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Modern Jalisco

The modern state of Jalisco consists of 78,597 square kilometers located in the west central portion of the Mexican Republic and taking up 4.0% of the national territory. As the seventh largest state in Mexico, Jalisco is politically divided into 124 municipios. With a 2010 population of about 7,844,830 inhabitants, Jalisco has the fourth largest population in Mexico with 6.6% of the national population. 

The capital of Jalisco is Guadalajara, which had a 2010 population of 1,495,182. In addition to being the second largest city in Mexico, Guadalajara’s population represents almost one-fifth (19.1%) of Mexico’s population.

Jalisco is a very large state and actually has boundaries with seven other Mexican states. While Colima and Michoacán lay to her south and east, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes and Nayarit lay to the north. In addition, Jalisco has a common border with Guanajuato and a small sliver of San Luis Potosí on her northeastern frontier.  The name Jalisco comes from the Náhuatl words xali(sand) and ixco(surface). Together, these words mean “sandy surface.”

Up to 1867, Nayarit was part of Jalisco. In August 1867, Nayarit became the “Military District of Tepic.” It was elevated to the status of a territory separate from Jalisco in 1884, achieving full statehood in 1917.

The Jalisco Economy

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Jalisco exceeded one trillion pesos in 2015 and contributed 6.8% of Mexico’s national GDP. In 2015, the five primary contributors to Jalisco’s GDP were: wholesale and retail trade (21.8%); manufacturing (20.5%); real estate, rental and leasing (13.0%); construction (8.6%) and agriculture/forestry/fishing/hunting (5.9%).

Of Jalisco’s 3.6 million workers during 2016, almost one-in-four (1,402,644, or 39.35%) were employed in the manufacturing and commerce sectors. While 304,996 persons were engaged in agriculture/forestry/ fishing and hunting (8.5%), a slightly larger number (319,730, or 9.0%) were employed in the accommodation and food services.

A Wide Range of Topographies

Jalisco is crossed by two large mountain ranges, the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Neo-Volcanic Axis. While the Sierra Madre Occidental runs north to south across western Mexico, the Neo-Volcanic Axis is a long line of ancient volcanoes (many still active) that extends from the Pacific Ocean (north of Guadalajara) eastward to the Gulf of Mexico, just to the south of Veracruz. 

Geographic Divisions

The State of Jalisco is made up of a diverse terrain that includes mountains, forests, beaches, plains, and lakes. The state’s four geographic regions are described below and illustrated in the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI) map on the following page:

  1. Sierra Madre Occidental occupies 15.52% of the state surface, taking up the northwest part of the entity and consisting mainly of large plateaus, canyons and mountains, with narrow valleys in between. This mountain range extends northward into Nayarit, Durango and Zacatecas.
  2. Central Plateau (Mesa del Centro) occupies 3.56% of the state’s surface, touching the northeast end of the entity. It consists mainly of plains, plateaus and mountains and extends northward into Aguascalientes and Zacatecas.
  3. Neovolcanic Axis (Eje Neovolcánico) covers 48.16% of the state’s area, including most of the central zone. This feature consists mainly of mountains with volcanoes, hills, lake plains, large plateaus, small valleys and some canyons. The Axis — also known as the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt — is a volcanic belt that crosses central Mexico from Colima and Jalisco in the west to central Veracruz in the east. Several of its highest peaks have snow all year long.
  4. Sierra Madre del Sur (32.76% of the state’s area). Jalisco lies at the northern edge of this mountain range which occupies the southwest and southeast of the state and extends into Michoacán and farther south through Guerrero and Oaxaca.
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La Gran Chichimeca

When the Spaniards started exploring Jalisco and Zacatecas in the 1520s and 1530s, they encountered several nomadic tribes occupying the area which they referred to as La Gran Chichimeca. The Aztecs collectively referred to these Indians with the all-encompassing term, Chichimecas. All of the Chichimeca Indians shared a primitive hunting-collecting culture, based on the gathering of mesquite, acorns, roots and seeds, as well as the hunting of small animals, including frogs, lizards, snakes and worms. Within the present-day boundaries of Jalisco, the Caxcanes, Guachichiles, Tecuexes and Guamares were considered to be Chichimecas.

