While scant information exists on the state’s pre-Hispanic era, the Huastecos, Chichimecas and Guachichile Indians are believed to have inhabited the lands that now comprise San Luis Potosí as far back as 10,000 B.C. Their descendants make up a large segment of the state’s present population, many of whom continue to speak their native language.
The Huastecos culture left behind two cities that have recently been discovered in the area: Tamtok and El Consuelo, both of which probably had their golden age between the 3rd and 10th centuries. Researchers suspect that these cities influenced other groups in the region including the Chichimecas, Pames and Otomis and are examining the relationships between the cultures.
The name Chichimeca came from the Mexica (Aztecs), who applied it to a wide range of fierce, semi-nomadic peoples who inhabited the northern parts of the country.
The Chichimecas eventually dominated the region, but were conquered by Spaniard Hernán Cortés not long after his arrival in October 1522. Soon after, Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán was appointed governor of the region by the Spanish crown. In 1539, Franciscan priests Antonio de Rosa and Juan Sevilla arrived from Spain and began converting the Indians to Roman Catholicism. When minerals were discovered in 1546, Spanish settlements grew quickly throughout the area, outraging the Chichimeca Indians, who rebelled against the Spanish in 1550. The ensuing Chichimeca War cost thousands of lives and threatened the operation of many Spanish-held mines.
On October 18, 1585, Alonso Manrique de Zuñiga, the Marqués de Villamanrique, was appointed the seventh viceroy of Mexico. Villamanrique was convinced that he could end the bloodbath and restore peace to the area. One of his first gestures was to free the Indians who had been captured during the war. He then launched a full-scale peace offensive, negotiating with Chichimeca leaders and providing the Indian population with food, clothing, lands and agricultural supplies. On November 25, 1589, the war between the Spanish and the Chichimec Indians came to an end and peace was, for a time, restored. However, the Spanish population and their power continued to grow after the end of the Chichimeca War, further aggravating and marginalizing the indigenous tribes. In 1592, the year that the city of San Luis Potosí was founded, the area experienced another gold rush after new deposits were discovered.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the state remained Mexico’s most prolific mining center. In 1772, silver was discovered in the local mountains of Real de Catorce, located in San Luis Potosí’s desert region. A town of the same name was quickly erected, and the area became another of the state’s many lucrative mining operations.
The Mexican independence movement reached San Luis Potosí in 1810. Nevertheless, Spanish loyalists continued to control the region, and the state functioned as a base for conservatives who wanted the country to continue under the dominance of Spain. The country extricated itself from Spanish rule in 1821, and San Luis Potosí received its statehood in 1824. A constitution was drafted two years later.
San Luis Potosí, like every state in Mexico, experienced a time of political and social turmoil during the latter part of the 19th century. In 1846, Mexico´s army led by Santa Anna marched through San Luis Potosí to fight against the U.S. troops invading Mexico. No battles were held in the state, but locals provided the Mexican army with supplies and moral support.
When the French invaded Mexico in 1862, Mexican President Benito Juárez relocated the federal government to San Luis Potosí. Juárez continued to move the country’s seat of power until the death of Maximiliano–the emperor installed by the French government–in 1867. Juárez briefly ruled from San Luis Potosí again after Maximiliano was executed by Mexican Republicans in Querétaro.
A period of relative calm followed the defeat of the French, and in 1877, Porfirio Díaz was elected president, an office he would hold on and off over the next three decades. At the close of the 19th century, San Luis Potosi experienced economic growth that mainly benefited Spanish landholders and merchants. While the area’s indigenous groups continued to struggle for the right to own land and to lead free and fulfilling lives, factions opposed to Díaz’s corrupt and violent regime began to grow in number and intensity.
A particularly vociferous critic of the Díaz administration, Francisco Indalécio Madero, was arrested in July 1910 and sent to San Luis Potosí. He successfully escaped and issued the Plan of San Luis on October 5th, which encouraged Mexicans to take up arms against the government and marked the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.
Because the railroad from Mexico City to Laredo, Texas, passed through San Luis, it became a pivotal region in the Mexican Revolution, since controlling the city also meant controlling access to the Mexican-American border.
In 1911, Díaz was forced to resign the presidency due to increased pressure from revolutionaries. Madero was elected president the following year. His assassination in 1913 threw the country into turmoil and sparked further conflicts among political factions throughout Mexico, such as those loyal to Francisco Pancho Villa, Victoriano Huerta and Emiliano Zapata. Between 1914 and 1920, numerous power shifts occurred before a new party, Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), was formed. The PRI won popular support and controlled the presidency until 2000.
San Luis PotosÃƒÂ Today
San Luis Potosí’s economy owes much of its success to the state’s thriving manufacturing and agriculture industries.
