Mexico, California and Arizona/Chapter 18

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Mexico, California and Arizona  (1900)  by William Henry Bishop
XVIII. Mines and Mining Traits, at Pachuca and Regla




We bought tickets for Pachuca at the Hotel Gillow, in Mexico. Pachuca, one of the earliest, and richest, of the mining districts in the country, notable for both its earlier and later history, is, fortunately, also one of the most accessible to the traveller from the capital.

We took the train, from Buena Vista Station, at six in the morning. At Ometusco, forty miles down the Vera Cruz Line, a group of diligences stood in waiting. Our own proved to be drawn by eight mules—two wheelers, four in the centre, and two leaders. We jolted along execrable roads, turned out where the mud-holes threatened to engulf us, and rode instead over high maguey stumps which threatened to hurl us back into them. The country was covered with magueys. The driver, by whom I sat, on the box-seat, for the better view of what was passing, asked me, in a patronizing way,

"Have the Norte Americanos also pulque? and do they se borrachan (get drunk) with it, like people here?"

We reached San Agostin, a shabby adobe hamlet, at eleven o'clock, waited there a while for the Philadelphia-built horse-car on the tramway, of which I have before spoken, and were at Pachuca about sundown. As to scenery, historically, and from the point of view of its returns, Pachuca is rivalled among mining districts perhaps only by Guanajuato; but the place itself is shabby, and, lying nine thousand feet above the sea, its atmosphere is raw and penetrating even in July. Regularly every afternoon blow up a breeze and a dust like those which have attained celebrity at San Francisco.

There were said to be ten thousand miners at work in the district. Perhaps five hundred are British subjects, originally from the tin mines of Cornwall. They manifest in their new surroundings a rude independence of character amounting to surliness. I heard here of my French engineer who had been sent over to examine mining property. He had eccentrically given his left hand, after a way some Frenchmen have, to the captain of one of the mines, on his descent, and the colony talked of nothing but this. They had banded together to guy and mislead him in his inquiries as much as possible, and one of them told me, with a bitterness the trivial circumstance hardly seemed to warrant, that if he came again, with his supercilious way of treating people, they would try to tumble him into some pit. Our poor friend, I fear, went away, if he believed what was told him, with some very singular items of information.


Pachuca has become a good-sized city within a comparatively modern period, while Real del Monte, adjoining, once more important, still remains a village. The English element is not new in either. There was probably more of it toward 1827 than even now. On the close of the War of Independence an impression went abroad of most brilliant profits awaiting whoever would furnish capital to reopen and work the old Spanish mines abandoned and ruined in the disasters of the long struggle. The idea was seized upon with especial avidity in England. It was represented that but two simple things were needed: the pumping-out of the water which had accumulated in the disused shafts, and improved machinery for working at lower levels, than those which had been within the reach of the primitive appliances of the country. Seven great English companies were formed, which proceeded to pour out millions upon millions of pounds, distributing the money among the several mining districts of chief repute; and these half depopulated Cornwall for laborers for the new interests. The idea was in itself a good one. Mexico had produced in three hundred years of mining, according to the estimate of Humboldt, $1,767,952,000 of value in the precious metals. The yield had been going on before the Revolution at the rate of $30,000,000 yearly. It was an industry of the greatest regularity. From 3000 to 5000 mines were in operation, and constituted its chief wealth. Its towns were mining towns; its great families mining families. The funds from this source had built the churches, the dams for irrigation by which the great agricultural estates were brought under cultivation, and had supplied the gifts and loans to the King by which the nobility secured their titles. By the Revolution this source of wealth was exhausted and dried up. The new Congress of the country felt the imperative need of doing something to reopen it, and encouraged the advent of foreign capital by a legislation which is still felt as a liberalizing influence in mining matters.

The idea was a good one, as I say, but the foreign investors did not sufficiently estimate the difficulties of their undertaking, the novelty of the country, language, persons, and processes, and the physical obstacles with which they had to deal. Almost without exception they lost money. The "boom" of 1824 was followed by a panic in 1826, a general depression at home, and, in course of time, the transfer of the interests to cheaper hands.