Colonial Jalisco as Part of Nueva Galicia

The Jalisco of colonial Mexico was not an individual political entity but part of the Spanish province of Nueva Galicia, which embraced about 224,638 square kilometers (86,733 square miles) 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 Potosí. Across this broad range of territory, a wide array of indigenous groups lived before 1522 (the first year of contact with Spanish explorers). Domingo Lázaro de Arregui, in his Descripción de la Nueva Galicia– published in 1621 – wrote that 72 native languages were spoken in the Spanish colonial province of Nueva Galicia,which included a large part of Jalisco, as well as Nayarit, Aguascalientes and Zacatecas. 

However,  according to the author Eric van Young, “the extensive and deep-running mestizaje”(the racial and cultural mixing of Amerindians with Europeans) of Nueva Galicia 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.”

The historian Philip Wayne Powell has written several books that dealt with the Chichimeca Indians and the Spanish encounter with these Indians. In his publication Soldiers Indians and Silver: North America’s First Frontier War, Mr. Powell noted that “Hernán Cortés, the Conqueror, defeated the Aztecs in a two-year campaign” but that his “stunning success created an illusion of European superiority over the Indianas a warrior.” Continuing with this line of thought, Mr. Powell observed that “this lightning-quick subjugation of such massive and complex peoples as the Tlaxcalan, Aztec, and Tarascan, proved to be but prelude to a far longer military struggle against the peculiar and terrifying prowess” of  the Chichimeca nations and their warriors.

Nuño de Guzmán

In December 1529, Nuño de Guzmán, left Mexico City at the head of a force of five hundred Spaniards and 10,000 Indian soldiers. According to J. Lloyd Mecham, the author of Francisco de Ibarra and Nueva Vizcaya, “Guzmán was an able and even brilliant lawyer, a man of great energy and firmness, but insatiably ambitious, aggressive, wily, and cruel.”  In a rapid and brutal campaign lasting from February to June, 1530, Guzmán traveled through Michoacán, Jalisco, and southern Zacatecas. The historian Peter Gerhard writes that “Guzmán’s strategy throughout was to terrorize the natives with often unprovoked killing, torture, and enslavement. The army left a path of corpses and destroyed houses and crops, impressing surviving males into service and leaving women and children to starve.”

Once Guzmán 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 human institutions were prone to abuse and misuse and, as a result, some Indians were reduced to slave labor.

Taking formal possession of the conquered areas, Guzmán named his conquered territory “Greater Spain.”  However, twelve years later, the Spaniard administration renamed the region as Nueva Galicia(New Galicia). Reports of Guzmán’s brutal treatment of the indigenous people got the attention of the authorities in Mexico City. Two years later, he was returned to Spain in chains to stand trial. He spent some time in prison and died in Spain around 1558. 

The Mixtón Rebellion (1540-1541)

In the spring of 1540, the Indian population of western Mexico began a fierce rebellion against Spanish rule. The indigenous tribes living along today’s Three-Finger border region between Jalisco and Zacatecas led the way in fomenting the insurrection. In the hills near Teul and Nochistlán, the Indians attacked Spanish settlers and soldiers and destroyed churches.

By April of 1541, the Cazcanes of southern Zacatecas and northern Jalisco were waging a full-scale revolt against all symbols of Spanish rule. The map on the following page shows the location of the areas in which the native peoples rose in rebellion within a three-state region [Jaontiveros, “Mapa de los Pueblos de Nayarit, Zacatecas y Jalisco Que se Levantaron en Armas Durante la Guerra del Mixtón (March 16, 2009).]

It took the better part of two years to contain the Mixtón Rebellion. Antonio de Mendoza, who had become the first Viceroy of Nueva España in 1535, quickly assembled a force of 450 Spaniards and 30,000 Aztec and Tlaxcalan warriors. In a series of short sieges and assaults, Mendoza gradually suffocated the uprising. By December, 1541, the native resistance had been completely crushed. 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.” Fortunately, some of these people were allowed to return home a decade later.

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The Chichimeca War (1550-1590)

Professor Powell writes that rush to establish new settlements and pave new roads through Zacatecas, “left in its wake a long stretch of unsettled and unexplored territory.” To function properly, the Zacatecas silver mines “required well-defined and easily traveled routes.” Mr. Powell wrote that these highways “became the tangible, most frequently visible evidence of the white man’s permanent intrusion” into their land. As the natives learned about the usefulness of the goods being transported (silver, food, and clothing), “they quickly appreciated the vulnerability of this highway movement to any attack they might launch.” 

