Indigenous Jalisco (1529-2010)

A case study in mestizaje

By John P. Schmal
Published on LatinoLA: February 9, 2014

Indigenous Jalisco (1529-2010)

Jalisco is La Madre Patria for millions of Mexican Americans. Many of these sons and daughters of Jalisco know little to nothing about Jalisco's cultural past and their own indigenous roots. But for many centuries up to the 1530s, Jalisco was a patchwork of many small autonomous nations speaking a wide variety of languages.

The pre-Hispanic Jalisco of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries gave birth to many of the cultural traditions of present-day Jalisco. Most of these traditions, over time, have evolved into new traditions that blended elements of Spanish, Mexica, Otom?ˇ and indigenous Jalisco culture. By indigenous Jalisco culture, I mean the culture of the Coras, Cocas, Caxcanes, Tecuexes, Guachichiles and others that that inhabited this area in the centuries leading up to the 1520s.

The Cocas and Tecuexes, in particular, represent the life-blood of most of central and north-central Jalisco, while the Caxcanes, Guachichiles and Guamares might be looked upon as the life-blood of the Los Altos (northeast) area and far eastern portions of Jalisco. And the Coras and Huicholes have left a lasting legacy in the regions of northwestern Jalisco that are adjacent to the borders of Nayarit and Zacatecas.

The modern state of Jalisco consists of 78,597 square kilometers located in the west central portion of the Mexican Republic and taking up 4.0% of the national territory. In the 2010 census, Jalisco had a population of 7,350,682 inhabitants, representing 6.5% of the total population of the Mexican Republic. Eighty-seven percent of that population lives in urban areas, with 13% residing in rural locations.

Jalisco is a very large state and actually has boundaries with seven other Mexican states. While Colima and Michoac?ín 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 Potos?ˇ on her northeastern frontier.

[b]Nueva Galicia[/ib]

The Jalisco of colonial Mexico was not an individual political entity but part of the Spanish province "Nueva Galicia," which embraced 180,000 kilometers ranging from the Pacific Ocean to the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental. The present-day states of Jalisco, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, Nayarit and the northwest corner of San Luis Potos?ˇ all made up part of Nueva Galicia. Domingo L?ízaro de Arregui, in his "Descripci??n de la Nueva Galicia" - published in 1621 - wrote that 72 languages were spoken within the colonial province. But, according to the author Eric van Young, "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 the native peoples has been progressively interwoven with (or submerged in) that of non-native groups."

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. 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."

Alfredo Moreno Gonz?ílez, in his book Santa Maria de Los Lagos, explains that the word Chichimeca has been subject to various interpretations over the years. Some of these suggestions included "linaje de perros" (of dog lineage), "perros altaneros" (arrogant dogs), or "chupadores de sangre" (blood-suckers). In any case, it was apparent that the Mexican Indians of the south did not hold their northern counterparts in high regard. However, in time, they learned to both fear and respect many of these Indians as brave and courageous defenders of their ancestral homelands.

Primary Factors Influencing Mestizaje and Assimilation

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. The first factor was the 1529-30 campaign of Nu??o Beltr?ín de Guzm?ín. In "The North Frontier of New Spain," Peter Gerhard wrote that "Guzm?ín, 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; Guzm?ín's strategy was to terrorize the natives with often unprovoked killing, torture, and enslavement."

Once Guzm?ín 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 human institutions were prone to abuse and misuse and, as a result, some Indians were reduced to slave labor. Guzm?ín was arrested and imprisoned in 1536 Two years later, he was returned to Spain in chains to stand trial. He remained in prison until his death in 1550. In spite of Guzm?ín's removal and imprisonment, his reign of terror had set into motion institutions that led to the widespread displacement of the indigenous people of Jalisco.

The second factor was the Mixt??n Rebellion of 1541-1542. 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." Fortunately, some of these people were allowed to return home a decade later, while others died before seeing their homeland again.

