|Mazatlán, a European City
was recently invited to write the prologue for a book on Mazatlán
history, with the condition that I relate Mazatlán to Europe.
As a Mazatleco who has been living in Switzerland since 1982, I
felt half-fit for the job. My suggestion was that the prologue should
relate Mazatlán to both Europe and the United States. The
author agreed. Here's an extract, focusing more on the U.S. since
that is the origin of most of this paper's readers).
Mazatlán to Europe is not new. Some years ago, Mexico's advertising
campaign in U.S. magazines read " Mexico, it's a lot like Europe,
only a lot closer" and showed a picture of Olas Altas -- the
ocean-front street of Old Mazatlán!
is true. Mazatlán doesn't follow the traditional Spanish
city layout, dominated by a central Plaza Mayor with a church and
city hall. Mazatlán had its first church built as late as
1842. Before that, Adolph Riensch in 1839 writes; "on Saturdays
we used to party until dawn at local houses with inner patios and
early on Sunday celebrate Mass at the same place."
architecture is a portrait of the substantial German, Spanish and
French merchant influx after Mexico's independence from Spain in
it is not only in our architecture where our history is written,
but on the travel diaries of our visitors.
the American travelers, Herman Melville, who visited us in March
of 1844, is one of the most illustrious. He had just joined the
U.S. Navy and wrote about his experiences, mentioning Mazatlán
in his classic " White Jacket."
members of the U.S. Pacific Squadron also painted watercolors and
wrote invaluable notes which now serve as important building blocks
for our early history . They include William Meyers, Henry Wise,
Bull Watson and Lt. Tunis A. Craven. The latter describes Mazatlán,
in 1848, as "the first civilized place we have visited since
leaving Lima . . . Mazatlán is a prettily situated and well
built town, with its well filled shops, its inviting restaurants,
its good market and its beautiful gardens . . . "
U.S. soldiers fell in love with Mazatlán, but none more than
Henry Wise, USN, who upon departing after spending half a year in
Mazatlán, wrote: "I regard the half-year passed as among
the most contented in my existence, and shall ever refer with many
a yearning to those pleasant days in Mazatlán. Farewell Mazatlán!
Adieu, ye black-eyed girls, who so detested the Yankees, and shed
such pearly tears at their departure! Adieu to fandangos, bailes
and tiny feet . . . in one sad sigh! Farewell."
not forget that the war with Mexico was the first U.S. military
action abroad and as such, the U.S. occupation of Mazatlán
was eclectic in nature. To cite an example, the commodore would
order the flagship's band ashore and hold dances to which the local
society was invited. No wonder Lt. Wise loved Mazatlán!
in 1862, the French invaded Mexico. Once the U.S. Civil War ended,
Lincoln's government assisted Mexico's strong resistence with weapons
shipments. Most of the guns that reached Mazatlán came from
San Francisco. An American called Frederick Fitsch and a German,
Theodor Lemmen Meyer ( both of whom founded families in Mazatlán)
were instrumental in introducing them.
the Monroe doctrine, Europeans would have intervened in Latin America
as they did in Africa and Asia. Despite that, Lord Palmerston, the
British foreign minister, couldn't help giving arms to the Mayas
in an attempt to procure their independence from Mexico and annexation
to Britain (as with the mosquito coast, in Nicaragua).
the Gold Rush, in 1849, many Argonauts eager to reach San Francisco's
gateway to the gold fields, were too impatient to sail all the way
to Panama or Nicaragua, and took the overland route, mainly from
Corpus Christi to Mazatlán, where they hoped to catch a ship
heading to California.
1848, the ship "California" made American maritime history,
since it was the first steamer to enter San Francisco, after a 144-day
cruise from New York. At Mazatlán, a port of call for the
"California" during that historic voyage, there was a
mutiny which was put down only with help of the local authorities,
since the ship refused passage to several hundred gold seekers who
had trecked across Mexico. Upon arriving in San Francisco, within
24 hours the ship was deserted by her crew, so strong was the pull
of the yellow metal.