In time, the Zacatecos and Guachichile Indians, in whose territory most of the silver mines could be found, started to resist the intrusion by assaulting the travelers and merchants using the roads. And thus began La Guerra de los Chichimecas(The War of the Chichimecas), which eventually became the longest and most expensive conflict between Spaniards and the indigenous peoples of New Spain in the history of the colony. The present-day northern regions of Jalisco were included in this war zone.

Indigenous Allies

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, Otomíes, Tlaxcalans, and the Cazcanes had all joined forces with the Spanish military. By the time the Chichimeca War began in 1550, the Tarascans and Otomíes, 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 Chichimecas.”

Decline through Epidemic 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. By 1550, this number had dropped to 220,000.

In two decades, the populous coastal region north of Banderas Bay witnessed the greatest population decline. By the late 1530s, the population of the Pacific coastal plain and foothills from Acaponeta to Purificación 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. In spite of the epidemics, several areas of Jalisco were less affected by contagious disease. 

The Caxcanes

One of the primary indigenous groups of Jalisco was the Cazcanes (Caxcanes) who 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. The language of the Caxcanes Indians was 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, Huejúcar, and across the border in Nochistlán, Zacatecas. The language of Cazcanes was very similar to the Nahua dialect spoken by the Mexica and has sometimes been referred to as a corrupt form of Nahua.

According to Mr. Powell, the Caxcanes were “the heart and the center of the Indian rebellion in 1541 and 1542.” After the Mixtón Rebellion, the Cazcanes became allies of the Spaniards. For this reason, they suffered attacks by the Zacatecas and Guachichiles during the Chichimeca War. As a cultural group, the Caxcanes ceased to exist during the Nineteenth Century. The only person who has published detailed materials relating to the Caxcanes is the archaeologist, Dr. Phil C. Weigand.

The Cocas

From Guadalajara in the north to Sayula in the south and from Cocula in the west to La Barca and Lake Chapala in the east, the Cocas inhabited a significant swath of territory in central and southern Jalisco. Zapotitlan, Jocotepec, Cocula and Tepec were all within their domain. When the Spaniards first entered their territory, some of the Coca Indians, guided by their leader Tzitlali, moved away to a small valley surrounded by high mountains, a place they named “Cocolan.”  When the Spaniards arrived in the vicinity of present-day Guadalajara in 1530, they found about one thousand dispersed farmers belonging to both the Tecuexes and Cocas.

The late American anthropologist Carolyn Baus de Czitrom studied the Cocas extensively and published a remarkable work about their traditions and way of life. In her landmark work, “Tecuexes y Cocas: Dos Grupos de la Region Jalisco en el Siglo XVI,” Dr. Baus de Czitrom described the Cocas as a very peaceful and cooperative people (“Los cocas era gente dócil, buena y amiga de los españoles.”), which she based largely on the accounts of Tello.

Because the Cocas were a peaceful people, the Spaniards, for the most part, left them alone. Some historians believe that the word mariachi originated in the language of the Cocas. Some of the traditions surrounding mariachi are certainly derived from the Coca culture and the five-stringed musical instrument called vihuela was a creation of the Cocas. 

The map on the following page created for Carolyn Baus de Czitrom’s book shows the adjacent territories of the Tecuexes (on the north) and the Cocas (on the south), whose territories overlapped in the region of Guadalajara [Carolyn Baus de Czitrom, “Tecuexes y Cocas: Dos Grupos de la  Region Jalisco en el Siglo XVI” (1992), page 11].

The Tecuexes

From Magdalena and Tequila in the west to Jalostotitlán and Cerro Gordo in the east, the Tecuexes occupied a considerable area of northern Jalisco. Their southern border extended just south of Guadalajara while their eastern range extended into the northwestern part of Los Altos and included Mexticacan, Tepatitlán and Valle de Guadalupe. The Tecuexes were also studied extensively by Dr. Baus de Czitrom, who reported that the Spaniards considered them to be brave and bold warriors (“Los Tecuexes eran valientes y audaces guerreros.”) 

