Jalisco is La Madre Patria (the Mother Country) for millions of Mexican
Americans. Given this fact, it makes sense that many sons and daughters of
Jalisco are curious about the cultural and linguistic roots of their
indigenous ancestors. The modern state of Jalisco consists of 31,152 square
miles (80,684 square kilometers) located in the west central portion of the
Mexican Republic. However, the Jalisco of colonial Mexico was not an
individual political entity but part of the Spanish province of Nueva
Galicia, which embraced some 180,000 kilometers ranging from the Pacific
Ocean to the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental.
Besides the present-day state of Jalisco, Nueva Galicia also included the
states of Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, Nayarit, and the northwest corner of
San Luis Potosi. Across this broad range of territory, a wide array of
indigenous groups lived before 1522 (the first year of contact with Spanish
explorers). Domingo Lazaro de Arregui, in his Descripci╠3n de la Nueva
Galicia - published in 1621 - wrote that 72 languages were spoken in the
Spanish colonial province of Nueva Galicia. But, according to the author
Eric van Young, "the extensive and deep-running mestizaje of the area has
meant that at any time much beyond the close of the colonial period the
history of the native peoples has been progressively interwoven with (or
submerged in) that of non-native groups."
As the Spaniards and their Indian allies from the south made their way into
Nueva Galicia early in the Sixteenth Century, they encountered large numbers
of nomadic Chichimeca Indians. Philip Wayne Powell - whose Soldiers,
Indians, and Silver: North America's First Frontier War is the definitive
source of information relating to the Chichimeca Indians - referred to
Chichimeca as "an all-inclusive epithet" that had "a spiteful connotation."
The Spaniards borrowed this designation from their Aztec allies and started
to refer to the large stretch Chichimeca territory as La Gran Chichimeca.
Afredo Moreno Gonzalez, in his recent book Santa Maria de Los Lagos,
explains that the word Chichimeca has been subject to various
interpretations over the years. Some of these suggestions included "linaje
de perros" (of dog lineage), "perros altaneros" (arrogant dogs), or
"chupadores de sangre" (blood-suckers). In any case, it was apparent that
the Mexican Indians of the south did not hold their northern counterparts in
high regard. However, in time, they learned to both fear and respect many of
these Indians as brave and courageous defenders of their ancestral
Unfortunately, the widespread displacement that took place starting in 1529
prevents us from obtaining a clear picture of the indigenous Jalisco that
existed in pre-Hispanic times. Four primary factors influenced the
post-contact indigenous distribution of Jalisco and its evolution into a
Spanish colonial province. The first factor was the 1529-30 campaign of
Nu╠▒o Beltran de Guzman. In The North Frontier of New Spain, Peter Gerhard
wrote that "Guzman, with a large force of Spaniards, Mexican allies, and
Tarascan slaves, went through here in a rapid and brutal campaign lasting
from February to June 1530 Guzman's strategy was to terrorize the natives
with often unprovoked killing, torture, and enslavement."
Once Guzman had consolidated his conquests, he ordered all of the conquered
Indians of Jalisco to be distributed among Spanish encomiendas. The
individual receiving the encomienda, known as the encomendero, received free
labor and tribute from the Indians, in return for which the subjects were
commended to the encomendero's care. It was the duty of the encomendero to
Christianize, educate and feed the natives under their care. However, as
might be expected, such institutions were prone to misuse and, as a result,
some Indians were reduced to slave labor. Although Guzman was arrested and
imprisoned in 1536, his reign of terror had set into motion institutions
that led to the widespread displacement of the indigenous people of Jalisco.
The second factor was the Mixtan Rebellion of 1541-1542. This indigenous
uprising was a desperate attempt by the Cazcanes Indians to drive the
Spaniards out of Nueva Galicia. In response to the desperate situation,
Viceroy Mendoza assembled a force of 450 Spaniards and some 30,000 Aztec and
Tlaxcalan supporting troops. In a series of short sieges and assaults,
Mendoza gradually suffocated the uprising. The aftermath of this defeat,
according to Peter Gerhard, led to thousands of deaths. In addition, he
writes, "thousands were driven off in chains to the mines, and many of the
survivors (mostly women and children) were transported from their homelands
to work on Spanish farms and haciendas."