Among the English companies mentioned was the Real del Monte Company, which bought up, among others, all the mines of the Count of Regla, at Real del Monte and Pachuca. These had produced in fifty years $26,500,000. The history of the growth of the Count's magnificence is briefly this. His principal vein, the Biscaina, had been worked continuously from the middle of the sixteenth century. Its yield in 1726 was nearly $4,500,000. In the beginning of the eighteenth century it was abandoned in consequence of the impossibility of drainage with the defective appliances of that day. A shrewd individual took up these mines anew in later years, and associated with him Don Pedro Tereros, a small capitalist, who became his heir. In 1762 Tereros struck a bonanza, and in twelve years took out $6,000,000. He procured the title of Count of Regla by his munificent gifts to Charles III., and, investing his money judiciously, entered upon the career of splendor to which reference has heretofore been made.

By 1801, however, he found himself at such a depth with his levels that the yield was insufficient to pay the expenses of extraction, and the mines were again disused.

It was in this condition that the English company took them, knowing full well that there was treasure in the deeper levels, and proposing to bring it out with its improved machinery and Cornish labor.

The director took a salary of $40,000 a year, built himself a castellated palace, and rode out with a body-guard of fifty horsemen. A magnificent road was built to Regla, six leagues away. The only access thither, for the six hundred mules of the Count of Regla, had been by a dan- gerous bridle-path. Five large steam-engines and lesser machinery were dragged up from the coast at Vera Cruz, occupying the labor of a hundred men and seven hundred mules for five months.

In all this probably a million pounds was consumed. Treasure was not found as expected—what there was appearing instead in new mines. After struggling hopelessly a while the management passed into other hands. The parade was dispensed with, and the costly machinery sold out, to a Mexican company, for about its value as old iron, and then the property began to pay.

An English "Anglo-Mexican Company" also owned mines at Pachuca, and in like manner came to grief. There was an element of luck in all this, too, it must be admitted. Less than a hundred feet from where work was stopped in the Rosario, for instance, one of the mines of the latter, the new company struck a bonanza, which has been paying munificently ever since.

The present director, Señor Llandero y Cos, a brother of the Secretary of State, lives in the same castellated palace, but on a simpler scale. I had reason to know that even he had had not a little to suffer from the fierce independence of his surrounding Cornishmen. I descended into two of the richest mines, Santa Gertrudis and San Rosario. Of these Santa Gertrudis has paid in a brief space thirty-nine dividends of $20,000 each.


The interior, even of the richest Mexican silver-mine, is hardly what the novice might expect. You put a candle, pasted by a lump of mud, on the top of your hat and crawl through all sorts of dark and dripping holes. Now and then a guide flashes his light on some black and gray ` ish discolorations with a look of professional pride, but you do not exactly fall down in ecstasy over these. There are no forks and spoons hanging ready to your hand, no presentation plate, nor even ingots. The heaps of ore about the shafts do not glitter, and seem good for little but to mend the roads. The principal shafts are about sixteen feet in diameter, the galleries five by eight, and spaced about eighty feet apart. At the San Pedro mine the pumping-engine was of one hundred and fifty horsepower, and another of the same power drew up the malacate, or skip, full of ore in bags of maguey fibre. In some of the old mines, at Guanajuato and San Luis Potosi, they tell us, peons still tote the ore up the interminable ladders on their backs; but this, I think, must be rare. The depth of the Santa Gertrudis is about six hundred feet. The material is marl, limestone, and quartz, all of a soft character and easy to work, but requiring a heavy timbering-up. The clothing of the laborers is ransacked for nuggets by three separate searchers in turn, as they emerge from their work.

There is a Government School of Practical Mining at Pachuca, to which students are sent after finishing the theoretical course at the Mineria, or school of technology, in Mexico. The director, an affable man, showed us the process of beneficiating, or extracting the metal from the rough ore, in miniature. You see the rock first crushed and reduced, with water, to a paste, then mingled with sulphate of copper, common salt, and quicksilver, which get hold of the metal. The quicksilver is afterward withdrawn and reserved for continued use. He gave me, also, a pamphlet of his on a new form of application of "La Accion Mechanica del Viento"- the mechanical action of the wind. A large wind-mill was moving in the court-yard made in accordance with his principle, which ` substituted large zinc cones tor the ordinary sails and slats.

The extracting processes were more entertainingly seen, however, at the beneficiating haciendas themselves. The "Loreto" is one of the principal. The ore is crushed her by the Cornish stamp, which drops a succession of iron-shod beams upon it; the Chilean mill, which grinds it by means of superposed revolving stones; or the arrastra. The last is the most primitive, cheapest, and still most in use. The crushing is done by common stones, hung to the arms of a horizontal cross, dragged round and round in a circular bed by mule-power.