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 had begun. 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, Otom?ˇes, Tlaxcalans, and the Cazcanes had all joined forces with the Spanish military. By the time the Chichimeca War had begun, the Tarascans and Otom?ˇes, in particular, had already developed "considerable experience in warfare alongside the Spaniards." As a result, explains Mr. 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 N?íhuatl-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.

Decline through Epidemic Disease

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 Spanish invasion, according to 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 Purificaci??n 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. In spite of these epidemics, several areas of Jalisco were less affected by contagious disease. By 1550, it is believed that there were an estimated 220,000 Indians living throughout all of Nueva Galicia.

The Caxcanes

One of the primary indigenous groups of Jalisco was the Cazcanes (Caxcanes) who 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. The language of the Caxcanes Indians was 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, Huej??car, and across the border in Nochistl?ín, Zacatecas. The language of Cazcanes was very similar to the Nahua dialect spoken by the Mexica and has sometimes been referred to as a corrupt form of Nahua.

According to Mr. Powell, the Caxcanes were "the heart and the center of the Indian rebellion in 1541 and 1542." After the Mixt??n Rebellion, the Cazcanes 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 in the east, the Cocas inhabited a significant swath of territory in central and southern Jalisco. Zapotitlan, 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."

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 d??cil, buena y amiga de los espa??oles."), 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.


From Magdalena and Tequila in the west to Jalostotitl?ín 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, Tepatitl?ín 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 to the north, the Caxcanes. In fact, it is believed that Caxcanes originally invaded the territory of the Tecuexes in the area of Tlatenango, Juchipila, Nochistl?ín (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 Guzm?ín 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 Guzm?ín 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 Guzm?ín and his men. Because of their superiority in arms, the Spaniards quickly defeated this group. Later, the manipulative Guzman used an alliance with the Cocas to help subdue the Tecuexes. Like the Caxcanes, the Tecuexes suffered in the aftermath of the Mixt??n Rebellion. Although they no longer exist as a cultural group, many present-day Jaliscans are descended from the Tecuexes.

The Coras

The Coras inhabited an area that is now located in present-day Nayarit as well as the northwestern fringes of Jalisco. Today, the Coras, numbering more than 20,000 people, continue to survive, primarily in Nayarit and to a lesser extent in Jalisco. The Cora Indians have been studied by several historians and archaeologists. One of the most interesting works about the Cora is Catherine Palmer Finerty's "In a Village far From Home: My Life among the Cora Indians of the Sierra Madre" (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2000). The Cora are discussed at great length in the Indigenous History of Nayarit at the following link:


The Cuyutecos - speaking the Nahua language of the Aztecs - settled in southwestern Jalisco, inhabiting Atenquillo, Talpa, Mascota, Mixtl?ín, Atengo, and Tecolotl?ín. 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.


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 Tepatitl?ín 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 paint 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.

The Guamares

The nation of the Guamares, located in the Guanajuato Sierras, was centered around P?®njamo and San Miguel. They extended as west as Aguascalientes and Jalostotitl?ín and Lagos and as far east as Quer?®taro. The author, Gonzalo de las Casas, called the Guamares "the bravest, most warlike, treacherous, and destructive of all the Chichimecas, and the most astute (dispuesta)." One Guamar group called the "Chichimecas Blancos" lived in the region between Jalostotitl?ín and Aguascalientes. This branch of the Guamares painted their heads white. However, much like the Guachichiles, many of the Guamares colored their long hair red and painted the body with various colors (in particular red).


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 Colotl?ín.

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: B.I. Finson, 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 Otom?ˇes were a Chichimeca nation primarily occupying Quer?®taro and Guanajuato. However, early on, the Otom?ˇes allied themselves with the Spaniards and Mexica Indians. As a result, writes Mr. Powell, Otom?ˇ 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 Espa??a) used Otom?ˇ militia against the Chichimecas. The strategic placement of Otom?ˇ settlements in Nueva Galicia made their language dominant near Zapotitl?ín, Juchitl?ín, Autl?ín, and other towns near Jalisco's southern border with Colima.