The Tecuexes and Cocas both occupied some of the same communities within central Jalisco, primarily in the region of Guadalajara. It seems likely that this coexistence probably led to inter-marital relationships between the Cocas and Tecuexes in some areas and played a role in aligning the two peoples together. However, in other areas such as Lake Chapala, the Tecuexes and Cocas were adversaries.

The Tecuexes were frequently at odds with their other neighbors in the north, the Caxcanes. In fact, it is believed that Caxcanes originally invaded the territory of the Tecuexes in the area of Tlatenango, Juchipila, Nochistlán (Zacatecas) and Teocaltiche (Jalisco) during the pre-Hispanic era. The Caxcanes and Tecuexes in this area continued to their hostilities for as many as 260 years until the arrival of the Spaniards.

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The Spaniards first confronted the Tecuexes in an area north of Lake Chapala. When Guzmán arrived in the area in February 1530, the Tecuexes fled at first, but returned a few days later. Both the Tecuexes and Cocas had heard that Guzmán was on his way and decided to accept the invaders peacefully.  When the Spanish force arrived, most of the leaders of the Cocas and Tecuexes received them in friendship and offered gifts. 

However, one group of Tecuexes decided to resist and ambushed Guzmán and his men. Because of their superiority in arms, the Spaniards quickly defeated this group. Later, the manipulative Guzmán used an alliance with the Cocas to help subdue the Tecuexes. Like the Caxcanes, the Tecuexes suffered in the aftermath of the Mixtón Rebellion.  

The Coras

The Coras inhabited an area that is now located in present-day Nayarit as well as the northwestern fringes of Jalisco. The Cora call themselves Nayarit or Nayariti, a tribe belonging to the Taracahitian division of the Uto-Aztecan linguistic family. The Cora developed agricultural methods that included the building of terraces to control erosion. Today, the Coras, numbering more than 20,000 people, continue to survive, primarily in Nayarit and to a lesser extent in 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). 

The Cuyutecos

The Cuyutecos ‒ speaking the Nahua language of the Aztecs ‒ settled in southwestern Jalisco, inhabiting Atenquillo, Talpa, Mascota, Mixtlán, Atengo, and Tecolotlán. 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. 

The Guachichiles

Of all the Chichimec tribes, the Guachichile Indians occupied the largest territory, – an estimated 100,000 square kilometers – from Saltillo, Coahuila in the north to Lake Chapala in eastern Jalisco on the southern end. Their territory extended through parts of eastern Zacatecas, western San Luis Potosí, parts of eastern Jalisco, Aguascalientes and western Guanajuato. Their territory extended westward close to the city of Zacatecas and eastward into sections of San Luis Potosí.  The present-day Jalisco cities of Lagos de Moreno, Arandas, Ayo el Chico, and Tepatitlán were within the territory of the Guachichiles.

The name Guachichil‒ given to them by the Aztecs ‒ meant “head colored red.” They had been given this label, writes Mr. Dunne, because “they were distinguished by red feather headdresses, by painting themselves red (especially the hair), or by wearing head coverings (bonetillas) made of hides and painted red.” The archaeologist Paul Kirchhoff wrote that the following traits characterized the Guachichile Indians: “painting of the body; coloration of the hair; head gear; matrilocal residence; freedom of the married woman; special forms of cruelty to enemies.”

In the development of tribal alliances, the Guachichiles were considered the most advanced of the Chichimec tribes. They were a major catalyst in provoking the other tribes to resist the Spanish settlement and exploitation of Indian lands. Their resistance in the Chichimeca War became legendary. The Spanish frontiersmen and contemporary writers referred to the Guachichiles “as being the most ferocious, the most valiant, and the most elusive”of all their indigenous adversaries. After the end of the Chichimeca War, the Guachichiles were very quickly assimilated and Christianized and no longer exist as a distinguishable cultural entity. 

The Guamares

The nation of the Guamares took up portions of western Guanajuato, northeastern Jalisco and a small part of Aguascalientes. The author, Gonzalo de las Casas, called the Guamares “the bravest, most warlike, treacherous, and destructive of all the Chichimecas.”The area around San Juan de los Lagos, Encarnación de Díaz and Jalostotitlán in northeastern Jalisco (Los Altos) was primarily occupied by the “Chichimecas Blancos,”a Guamares tribe who used limestone pigments to color their faces and bodies. When Pedro Almíndez 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 reception. 

