Zacatecas, officially Free and Sovereign State of Zacatecas, is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 58 municipalities and its capital city is Zacatecas.
It is located in North-Central Mexico. It is bordered by the states of Durango to the northwest, Coahuila to the north, Nayarit to the west, San Luis Potosí and Nuevo León to the east, and Jalisco, Guanajuato and Aguascalientes to the south.
The state of Zacatecas is best known for its rich deposits of silver and other minerals, its colonial architecture and its importance during the Mexican revolution. Its main economic activities are mining, agriculture and tourism.
The state name derives from the name of its capital, Zacatecas. This work is derived from Nahuatl and means “where there is abundant zacate (a kind of reed)” . The state seal depicts the Cerro de la Bufa, a landmark of the capital, surrounded by the weapons of the original inhabitants. Above is the motto “Work conquers all.”
Before the arrival of the Spanish, dominant ethnic groups included the Caxcans, Zacatecos, and Guachichils, with a probable rivalry between the Guchichils and the Caxcans. The history of these peoples is sketchy and it is not known when the first settlements were founding in the region. Between the fourth and tenth centuries in the Christian era, several large settlements developed such as Altavista, Chalchihuites and La Quemada, considered to be part of Greater Mesoamerica . Areas in the north of the state, without major settlements was part of what is called Aridoamerica, where inhabitants lived off hunting and gathering. The first of the major population centers emerged along the Suchil, Graceros and Guadiana Rivers. The archeological sites of today are all ceremonial centers and/or observatories in the center of metropolises.
The first settlement in the state’s current borders was in what is now Nochistlan in 1531, the original Guadalajara. This settlement was later moved to its current location in Jalisco because of water supply problems and indigenous attacks. The capital was founded by Juan de Tolosa with the support of Cristobal de Oñate and Pedro Almendez Chirinos in 1546, after the discovery of one of the world’s richest silver veins. However, shortly afterwards, the most Spanish attention turned back south because of indigenous uprisings. The area remained dangerous for Spanish settlement because of the fierce opposition of the native peoples. In 1541, an indigenous leader named Tenamextle, also known as Francisco Tenamaztle and Diego the Aztec, rebelled, capturing and executing Spanish leader Miguel de Ibarra. The Spanish defeated the Caxcans during the Mixtón War in the 1540s. Tenamextle escaped the battle and continued to organized rebellions against the Spanish. However, the Spanish continued to push into Zacatecas because of its silver wealth, making it a province of New Galicia. Although able to establish mining towns, convoys transporting the metal were regularly attacked.
Much of the state’s colonial history to the present has been related to its mineral production, especially of silver. The first boom was from the Conquest to the mid 17th century. The riches drew settlers from the south and in 1586, Phillip II gave the city the name of Noble and Loyal City of Nuestra Señora de los Zacatecas. In 1588, he authorized its coat of arms. Most of the state was evangelized by the Franciscans, who founded a hospice in the city in 1558 and by 1567 had built a large monastery. They officially took possession of its religious functions in 1603. Later other orders arrived, founding monasteries but they did not evangelize the indigenous.
The next boom was in the early 18th century, with the state producing one-fifth of the world’s silver. These riches supported the establishment of new settlements along with the building of elegant churches and mansions as the area became one of the most important of New Spain .
During the Mexican War of Independence, Miguel Hidalgo’s troops marched through Zacatecas twice, once when they were attacking royalist troops and later when fleeing them. The war ended in 1821 and Zacatecas formally became a state in 1824, with the city of Zacatecas as its capital, and this city continued to grow.
The state’s history during the most of the 19th century was tumultuous, along with the rest of the country. From Independence until the 1860s, Liberal and Conservative elements occupied the capital at one time or another, until Liberal leader Jesús González Ortega seized control of the state permanently in 1859. This leader’s decrees against Conservative sympathizers drove many Catholic priests out of the state. In 1861, French troops occupied Zacatecas but only for two years before being driven out. For the rest of the century, the state was mostly controlled by local strongmen, such as González Ortega, Trinidad García de la Cadena and Genero Codina. The fighting depressed silver production until the near the end of the century, but it recovered enough to account for sixty percent of the state’s export revenue.
At the end of the century, technological innovations such as the telegraph, telephone, electricity and rail lines connected the state with the rest of Mexico. Trains provided direct links to Ciudad Juárez, Aguascalientes and Chihuahua, which led to emigration out of the state, primarily to the United States in the 20th century.
Zacatecas was again a battleground with the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century. One of the largest and most decisive battle of this conflict took place outside the capital and is called the Toma de Zacatecas (Taking of Zacatecas). This battle pitted the troops of Francisco Villa against those of Victoriano Huerta, resulting in the deaths of 7,000 soldiers and the wounding of 5,000. Civilian casualties were not recorded. The battle led to the naming of the city as a “Heróica Ciudad” (Heroic City) .
From 1998-2004, the state undertook a major project to expand the highway system.
It is important to note that Zacatecas was part of Nueva Galicia and thus the bishop for the state in prior to 1863, when the diocese of Zacatecas was erected, sat in Guadalajara. Because many church records in Zacatecas were destroyed during the Mexican Revolution, records in Guadalajara, particularly marriage dispensations can be pivotal in research.
The group Nuestros Ranchos is a collaborative research group that focuses on the states of Jalisco, Zacatecas and Aguascalientes. The group's forums are viewable and searchable by the public and membership is free.