Álamos 1500 – 1599

pond on sierra de alamos during the summer. alamos, sonora, mexico. photo by anders tomlinson

This was then and this is now on Sierra de Álamos.

♦ Before the Europeans

Calimaya, as it was known by the Yaquis and Mayos, was the region
surrounding Álamos. The Yaquis, proud and warlike, and the Mayos,
friendly and peaceful, both spoke Taracahitan language dialects. The
Álamos basin was the land of the Mayo, Warihio and Basiroa. The
Basiroa Indians may have had camps in La Aduana and Agua Escondida
arroyos. There were as many as 115,000 indigenous people in Sonora and
Sinola before the Spanish slave traders arrived. These Indigenous
people, speaking one of 18 Cahita dialects, were the largest Indian
group in Northern Mexico, and lived along the lower reaches of the
Sinaloa, Fuerte, Mayo and Yaqui rivers. The Spanish called these
agriculturalist Indians, spread out across the region in small groups,
“rancheria people”.

♦ The Spanish are Coming, The Spanish are Coming

Diego de Velázquez, governor of Cuba, sends two ships owned by Bizkaian
Lope Ochoa de Salcedo and led by 
Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, the
first European to visit Mexico, to explore the Yucatán peninsula. They
sail along the Yucatán and Gulf of Mexico for six months collecting
gold worth over $20,000 pesos and encounter a wide variety of cultures
and lands proving it is a major land mass and not another island.
Local Indians killed fifty and captured several more Spanish
explorers. Córdoba’s report, on his return to Cuba, makes Governor
Diego de Velásquez decide to have Hernán Cortés command a larger,
stronger force back to Mexico. Cortés, like all early explores, hopes
to discover a route to Asia and its immense riches in spices
and other resources.


February, Cortés sails from Cuba on 11 ships loaded with over 450
soldiers, 16 horses and a large number of supplies. Cortés arrives
in Yucatán and takes control of the town of Tabasco. Here the Spanish
learn of the Aztec empire ruled by Moctezuma II. Dismissing Velasqué
orders, Cortés goes on and founds the city of Veracruz, on the Gulf of
Mexico directly east of Mexico City. Cortés begins his famous march
inward into Mexico, using the strength of his forces to form an
important alliance with the Tlascalans, enemies of the Aztecs.
Cortés’s also traveled with an entourage of 400, including
capture Indians and a woman translator Malinche, who
becomes Cortés’s mistress.

November – Cortés and his men arrive at Tenochtitlán where they are
welcomed as honored guests by Moctezuma and his people due to the
Spaniard’s resemblance to Quetzalcoatl, a legendary light-skinned god-
king whose return was prophesied in Aztec legend. Cortés takes
Moctezuma hostage and controls Tenochtitlán.


August 13: After a bloody series of conflicts–involving the Aztecs, the
Tlascalans and other native allies of the Spaniards, and a Spanish
force sent by Velásquez to contain Cortés – Cortés finally defeats the
forces of Montezuma’s nephew, Cuauhtémoc (who became emperor after his
uncle was killed in 1520) to complete his conquest of Tenochtitlán.
His victory marks the fall of the once-mighty Aztec empire. Cortés
razes the Aztec capital and builds Mexico City on its ruins; it
quickly becomes the premier European center in the New World.

The above entries. 1519 to 1521,  are from A History Timeline of Mexico

Mexico’s Indian population was estimated to be as high as 25 million in
1519 and as low as 4.5 million, most living in the great valley of
Mexico. For more info visit Cambridge Mexico population study,
and in particular Population estimate table

1520 to 1580
Fully 80 percent of the ships making voyages between Europe and
the Americas are either Basque-manned and/or owned by Basque
commercial interests.

The Indian population in Mexico may have been reduced to 16.8 million

December of 1529, Nuno Beltran de Guzman, once a lawyer, led an army of
500 Spanish and 10,000 Tlaxcalans, Aztecs and Tarascans into Sinola.