The 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.

In contrast to the Cora Indians, the Huichol were never congregated into nucleated mission settlements and thus, according to Franz (1996), were never converted from their “primitive pagan ways.” In his 2001 thesis for the University of Florida, Brad Morris Biglow noted that, while the Cora Indians fought aggressively to resist acculturation, the Huichol response was primarily to “flee” to more remote locations in the Sierra Madre. According to Aguirre Beltran, the Huichol retreat into the Sierra created a “region of refuge” and enabled the Huichol to “resist the acculturative pressures around them.”

The isolation of the Huicholes ‒ now occupying parts of northwestern Jalisco and Nayarit ‒ 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. At the time of the Spanish contact, Huichol speakers were living in the northern stretches of what is now called the Three-Fingers Region of Northern Jalisco, in particular Huejuquilla, Tuxpan and Colotlán.

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.

The Otomíes

The Otomíes were a Chichimeca nation primarily occupying Querétaro and Guanajuato. However, early on, the Otomíes allied themselves with the Spaniards and Mexica Indians. As a result, writes Mr. Powell, Otomí 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 España) used Otomí militia against the Chichimecas. The strategic placement of Otomí settlements in Nueva Galicia made their language dominant near Zapotitlán, Juchitlán, Autlán, and other towns near Jalisco’s southern border with Colima.

The Purépecha Indians (Tarascans)

The Purépecha Indians ‒ also referred to as the Tarascans and Porhé ‒ inhabited many parts of present-day Michoacán and boasted a powerful empire that rivaled the Aztec Empire during the Fifteenth and early Sixteenth Centuries. As recently as 2010, the Purépecha numbered over 124,000 speakers. This language, classified as an isolated language, was spoken along the southern fringes of southern Jalisco, adjacent to the border with Colima. Today, the Purépecha language is still the third-most spoken indigenous language in Jalisco.

The Tepehuanes

In pre-Hispanic times, the Tepehuán Indians inhabited a wide swath of territory that stretched through sections of present-day Jalisco, Nayarit, Durango and Chihuahua. According to Buelna (1891), they received their name from the Náhuatl term tepetl, “mountain,” and huan, “at the junction of.” Unlike the Guachichiles, the Tepehuanes did not become involved in operations against the Spaniards in the Chichimec War. Charlotte M. Gradie’s “The Tepehuán Revolt of 1616: Militarism, Evangelism and Colonialism in Seventeenth Century Nueva Vizcaya” (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2000) discussed in great detail the Tepehuanes and their famous 1616-1619 revolt that ravaged much of Durango.  After their rebellion was crushed, the Tepehuán moved to hiding places in the Sierra Madre to avoid Spanish retaliation.

Today, the Tepehuán 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 Tepee, Mezquital and Colotlán. The Tepehuanes language and culture are no longer found in Jalisco, but more than 35,000 Tepehuanes still reside in southern Chihuahua and some parts of Durango and Nayarit. 

Assimilation and Mestizaje (1590-1620)

The employment of Tarascans, Aztecs and Tlaxcalans for the purpose of “defensive colonization” ‒ discussed earlier in this report ‒ encouraged a gradual assimilation of the Chichimecas and other Jalisco Indians. In the 1590s Náhuatl-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 labored in the fields alongside the Christian, “civilized” Indians. In time, the indigenous Jalisco groups were absorbed into the more dominant cultures from the south (i.e., Aztec, Tlaxcalan, Otomí and Tarascan Indians). 

By the early Seventeenth Century, writes Mr. Powell, most of the Chichimeca Indians had disappeared as distinguishable cultural entities and “the sixteenth-century land of war thus became fully Mexican in its mixture.” 

Independence from Spain (1823)

By the early part of the Nineteenth Century, very few people living in Jalisco still spoke indigenous languages. In fact, a large number of the original languages spoken in Jalisco had disappeared from the face of the earth. However, the descendants of the original Indians still lived in Jalisco and many of them still felt a spiritual, cultural and physical bond to their Indian ancestors. On June 23, 1823, the Department of Guadalajara was proclaimed as the “El Estado Libre y Soberano de Jalisco” (The Free and Sovereign State of Jalisco).