"California" belonged to Aspinwall and Howland, founders
of The Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Joseph Conrad, in his novel
"Nostromo, the House of Holroyd" was inspired byAspinwall,
according to Conrad's biographer Jerry Allen.
is unknown if Joseph Conrad ever visited Mazatlán, but in
his memorable piece "To-morrow" he mentions Mazatlán.
one who got away is Longfellow who wrote his last piece dedicated
to San Blas, Nayarit. It was called "The Bells of San Blas"
and was inspired in an article published in Gleasons by a traveler
who also visited Mazatlán.
Taylor, author of "Eldorado," a classic in Western Americana,
written in the 1850s, describes Mazatlán as "decidedly
the gayest and liveliest little city on the continent." Taylor
includes a lovely painting of our city.
notable scientists who visited Mazatlán were Josiah Gregg
in 1849, and in 1894, David Starr Jordan, founding member of the
Sierra Club and the first president of Stanford University. Starr
Jordan was on a shell collecting trip with his students, a trip
that resulted in sending Mazatlán's shells to European universities
and museums. In the 1850s two collections of Mazatlán shells
were taken to Europe. The first was taken to Germany in 1851 by
one H. Melchers, and another went to London in 1857, when the British
Library published a "Catalogue of Mazatlán Shells."
Other visiting scientists included Father Kino, Buschmann and Lowestern.
special mention goes to the great ornithologist Andrew Greyson,
who lived a decade in Mazatlán, working on his "Birds
of the Pacific Slope." Lately he has been given proper recognition
in the U.S., and rightfully called "the Audubon of the West".
Greyson not only studied birds but was also a careful observer of
social, artistic and military life. He lost his only son in 1867
during one of his observation trips.
his lifetime Greyson was unsuccessful in trying to obtain support
from the Smithsonian Institute, then in its infancy. He was also
unable to obtain support from Maximilian, Kaiser from Mexico. When
he passed away, on August 17, 1869, and was buried in Mazatlán
(in the Protestant cemetery, of course), his wife remarried and
carried his work to the U.S., where it now is situated in the Bancroft
Library in Berkeley (like so much of the material mentioned in this
article). The Arion press has published a bibliophiles' edition
dedicated to Greyson. The price: $5000 dollars a copy.
Edwards, one of the founders of the Californian Theater (1869),
visited Mazatlán in 1875, in his book "A Mingled Yarn,"
he describes Mazatlán , especially the arts scene.
famous American photographer Edward Muybridge took some classic
photos here in 1875, as did the German Hugo Brehme. But it was the
American Edward Weston, who visited Mazatlán together with
Tina Modotti in 1923, who was impressed with what was his first
visit abroad. He wrote: "We found life both gay and sad, but
always life -- vital, intense, black and white but never gray."
Weston made a historic photo in Mazatlán, a classic called
" The great white cloud in Mazatlán", labeling
it one of his finest and most significant photographs, as it meant
an artistic departure from figurative into abstract art, or negatives
with intention as opposed to matter-of-fact records.
and Modotti enjoyed the Hotel Belmar where they cooled off in the
August heat with ice cold beer . Finally they write about Mazatlán's
architecture with the row of identical pastel-colored houses.
celebrity visiting us in 1951 was Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller's
lover. She loved Mexico and also was a regular at the Hotel Belmar.
John Barrymore, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Yul Bryner and Tyrone
Power were among the artists visiting Mazatlán. Locals loved
seeing the screen heroes in our city, and applauded them -- well,
with some exceptions. Tyrone Power was once invited by a theater
impresario to appear in person before a screening of his film, an
invitation which Power gladly accepted. Once in the Teatro Rubio,
which at that time was a movie house but now has reverted to its
original identity as an opera house called the Angela Peralta Theater,
the crowd applauded their hero. But when the Mazatlecos found out
that the film hadn't arrived, since the airline's cargo had no space
for the reels, the crowd exploded and booed both the impresario
writers like Vicky Baum, Richard Willis, Emma Lindsay, E. Howard
Hunt, and Lee Parker, among others have chosen Mazatlán as
either the title of their novels or the setting
list would be incomplete if we fail to mention American soldiers
of fortune who joined Mexico's Revolution, American miners, businessman,
filibusters, outright pirates, prostitutes, clergymen, spies, and
others who have colored our life and made Mazatlán the international
city it is.
we can see in this introduction to local history, Mazatlán
has long been linked to American history, especially on the west
coast. In another article we will spend more time with the early
Spaniards, the Jesuits and Franciscans who were instrumental in
colonizing California. No wonder so many Americans and Canadians
feel at home in Mazatlán.