March of 1531, Guzman defeated 30,000 Indians and founded what is
present day Culíacan. Many that survived were captured and enslaved.
Later, Guzman’s Amerindian army was wiped out by epidemics and hunger.
His was a reign of terror. Spanish colonialization
was approaching Alamos.

Diego de Guzman, nephew of Nuño de Guzman, walks through on well-trod
Indian trails. He was looking for Indian slaves. He may have been the
first European to walk through present day Álamos, Sonora, Mexico. He
went as far north as the Yaqui River before being stopped by hostile
Yaquis. Some accounts mention the Spanish being turned back by an
elderly man in black robes who drew a line in the sand. Others talk
about the vastly outnumbered Spanish turning around to avoid combat
with the hostile Yaquis warriors.

The Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, begins hearing of
Guzmán’s atrocities in 1931 involving the Indians and, urged on by
Franciscan Father Bartolomé de las Casas and Bishop Zumárraga, he has
Guzmán arrested in 1535. Mendoza returns Guzmán to Spain in 1536
where he dies in obscurity in 1544.

Alavar Nuñez Cabeza de Vasa may have neen the first european to reach
present day Arizona. He too probably walked through Álamos along
Indian trails headed towards Culíacan

Cabeza de Vaca arrives in Mexico City with news of the even Cities
of Cibola and its plentiful gold and silver. Viceroy Don Antonio
de Mendosa listened with great interest and decides to fund
an expedition north.

Franciscan priest Marcos de Niza was appointed leader of Mendoza’s
expedition. Estéban the Moor, who had traveled with Cabeza de Vaca,
was the guide. They left Culíacan March 7, 1539. The expedition was
forced back to Culíacan with little but talk of cities of gold and
silver. Estéban had been killed by Indians

Vásquez de Coronado with a large military expedition left Compstela,
Navarit and traveled through Sinola and Sonora. de Coronado is thought
to have camped on Guadalupe Hill in Alamos. The camp site was called
Real de los Frailes, Real de la Limpia Concepcion de los Alamos and
Real de Guadalupe

Cristóbal de Oñate makes the first mining strikes in Nueva Galacia:
Silver at Espíritu Santo, Guachinango, Xocotlán and Etzatlán – and
gold at Xaltepec. The strikes are small, but they encourage new
settlement in the area

There are some who think members of Guzman’s expedition, slave traders
or Indians, had mined silver near Álamos as early as 1543.

The first book published in the New World is written by Bishop
Zumárraga. Titled Doctrina Breve, it instructs the Aztecs,
in their own language, about Catholicism

The Mexican Indian population may have been reduced to
6.3 million by 1548.

In my notes I had a reference to Francisco Ibarra and 1564.
I do not know why. As I go through my notes it may become clearer. I
did research on Franciso Ibarra and found these entries in a timeline
of Basques in New Spain:

1549 — At the age of 10, Francisco de Ibarra comes to
the New World to join his uncle Diego de Ibarra.
1554 — Francisco de Ibarra leads his first expedition
at the age
of 16. At age 17, he leads the first authorized exploration north and
west of Zacatecas. Between 1554 and 1574, he and Juan de Tolosa
conquer the area of northern Mexico.Northern Mexico is now comprised
of the present states of Durango, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sinaloa,
Sonora, and some parts of Zacatecas, San Luis de Potosí and León. In
the 1560’s Ibarra carries out extensive exploration, conquest and
settlement of the unknown lands north of San Martín and names the area
Nueva Viscaya after his homeland in the Basque Country.

Jesuits arrive in New Spain.

The Indian population continued to decline in 1580 with
an estimated 1.9 million survivors

1583 – 1584
First settlements north of Culíacan in an attempt to
bolster Spanish control of northern Sinola.

1590 -1591
Jesuit priests Gonzalo Tapia and Martin Perez establish
a mission in Culíacan.

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♦ Other Álamos, Sonora Mexico timelines:

1600 – 1699 timeline

1700 – 1799 timeline

1800 – 1849 timeline

1850 – 1899 timeline

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This is a work in progress.
If you have additional dates and events send a comment

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©2014 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

La Aduana

The landscape of La Aduana has rebounded from the best and worst of man..