Then follows the making of tortas, "the patio system," which had its origin here in 1557. Numerous large mud-pies of the powdered ore and water are laid out on a vast open court floored with wood. The chemicals mentioned are thrown in in successive stages, and troops of broken-down horses are driven around in the mass for from two to three weeks in succession, thoroughly mingling it together. It is then brought in wheel-barrow loads to washing-tanks, where men and boys puddle it bare-legged till the metal falls to the bottom and the detritus runs away. "Rebellious" ores are treated by first calcining, then separating with mercury by "the barrel process." This last is done chiefly at the hacienda of Velasco, on the way to Regla.

Of the two hundred and sixty-seven mines in the district, seven are worked by the Real del Monte Company. The paying mines are comparatively new, discovered within the last twenty or thirty years. The old Spanish mines do not pay, and are, in fact, little worked. The stories of old Spanish mines, abandoned, perforce, at the date of the Independence, and ready to yield splendid returns to whoever will reopen them, serves very well as ` romance; but it must be remembered that sixty years have elapsed since the Independence, and there have been plenty of prospectors with a shrewd eye for gain in the country in the mean time. The Mexicans themselves are good miners. It will not do to look on with amused contempt even where very primitive processes are largely retained, for these are often better adapted to the peculiar conditions than any others. Thus the puddling of the tortas by mules and human legs, with labor at but thirty cents a day, is deliberately preferred to machinery.

Whoever might care to make purchases in such a place would do well to buy among the newly discovered mines. Or one may yet prospect for himself, for the district appears by no means exhausted. Robbers in the state of Hidalgo long served as an impediment to freedom of prospecting in out-of-the-way places, and it is only of late that their power has been broken. The last Governor is said to have shot three hundred of them. Wild-cat properties and pitfalls of the usual sort await the unwary here. That perversity which, by some natural law seems to take hold upon dealers in mines as well as in horses possesses them in Mexico not less than elsewhere.

The Mexican mine is divided into twenty-four imaginary equal parts, barras, and fractional parts of these are bought and sold as its stock.


As to the mining laws of the country, I have heard them described by some Americans as better than our own. In certain respects this is true. The reprehensible looseness with which our American "district recorders" receive conflicting claims covering the same property many times over is unknown. An official goes to the field and settles the equity of the case at once, and never records but one title. Litigation about the original title of a Mexican mine is almost unknown, while that of an American mine of any value is invariably in litigation.

On the other hand, there are some drawbacks. While a foreigner may hold property in mines in Mexico without being subject to the obligation of residence, as in respect to other real estate, provided he have a resident partner, nobody in Mexico, foreigner or otherwise, can acquire a mine outright and in absolute ownership. He cannot own it in fee, no matter what sum he pays for it. The legal theory is that the title to a mine is only that of "conditional possession," and in the nature of usu fruct, which is "the right of using and enjoying a thing of which the owner is another." On violation of the conditions the title reverts to the sovereignty—formerly the King of Spain, now the Republic of Mexico. The body of the Ordinances as at present followed was promulgated by the King of Spain in the year 1783. To allow a mine to stand idle is assumed to be an injury to those who might otherwise work and extract profit from it. It is enacted, therefore, as follows:

"I (the King) order and command that any one who shall for four consecutive months fail to work a mine, with four operatives, regularly employed, and occupied in some interior or exterior work of real utility and advantage, shall thereby forfeit the right which he may have to the mine, and it shall belong to the denouncer who proves its desertion."

The method of acquiring title to a new and original mine is to go before the proper officer in the district in which it has been discovered and register a claim. Ninety days is then allowed to any other persons who may advance pretensions to it also, to appear, after which it is confirmed to him whose case is best established. Abandoned and forfeited properties are "denounced by a similar formality. Veins or mines may be denounced not only on common lands, but those of any private individual, on paying for the surface occupied. In order, however, to obviate malicious or idle destruction, the searcher may be made to give security, before beginning his trial, for any damage he may occasion to the owner of the ground. Sites and waters for reducing works are included in the same permission.

The denouncer must take possession and begin the prescribed work within sixty days. The discoverer may have three pertenencias, or claims, continuous or interrupted, on any principal vein which is absolutely new. The pertenencia consists of two hundred metres along the line of the vein and one hundred on each side (or as the miner may desire), as measured on a level. A person, not the discoverer, can denounce two contiguous mines, on the same vein, but one may acquire as many others as he likes by purchase.