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Mazatlan may be considered newer than other places in Mexico, but they do not consider the ancient origins of the city by the natives who were there before the Spanish conquerers came into Mexico. Even one of the Catholic churches is built on the foundations of an ancient Indian church structure that predated the Catholic church by thousands of years.
Scientists have found petroglyphs on the off shore islands that they believe date back as far as 10,000 years. Though human settlement dates back before the Spanish, many historical records were destroyed by the zealots who considered any other civilization inferior to theirs. Slavery, slaughter, and disease took it's toll on the local Indians which occupied this and other regions of Mexico. So, as history is written by the victors, I am confined to the record which begins with the Spaniards.
First of all the name Mazatlan is based upon the Nahutal Indian word Mazatl meaning the place of the deer. This is in the Aztec language which was not used in this area, so it appears that one of the interpreters of the conqueror of this area (Nuno de Guzman) was probably the originator of the name. Of course today, with over 600,000 inhabitants, few if any deer are seen. The reason that Mazatlan is a fairly young city is that the city itself did not become anything permanent until the 1820's.
Itinerant Sailors called the place the Islands of Mazatlan because of the many hills, lagoons and estuaries in the vicinity of the natural harbor there. The place where Mazatlan exists was officially founded by Nuno de Guzman and 25 Spaniards who more of less burned their way to this region in 1531. This temporary settlement was founded on Easter Sunday in 1531. Spanish galleons departed the harbor laden with gold taken from the inland mines in the region. And there are the legends of pirate treasure buried up and down the coast in coves during much of this earlier period of time.
The name Mazatlan was first mentioned about 1602, but it did not refer to the Mazatlan of today. It refered to a small village of San Juan Bautista de Mazatlan which is actually 30 miles South of the current city of Mazatlan. That village today carries the name of Villa Union.
It appears that French and English Pirates were the first to take advantage of the benefits of Mazatlan's hill screened harbor to hide in. They would pounce on those rich gold laden Spanish Galleons that were going up and down the Pacific coast. The colonial government finally took action and established a small presidio on the harbor with watchtowers atop the cerros. The pirates were gone by 1800, but the legends of buried gold persists until today.
Mazatlan itself was not developed by the Spanish nor the Indians but by a group of very enterprising German immigrants who developed the port facilities in order to import agricultural equipment. Once they got started, heavy international trade followed quickly.
Over the years, Mazatlan has suffered the plagues of cholera and yellow fever along with the repeated occupations by foreigners. The Port of Mazatlan was occupied by American troops in 1847 during the Mexican American war, in 1864 by the French, during the American Civil War when a group of Confederate soldiers took the city over trying to Perpetuate the ideas of the Confederacy South of the border, and by the British Navy in 1871. These incursions by outsiders gave rise to the tradition of bars on the windows and iron fences with menacing spikes which have come to be quite ornimental (as well as a standard security system) in many of Mazatlan's nicer neighborhoods.
Mazatlan served as the Capitol of the state of Sinaloa from 1859 to 1873 when it had a population of only a few thousand people.
When Porfirio Diaz (1876-1910) took over as president (or dictator as you may wish to define his rule), things changed for the better in Mazatlan. There was a great time of prosperity during his rule as the railroad arrived, the port and lighthouse were modernized, and the cathedral was finished. There was a new age of education, arts and journalism flourished. The Teatro Rubio was completed in the early 1890's which became the premier opera house for the Pacific coastal area around Mazatlan. The famous star Angela Peralta gave several recitals there in August 1883 before she and her company died there of Yellow Fever which claimed over 2,500 lives in Mazatlan.
