Coahuila, one of Mexico’s major steel producers, straddles the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains. Because the western part of the state is mostly desert, most Coahuilans live in the cool, moist eastern highlands. Because of the wine production in the area, the city of Parras de la Fuente is a popular tourist destination. The city even holds an annual wine and grape fair called la Feria de la Uva y el Vino.
About 12,000 years ago, Nomadic hunters entered this region, which once included South Texas. Archeological evidence suggests that early hunter-gatherer cultures evolved into fixed societies that engaged in agriculture and fishing and used area caves as shelter. Later, Coahuila became home to several Indian tribes, including the Huauchichiles, Coahuiltecos, Tobosos, Irritilas and Rayados. When the Spaniards arrived, they found the natives to be peaceful and prosperous. Sadly, nearly 90 percent of the indigenous population was killed by European diseases.
The Spanish colonized the state between 1550 and 1580, naming it New Extremadura after a region in Spain. They later changed the name to Coahuila. Colonization of the state was impeded by the vast desert, extreme weather and shortage of water. After much of the indigenous population was wiped out, leaving the northern part of Mexico largely unpopulated, the Spaniards brought Tlaxaltec Indians from south-central Mexico to settle the area and work the land.
During the colonial period, several political conflicts flared over the location of the state’s capital. Many wanted the capital to be in Monclova instead of Saltillo. Despite these issues, the state’s reputation as a center for wealthy ranches, wine making and commerce continued to grow.
Coahuila remained under royalist control until 1821 when Mexico gained its independence. The political philosophies of Miguel Ramos Arizpe, a Coahuila-born federalist, influenced the creation of the 1824 constitution.
Texas, which had become the northern section of Coahuila y Tejas in 1824, declared its independence from Mexico in 1835. In response, Mexican troops led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna attacked and defeated a small force of Texan patriots at the Battle of the Alamo in the spring of 1836. A few months later at the Battle of San Jacinto, Santa Anna and his men were routed by superior forces led by General Sam Houston. Tensions between the counties continued until 1846 when United States soldiers invaded Mexico, instigating the two-year-long Mexican-American War. U.S. troops occupied Saltillo, Coahuila, until 1848 when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo granted all territories north of the Rio Grande to the United States.
In 1856, the governor of Nuevo Leon, a neighboring state, annexed Coahuila and declared the combined territories the República de la Sierra Madre. A few years later, however, Coahuila regained its independence.
Coahuila was home to Francisco Madero, one of the most important leaders of the Mexican Revolution. In 1910, Madero published a book called Presidential Succession, which called for fair elections and representation. The book caused a flurry of sentiment against President Porfirio Díaz and launched Madero’s presidential candidacy. Madero–along with Pancho Villa, Pascual Orozco and Emiliano Zapata–led the revolution that ousted Díaz, who many considered a brutish dictator. Madero was elected president in 1911 but was assassinated in 1913. His fellow Coahuila-born ally, Venustiano Carranza, then gained control of Mexico and became the first elected post-revolution president.a cross-shaped mound with perfect astronomical orientation, the Paquime ruins spark wonder and admiration.
Coahuila is responsible for more than a third of Mexico’s steel production. Since the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, the state’s automobile industry has burgeoned. Thanks to this rapid growth, the state has become a major auto-manufacturing center similar to the U.S. city of Detroit. Today, over 200 area maquiladoras (assembly plants) are dedicated to metal stamping, engine production and vehicle assembly.
The state’s primary crop is cotton, followed by potatoes, grapes, watermelon, apples, alfalfa, wheat, oats, corn, sorghum, nuts and dairy products. Coahuila is also home to Mexico’s only coal production center.
Facts & Figures
- Capital: Saltillo
- Major Cities: (population) Saltillo (648,929) Torreón (577,477) Monclava (200,160) Piedras Negras (143,915) Ciudad Acuña (126,238)
- Size/Area: 58,521.9 square miles
- Population: 2,400,000 (2005 Census)
- Year of Statehood: 1857
- Coahuila’s coat of arms depicts a river and trees, above which the sun is rising, representing the state’s emergence from the Mexican Revolution. Another portion shows a lion, a column and the words Plus Ultra, which is Latin for further beyond, the national motto of Spain.
- Coahuila was named for the indigenous Indians whose name, Coahuilan, means “between the trees or among them.”
- The Museo de las Aves, located in Saltillo, contains 1,800 specimens of bird varieties collected by Aldequndo Garza de Leon over a period of 40 years.
- The state of Texas was part of the Mexican state Coahuila y Tejas before declaring independence in 1835.
- The town of Piedras Negrasis where Chef Ignacio Nacho Anaya served the first-ever plate of nachos in 1943. The popular appetizer of tortilla chips and melted cheese has become a Tex-Mex cuisine classic. In honor of this delectable invention, the town hosts an annual nacho competition during the second week of October.
- The first wine produced on the American continent was made in Parras, Coahuila. The area is still known for its wine production.
Saltillo, Coahuila’s capital, is the oldest city in northeastern Mexico. One of the country’s most dynamic industrial centers, Saltillo is famous for producing the traditional multi-colored Mexican blanket, the sarape.
Built between 1746 and 1810, the Cathedral of Santiago is one of the largest and most beautiful cathedrals in Mexico. The architecture, which combines baroque (highly ornamental) and Churrigueresque (fantastic and lavishly detailed) styles, features a quarry stone exterior and columns ornamented with flower and medallion designs. The steel cross on its tower is visible throughout the city.
The cathedral’s altar, like its columns, features characteristic baroque engravings and is liberally plated in gold. Some 45 oil paintings, including an image of Santo Cristo de la Capilla (Holy Christ of the Chapel), adorn the interior.
Saltillo’s Recinto Juárez museum displays documents and artifacts from the mid-1800s. The Desert Museum showcases the region’s customs, traditions and animal and plant species.
Parras is an agricultural town located 150 kilometers (93 miles) west of Saltillo. Known as the “Oasis of Coahuila,” the city is renowned for its sprawling vineyards, colonial architecture and huge trees. Founded in 1597, Casa Madero is the oldest winery in the Western Hemisphere and a popular Parras tourist attraction, as is the Museo del Vino (Museum of Wine), which displays grinding machines, stills and distilling vessels brought over from Paris in the 19th century.
Other notable area wineries are the San Lorenzo Hacienda and the Bodegas del Vesubio. Vintners, where citizens and tourists gather each August for the city’s grape and wine festival, la Feria de la Uva y el Vino.
The 200,000-acre Cuatro Cienegas Nature Reserve is located in the desert valley just northwest of Monclova. Surrounded by towering mountains, this nationally protected area features hundreds of freshwater ponds, desert gardens and white gypsum dunes. It is also home to a high number of rare and endangered endemic organisms. The reserve has more than 75 species of fish, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, mollusks, insects and more than 400 species of cactus found nowhere else in the world. An impressive variety of bats and migratory birds also find refuge in this desert oasis.