The third factor influencing Jalisco's evolution was the complex set of
relationships that the Spaniards enjoyed with their Indian allies. As the
frontier moved outward from the center, the military would seek to form
alliances with friendly Indian groups. Then, in 1550, the Chichimeca War had
began. This guerrilla war, which continued until the last decade of the
century, was primarily fought by Chichimeca Indians defending their lands in
Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes, and northern Jalisco.
The Chichimeca conflict forced the Spaniards to rely heavily upon their
Christian Indian allies. The result of this dependence upon indigenous
allies as soldados (soldiers) and pobladores (settlers) led to enormous and
wide-ranging migration and resettlement patterns that would transform the
geographic nature of the indigenous peoples of Nueva Galicia. In describing
this phenomenon, Mr. Powell noted that the "Indians formed the bulk of the
fighting forces against the Chichimeca warriors As fighters, as burden
bearers, as interpreters, as scouts, as emissaries, the pacified natives of
New Spain played significant and often indispensable roles in subjugating
and civilizing the Chichimeca country."
By the middle of the Sixteenth Century, the Tarascans, Aztecs, Cholultecans,
Otomis, Tlaxcalans, and the Cazcanes had all joined forces with the Spanish
military. By the time the Chichimeca War had begun, the Tarascans and
Otomies, in particular, had already developed "considerable experience in
warfare alongside the Spaniards." As a result, explains Mr. Powell, "they
were the first important auxiliaries employed for entradas against the
The employment of Tarascans, Mexicans, and Tlaxcalans for the purpose of
"defensive colonization" also encouraged a gradual assimilation of the
Chichimecas. In the 1590s Nahuatl-speaking colonists from Tlaxcala and the
Valley of Mexico settled in some parts of Jalisco to serve, as Mr. Gerhard
writes, "as a frontier militia and a civilizing influence." As the Indians
of Jalisco made peace and settled down to work for Spanish employers, they
were absorbed into the more dominant Indian groups that had come from the
south. By the early Seventeenth Century, writes Mr. Powell, most of the
Chichimeca Indians had disappeared as distinguishable cultural entities.
The fourth cause of depopulation and displacement of the Jalisco Indians was
contagious disease. The physical isolation of the Indians in the Americas is
the primary reason for which disease caused such havoc with the Native
American populations. This physical isolation resulted in a natural
quarantine from the rest of the planet and from a wide assortment of
communicable diseases. When smallpox first ravaged through Mexico in 1520,
no Indian had immunity to the disease.
During the first century of the conquest, the Mexican Indians suffered
through 19 major epidemics. They were exposed to smallpox, chicken pox,
diphtheria, influenza, scarlet fever, measles, typhoid, mumps, influenza,
and cocoliztli (a hemorrhagic disease). Peter Gerhard has estimated the
total native population of Nueva Galicia in 1520 at 855,000 persons.
However, in the next two decades, the populous coastal region north of
Banderas Bay witnessed the greatest population decline. "The unusually
brutal conquest," writes Mr. Gerhard, "was swiftly followed by famine,
further violence and dislocation, and epidemic disease."
By the late 1530s, the population of the Pacific coastal plain and foothills
from Acaponeta to Puficaci╠3n had declined by more than half. Subsequently,
Indians from the highland areas were transported to work in the cacao
plantations. When their numbers declined, the Spaniards turned to African
slaves. By 1560, Mr. Gerhard wrote, the 320,000 indigenous people who
occupied the entire tierra caliente in 1520 had dropped to a mere 20,000. A
plague in 1545-1548 is believed to have killed off more than half of the
surviving Indians of the highland regions. By 1550, it is believed that
there were an estimated 220,000 Indians in all of Nueva Galicia.
