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BRIEF HISTORY OF REAL DE CATORCE

By: Diego Sánchez García

One cannot clearly specify the time when the region of Real de Catorce was first inhabited, but according to historical information, indigenous people called "The Negritos" lived in this mountain range. However, year 1639 is the official information. The Marquis de Cadereyta, Viceroy of New Spain, granted the natives or the indigenous people, the land where Real de Catorce is located, for “ejidos” and estates, in an agricultural extension of six sites for cattle and eighty-four for horses. Thus began the life of Real de Catorce at that time, known as the Real de Alamos de la Purisima Concepción de los Catorce. A group of Guachichiles and Chichimecas indians entered this place in the year of 1767, burning the town and setting fire to the main titles given by the Marquis de Cadereyta. In the year of 1767, the townspeople and authorities that by that time ruled, requested the Spanish Crown for confirmation on the transfer of their land, request that resulted in King Charles III delivering a Royal Decree issued in Toledo, Spain, dated January 4, confirming the allocation of such lands. The main reason for requesting confirmation of the titles was that a man named Juan Lopez Hinojosa, who lived in Las Charcas (today Charcas), claimed that some mines were of his property, and in fact they were within the lands belonging to Real de Catorce, as was discovered with such confirmation. Some writers say that Real de Catorce was born as a mining center in the years 1772 to 1774, but, with respect to historians, this statement is somewhat undermined by the requests they made to confirm the titles, as those efforts were in 1767, when according to the foregoing, mine properties already existed. From that time forward, the metal fever began in this region until it was formalized as a major mining center, as a silver producer of global importance. To give an idea of the argentiferous importance of this region the names given to some of the mines that were active in this district are next identified: Purísima, Valenciana, San José de Santa Ana, Guadalupe de Veta Grande, Concepción, Guadalupito, Estrella, Zacarías, San Miguel, Dolores, Santa Eduwigis, Altagracia, Ánimas, San Jerónimo, Santa Ana, Campanita, Señor de Matehuala, Refugio, Socavón del Refugio, Rayas, Naranjera, Cinco Señores, San José de Gracia, Ángeles, San Eduardo, El Refugio, Señor de los Milagros, San Agustín, Santa Maria, San Antonio, Promontorio, Socavón del Venadito, San Román, Guadalupe del Desierto, San Francisco de Pipí, San Juan de Boquiero, Sereno, Dolores Trompeta, San Rafael, San Plutarco, San José de los Villanos, La Luz, La Escondida, San Vicente, La Filosofal, Candelaria, Gibraltar, La Merced, Mina de los Pobres, Descubridora, Señor de Zavala or Padre Flores, plus other small excavations that did not produce much. The mine of Padre Flores gave a significant and important 900 pounds grade per ton silver ore bonanza, that is, 900 kilograms of silver and only 100 of wastage. The mine of St. Augustine was another silver bonanza that was called “La Vaca” (The Cow) due to the diversity in metal colors. The Dolores mine also gave another abundant silver bonanza called “Los Alpes” (The Alps). At that time, the land division was composed of political parties, which nowadays is the equivalent of judicial districts. Real de Catorce was precisely the administrative center of the party with its name, so here were the main authorities, as were the sub-prefect, the town hall, the mining representation and subsequently, the district court. In the year of 1779 Don Silvestre Alonso Lopez Portillo was appointed by the superior government of Mexico, through the general mining court of the kingdom, to take over the entire government, politically and economically, that would lead to the establishment, development and benefit of this township. In those years Mr. Ramon de Ureche who exercised his authority in Charcas, was also appointed, and ordered to transfer to this place to assist as authority in the foundation of this town. At first, there was a temporary chapel attended by Franciscans, but on February 14 of the year of 1783, the first stone was laid of what is now the parish of the Purisima Concepcion. The dedication ceremony took place on December 7, 1817, but the abundance of ornaments caused a fire that damaged the building so it was until 1820 or 1821 that it was used for worship. There is a sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi in the parish that for many years has earned fame as a miraculous saint, people go on a daily basis to pay “mandas” or solemn promises, more so in the secular-religious festivity which is celebrated starting on the second half of September and lasting until the end of October, in which many devotees and merchants arrive in Real. The importance of Real de Catorce was so that it had its own mint house of which the building remains, but it only operated for a very short time, because this happened in the 1860decade, in which Mexico had the Maximilian Empire and the concern over the government of Benito Juárez. So Emperor Maximilian ordered its closure. Coins of 2, 4 and 8 reales were minted In this house. Previously, in 1811, coins of 8 reales were minted, which was an extremely rare coinage, but they must have been minted in ore reduction plants or in private homes. In 1808, there was another 8 reales coin that historically was of a special coinage that miners of this place had made as a contribution to the construction of the shrine of Guadalajara. Real de Catorce had its bullring where Ponciano Diaz (Torero Charro), Saturnino Frutos (Ojitos) and the Maestro of Kalifa de Leon, Rodolfo Gaona performed. There was the Lavin Theater where zarzuela plays were presented. There was a cocks' palenque, which was restored, and is now one of the tourist attractions. Another tourist attraction is the Ogarrio tunnel, 2,300 meters in length, which is the main access route into town. The inauguration of the last great construction of Catorce, because the downfall came next, was on April 2, 1901. It was built by the House of Don Gregorio de la Maza y Gomez de la Puente, to connect the city of Catorce with the major subdivision of Refugio, where the rich mine of Santa Ana is located, owned by the same house. Don Roberto Irizar executed the plan. The work is admired by its own people and by strangers and it was named Ogarrio because the de la Maza family originally came from the town of Ogarrio, in Spain. In the year of 1834, Jose Tomas de Orozco built a 1.200 flutes tubular organ, which is in the parish. There were some modest local newspapers, amongst others: "El Eco de Catorce" (The Echo of Catorce) and "El Eco de la Montaña” (The Echo of the Mountain.) To have an idea of the importance of this town, Porfirio Díaz came in 1895 as President of the Republic, to inaugurate machinery made in San Francisco, California for the Santa Ana mine. When coming to Santa Ana, he also visited Real de Catorce. The presidential entourage had to move by horse through the mountains, because the Ogarrio Tunnel did not exist. In recent years Real de Catorce has also been visited by presidents Luis Echeverria, José Lopez Portillo and Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Unfortunately mines are now inactive, so now tourism is the source of living, both domestic and foreign tourists daily visit this place, some out of devotion, others wishing to rest and others wanting to see the vestiges and traces of a true colonial city, which is the image of what it was in times of vast trade and wealth. One important fact worth noting is that several writers have written about this town, among others: The Explorer, Baron Alexander Von Humboldt in his book "Political Essay on New Spain"; Don Trinidad Garcia in his book "The Mexican Miners", Guillermo Prieto, minister of Don Benito Juárez in his book "Journey to the United States", and the contemporary writer and historian Octaviano Cabrera Ipiña in his book "El Real de Catorce" and historian Rafael Montejano and Aguiñaga, in his book "Real de Catorce."

 

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Real de Catorce at 1893
Real de Catorce at 1893

 

 

 

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San Agustín Mine at 1900
San Agustín Mine at 1900

 

 

 

Click to enlargeInauguration of the electric tramcar August 24, 1908
Inauguration of the electric tramcar August 24, 1908

 

 

 

Click to enlargeDolores Trompeta mine bonanza June 1903
Dolores Trompeta mine bonanza June 1903

 

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