The ancient code created a General Tribunal of Mining for New Spain, and gave it cognizance of all mining matters. It was composed of a President, Director-general, and three Deputies-general, elected by the Reales, or mining districts, and two Deputies besides, elected by each Real. The Real had to be a place containing a church, six mines, and four reducing establishments, in actual operation. The qualifications for holding office were, that one should have been engaged in practical mining for ten years, that he should be an American, or European Spaniard, free from all inferior blood, and that he should agree to "defend the mystery of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady."

It would seem that offices were not always in as active demand as in our days, for heavy fines are enacted for non-acceptance on election, besides being compelled to serve afterward. An honest and straightforward purpose appears in the rules of procedure quite worthy of imitation elsewhere. Let us cite some examples.

"As said classes of causes and suits," says the King, "ought to be determined between the parties briefly and summarily, according to manifest truth and good faith, as in commercial transactions, without allowing delays, declarations, or writings of lawyers, it is my will that whenever any persons appear in said Royal Tribunals . . . to institute any action, they (the tribunals) shall not admit any complaint or petition in writing until after they have cited the parties before them, if it be possible, so that, hearing orally their complaints and answers, they may settle with the greatest despatch the suits or dispute between them; and not being able to succeed in this, and the matter in question exceeding the value of two hundred dollars, petitions in writing will be admitted, provided they be not drawn up, arranged, or signed by lawyers. ... In the judgments which may be pronounced no consideration shall be paid to any default in observing the minute formalities of the law, or to inaccuracies or other defects; but, in whatever stage of the proceedings the truth may be ascertained, the causes shall be decided and adjudged." The legal fraternity had secured a repute for sometimes misleading justice, it is seen, even so far back as this. There appears to have been a Consulado, or Tribunal of Commerce, upon pretty much the same plan. This ancient system has been swept away by various stages. Since the day of the republic the power once vested in the old tribunal has been lodged with the ordinary civil courts and political authorities. ` It is doubtful whether mining has ever been pursued to better advantage, made more productive and regular, and more effectively freed from the element of wild-cat speculation, than in New Spain of the period considered.

There were decrees to prevent miners, especially those of affluence, from wasting their substance. Negligence in tunnelling, imperfect ventilation, and the like, by which life and health are endangered, were severely punished.

Criminals and vagabonds were made to labor in the mines, but the main bulk of laborers in early times consisted of the Indians, apportioned to proprietors as repartamientos, and held in a kind of slavery.


The gorgeous Count of Regla was a great mine-owner here in his day. It was hence that he would have taken the ingots for the King of Spain to ride upon from the coast to the capital, should they have been called for by an actual acceptance of his splendid invitation before mentioned.

His ancient beneficiating hacienda of Regla, say eighteen miles from Pachuca, is of great interest. A most excellent wagon-road, constructed by the Real del Monte Company, at large expense, leads to it. As many as eighty heavily loaded ore-wagons, each drawn by from eight to a dozen mules, traverse it in a single day.

Señor Llandero y Cos kindly provided us, for this and the remaining part of our expedition, with horses and a mozo, to be kept at our convenience. White posts of substantial masonry dotted the abrupt slopes, by way of locating the various claims. Some lonesome-looking wooden structures, not unlike Swiss chalets, generally marked the shafts of the smaller mines as we went on- ` ward, while a small arrastra or two was turned by mule-power in the neighborhood. One, called the Fortune, if what was said were true, should rather have been the Misfortune or the Ill-fortune, for it had never produced a tlaco of profit.

Convolvuli and fragrant flor de San Juan touched with a trace of beauty the sterile hills. Real del Monte, embowered in rich woods, presented a scene like a fine landscape in Pennsylvania. We stopped first at the old Presidio, above the Tereros Mine, where the convicts drafted for mining labor were formerly kept; then dismounted and went down a ravine, to see the mouth of a tunnel, seven thousand yards in length, built to drain the works of the original Real del Monte Company.

Hamlets were set near together along the road, and the country continued bold and generously wooded. At the abandoned Moran Mine, one of the Count of Regla's principal treasure-stores in its time, we found picturesque remains of walls and columns, with a round tower, which had once contained a hoisting drum. It was obliged to be abandoned, like the Sanchez, in the vicinity, for lack of water. Near the Sanchez is the mouth of the general drainage tunnel constructed by the Count. Esteemed very important in its day, it has been wholly eclipsed by works on a larger scale prevailing in the mean time. Velasco, where "rebellious" ores are treated, is presided over by an English superintendent. He had in use a crushing-machine of still a different pattern from those described. Heavy iron rockers, driven by steam-power, were worked back and forth upon the ore in a bath of water. It was claimed that one- fourth more work could be done with this at an equal expenditure of power than by the Chilean mill. Attached to the establishment in the usual way were a charming villa and gardens. The

superintendent at Pachuca sometimes came there to pass a fortnight's vacation.