Indigenous Discontent (1825-1885)

Unfortunately, independence did not bring stability to Jalisco, nor did it bring economic reform to the descendants of Jalisco’s indigenous peoples. The historian Dawn Fogle Deaton writes that in the sixty-year period from 1825 to 1885, Jalisco witnessed twenty-seven peasant (primarily indigenous) rebellions. Seventeen of these uprisings occurred within one decade, 1855-64, and the year 1857 witnessed ten separate revolts. According to Ms. Deaton, the cause of these “waves of unrest, popular protest, and open rebellion” arose “out of the political and social struggles among classes and between classes.” She further explained that the “commercialization of the economy,” especially in agriculture, had led to fundamental changes in the lifestyles of the peasants and thus brought about “the seeds of discontent.”

As Jalisco prepared to enter the Twentieth Century, the indigenous speaking population of the State declined considerably. In the 1895 census, only 4,510 persons spoke an indigenous language, representing 0.38% of the state’s total population. By the time of the 1930 census, this figure would drop to 2,648 (0.21% of the total population).

The 1921 Census: Racial Classifications

In spite of the lost language connection, the bond that many Jaliscans felt towards their indigenous ancestry continued well into the Twentieth Century and is clearly manifested in the 1921 Mexican census. At the time of this census, which was tallied after the end of the devastating Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), 199,728 Jalisco natives identified themselves as being of “indígena pura” (pure indigenous) descent, representing 16.8% of the entire state’s population.  

In a true testament to the mestizaje of Jalisco’s inhabitants, 903,830 Jaliscans classified themselves as “indígena mezclada con blanca” (Indigenous mixed with White), representing 75.8% of the total state population. The following table illustrates the racial classifications in the 1921 census:

The 1921 Mexican Census: Racial Classifications in Jalisco

Racial Classification

No. of Persons

% of Total State Population

Indígena Pura



Indígena Mezclada con Blanca






Question Ignored or Other Classifications



Total Population



Source:  Departamento de la Estadística Nacional, Annuario de 1930: Estados Unidos Mexicanos (Tacubaya, Distrito Federal, 1932), pp. 48-50.


The 2000 Census

According to the 2000 census, the population of persons five years and more who spoke indigenous languages in Jalisco totaled 39,259 individuals, representing only 0.7% of Jalisco’s 5,541,480 inhabitants. The most common of these languages were:  

  1. Huichol (10,976 persons)
  2. Náhuatl (6,714)
  3. Purépecha (3,074)
  4. Mixteco (1,471)
  5. Otomí (1,193)
  6. Zapoteco (1,061).  

The majority of the indigenous languages spoken in the state were transplanted tongues from other parts of México, with the Huichol language representing the only truly indigenous language of Jalisco. Although the State of Jalisco contains 124 municipios, only 11 of them contained indigenous populations that numbered more than one percent in 2000, including:

  • Mezquitic (7,652 indigenous speakers – 64.75% of the municipio population)
  • Bolaños (2,125 indigenous speakers – 48.35% of the municipio population)

The 2010 Census

The 2010 Mexican census reported that the inhabitants of Jalisco spoke 59 different indigenous languages. However, Jalisco’s 53,695 indigenous speakers represented only 0.8% of the total state population, and Jalisco ranked 26thamong the Mexican states and Distrito Federal in the percent of people speaking indigenous languages. The most commonly spoken language categories in Jalisco for the 2010 census were:

The 2010 Census: Indigenous Languages Spoken in Jalisco

Indigenous Language

Population 3 Years and Older Who Speak an Indigenous Language

Percent of all Indigenous Speakers







Indigenous Language not Specified



Purépecha (Tarasco)


















Totonaca (Totonaco)



Other Languages






Source: INEGI. Censo de Población y Vivienda 2010: Tabulados del Cuestionario Básico: Población de 3 años y más que habla lengua indígena por entidad federativa y lengua

Together the three most common languages represented 63.4% of all indigenous speakers in the state.  The fourth- and fifth-most spoken languages were Mixteco and Zapoteco, both languages indigenous to the State of Oaxaca. 