The author Jose Ramirez Flores, in his work, Lenguas Indigenas de Jalisco,
has gone to great lengths in reconstructing the linguistic map of the
Jalisco of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. It must be remembered
that, although Jalisco first came under Spanish control in the 1520s,
certain sections of the state remained isolated and under Amerindian control
until late in the Sixteenth Century. The diversity of Jalisco's early
indigenous population can be understood more clearly by exploring individual
tribes or regions of the state. The following paragraphs are designed to
provide the reader with some basic knowledge of several of the indigenous
groups of Jalisco:
The Cazcanes. The Cazcanes (Caxcanes) lived in the northern section of the
state. They were a partly nomadic people, whose principal religious and
population centers were at Teul, Tlaltenango, Juchipila, and Teocaltiche.
According to Se╠▒or Flores, the languages of the Caxcanes Indians were
widely spoken in the northcentral portion of Jalisco along the
"Three-Fingers Border Zone" with Zacatecas. It is believed that the Caxcanes
language was spoken at Teocaltiche, Ameca, Huejocar, and across the border
in Nochistlan, Zacatecas.
According to Mr. Powell, the Caxcanes were "the heart and the center of the
Indian rebellion in 1541 and 1542." After the Mixt╠3n Rebellion, the
Cazcanes became allies of the Spaniards. For this reason, they suffered
attacks by the Zacatecas and Guachichiles during the Chichimeca War. A a
cultural group, the Caxcanes ceased to exist during the Nineteenth Century.
Cocas. The Coca Indians inhabited portions of central Jalisco, in the
vicinity of Guadalajara and Lake Chapala. When the Spaniards first entered
this area, the Coca Indians, guided by their leader Tzitlali, moved away to
a small valley surrounded by high mountains, a place they named "Cocolan."
Because the Cocas were peaceful people, the Spaniards, for the most part,
left them alone. Jose Ramirez Flores lists Cuyutlan, San Marcos, Tlajomulco,
Toluquilla and Poncitlan as towns in which the Coca language was spoken.
The Coras. The Coras inhabited what is most of present-day Nayarit as well
as the northwestern fringes of Jalisco. The word "mariachi" is believed to
have originated in their language. Today, the Coras, numbering up to 15,000
people, continue to survive, primarily in Nayarit and Jalisco. The Cora
Indians have been studied by several historians and archaeologists. One of
the most interesting works about the Cora is Catherine Palmer Finerty's In a
Village Far From Home: My Life Among the Cora Indians of the Sierra Madre
(Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2000).
Cuyutecos. The Cuyutecos - speaking the Nahua language of the Aztecs -
settled in southwestern Jalisco, inhabiting Atenquillo, Talpa, Mascota,
Mixtlan, Atengo, and Tecolotlan. The population of this area - largely
depleted by the epidemics of the Sixteenth Century - was partially
repopulated by Spaniards and Indian settlers from Guadalajara and other
parts of Mexico. It is believed the Cuyuteco language may have been a late
introduction into Jalisco. Other Nahua languages were spoken in such
southern Jalisco towns as Tuxpan and Zapotlan.
Guachichiles. The Guachichiles, of all the Chichimeca Indians, occupied the
most extensive territory. The Guachichile Indians - so well known for their
fierce resistance towards the Spaniards in the Chichimeca War (1550-1590) -
inhabited the areas near Lagos de Moreno, Arandas, Ayo el Chico, and
Tepatitlan in the Los Altos region of northeastern Jalisco. Considered both
warlike and brave, the Guachichiles also roamed through a large section of
the present-day state of Zacatecas.
The name of "Guachichile" that the Mexicans gave them meant "heads painted
of red," a reference to the red dye that they used to pain their bodies,
faces and hair. Although the main home of the Guachichile Indians lay in
Zacatecas, they had a significant representation in the Los Altos area of
Jalisco. After the end of the Chichimeca War, the Guachichiles were very
quickly assimilated and Christianized and no longer exist as a
distinguishable cultural entity.
Huicholes. Some historians believe that the Huichol Indians are descended
from the nomadic Guachichiles, having moved westward and settled down to an
agrarian lifestyle, inhabited a small area in northwestern Jalisco, adjacent
to the border with Nayarit. The Huicholes, seeking to avoid confrontation
with the Spaniards, became very isolated and thus we able to survive as a
people and a culture.
