• Share!
  • Tweet!
  • Share!
  • Tweet!

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. 

Modern Jalisco

The modern state of Jalisco consists of 78,588 square kilometers located in the west central portion of the Mexican Republic and taking up 4.0% of the national territory. 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.”

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 city 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.

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.
  • Share!
  • Tweet!

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 languages were spoken in the Spanish colonial province of Nueva Galicia

Long-Running Mestizaje

Professor Eric Van Young described the Center-West portion of Mexico as “a crazy quilt of colonial traditions and local histories” and “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 native peoples has been progressively interwoven with (or submerged in) that of non-native groups.”

Van Young notes that the area that would become central Jalisco “supported relatively dense populations on the basis of irrigated agriculture” and a “considerable ethnolinguistic variety prevailed within a fairly small geographic area.” But, in the post-conquest center-west region, “native colonization from central Mexico and Spanish missionary activity combined to introduce Náhuatl as a lingua francaall over the Center-West, so that many of the more geographically circumscribed native languages or dialects died out.” 

The Chichimecas

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. Professor 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.

Widespread Displacement

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. 

Factor 1: Guzmán’s Campaign

The first factor was the 1529-30 campaign of Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán. In “The North Frontier of New Spain,” Peter Gerhard wrote that “Guzmán, 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; Guzmán’s strategy was to terrorize the natives with often unprovoked killing, torture, and enslavement.”

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

Factor 2: The Mixtón Rebellion (1540-1541)

The second factor was the Mixtón Rebellion of 1540-1541. 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.”

Factor 3: Spanish Alliances with Indigenous Groups

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 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, Otomíes, Tlaxcalans, and the Cazcanes had all joined forces with the Spanish military. By the time the Chichimeca War had begun, the Tarascans and Otomíes, in particular, had already developed “considerable experience in warfare alongside the Spaniards.” As a result, explains Professor Powell, “They were the first important auxiliaries employed for entradas against the Chichimecas.”

The employment of Tarascans, Mexicans, and Tlaxcalans for the purpose of “defensive colonization” also encouraged a gradual assimilation of the Chichimecas. 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 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.

Factor 4: Epidemics

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 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. 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.

Jalisco’s Indigenous Languages

The author José Ramirez Flores, in his work, “Lenguas Indígenas 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 Caxcanes

The 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 Señor 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, Huejúcar, and across the border in Nochistlán, Zacatecas.

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 Caxcanes 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. Zapotitlán, 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 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.

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 primarily inhabited a significant part of the present-day state Nayarit, but they also lived in the northwestern fringes of Jalisco. According to Professor Gerhard, Hostotipaquillo – 24 miles northwest of Tequila – was inhabited by Teules Chichimecas or Coanos, who were a subdivision of the Cora Indians

Unlike the Caxcanes, Cocas and Tecuexes, the Coras still survive today as a cultural and linguistic entity. In 2010, 21,445 persons speaking the Cora language lived in Mexico, but only 116 of those Cora speakers lived in Jalisco (while 20,793 lived in Nayarit).


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. Other Nahua languages were spoken in such southern Jalisco towns as Tuxpan and Zapotlán.


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 Tepatitlán 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.

Guamares (Chichimecas Blancos)

The Guamares occupied large segments of Guanajuato and smaller portions of eastern Jalisco. Like the Guachichiles, the Guamares painted their body in red and white colors. 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) were occupied by a subgroup of Guamares – known as Ixtlachichimecas (The Chichimecas Blancos) – who used limestone pigments to color their faces and bodies. This branch of the Guamares painted their heads white.  

Much of the territory in which the Chichimecos Blancos lived was actually within the recognized territories of the Guachichiles and Tecuexes. According to Prof. José Flores, natives usually followed the course of rivers in seeking sustenance and frequently crossed the territories of other tribes. Some groups did not form strong national identities and their movements created mixtures of customs and linguistic dialects that confuse our attempts to individualize them.


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 – 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. Their language was spoken in the northern stretches of 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, 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 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 Professor 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.

Purépecha Indians (Tarascans)

The Purépecha Indians – also referred to as the Tarascans, Tarascos, and Porhé – inhabited most of present-day Michoacán and boasted a powerful empire that rivaled the Aztec Empire during the Fifteenth and early Sixteenth Centuries. The Purépecha language is a language isolate and has no close affiliation with the languages spoken by any of its neighbors.  