In 2010, seven municipios had indigenous language speakers who made up between 2.3% and 75.9% of their entire populations, as shown in the following table:

The 2010 Census: Indigenous Speakers in Jalisco by Municipio


Speakers of Indigenous Languages 3 Years of Age or More

Percent of Indigenous Speakers 3 Years of Age or More in the Municipio

Most Common Indigenous

Language (s)









Huejuquilla el Alto




Villa Guerrero




San Gabriel



Náhuatl / Purépecha

San Martín de Bolaños




Acatlán de Juárez



Náhuatl / Huichol

118 Other Municipios



Multiple Languages

State of Jalisco



Multiple Languages

Source: INEGI, 2010 Censo: Población de 3 años y más por entidad y municipio según habla indígena y lengua.

As noted in the preceding table, nearly one-quarter (12,540 or 23.4%) of Jalisco’s indigenous speaking population lived in the municipio of Mezquitic, which is in Jalisco’s Three-Fingers Area and has borders with both Nayarit (on the west) and Zacatecas (on the west and east).

The municipio with the second largest percentage of indigenous speakers was Bolaños, which is just south of Mezquitic. Both municipios together have over 16,000 indigenous speakers, most of which speak Huichol. The two municipios contain almost one-third of all Jalisco’s indigenous speakers (30.9%).

The Huichol People of Today

The most important indigenous group still living in Jalisco are the Huichol people. In the entire Mexican Republic, there were 30,686 persons five years of age or more who spoke the Huichol language in the 2000 census. They were primarily distributed across portions of four contiguous states:  Nayarit (16,932), Jalisco (10,976), Durango (1,435) and Zacatecas (330).  The Huicholes have managed to preserve their identity, language, culture and religious customs, largely because of their isolation in the Sierra Madre Mountains. 

Stacy B. Schaefer’s Huichol Women, Weavers, and Shamans(2015) quotes the Comisión Nacional Para el Desarrollo de Los Pueblos Indígenas’ (INI) recent report which states the Huichol population nationwide totaled 59,280 in 2011, with 8,791 of this number four years old or younger.

The Purépecha (Tarascans)

Purépecha is the third most commonly spoken language in present-day Jalisco.  The Purépecha – who are sometimes called Tarascans (a label that was given to them by the Spaniards in the Sixteenth Century) – ruled over a significant portion of Michoacán during the pre-Hispanic era and have managed to preserve their language and many of their unique customs. In 2010, most of the Purépecha speakers in Jalisco lived in the municipios of Zapopan, Tlaquepaque and Guadalajara. Because these municipios are not adjacent to Michoacán, it is assumed that these are migrants or the descendants of Purépecha migrants.

The Cora People

The Cora people, like the Huichol, have survived in isolation, occupying mountains and valleys within the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountain range. The vast majority of the 15,380 Cora speakers in 2000 lived in the State of Nayarit, Jalisco’s northwestern neighbor. In 2000, only 162 Cora speakers lived within Jalisco’s borders. By 2010, the number of Cora speakers in Jalisco had dropped to 116.

The Others

The Náhuatl, Otomí, Mixtec and Zapotec languages are believed to be largely migrant languages in Jalisco. Otomí is widely spoken through many central Mexican states, while the Mixtec and Zapotec languages have their origins in the southern state of Oaxaca. The Mixtecs and Zapotecs have migrated to a large number of Mexican states and are in great demand as agricultural laborers in some of the northern states. The largest number of Náhuatl speakers in 2010 lived in the municipios of Zapopan, Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta. They are most likely migrants who were attracted to these regions for employment.

The Life Blood of Jalisco 

As Jalisco moves closer to the third decade of the Twenty-First Century, only the arrival of migrant laborers from other parts of the country will ensure that Jalisco has a small population of people who speak indigenous languages, but almost all of those languages are not truly indigenous to the state itself. 

However, many sons and daughters of Jalisco recognize and feel great pride in their distant indigenous ancestors who both greeted and went to war with the Spaniards who arrived there in the Sixteenth Century. Although the Cocas, Tecuexes, Caxcanes, Guachichiles and Chichimecos Blancosno longer exist as cultural groups with living languages and traditions, they are, in fact, The Life Blood of Jalisco.