Pur?®pecha Indians (Tarascans)

The Pur?®pecha Indians - also referred to as the Tarascans and Porh?® - inhabited many parts of present-day Michoac?ín and boasted a powerful empire that rivaled the Aztec Empire during the Fifteenth and early Sixteenth Centuries. As recently as 2010, the Pur?®pecha numbered over 124,000 speakers. This language, classified as an isolated language, was spoken along the southern fringes of southern Jalisco, adjacent to the border with Colima.


In pre-Hispanic times, the Tepehu?ín Indians inhabited a wide swath of territory that stretch through sections of present-day Jalisco, Nayarit, Durango and Chihuahua. 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 Tepehu?ín moved to hiding places in the Sierra Madre to avoid Spanish retaliation.

Today, the Tepehu?ín 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 Tepee, Mezquital and Colotl?ín. The Tepehuanes language and culture are no longer found in Jalisco, but more than 35,000 Tepehuanes still reside in southern Chihuahua and some parts of Durango and Nayarit. The revolt of 1616 was described in great detail by Charlotte M. Gradie's "The Tepehu?ín Revolt of 1616: Militarism, Evangelism and Colonialism in Seventeenth Century Nueva Vizcaya" (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2000).

The indigenous presence in certain locations of Jalisco at the time of contact is discussed below:

Tequila (North central Jalisco). Known as Tecuallan in the pre-Hispanic period, the inhabitants of this area were Tecuexe farmers, most of whom lived in the Barranca. North of the R?ˇo Grande were the Huicholes, who were the traditional enemies of the Tecuexes and frequently raided the Tecuexes' settlements in the south before 1550. Although Guzm?ín and his forces passed through this area in 1530, the natives of this area offered stiff resistance to Spanish incursions into their lands. 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 Gonz?ílez tells us that the Native American village occupying this area was Pechitit?ín. According to Mr. 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."

San Juan de Los Lagos and Jalostotitl?ín (Northern Los Altos). The area around San Juan de los Lagos, Encarnaci??n de D?ˇaz and Jalostotitl?ín was primarily occupied by the "Chichimecas Blancos," a Guamares tribe who used limestone pigments to color their faces and bodies. When Pedro Alm?ˇndez 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 (Southeastern Jalisco). La Barca and the shores of Lake Chapala were the sites of three indigenous nations: Poncitl?ín 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 N?íhuatl were spoken at Ocotl?ín, 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 Tonal?ín. At the time of contact, there were two communities of Coca speakers: Tlaxmulco and Coyotlan. The natives here submitted to Guzm?ín and were enlisted to fight with his army in the conquest of the west coast. After the Mixt??n Rebellion, Cazcanes migrated to this area.

Tonal?í / 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, Nu??o de Guzm?ín arrived in Tonal?ín and defeated the Tecuexes in battle.

San Crist??bal 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.

Colotl?ín (Northern Jalisco). Colotl?ín 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 Cazc?ín and Tepecanos 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.

Cuqu?ˇo (North central Jalisco). When the European explorers reached Cuqu?ˇo in north central Jalisco they described it as a densely populated region of farmers. The dominant indigenous language in this region was Tecuexe. Guzm?ín's lieutenant, Alm?ˇndez Chirinos, ravaged this area in February 1530, and in 1540-41, the Indians in this area were among the insurgents taking part in the Mixt??n Rebellion.

Tepatitl?ín (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 Guzm?ín and in 1541 submitted to Viceroy Mendoza.

Guadalajara. When the Spanish arrived in the vicinity of present-day Guadalajara in 1530, they found about one thousand dispersed farmers belonging to the Tecuexes and Cocas. But after the Mixt??n Rebellion of the early 1540s, whole communities of Cazcanes were moved south to the plains near Guadalajara.

Purificaci??n (Westernmost part of 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 Chimaltitl?ín (Northern Jalisco). The region surrounding Tepec and Chimaltitl?ín 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: Tepehu?ín at Chimaltitl?ín and Tepic, Huichol in Tuxpan and Santa Catarina, and Cazc?ín to the east (near the border with Zacatecas).


