According to archeological evidence, nomadic tribes may have occupied the region as early as 6000 B.C. The first settlements are thought to have occurred around 4000 B.C.
Tamaulipas was originally populated by the Olmec people and later by Chichimec and Huastec tribes. Between 1445 and 1466, Mexica (or Aztec) armies commanded by Moctezuma I Ilhuicamina conquered much of the territory and transformed it into a tributary region for the Mexica empire. However, the Aztecs never fully conquered certain indigenous groups in the area, including the Comanche and Apache.
In 1517, Francisco Hernández de Córdoba led the first group of Spaniards into the area. They were defeated by Huastec natives, as were the forces of Francisco de Garay who arrived a year later. In 1522, Hernán Cortés defeated the indigenous forces. He and his army captured the city of Chila, but the lack of mineral deposits and continued resistance by the natives discouraged their expansion into the northern regions. Efforts to convert the Indians to Catholicism during this time also failed.
At the beginning of the 17th century, Franciscan priests founded missions in the region and began converting the indigenous populations. During this time, widespread cattle and sheep ranching by the Spanish bolstered the area’s economy while forcing native populations from their original lands. Occasional revolts by the native tribes weakened colonial interest in the region.
During the 18th century, French colonizers settled north of Tamaulipas in what is now the state of Louisiana. Seeing this as an encroachment and a threat to their colonization efforts, the Spanish launched a number of initiatives to populate the local region and promote new economic activities. However, efforts to bolster the population were largely unsuccessful, and economic development was hampered by inadequate transportation methods.
Beginning in 1810, the inhabitants of Mexico clashed with the Spanish colonists in what would become the Mexican War of Independence. Spanish royalist troops succeeded in overthrowing the rebellion, but by then the spirit of independence had settled upon the people. By 1821, Mexico had gained its independence under the terms of the Plan of Iguala. Three years later, Tamaulipas joined the Mexican federation of states.
Much of the remaining 19th century was characterized by political instability until the state began to experience economic development during the ”Porfiriato Period” (1876–1910), when President Porfirio Díaz was in power.
The Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910, also reached Tamaulipas. As with all Mexican states, Tamaulipas adopted the county’s new national constitution.
During the 20th century, Tamaulipas expanded its economy, thanks to increased commerce with the United States. Following the adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994—which established trade provisions among Mexico, the United States, and Canada—Tamaulipas emerged as a manufacturing center for products exported to the United States.
At present, about 350 maquiladoras (assembly plants) employing over 150,000 workers line the U.S.-Tamaulipas border. In the southern part of the state, chemical and oil production facilities manufacture acrylic fiber, plastic resins, synthetic rubber, and polymers.
Tamaulipas, which is part of the fertile lowland area known as “La Huasteca,” has an ideal agricultural climate and is Mexico’s main producer of sorghum; other major crops are corn, cotton, and wheat. More than half the state’s land area is devoted to raising cattle, goats, pigs, and sheep. Tamaulipas’ prime location on the Gulf of Mexico makes it a center of the country’s fishing industry. The primary harvests include shrimp, crayfish, oysters and crabs. Freshwater fish such as tilapia and catfish are also abundant throughout the state.
Facts & Figures
- Capital: Victoria (278,773)
- Major Cities (population): Reynosa (540,207), Matamoros (460,598), Nuevo Laredo (367,504), Tampico (313,409), Madero (196,544)
- Size/Area: 30,650 square miles
- Population: 3,024,238 (2005 Census)
- Year of Statehood: 1824
- Tamaulipas gets its name from a Huastec word, Tamaholipa, which can be translated as either “place where people pray” or “place of the high mountains.”
- The state’s coat of arms depicts Tamaulipas’ agricultural and livestock prosperity, the mechanization of its countryside, the region’s industrial development, and its abundant fishing resources. Bernal de Horcasitas Hill, a notable landmark in the region, and the crest of José Escandón y Helguera who colonized the state are also portrayed on Tamaulipas’ coat of arms.
- Tamaulipas is renowned for its theater groups, including one that performs entirely in mime.
- La Picota, a favorite dance of the region, features dancers who jump, leap, and swirl in spirited choreography. The rhythmical motions of the dance, which are thought to be derived from Scottish folk dancing, are accompanied by a clarinet and drum.
- Geographically, Tamaulipas is one-third the size of the state of Chihuahua and fifteen times larger than Morelos.
- The Festival Internacional Tamaulipas (Tamaulipas International Festival), held each October, features cultural and artistic events that include exhibits, plays, concerts, and cinema. The event attracts throngs of people annually and stirs the population’s passion for Mexican culture and heritage.
- Tampico Port in Tamaulipas is one of Mexico’s first exporting ports. While oil is the primary commodity exported from Tampico, it also ships silver, copper, lumber, wool, hemp, and other agricultural products all over the world.
- Jimmy Buffett’s best-selling 1977 album, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, features the song “Tampico Trauma,” a humorous tale of his misadventures while visit the Mexican city.
Strategically located at the Mexican-American border, the municipality of Matamoros features many historical buildings and attractions. The Main Square downtown is home to monuments honoring Miguel Hidalgo, founder of the Mexican War of Independence movement, and Benito Juárez, considered by many to be Mexico’s greatest leader. The Puerta Mexico, or New Bridge, inaugurated in 1928, connects Matamoros with the city of Brownsville, Texas.
The Teatro de la Reforma (also called ”The Opera Theatre”) in Matamoros was originally built in 1865. In 1904, it witnessed a historical moment when Mexico’s national anthem was performed there for the first time by its composer, Don Jaime Nuño.
The Cathedral of Nuestra Señora del Refugio, which was built in 1832, is another point of interest in the state. In 1958, Pope John XXIII created the new dioceses for Matamoros and designated the church as a cathedral.
One of the most beautiful beaches along the Tamaulipas shoreline and an ideal spot for sport fishing is La Barra del Tordo. The Carrizal River meanders along the beach’s shores, forming a complex ecosystem with rich and abundant vegetation and fauna, including the Lora turtles that come to the beach every year to reproduce.
Among the state’s more inviting beaches are Altamira and the Golden Dunes, located in Altamira, and Miramar, which draws countless visitors annually. Bagdad Beach, east of Matamoros, hosts the ever-popular El Festival del Mar (Festival of the Sea) each year.
Tampico’s historical downtown features architectural landmarks—such as the Cathedral of Tampico, the Maritime Customs Building, and Pirámide de las Flores (Flower’s Pyramid)—that showcase the city’s culturally diverse past and attract tourists from all over the world.