Street in La Aduana, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Downtown Aduana on a typical weekday morning. Remants of mining dot the hills.

Spanish conquistador Vasquez de Coronado camped here during the winter of 1540-41. He was searching for gold in what turned out to be mountains with veins of silver. The mines closed in 1906 after nearly 400 years of continuous mining. La Aduana was the “custom office”, it was all about taxes and royalties. Life was hard and short with the hazards of the mines and the chemicals used in the extraction process. The curse of quicksilver had a wide footprint.

Looking east at La Aduana, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Today, seven miles west of Alamos, Aduana is what it is.

Here seven miles west of Alamos, at 2,500 feet elevation with surrounding mountains as high as 4,700 feet, Aduana has less than 300 people where once there was 5,000. A church, country store, cemetery, a small restaurant-inn, a plaza with a dry fountain in its center surrounded by the past is Aduana today. And for some this is their home. And these are their hills with their months of desert and long summer of jungle.

Cooperativa Artesanos La Aduana, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

The woman come out to show their wares when visitors arrive.

Located near the church is La Aduana Art & Crafts. This is a cooperative of local ladies, seen here, with their products. This photo was taken in 1997. I wonder what Aduana is like today. I know the dust is the same and radios and televisions sing and speak from isolated homes. But has the realities of 2011 arrived? While researching Aduana on the internet I was surprised to see alamos-sonora-mexico.com being quoted, some would say plagiarized, by others sites. Indeed, this is 2011. In the next wave of Alamos video editing – mid May, scenes from Aduana will be posted.

cactus in wall of la adauna church, sonora, mexico.  photo by anders tomlinson.

A cactus grows out of a church wall and people come to pray.

This is not the London Bridge or the Grand Canyon but it is a quiet moment, in a now quiet town, that inspires those who believe.

burros drinking watr in la aduana, sonora, mexico.  photo by anders tomlinson.

Two generations gather for a drink at the local water hole - more puddle.

These burros could be descendants of working Aduana burros from the 1600’s. It was a hard life: grinding down ore in quicksilver or moving silver from the mines, to the Alamos treasury to Mexico City and back for another trip loaded with needed supplies.
Beasts of burden relax and calm La Aduana morning. Birds and insects fill the sky with sound. It is becoming warmer.
entrance to a mine in La Aduana, Sonora, Mexico.  photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Just think of all that took place deep within this silver mine. Think of the men. Think of how and why they are there. Think of their typical day. Think of where they laid down to sleep. Think of what they eat.

Here was Silver

Once this was a major silver mining town in all the world. Today, it is tucked away up in the hills with a quiet plaza and dry fountain. It is calm. Mining remnants dot the hillside. They are reminders of what was and what is.
Photos and editing by Anders Tomlinson. Music from “Camino Songs” by SonicAtomics.

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Alamos Short History

Back in the Old West When There Was No Old West

The Chuc

Looking west, explorer Coronado was struck by this mountain and landscape.

Tucked away in a picturesque valley in the foothills of the Sierra Madre is an enchanted Shangri-La that sings of other eras. Indians called this region Calimaya long before Spanish Explorer Vasquez de Coronado noted in 1540, ” here is something special…

The Spaniards called this land Real de los Frailes because of some tall white rocks resembling hooded monks overlooking a small Indian village shaded by cottonwoods.

These towering rocks speak loudly. They call for, and command, your attention.

In 1683, 143 years after Coronado, two abundant veins of silver were discovered seven miles to the west of present day Alamos. The mines of Aduana and Minas Nuevas, in a zone 4.5 by 1.5 miles, produced an estimated $100,000,000 in 1910 dollars.

Aduana is now a sleepy little village amid mine ruins.