By the early part of the Nineteenth Century, very few people living in Jalisco still spoke indigenous languages. In fact, a large number of the original languages spoken in Jalisco had disappeared from the face of the earth. However, the descendants of the original Indians still lived in Jalisco and many of them still felt a spiritual, cultural and physical bond to their Indian ancestors.


On June 23, 1823, the Department of Guadalajara was proclaimed as the "El Estado Libre y Soberano de Jalisco" (The Free and Sovereign State of Jalisco). This new era, however, did not bring stability to Jalisco, nor did it bring economic reform to the descendants of Jalisco's indigenous peoples. The historian Dawn Fogle Deaton writes that in the sixty-year period from 1825 to 1885, Jalisco witnessed twenty-seven peasant (primarily indigenous) rebellions. Seventeen of these uprisings occurred within one decade, 1855-64, and the year 1857 witnessed ten separate revolts.

According to Ms. Deaton, the cause of these "waves of unrest, popular protest, and open rebellion" arose "out of the political and social struggles among classes and between classes." She further explained that the "commercialization of the economy," especially in agriculture, had led to fundamental changes in the lifestyles of the peasants and thus brought about "the seeds of discontent."

As Jalisco prepared to enter the Twentieth Century, the indigenous speaking population of the State declined considerably. In the 1895 census, only 4,510 persons spoke an indigenous language, representing 0.38% of the state's total population. By the time of the 1930 census, this figure would drop to 2,648 (0.21% of the total population).

1921 Census

In spite of the lost language connection, the bond that many Jaliscans felt towards their indigenous ancestry continued well into the Twentieth Century and is clearly manifested in the 1921 Mexican census. At the time of this census, which was tallied after the end of the devastating Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), 199,728 Jalisco natives identified themselves as being of "ind?ˇgena pura" (pure indigenous) descent, representing 16.8% of the entire state's population.

In a true testament to the mestizaje of Jalisco's inhabitants, 903,830 Jaliscans classified themselves as "ind?ˇgena mezclada con blanca" (Indigenous mixed with White), representing 75.8% of the total state population. The mestizos of Jalisco, in fact, represented 10.6% of the mestizo population of the entire Mexican Republic in the 1921 census. In contrast, only 87,103 of Jalisco's 1,191,957 inhabitants referred to themselves as "blanca."

2000 Census

According to the 2000 census, the population of persons five years and more who spoke indigenous languages in Jalisco totaled 39,259 individuals. The most common of these languages were:

1. Huichol (10,976 persons)
2. N?íhuatl (6,714)
3. Pur?®pecha (3,074)
4. Mixteco (1,471)
5. Otom?ˇ (1,193)
6. Zapoteco (1,061).

The majority of the indigenous languages spoken in the state were transplanted tongues from other parts of M?®xico and the Huichol language represented the only truly indigenous language of these tongues. Although the State of Jalisco contains 124 municipios, only 11 of these entities contained indigenous populations that numbered more than one percent in 2000, including:

ÔÇó Mezquitic (7,652 indigenous speakers ÔÇô 64.75% of the municipios population)
ÔÇó Bola??os (2,125 indigenous speakers ÔÇô 48.35%)

The other nine municipios had indigenous speaking populations of six percent or less.

The Huichol People

The most important indigenous group still living in Jalisco are the Huichol people. In the entire Mexican Republic, there were 30,686 persons five years of age or more who spoke the Huichol language in the 2000 census. They were primarily distributed across portions of four contiguous states: Nayarit (16,932), Jalisco (10,976), Durango (1,435) and Zacatecas (330). The Huicholes have managed to preserve their identity, language, culture and religious customs, largely because of their isolation in the Sierra Madre Mountains, where they occupy portions of all four states. The Cora people, like the Huichol, have survived in isolation, occupying mountains and valleys within the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountain range. The majority of them live in Nayarit.

Pur?®pecha (Tarascans)

Pur?®pecha is the third most commonly spoken language in present-day Jalisco. The Pur?®pecha ÔÇô who are sometimes called Tarascans (a label that was given to them by the Spaniards in the Sixteenth Century) ÔÇô ruled over a significant portion of Michoac?ín during the pre-Hispanic era and have managed to preserve their language and many of their unique customs. Many of the Pur?®pecha speakers live in the border regions adjacent to Michoac?ín.