The isolation of the Huicholes ëEUR" now occupying parts of northwestern
Jalisco and Nayarit ëEUR" has served them well for their aboriginal culture
has survived with relatively few major modifications since the period of
first contact with Western culture. Even today, the Huichol Indians of
Jalisco and Nayarit currently inhabit an isolated region of the Sierra Madre
Occidental. Their language was spoken in the northern stretches of the
Three-Fingers Region of Northern Jalisco, in particular Huejuquilla, Tuxpan
The survival of the Huichol has intrigued historians and archaeologists
alike. The art, history, culture, language and religion of the Huichol have
been the subject of at least a dozen books. Carl Lumholtz, in Symbolism of
the Huichol Indians: A Nation of Shamans (Oakland, California: B.I. Finson,
1988), made observations about the religion of the Huichol. Stacy B.
Schaefer and Peter T. Furst edited People of the Peyote: Huichol Indian
History, Religion and Survival (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press,
1996), discussed the history, culture and language of these fascinating
people in great detail.
Otomies. The Otomies were a Chichimeca nation primarily occupying Queretaro
and Jilotepec. However, early on, the Otomies allied themselves with the
Spaniards and Mexica Indians. As a result, writes Mr. Powell, Otomi settlers
were "issued a grant of privileges" and were "supplied with tools for
breaking land." For their allegiance, they were exempted from tribute and
given a certain amount of autonomy in their towns. During the 1550s, Luis de
Velasco (the second Viceroy of Nueva Espa╠▒a) used Otomi militia against the
Chichimecas. The strategic placement of Otomi settlements in Nueva Galicia
made their language dominant near Zapotitlan, Juchitlan, Autlan, and other
towns near Jalisco's southern border with Colima.
Purepecha Indians (Tarascans). The Purepecha Indians - also referred to as
the Tarascans, Tarscos, and Porhe - inhabited most of present-day Michoacan
and boasted a powerful empire that rivaled the Aztec Empire during the
Fifteenth and early Sixteenth Centuries. As recently as 1990, the Purapecha
numbered 120,000 speakers. This language, classified as an isolated
language, was spoken along the southern fringes of southern Jalisco,
adjacent to the border with Colima.
Tecuexes. The Tecuexes Indians occupied a considerable area of Jalisco north
of Guadalajara and western Los Altos, including Mexticacan, Jalostotitlan,
Tepatitilan, Yahualica, Juchitlan, and Tonalan. The Tecuexes also occupied
the central region near Tequila, Amatltan, Cuquio, and Epatan. The Tecuexes
have been studied by Dr. Phil Weigand, who wrote articles on them. They no
longer exist as a cultural group.
Tepehuanes. In pre-Hispanic times, the Tepehuan Indians inhabited a wide
swath of territory that stretch through sections of present-day Jalisco,
Nayarit, Durango and Chihuahua. However, their territory was gradually
encroached upon by the Spaniards and indigenous migrants from central
Mexico. After they were crushed in their rebellion of 1616-1619, the
Tepehuan moved to hiding places in the Sierra Madre to avoid Spanish
Today, the Tepehuan retain elements of their old culture. At the time of the
Spanish contact, the Tepehuanes language was spoken in "Three Fingers
Region" of northwestern Jalisco in such towns as Tepec, Mezquitic and
Colotlan. The Tepehuanes language and culture are no longer found in
Jalisco, but more than 25,000 Tepehuanes still reside in southern Chihuahua
and southeastern Durango.
The revolt of 1616 was described in great detail by Charlotte M. Gradie's
The Tepehuan Revolt of 1616: Militarism, Evangelism and Colonialism in
Seventeenth Century Nueva Vizcaya (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press,
2000). The author Campbell W. Pennington also wrote about the Tepehuan
people in The Tepehuan of Chihuahua (Salt Lake City: University of Utah
The indigenous nations of Sixteenth Century Jalisco experienced such
enormous upheaval in the space of mere decades that it has been difficult
for historians to reconstruct the original homes of some native groups.