The largest economic sector in San Luis Potosí is manufacturing, which accounts for about 26 percent of the economy. General service-based companies represent 18 percent, followed by trade activities at 17 percent, finance and insurance at 15 percent, agriculture and livestock at 9 percent, transportation and communications at 9 percent, construction at 5 percent and mining at 1 percent.
Most of the state’s industrial activities–food processing, automobile manufacturing, mining and textiles–take place in or around San Luis Potosi, the capital city. Many large foreign companies have facilities there, including Bendix (auto parts), Sandoz (pharmaceuticals), Union Carbide (chemicals) and Bimbo (food products). Some of the richest silver mines in Mexico are located in the northern part of the state. Gold, copper and zinc are also mined.
Fruit crops such as oranges, mangoes, bananas and guavas are abundant in this region. Corn and beans are primary crops throughout the state, with goats, sheep and cattle being the chief livestock commodities.
The dominant indigenous group in San Luis Potosí today is the Huastecs, also known as the Teenek, which means “those who live in the fields with their language, their blood and share the idea.” Most of this population lives in the eastern portion of the state in the Pánuco river basin, which covers 10,238 square kilometers (4,000 square miles) and is distributed among 18 municipalities. The Teenek share the basin area with the mestizos (mixed race) and the Nahuas, who inhabit the southern portion of the region. Most of the Teenek population lives in the Aquismón, Tanalajás, Ciudad Valles, Huehuetlán, Tancanhuitz, San Antonio, Tampamolón and San Vicente Tancuayalab municipalities.
As of 2000, San Luis Potosí was home to more than 2 million people over the age of five. Of those, 11 percent spoke an indigenous language.
Facts & Figures
- Capital: San Luis Potosí
- Major Cities (population): San Luis Potosí (685,934) Soledad Diaz Gutierrez (215,968) Ciudad Valles (116,261) Matehuala (70,150) Rio Verde (49,183)
- Size/Area: 24,266 square miles
- Population: 2,410,414 (2005 Census)
- Year of statehood: 1824
- San Luis Potosí’s coat of arms depicts San Luis Rey (Louis IX of France, the city’s patron saint) standing on San Pedro Hill. The scene includes a mine entrance flanked by two silver and two gold bars, which represent the state’s wealth. The background colors of blue and yellow symbolize night and day.
- San Luis Potosí takes its name from the area’s original designation, Valle de San Luis. The Spaniards added Potosí (which means fortune) to the name when they discovered gold and silver there.
- li>The city of San Luis Potosí is home to three dance companies: the Ballet Provincial de San Luis Potosí, the Grupo de Danza Folklórica and the Danza Contemporánea.
- The resort town of Santa María del Río, which is known for its thermal baths and spas, also has an ancient stone aqueduct, El Arquillo, that crosses the river and forms a beautiful waterfall.
- The region known as La Huasteca Potosina has some of the most important ecotourism sites in Mexico´s northern region and features attractions such as waterfalls, rapid rivers, caves and camping sites. Ciudad Valles is in the middle of La Huasteca Potosina.
- El Sótano de las Golondrinas is a 376-meter (1234-foot) deep cave popular among spelunkers and rock climbers. Every morning thousands of swallows fly out in a synchronized spiral flight, and every afternoon they return.
- The town of Xilitla features a surreal castle built in the middle of the jungle. Edward James, an Irish-American millionaire and owner of railroad businesses, built the castle in 1950 and lived with the natives of the region, practicing alternative medicine for more than a decade.
- In December 1853, General Santa Anna selected an untitled poem by Francisco Gonzalez Bocanegra, a poet from San Luis Potosí, to be the lyrics for the country’s new national anthem. A Spaniard, Jaime Nuno Rocco, provided the musical score.
In the capital city of San Luis Potosí, the Cathedral Potosina and the Palacio de Gobierno rise above the Plaza de Armas, the city’s central square and home to many other beautifully preserved and historically significant colonial buildings. Benito Juárez, who completed five terms as president of Mexico between 1858 and 1872, served two of those terms at the Palacio. The colonial center has since been closed off to traffic to help preserve its architectural treasures.
Museums & Art
The city of San Luis Potosí is home to several art and history museums, including the Museo Nacional de La Máscara (National Mask Museum), which offers permanent and temporary mask exhibits. The Museo del Centro Taurino Potosino (Potosí Bullfighting Center Museum) offers an extensive collection of bullfighting memorabilia, including photographs, posters, clothing and equipment that once belonged to famous matadors.
San Luis Potosí is known for its mining history. Cerro de San Pedro, now a ghost town, is located eight kilometers (five miles) east of the capital. Founded in 1583 after several mines in the vicinity began operations, the town was abandoned during the late 1940s when the gold, lead, iron, manganese and mercury deposits finally began to dwindle. The section of town known as La Colonia de Los Gringos contains the dilapidated offices and living quarters of the American Smelting and Refining Company, and the ruins of shops, churches, estates and a hospital are scattered throughout the town. Local firms continue to extract limited quantities of minerals from the mines.