Soon, Alamos was the richest and most important city on the El Camino Real. Juan de Anza arrived and departed Alamos sometime in the spring of 1775 with local families and freshly mined silver to settle San Francisco. Alamos money and citizens were also vital for expeditions that settled Monterey, Santa Barbara and five years later, Los Angeles. Father Kino used the Royal treasury to finance a chain of missions in northern Sonora and southern Arizona. The Bishop and Governor resided in Alamos, as did the first high school, printing press and newspaper and important trading center.

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♦  A timeline of De Anza in 1775

January – de Anza, in Mexico City, begins to organize his expedition to to colonize San Francisco.

March – de Anza begins recruiting colonizers in Culiacan, Province of Sinaloa, Mexico.

April 5 – de Anza is recorded as being in Culiacan

March, April, May – de Anza continued recruiting in the villages of Sinaloa and El Fuerte in the Province of Sinaloa, and Álamos, in Sonora. 30 citizens from Álamos, more than any other community, had joined the expedition, now more tHan 250 soldiers and colonizers.

May 1 – de Anza is in El Fuerte.

May 13 – de Anza, Espinosa and six presidial soldiers meet up with Moraga between Álamos and Horcasitas.

June 22 – de Anza in San Miguel de Horcasitas

July 22 – September 13 – diary notes indicate de Anza was in San Miguel de Horcasitas, Terrenate, Cocóspera, Mission San Ignacio… During this period of time the Apaches were restless.

September 29 – de Anza’s expedition leaves Horcasitas, just north of Alamos. From Pedro Font’s diary notes.

October 16 – de Anza arrives in Tubac from Horcasitas in mid-and continues preparations there

October 23 – de Anza’s expedition left Tubac on with some 300 people and 1000 head of livestock. There were no wagons or carts. All supplies were loaded on pack mules every morning and unloaded every night. The expedition was headed to the SF Bay Area following reports of a great river flowing into the bay.
The goal was to establish a presido, mission and San Franciso settlement.

March – de Anza arrived in Monterey, California.

March 28 – Mexican Captain Juan Bautista de Anza, Lt. Jose Moraga, and Franciscan priest Pedro Font arrived at the tip of San Francisco. De Anza planted a cross at what is now Fort Point. They camped at Mountain Lake and searched inland for a more hospitable area and found a site they called Laguna de los Dolores or the Friday of Sorrows since the day was Friday before Palm Sunday.

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The plaza was the heartbeat of Alamos as it grew in power and prestige.

The lure of silver brought international miners from Europe and other continents. On the Sea of Cortez galleons from Asia, Phillipines and Europe called on the port of Huatabampo loaded with cargo, a week by burro from Alamos. They brought luxuries such as silk and satin and the world’s finest furniture. Opera Companies visited. China minted coins here. Merchants came from India and Japanese supervised a silk factory. The indigenous population included Mayos, Yaquis, and Tarahumaras. Hordes of miners and traders, who endured great hardships in their travels, overran Alamos.

As many as 30,000 people made Alamos their home during the peak of its glory in the 18th century. Here, new Spain was pomp and circumstance with a beautiful Church, grand haciendas built in the style of Andalusia, Spain, flower-filled patios, romantic serenades, elegant carriages, flourishing commerce, and mines that ranked amongst the most productive in the world.

The Past is Alive in the Structures and the Sparkle of an Eye.

For the past 300 years Alamos has been built and shaped by families of wealth and taste. Experienced builders and skilled craftsmen, through good times and bad, have gone about town building and restoring ruins. Today it is a National Colonial Monument, an ageless tribute to the men and women who entrusted their designs, possessions and dreams to the future.

The Plaza was the prize, conquer the Plaza and Alamos was yours.

The Sunday promenade in Plaza de Armas goes back to the 1680’s. In peaceful times families gathered here for conversation, worship and grand public celebrations. The church and prominent colonial mansions were built surrounding the plaza for protection against the Indians: Tarahumara, Yaquis, Mayos and Apaches. Later, the plaza afforded a prestigious address.

Looking down from the Church at a street sweeper on Calle Comercio.

The Alameda, the commercial center of Alamos, was laid out in 1769.

For Every Action There is An Equal and Opposite Reaction.