Peter Gerhard, in The Northern Frontier of New Spain, has done a spectacular
job of exploring the specific history of each colonial jurisdiction. Anyone
who studies Mr. Gerhard's work comes to realize that each jurisdiction, and
each community within each jurisdiction, has experienced a unique set of
circumstances that set it apart from all other jurisdictions. A brief
discussion of some of the individual districts of Jalisco follows:
Tequila (North central Jalisco). The indigenous name for this community is
believed to have been Tecuallan (which, over time, evolved to its present
form). The inhabitants of this area were Tecuexe farmers, most of who lived
in the Barranca. North of the Rio Grande were the Huicholes, who were the
traditional enemies of the Tecuexes. Although Guzman and his forces passed
through this area in 1530, the natives of this area offered stiff resistance
to Spanish incursions into their lands. The Huicholes north of the Rio
Grande raided the Tecuexes settlements in the south before 1550. According
to Gerhard, "the Indians [of this jurisdiction] remained hostile and
uncontrolled until after the Chichimec war when an Augustinian friar began
Lagos de Moreno (Northeastern Los Altos). The author Alfredo Moreno Gonzalez
tells us that the Native American village occupying this area was
Pechititan. According to Mr. Gerhard, "most if not all of the region was
occupied at contact by Chichimec hunters-gatherers, probably Guachichiles,
with a sprinkling of Guamares in the east." It is also believed that
Tecuexes occupied the region southwest of Lagos. When Pedro Almindez
Chirinos traveled through here in March 1530 with a force of fifty Spaniards
and 500 Tarascan and Tlaxcalan allies, the inhabitants gave him a peaceful
Jalostotitlan (Northern Los Altos). This town was called a parish of
San Juan de Los Lagos and Encarnaci╠3n de Diaz (Northern Los Altos). The
indigenous people of these districts were called "Chichimecas blancos"
because of the limestone pigments they used to color their bodies and faces.
The indigenous name for San Juan was Mezquititlan.
La Barca (East central Jalisco). La Barca and the shores of Lake Chapala
were the sites of three indigenous nations: Poncitlan and Cuitzeo - which
ran along the shores of Lake Chapala - and Coinan, north of the lake. The
people of these three chiefdoms spoke the Coca language. Guzman's forces
traveled through here in 1530, laying waste to much of the region. By 1585,
both Coca and Nahuatl were spoken at Ocotlan, although Gerhard tells us that
the latter "was a recent introduction."
Tlaxmulco (Central Jalisco). Before the contact, the Tarascans held this
area. However, they were later driven out by a tribe from Tonalan. At the
time of contact, there were two communities of Coca speakers: Tlaxmulco and
Coyotlan. The natives here submitted to Guzman and were enlisted to fight
with his army in the conquest of the west coast. After the Mixt╠3n
Rebellion, Cazcanes migrated to this area.
Tonala / Tonallan (Central Jalisco). At contact, the region east of here had
a female ruler. Although the ruling class in this region was Coca speakers,
the majority of the inhabitants were Tecuexes. Coca was the language at
Tlaquepaque, while Tzalatitlan was a Tecuexe community. In March 1530, Nu╠▒o
de Guzman arrived in Tonalan and defeated the Tecuexes in battle.
San Crist╠3bal de la Barranca (North central Jalisco). Several native states
existed in this area, most notably Atlemaxaque, Tequixixtlan, Cuauhtlan,
Ichcatlan, Quilitlan, and Epatlan. By 1550, some of the communities were
under Spanish control, while the "Tezoles" (possibly a Huichol group)
remained "unconquered." Nine pueblos in this area around that time boasted a
total population of 5,594. After the typhus epidemic of 1580, only 1,440
Indians survived. The migration of Tecuexes into this area led historians to
classify Tecuexe as the dominant language of the area.