Municipio Histories

At the following link, researchers will find links to each of Jalisco’s municipios. Through this resource, interested readers can learn more about the indigenous people and history of each of their ancestral municipios:

Copyright © 2019 by John P. Schmal. All Rights Reserved. 


Baus de Czitrom, Carolyn. Tecuexes y Cocas: Dos Grupos de la Region Jalisco en el Siglo XVI.Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Departamento de Investigaciones Históricas, No. 112. México: Serie Etnohistoria, 1982.

Biglow, Brad Morris. Ethno-Nationalist Politics and Cultural Preservation: Education and Bordered Identities among the Wixaritari (Huichol) of Tateikita, Jalisco. Mexico. Gainesville, Florida: Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Florida, 2001.

Chipman, Donald E. Nuño de Guzmán and the Province of Panuco in New Spain (1513-1533). Glendale, 1967

Deaton, Dawn Fogle, “The Decade of Revolt: Peasant Rebellion in Jalisco, Mexico, 1855-1864,” in Robert H. Jackson (ed.), Liberals, the Church, and Indian Peasants: Corporate Lands and the Challenge of Reform in Nineteenth-Century Spanish America.Albuquerque: New Mexico Press, 1997.

Deeds, Susan M. Defiance and Deference in Mexico’s Colonial North: Indians under Spanish Rule in Nueva Vizcaya.Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2003.

Departamento de la Estadistica Nacional, Estados Unidos Mexicanos. Censos General de Habitantes: 30 de Noviembre de 1921, Estado de Jalisco. Mexico, Distrito Federal: Talleres Graficos de la Nación, 1926.

Flores, José Ramírez. Lenguas Indígenas de Jalisco.Guadalajara, Jalisco: Gobierno de Jalisco, 1980.

Gerhard, Peter. The North Frontier of New Spain. Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Gorenstein, Shirley S. “Western and Northwestern Mexico,” in Richard E. W. Adams and Murdo J. MacLeod, The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, Volume II: Mesoamerica, Part 1. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 318-357.

Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática (INEGI).XII Censo General de Población y Vivienda 2000. Mexico: INEGI, 2000.

INEGI.Censo de Población y Vivienda 2010.Mexico: INEGI, 2013. 

INEGI, Síntesis Geográfica de Jalisco. Mexico, D.F.: Secretaría de Programación y Presupuesto, Coordinación General de los Servicios Nacionales de Estadística, Geografía e Informática, 1981.

Kirchhoff, Paul. “The Hunter-Gathering People of North México,” in the North Mexican Frontier: Readings in Archaeology, Ethnohistory, and Ethnography. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971, pp. 200-209.

Mecham, J. Lloyd. Francisco De Ibarra And Nueva Viscaya. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1968.

México. Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas (CDI). Acciones de Gobierno para el Desarrollo Integral de los Pueblos Indígenas: Informe 2010. CDI: 2011.

Moreno González, Afredo. Santa Maria de Los Lagos. Lagos de Moreno: D.R.H. Ayuntamiento de Los Lagos de Moreno, 1999.

Muriá, José María. Breve Historia de Jalisco. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1994.

Powell, Philip Wayne. “Soldiers Indians and Silver: North America’s First Frontier War. Tempe, Arizona: Center for Latin American Studies, Arizona State University, 1975.

Ramírez Flores, José. Lenguas Indígenas de Jalisco.Guadalajara, Jalisco: Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco, Secretaria General de Gobierno, 1980.

Schaefer, Stacy B. Huichol Women, Weavers, and Shamans. Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 2015.

Schaefer, Stacy B. and Furst, Peter T. People of the Peyote: Huichol Indian History, Religion, and Survival.Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1996.

Secretaríat de Economía, ProMéxico Trade and Investment: Jalisco. Online:

Van Young, Eric. “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

Verástique, Bernardino. Michoacán and Eden: Vasco de Quiroga and the Evangelization of Western Mexico.Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000.

Weigand, Phil C. “Considerations on the Archaeology and Ethnohistory of the Mexicaneros, Tequales, Coreas, Huicholes, and Caxcanes of Nayarit, Jalisco, and Zacatecas,” in William J. Folan (ed.), Contributions to the Archaeology and Ethnohistory of Greater Mesoamerica. Carbondale, Illinois: Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University Press, 1985.

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