The N?íhuatl, Otom?ˇ, Mixtec and Zapotec languages are believed to be largely migrant languages in Jalisco. Otom?ˇ is widely spoken through many central Mexican states, while the Mixtec and Zapotec languages have their origins in the southern state of Oaxaca. The Mixtecs and Zapotecs have migrated to many states of Mexico and are in great demand as agricultural laborers throughout the northern states.

2010 Census

The 2010 Mexican census reported that the inhabitants of Jalisco spoke 61 different indigenous dialects. However, Jalisco's 53,695 indigenous speakers represented only 0.8% of the total state population, and Jalisco ranked 26th among the Mexican states and Distrito Federal in the percent of people speaking indigenous languages. The three most spoken languages are:

1. Huichol ÔÇô 18,409 indigenous speakers in 2010 (34.3%)
2. N?íhuatl ÔÇô 11,650 indigenous speakers in 2010 (21.7%)
3. Pur?®pecha ÔÇô 3,960 indigenous speakers in 2010 (7.4%

Together these three languages represented 63.4% of indigenous speakers. The fourth most spoken language was the Mixtec language group (indigenous to Oaxaca) which had 2,001 speakers in the State. The municipios with the largest percentage of indigenous speakers are Mezquitic and Zapopan.

As Jalisco moves into the Twenty-First Century, only the arrival of migrant laborers from other parts of the country will ensure that Jalisco has a small number of persons speaking Indian languages, but almost all of those languages are not truly indigenous to the state itself. Nevertheless, many sons and daughters of Jalisco recognize and feel great pride in the indigenous heritage that they have inherited from their distant ancestors, the Cocas, Tecuexes, Caxcanes, Guachichiles, Huicholes and others.

Copyright ?® 2014 by John P. Schmal. All Rights Reserved.

Primary Sources:

Baus de Czitrom, Carolyn, "Tecuexes y Cocas: Dos Grupos de la Region Jalisco en el Siglo XVI." Instituto Nacional de Antropolog?ˇa e Historia, Departamento de Investigaciones Hist??ricas, No. 112. M?®xico: Serie Etnohistoria, 1982.

Departamento de la Estadistica Nacional, Estados Unidos Mexicanos, "Censos General de Habitantes: 30 de Noviembre de 1921, Estado de Jalisco," (Mexico, Distrito Federal: Talleres Graficos de la Naci??n, 1926)

Fogle Deaton, Dawn, "The Decade of Revolt: Peasant Rebellion in Jalisco, Mexico, 1855-1864," in Robert H. Jackson (ed.), "Liberals, the Church, and Indian Peasants: Corporate Lands and the Challenge of Reform in Nineteenth-Century Spanish America." (Albuquerque: New Mexico Press, 1997).

Gerhard, Peter, "The North Frontier of New Spain." Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Instituto Nacional de Estad?ˇstica Geograf?ˇa e Inform?ítica (INEGI). XII Censo General de Poblaci??n y Vivienda 2000; Censo de Poblaci??n y Vivienda 2010.
Moreno Gonz?ílez, Afredo, "Santa Maria de Los Lagos." Lagos de Moreno: D.R.H. Ayuntamiento de Los Lagos de Moreno, 1999.

Muri?í, Jos?® Mar?ˇa "Breve Historia de Jalisco." Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Econ??mica, 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.

Ram?ˇrez Flores, Jos?®, "Lenguas Ind?ˇgenas de Jalisco." Guadalajara: Unidad Editorial, 1980.

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.

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 (edited), Contributions to the Archaeology and Ethnohistory of Greater Mesoamerica. Carbondale, Illinois: Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University Press, 1985.

About John P. Schmal:
John Schmal is a genealogical researcher with specialization in Jalisco, Zacatecas and Aguascalientes lineages. He is a native of Southern California and a graduate of Loyola-Marymount University.
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