“The Purépecha language,” writes Professor Verástique, “is a hybrid Mesoamerican language, the product of a wide-ranging process of linguistic borrowing and fusion.” Some prestigious researchers have suggested that it is distantly related to Quecha, one of the man languages in the Andean zone of South America. For this reason, it has been suggested that the Purépecha may have arrived in Mexico from Peru and may be distantly related to the Incas. The Tarascan language also has some similarities to that spoken by the Zuni Indians of New Mexico.

In the 2010 census, 128,344 Mexicans spoke the Purépecha language, and 91.3% of them lived in Michoacán, while only 3,960 (or 3.1%) lived in Jalisco. At the time of contact, Purépecha was spoken along the southern fringes of southern Jalisco, adjacent to the border with Colima.


In pre-Hispanic times, the Tepehuán Indians inhabited a wide swath of territory that stretch through sections of present-day Jalisco, Nayarit, Durango and Chihuahua. In fact, according to Professor Susan M. Deeds, the Tepehuán Indians were “the most geographically extended of the sierra groups.” 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 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 Tepec, Mezquitic and Colotlán. The Tepehuanes language and culture are no longer found in Jalisco, but in the 2010 census, more than 35,000 Tepehuanes residing in southern Chihuahua and southeastern Durango spoke their ancestral language.

Regional Analysis

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 Río Grande were the Huicholes, who were the traditional enemies of the Tecuexes. Although Guzmán 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 Río 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 their conversion.”

Lagos de Moreno (Northeastern Los Altos)

The author Alfredo Moreno González tells us that the Native American village occupying this area was Pechititán. According to Prof. 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 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.

La Barca (East Central Jalisco)

La Barca and the shores of Lake Chapala were the sites of three indigenous nations: Poncitlán 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 Náhuatl were spoken at Ocotlán, 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 Tonalán. At the time of contact, there were two communities of Coca speakers: Tlaxmulco and Coyotlan. The natives here submitted to Guzmán and were enlisted to fight with his army in the conquest of the west coast. After the Mixtón Rebellion, Cazcanes migrated to this area.

Tonalá / 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, Nuño de Guzmán arrived in Tonalán and defeated the Tecuexes in battle.

San Cristóbal 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.

Colotlán (Northern Jalisco)

Colotlán 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 Caxcan and Tepecano 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.

Cuquío (North Central Jalisco)

When the European explorers reached Cuquío in north central Jalisco they described it as a densely populated region of farmers. The dominant indigenous language in this region was Tecuexe. Guzmán’s lieutenant, Almíndez Chirinos, ravaged this area in February 1530, and in 1540-41, the Indians in this area were among the insurgents taking part in the Mixtón Rebellion.

Tepatitlán (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 Guzmán and in 1541 submitted to Viceroy Mendoza.


According to Gerhard, when Guzmán’s army arrived in March-April 1530, a thousand dispersed Indian farmers speaking both the Tecuexe and Coca languages lived in the immediate area around Guadalajara. But after the Mixtón Rebellion of the early 1540s, whole communities of Cazcanes were moved south to the plains near Guadalajara.

However, once the Spaniards established the town in 1542, Indians and African slaves arrived from afar to live and work in the settlement. By the mid-sixteenth century, roughly 3,000 Indians lived and worked alongside 300 Spaniards and 300 African-Mexicans in Guadalajara.

Purificación (Westernmost 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 Chimaltitlán (Northern Jalisco)

The region surrounding Tepec and Chimaltitlán 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: Tepehuán at Chimaltitlán and Tepic, Huichol in Tuxpan and Santa Catarina, and Caxcan to the east (near the border with Zacatecas).

Jalisco’s Unusual Ethnic Mix

By 1620, many of Jalisco’s indigenous groups had disappeared as distinguishable cultural entities. With a large influx of Indians, Spaniards and Africans from other parts of Mexico, both displacement and assimilation had created an unusual ethnic mix of Indians, mestizos and mulatos.

Today, 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 Blancos no longer exist as cultural groups with living languages and traditions, they are, in fact, the Life Blood of Jalisco. But, the Purépecha, Cora, Huichol and Tepehuán languages still exist and those cultures are still practiced by several thousand individuals in Jalisco, Nayarit, Durango and Michoacán.

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.

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

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.

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).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.

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.

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.

  • Share!
  • Tweet!
  • Share!
  • Tweet!
Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This