Colotlan (Northern Jalisco). Colotlan can be found in Jalisco's northerly
"Three-Fingers" boundary area with Zacatecas. This heavily wooded section of
the Sierra Madre Occidental remained beyond Spanish control until after the
end of the Chichimeca War. It is believed that Indians of Cazcan and
Tepecanos origin lived in this area. However, this zone became "a refuge for
numerous groups fleeing from the Spaniards." Tepehuanes Indians - close
relatives to the Tepecanos - are believed to have migrated here following
their rebellion in Durango in 1617-1618.
Cuquio (North central Jalisco). When the European explorers reached Cuquio
in north central Jalisco they described it as a densely populated region of
farmers. The dominant indigenous language in this region was Tecuexe.
Guzman's lieutenant, Almindez Chirinos, ravaged this area in February 1530,
and in 1540-41, the Indians in this area were among the insurgents taking
part in the Mixt╠3n Rebellion.
Tepatitlan (Los Altos, Eastern Jalisco). Tecuexes inhabited this area of
stepped plateaus descending from a range of mountains, just east of
Guadalajara. In the south, the people spoke Coca. This area was invaded by
Guzman and in 1541 submitted to Viceroy Mendoza.
Guadalajara. When the Spanish arrived in the vicinity of present-day
Guadalajara in 1530, they found about one thousand dispersed farmers
belonging to the Tecuexes and Cocas. But after the Mixt╠3n Rebellion of the
early 1540s, whole communities of Cazcanes were moved south to the plains
Purificaci╠3n (Westernmost part of Jalisco). The rugged terrain of this
large colonial jurisdiction is believed to have been inhabited by primitive
farmers, hunters, and fisherman who occupied some fifty autonomous
communities. Both disease and war ravaged this area, which came under
Spanish control by about 1560.
Tepec and Chimaltitlan (Northern Jalisco). The region surrounding Tepec and
Chimaltitlan remained a stronghold of indigenous defiance. Sometime around
1550, Gerhard writes that the Indians in this area were described as
"uncontrollable and savage." The indigenous inhabitants drove out Spanish
miners working the silver deposits around the same time. A wide range of
languages was spoken in this area: Tepehuan at Chimaltitlan and Tepic,
Huichol in Tuxpan and Santa Catarina, and Cazcan to the east (near the
border with Zacatecas).
Copyright ňę 2004 by John P. Schmal. All Rights under applicable law are
hereby reserved. Material from this article may be reproduced for
educational purposes and personal, non-commerical home use only.
Reproduction of this article for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited
without the express permission of John P. Schmal. JohnnyPJ@aol.com
John Schmal is an historian, genealogist, and lecturer. With his friend
Donna Morales, he coauthored "Mexican-American Genealogical Research:
Following the Paper Trail to Mexico" (Heritage Books, 2002) and "The
Indigenous Roots of a Mexican-American Family" (Heritage Books, 2004). Most
recently, he coauthored "The Dominguez Family: A Mexican-American Journey"
(Heritage Books, 2004), which is available at:
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Peter Gerhard, The North Frontier of New Spain. Princeton, New Jersey:
Princeton University Press, 1982.
Afredo Moreno Gonzalez, Santa Maria de Los Lagos. Lagos de Moreno: D.R.H.
Ayuntamiento de Los Lagos de Moreno, 1999.
Jose Antonio Gutierrez Gutierrez, Los Altos de Jalisco: Panorama hist╠3rico
de una region y de su sociedad hasta 1821. Mexico: Consejo Nacional para la
Cultura y las Artes, 1991.
Donna S. Morales and John P. Schmal, My Family Through Time: The Story of a
Mexican-American Family. Los Angeles, California, 2000.
Jose Maria Muria, Breve Historia de Jalisco. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura
Philip Wayne Powell, Soldiers Indians and Silver: North America's First
Frontier War. Tempe, Arizona: Center for Latin American Studies, Arizona
State University, 1975.
Eric Van Young, "The Indigenous Peoples of Western Mexico from the Spanish
Invasion to the Present: The Center-West as Cultural Region and Natural
Environment," in Richard E. W. Adams and Murdo J. MacLeod, The Cambridge
History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, Volume II: Mesoamerica, Part
2. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 136-186
Copyright © 2004, by John P. Schmal.