Jalisco’s Stormy History

by Mildred Boyd

      "Jalisco" is thought to come from two Nahuatl words, "xalli" (sand, gravel) and "ixtli" (face or plane), meaning "sandy place" or "arena." The name is certainly apt. Jalisco has been an arena for battle throughout its recorded history.
      Most of us who have made it our home think of Jalisco as it is today a peaceful, pleasant place to spend our retirement years. We boast that our adopted state is the sixth largest in Mexico, containing 31,210 square miles, bordering on the Pacific and six other states and having a population of 7,000,000. However, during the four Centuries after the Spanish conquest, Nueva Galicia, as it was then called, was an almost constant battleground in one bloody dispute after another.


   The first Spanish contact came when Cortez sent Cristobal de Olid to explore and report on the unknown territories to the west. Olid was not exactly welcomed with open arms. At the time, Nueva Galicia was occupied by numerous petty tribes speaking 72 different languages. Most were nomadic tribes that the more civilized peoples of the east and south scornfully referred to as Chichimecas, a term variously translated as "dog people," "arrogant dogs" and "blood suckers." Needless to say, they were not easily subdued and Olid’s report was so unfavorable that they were left in peace for another seven years.




     Nullo Beltran de Guzman, fresh from his rampage through Michoacan, arrived in Jalisco to continue his reign of terror. He met with such stiff resistance from the indigenous peoples that the site of his new capital, called Guadalajara after his birthplace in Spain, had to be moved four times before its present location. Once Guzman got the upper hand, his revenge was vicious. Ignoring the Royal decree that the natives were not to be enslaved, he shipped tens of thousands of them to the Caribbean islands to live out their lives in bondage.


       Guzman was arrested for his crimes against the natives and sent back to Spain to die in disgrace, but his legacy of cruelty and depredation would continue bearing fruit for many years. The most successful of the many uprisings was the Mixton rebellion. The Cazcanes succeeded in repulsing several Spanish attacks. One of them, led by the famous (or infamous) Pedro de Alvarado, resulted in that hero’s death when his horse fell on him during the retreat. It was not until Viceroy Mendoza sent a sizeable army of 450 Spaniards and 30,000 native allies that the situation was brought under control.


       That control did not last long. The Chichimeca War was really the same war but with different players. This time the Cazcanes fought on the Spanish side against the Zacatecas and Guachichiles, neither side ever maintaining control for long. This became known as the First Frontier war and sporadic guerilla fighting went on for 40 years before an uneasy, but long lasting, peace was finally negotiated by Viceroy de Zuniga.



     Not until Father Hidalgo sounded his famous Grito did Jalisco find itself in another serious conflict. Only a little over a month later, on November 28th, 1810, Guadalajara was one of the first cities to fall to the rebels. The battle of Calderon Bridge, over the Lerma River on January 11th, 1811, broke the back of Hidalgo’s personal revolt but his capture and execution only fed the flames of conflict. Fighting continued, and was especially intense around the shores of Lake Chapala, until the Spanish finally gave up all claims to Mexico in 1822.


       Jalisco, however, caught only fleeting glimpses of Peace. The large landowners, continued to oppress the indigenous peoples and the next 60 years saw 27 peasant rebellions, 10 of them in 1857 alone! Even those in power couldn’t agree. On April 12th, 1834 Jalisco felt obliged to invite the states of Queretaro, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Michoacan, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Tampico and Durango to form a coalition against what they considered the tyrannical presidency of General Santa Ana.


The desperate infighting of the Liberal/Conservative War or the War of Reform wasted little time spilling over into Jalisco. Of the thirty most important battles in that conflict, 12 were fought here and the decade from 1855-64 saw 18 transfers of power in the state government. When President Benito Juarez, a Liberal of pure Indian blood, was forced to flee Mexico City, Guadalajara became the de facto Capitol of the Republic. On March 20th, 1858, Juarez was again forced to take to his heels, this time to Veracruz, but the fighting in Jalisco still raged, paralyzing the economy and devastating most of the southern portion of the state including its Capitol, Guadalajara.



As one war ended another began. The victorious Juarez had barely returned to Mexico City when the battle weary Republic faced a foreign invasion. The French had been invited by the Conservatives to bolster their failing cause. At first triumphant, the French forces succeeded in placing Maximilian and Carlotta on the new Mexican Imperial Throne. The French occupation saw multiple battles in Jalisco before, on December 18th, 1866, the final and decisive encounter when Republican General Parra defeated the French near Acatlan. Within months, the invaders had entirely withdrawn.



The Revolución Mexicana hit Jalisco with a vengeance when Governor Manuel Dieguez, a crony of President Carranza’s, instituted a reign of terror. He persecuted the clergy, imprisoned and executed the followers of Victoriano Huerta and confiscated the property of the rich without discrimination. Needless to say, as the rebel forces under Pancho Villa approached Guadalajara, Jaliscans flocked to join him. Villa’s methods of robbing the rich to give to the poor made him extremely popular with the masses but he was soon routed and Dieguez remained in power until the end of the war.



One direct result of the revolution was the Constitution of 1917 which stripped the Catholic Church of most of its powers. These laws were mostly ignored until the violently anti-clerical President Elias Calles signed his "Intolerable Acts" and sparked the Cristero Rebelión. This uprising was centered in northern Jalisco but the fighting went on all over the state and Lakeside families still repeat tales their fathers and grandfathers told of the fighting. The outcome was more or less a standoff. The laws remain in effect but are seldom implemented.



Peace and prosperity have now reigned for 76 years. But what a bloody and violent history it has been for a people who gave us such happy innovations as mariachis, the Mexican Hat Dance, charreadas and, best of all, Tequila!