The City of Mazatlan then got the dubious distinction of being the 2nd city in the world after Tripoli, Libya of being one of the first to suffer aerial bombardment. During the revolution of 1910-17 General Venustiano Carranza (later president) intent on taking the city of Mazatlan, ordered a bi-plane to drop a crude bomb of nails and dynamite wrapped in leather to the target of Neveria Hill adjacent to the down town area of Mazatlan. Well the bomb was crude and the art of bombing was cruder. The bomb landed not on target but on the city streets of Mazatlan and in the process killed two citizens and wounded several others.
After all the uproar of revolution and all that accompanied it, order was restored in the 1920's and then followed 10 years of prosperity, then as in the United States the 1930's depression. After World War Two, there were further port improvements and new highways.
Modern Mazatlan as we now know it came into existance in the 1960's on as the tourists discovered the beautiful white sand and beaches. The city limits expanded to cover this area and the rich resort hotels and tourist attractions that followed up the beach line. The tourist industry and the great fishing industry that was established have provided increasing jobs and the population is expanding rapidly towards 3/4 ths of a million inhabitants. This has become Northwest Mexico's major tourist population that brings in nearly as many tourists (approximately 500,000 yearly) as the population of the city.
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Mazatlan History by John David Cutbush and Shana Hugh
How much do you know about the history of Mazatlán? Did you know that Mazatlán was the first city in America to be attacked and bombed by a plane? And did you know that Mazatlán is part of the only state to still play the pre-hispanic game of Ulama? Mazatlán is a city with stories to tell. Before the Spanish conquered México, the area around Mazatlán was inhabited by indigenous people known as the Totorames. They left behind exquisite polychrome pottery with elaborate red and black designs indicative of a high culture. You can see samples of this pottery on display at Mazatlán's Museo Arqueológico, which is dedicated to preserving the history of the state of Sinaloa. The archaeology museum is located downtown (Sixto Osuna 76) and is open 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. However, unlike their renowned inland neighbors, the Toltecs and Aztecs, the Totorames left no pyramids or grand works. Their civilization was gone 200 years before the Spanish arrived. But other local pre-hispanic tribes survived. Just 80 km south of Mazatlán is one of the oldest prehispanic populations in Sinaloa: Chametla, in the municipality of Rosario. When Cortes led the Spanish conquerers searching for a passage to Baja California Sur, they met heavy resistance from the locals. This, then, is evidence that the natives were inhabiting the land before the spaniards came to Mazatlán. After Cortes conquered the Aztecs around present-day México City in 1521, his lieutenants were dispatched to explore and subjugate more of the country. In 1531, renegade opportunist (and enemy of Cortes) Nuño Beltran de Guzman burned his way through Sinaloa with his private army under the banner of conquest. Guzman layed waste to a broad western belt of Pacific México, but also managed to found several towns including Guadalajara, Tepic and Culiacan. He was followed by conquistador Francisco Ibarra, who founded the mining town of Copala in 1565. After a brutal battle with nearby natives, the lands were divided among the spaniards, who became the first permanent residents of what is now Mazatlán. Despite Spanish conquest of the prehispanic peoples of México, some remains of prehispanic culture have endured. For example, the game of Ulama has been a perennial facet of Sinaloan culture. Ulama is derived from the prehispanic sport, Ullamaliztli, which was played in Mesoamerica for fifteen hundred years. The Spanish thought the "ule" (ball used to play Ulama) had magical properties and were, therefore, intimidated by it. Fear and confusion even caused Catholic priests-- who came to America during colonization-- to prohibit the indigenous people from playing the game. But the game survived and is still played today in Mazatlán, one of the last places it is played on earth. Mazatlán was first mentioned in 1602 as the name of a small village, San Juan Bautista de Mazatlán (now called Villa Union), 30 miles south of present day Mazatlán. The name Mazatlán means Place of the Deer in the Nahuatl language, tongue of the Aztecs. However, because the Aztec empire never extended this far to the northwest, it is believed that a Nahuatl-speaking interpreter traveling with Guzman translated the name from the local language. In Spanish, the word for "Deer" is Venados (as in Isla de los Venados, or Deer Island). Although present-day Mazatlán was not yet settled in 1600, English and French pirates used the hill-screened harbor as a place from which to attack the rich galleons that plied the coast