With prosperity came hardship. The poor could not afford the inflated prices of merchandise shipped by pack trains from Guadalajara and Mexico City, a hazardous trek that took four months. Indians were used as slaves or cheap labor. Sanitation and disease were a problem: in 1770 alone plague wiped out 6,000 people.

There are times when the Plaza is quiet and reflective and there are times when…

There were continual power struggles between Colonels, Governors, Admirals, Priests, Bishops, and an unending parade of Royal emissaries. The city was heavily taxed by the Crown and by those who controlled the local territory. Political instability raged, treaties and agreements were broken. Alamos had its ups and downs depending on the mood of the day, month and seasons.

Alamos endured two centuries of siege mentality and the prize was control of silver and politics. At one time or another the plaza was overrun by the Spanish, Mexican colonists, Federalists, Liberals, French, Apaches, Independents, Reformers, Pancho Villa, Renegade soldiers and bandits. Along with droughts, pestilence and floods Indians continued constant uprising. Apaches came south to plunder and the independent Tarahumara sought revenge for their forced slavery. By 1849 only 4,000 people remained in Alamos. The miners had left for California’s gold rush.

And Then They Were Gone.

Trade shifted from El Camino Real to coastline ports. Plazas, arches, ornate ironwork, hand carved wood, high ceilings and cobblestone streets fell upon hard times. Roofs caved in leaving two to five foot thick walls open to the sky. The once great patios filled with debris. Despite the wars, bad weather and impoverished neglect. old families stayed, as did some miners. Alamos continued on… the sun would rise another day in this land that remained in a forgotten age.

The streets of this National Colonial Monument echo history, here, one is never alone.

The Plaza is peaceful these days. Alamos streets are safe from intruders and invaders.
Town folks sleep well at night knowing tomorrow is another day, another song, another hug, another laugh, another challenge, another moment to be part of Alamos…

And Then Along Came A Man Named Levant.

Not until the 1950’s did a lone American, Levant Alcorn, come to the cobble stone streets, and see the potential for the future. He saw value in the plazas, arches, ornate iron-work, carved wood doors, high ceilings, five-foot thick walls and proximity to the United States International border.

Late in his life, a childlike Levant had a quick smile and a fading memory.

He began to acquire ruined mansions. Soon, he was selling property to independent Americans hoping to realize their dream standard of living. Restoration projects began and continue today. Now, Alamos has over 200 American families as part of its social fabric.

Roofs are always in need of repair. They are also another place to relax.

Each wall, every window and door is a story. Where did it come from, how and when did it get here? Was it made by an Alamos or imported craftsmen?

There is a prideful sense of ownership that comes with undertaking a restoration project that in reality will never end. And there is a humble realization that the casa is really owned by history and this is but a brief opportunity to be part of a continuum of gatekeepers and masters.

Restoration-maintenance is an industry, it is a way of life. Owners, maestros, workers
and house-help are a team that can last a lifetime.

Think of the coats of paint these columns have worn over the past 200 years.

An introduction to a Short History of Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.
“Here is something Special”, Spanish explorer Vasquez de Coronado noted in 1540 as he headed north, passing by tall white rocks on Alamos de Sierra. This is the opening chapter to “A Short History of Alamos” written, filmed and edited by Anders Tomlinson. Narrated by Bruce Miles. Soundtrack by SonicAtomics and Estudiantina de Alamos.

Alamos shares a strong maternal bond, steeped in history, with all the Southwest.
Juan Batista de Anza arrived and departed from Alamos in the spring of 1775 with silver, and local families, to settle “Monterey and the Californias”, including San francisco. Another expedition, five years later, left Alamos to settle Los Angeles.

The conclusion to a Short History of Alamos, Sonora, Mexico embraces the Sierra Madre.
Here, Bishop Reyes’ Cathedral in the Plaza, a three-tiered belfry, shines gold in morning light. Here, looking east, one’s imagination is stirred by the forbidding beauty of the Sierra Madre Occidentals. Together, they shape the Alamos experience.

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