The immediate approach to Regla is along the side of a deep tropical barranca. Bananas grow generously within it, and a palm-thatched Indian village crowns its opposite verge. The hacienda itself is set down in a most impressive natural formation. It is encompassed by grand columniated cliffs of basalt, like those of the Giant's Causeway. The columns are hexagonal in shape, with an average diameter approaching three feet. At places whole areas of them have been distorted and twisted hither and thither in the cooling, with a most wild and singular effect.

A cascade like a little Niagara tumbles roaring down among them, and furnishes the strong water-power for the works. The hacienda belongs to the Real del Monte Company, and it is chiefly ores of that company which are brought to this strangely attractive scene to be treated. Troops of horses were going round in the usual way in a great walled patio, making the tortas. Connected with this were smelting -furnaces and kindred buildings of many sorts. Madame Calderon de la Barca, who also visited Regla, found it such a place as might have been conjured up by magic, by some giant enchanter, for his own purposes. Mediaeval-looking towers, gateways, terraces, a chapel, and prison garnish it. Opposite the chapel is a pretty residence, Moorish in aspect, surrounded by vines and flowers. The whole is said to have cost some two millions of dollars.

We spent a night here with the superintendent, Don Ramon Torres, a youngish man, who had learned his avocation in the mines at Guanajuato. He seemed but too delighted, in his comparative isolation, to entertain company and honor the introduction of his chief, Señor

Llandero. He dwelt in his talk upon the lack of ambition among the Indian laborers. He said, among other things, that in the Tierra Caliente the women were better workers than the men.

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Our next stage from here was to be the hacienda of Tepenacasco, near Tulancingo, where Mr. Brocklehnrst and myself had been invited to visit, in order to witness the manner of life on one of the great country estates. Regla is rather famous for thunder-storms, and on the day of our departure we had one of the traditional sort. Within a few minutes after its commencement the cascade was blood-red with soil torn out by the swollen
stream. The storm abated at first, but we encountered it in renewed fury on wide green uplands like an Illinois prairie, known as the Plains of Mata. As we galloped in the midst of it, the rain pouring in torrents from our rubber blankets, the lightnings (rayos) darted into the ground, now on this side, now on that, in a way which I can only compare—perhaps too trivially—to spearing for olives in a jar with a fork. The rayos are dangerous in this region, as naturally on open plains everywhere, and crosses mark places where herdsmen have been stricken down among their flocks. One of these victims had been found recently, with his animals gathered around in a circle at close quarters staring at him curiously, while he lay stark on his face.

The rain had its lulls and relapses, and twice in succession we took shelter under the sheds of isolated ranchitos which we fell in with. We were joined here by an occasional ploughman, wearing the long cloak of coarse woven grass, which diverts the water from the wearer. We were joined, too, by all the domestic animals of the neighborhood. The wait at the last retreat seemed as if it would never end. At last a pig ventured forth, and we said, idly, that if he should return we would accept it as an augury that the deluge was over and the waters had ceased upon the face of the earth. Sure enough, he came back presently, munching a green carrot-top; and, receiving this like the olive-branch brought to Noah, we sallied forth. Our confidence proved well justified. A lovely prismatic bow of promise was presently set in the sky, the clouds rolled away, scattering their last lingering drops, the rills babbled merrily, and the face of the country sparkled with an enchanting freshness. We paused again briefly at a hacienda which belonged to the Governor of the state. The main building was large, plain, and yellow-

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washed, and had before it an enclosed threshing-floor, on which grain is tramped out by the feet of horses. A young American girl had been employed as governess here up to a recent date. It was now toward evening. The sunset glowed warm upon the little hamlet of Acatlan, through which our road was seen winding below. In its midst lay a dismantled convent, with belfries still standing, which from a distance resembled an English ruined abbey. It was found on being reached, however, unlike the latter, to be built of bricks and adobe. I had at first taken this for our hacienda itself, but the hacienda proved equally attractive in a different way. After a couple of miles farther on we sent back our horses and guide with a warm missive of thanks to their owner, and were hospitably installed at Tepenacasco.