on the hillside has the same color scheme as the rest of the pueblo. At first I thought this was a single family home. However, on further inspection of the photo, it appears to have three doorways on the lower level and another three on the upper, suggesting six small apartments. The view of the town and mountains from either level would be lovely.

The Revolution of 1910 brought mining to a sudden halt. The mining operations were owned primarily by foreigners at that time and the new 1917 Constitution forbade foreign ownership of Mexico's mineral resources. In 1921, the last of San Sebastian's mines closed.

Today, only about 600 residents remain in the town, with another 5000 or so in the surrounding municipio (county). The main economic activities, in addition to tourism, are agriculture, stock breeding, and forestry. For more than 60 years after the mines closed, the town was simply called San Sebastian. Then, in 1983, "del Oeste" (of the West) was added, in order to distinguish the town from the many other San Sebastians in Mexico.

A single resident relaxes on the corner of an otherwise empty street. With his straw cowboy hat and leather boots, he is definitely a local. While the overall appearance of the town is rustic, everything was carefully swept, neat, and free of trash. People here are obviously proud of their town and want it to be seen at its best. The place has a serene and somewhat otherworldly quietness that I found very appealing.

Most of the homes and other structures are of one or two stories and are made from adobe bricks covered with a layer of plaster. The buildings are roofed with traditional red tiles. Doors and window frames are of weathered wood, as are the columns that support the arcades along the fronts of some homes and stores. The cobblestone streets are narrow, having been built for horses and wagons rather than automobiles. The best way to see the town is to park at the plaza and just walk around.

A family of Mexican tourists strolls along a side street. San Sebastian gets most of its foreign tourists from Puerto Vallarta, rather than the big expat community on the North Shore of Lake Chapala. However, on our visit to San Sebastian, we saw very few foreigners and fewer still while in Mascota or Talpa.

I began setting up trips like this when I realized how few of my friends at Lake Chapala ever get very far "off-the-beaten-track" in Mexico. In fact, most are barely aware of the existence of places like this. I am not a professional tour guide and I don't really need any extra income, so I don't charge anything for setting it all up. I try to keep the costs as low as possible so that even those on tight budgets can participate. I take my reward from my friends' expressions of astonishment and delight when we arrive someplace like San Sebastian de Oeste.

A couple of local residents walk by a home on the corner of Calle General Aguirre and Calle Juarez. At this point, Plaza Publica is only another block to the east. The style of this house is typical of San Sebastian, with an arched arcade along the ground level and a balcony overlooking the street. Very likely, the entrance leads to an open courtyard with a fountain in the middle. As you can see from the un-plastered upper wall, the house is made from adobe bricks, with a traditional tile roof. The pillars along the balcony, the ceiling rafters, and the railing are all of wood originally harvested from local forests.

An abuela and her nieto watch the world go by from their perch on a bench. Abuela means "grandmother" and a "nieto" is her grandson. Mexican families are close, both emotionally and in terms of physical proximity. In addition to parents and siblings, there are usually grandparents, uncles, and cousins living in the same town and perhaps even in the same household. This pair watched our approach with calm interest. They kindly agreed when I asked if I could take their photos. Except for some of the indigenous people, Mexicans are nearly always pleased and a bit amused by my desire to photograph them. It is always polite to ask for permission before doing so and to back off if it is not given.

Plaza Publica also known as Plaza de Armas

The kiosco and Portal Morelos, with the steeple of Iglesia San Sebastian rising behind them. A kiosco is usually the centerpiece of a Mexican plazaIt provides a stage for musical performances and public speakers. Kids typically use it as a jungle gym. As I noted earlier, the Plaza Publica dates from just before the start of the American Revolution. During its first 100 years or so, the plaza was used for public markets, as a gathering place for town meetings, and to stage public executions. Like many Mexican plazas, it picked up the additional name of Plaza de Armas because the open space was ideal for drilling the local militia.

In that early period, the plaza would have formed a large open space. Its bare earth would be rock hard (at least in the dry season) from the tramping feet of countless animals and people. Local women would gather at its one or more wells or fountains. There, they would fill large clay pots with water for their households and exchange the gossip of the day. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, plazas all over the country were transformed into community showplaces. Gardens, benches, statuary, and other amenities were added. Plaza Publica was part of this trend. Its kiosco was added in 1910, only months before the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution.

El Portal Morelos fills a whole block along the north side of the plaza. This two story building has a balcony running along the top of a long arcade supported by 15 wooden pillars. Constructed in 1750, it is one of the oldest buildings around the plaza. El Portal was once the center of economic activity in San Sebastian. Merchants operated stores here that sold necessities to the miners and their families and European luxury goods to the owners of the area's mines and haciendas. Local artisans and peddlers once spread out their goods under the shade of the arcade. Some of the names of the old stores still hang above the doors, including El Nuevo Mundo (The New World), El Futuro (The Future), or Progresso (Progress). All these names give an impression of the optimism of those early times.

A state government office and a sweets shop stand on the southwest corner of the plaza. The street running between the two buildings is Calle General Aguirre. To the left is the Recaudadora, where taxes and other government fees are paid. On the right side, across the street, is a shop selling Artes y Dulces (Arts and Sweets). Both of these buildings are from the colonial era and served multiple purposes for many different owners over the centuries.

 Los Arcos de Sol was our pick for our lunchtime meal. The hotel/restaurant stands on the south side of the plaza, just east of the Recaudadora. There are tables for dining under the arcade along front of the building. Sitting slightly uphill from the plaza, the restaurant provides a fine view of all the activities happening there. It's a great spot to people-watch while enjoying a casual meal.

Los Arcos was once the colonial-era home of a series of wealthy merchants and mine owners. According to the Los Arcos website, "the windows have stone seats where ladies sat to embroider and watch the local youth pass by, waiting to be serenaded." The property has belonged to the Dueñas Garcia family since 1940, when Julián Dueñas Lepe bought it. At the time he was presidente of the municipio. It has been a hotel since 1953 and currently belongs to Don Julián's daughter, Profesora Margarita Dueñas Garcia.

 Allison and Chuck, two of our group, sit on the restaurant balcony as they wait to place their orders. The restaurant offers a wide variety of traditional Mexican cuisine. The sudden appearance of twelve hungry foreigners didn't seem to faze the staff. While we waited for our orders, I took the opportunity to explore the public areas of of the hotel. Most of the rest of our party decided to just relax and enjoy the view of the plaza and the surrounding mountains.

Restaurant y Cafe El Fortín shares the west side of the plaza with Artes y Dulces. El Fortín apparently refers to the early Spanish fort that protected the miners and their families from attacks by indigenous tribes and marauding bandits. The restaurant is very highly rated on Tripadvisor and serves a variety of dishes, including vegetarian and vegan. Among the drinks available are tequila, hot chocolate, and locally grown coffee. An attached galeria provides space for art shows and performances.

Rincon Cuevas sits on the east side of the Plaza across from El Portal Morelos. Inside this rustic old structure is a restaurant/sports bar that serves traditional Mexican dishes. The shady arcade along its front seems to have attracted a number of locals. The building was probably occupied by merchants in previous centuries.

A horseman quietly ambles down a cobblestone streets. Aside from the hat, this scene could have occurred 100, 200, or even 300 years ago. One of the great attractions of Mexico for me is its sense of timelessness. Ancient traditions and modern practices exist side by side.

This completes Part 1 of my San Sebastian del Oeste series. The next posting will show Hacienda Jalisco, one of the old mining haciendas located on the western edge of town. I hope you enjoyed Part 1. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question, however, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Saludos, Jim