How much do you know about the history of Mazatlán? Did you know that Mazatlán was the first city in the Americas to be attacked and bombed by a plane, and that Mazatlán's port was blockcaded at different times by Spain, France, Britain, and the United States? And did you know that Mazatlán is part of the only state (Sinaloa) to still play the pre-hispanic game of Ulama, and that the Mazatlán Carnaval is ranked as the third-best carnival in the world? Mazatlán is a city with many stories to tell.
Before the Spanish conquered México, the area around Mazatlán was inhabited by indigenous people known as the Totorames. They left behind exquisite polychrome pottery with elaborate red and black designs indicative of a high culture. You can see samples of this pottery on display at Mazatlán's Museo Arqueológico, which is dedicated to preserving the pre-hispanic cultures of the state of Sinaloa. You can also view pre-hispanic rock carvings along the beach at Las Labradas.
Unlike their renowned inland neighbors, the Toltecs and Aztecs, the Totorames left no pyramids or grand works. Their civilization was gone 200 years before the Spanish arrived. But other local pre-Hispanic tribes survived. Just 80 km south of Mazatlán is one of the oldest pre-Hispanic archeological sites in Sinaloa: Chametla, in the municipality of Rosario. When Hernán Cortés led the Spanish conquerors searching for a passage to Baja California Sur, they met heavy resistance from the locals here - evidence that native populations inhabited this land well before the Spaniards came to Mazatlán.
After Cortés conquered the Aztecs around present-day México City in 1521 (in large part because the diseases, such as smallpox, brought into the country by his troops decimated the indigent population), his lieutenants were dispatched to explore and subjugate more of the country. In 1531, renegade opportunist (and enemy of Cortés) Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán burned his way through Sinaloa with his private army under the banner of conquest. Guzman laid waste to a broad western belt of Pacific Mexico, but also managed to found several towns, including Guadalajara, Tepic, and Culiacan. He was followed by conquistador Francisco Ibarra, who founded the mining town of Copala in 1565.
After a brutal battle with nearby natives, the lands were divided among the Spaniards, who became the first permanent settlers of what is now Mazatlán. Despite Spanish conquest of the pre-hispanic peoples of México, remains of pre-hispanic culture have endured. One example is the game of Ulama has been a perennial facet of Sinaloan culture. Ulama is derived from the pre-hispanic sport, Ullamaliztli, which was played in Mesoamerica for fifteen hundred years. The Spanish thought the "ule" (ball used to play Ulama) had magical properties and were, therefore, intimidated by it. Fear and confusion even caused Catholic priests - who came to America during colonization - to prohibit the indigenous people from playing the game. But the game survived and is still played today in Mazatlán, one of the last places it is played on earth.
Another example is the celebration of the Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos) that goes back to the Aztecs who spent an entire month dedicated to the dead, presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl. After the Spanish conquest, the celebration was moved from July/August to November to coincide with Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve. But the trappings of death featuring skeletons, altars, and death masks are part of the ancient holiday that celebrated life in its embrace of death.
Prior to the establishment of an official Spanish presence in the Mazatlán vicinity, the undulating nature of the harbor's coastline was recognized by pirates and privateers as offering good hiding places from which to surprise and attack Spanish galleons plying the coast carrying gold and silver mined in Peru and southern Mexico.
Of particular notoriety was the English privateer, Sir Thomas Cavendish. Stationing his fleet in proximity to Deer Island in November 1587, Cavendish's warship Desire successfully attacked and boarded the Spanish cargo ship Santa Ana. Cavendish's resulting booty was estimated to be the largest loss during the 200 years the Spanish trade operated along the coast. Upon arriving back in England, Cavendish's success not only brought great wealth and fame, but also more recognition to other pirates and privateers of how well the Mazatlán harbor facilitated attacks on the Spanish fleet.
Although present-day Mazatlán was not yet settled in 1600, the presence of English and French pirates using the hill-screened harbor as a place from which to attack Spanish galleons, prompted the colonial government to establish a small presidio on the harbor and watchtowers atop the cerros, and Mazatlán began to develop as a port town. By 1800, the pirates were gone. Nevertheless, legends persist of treasure buried in hidden caves and under windswept sands, waiting to be discovered.
Mazatlán was first mentioned in 1602 as the name of a small village, San Juan Bautista de Mazatlán (now called Villa Unión), 30 miles south of present day Mazatlán. The name Mazatlán means Place of the Deer in the Nahuatl language, tongue of the Aztecs. However, because the Aztec empire never extended this far to the northwest, it is believed that a Nahuatl-speaking interpreter traveling with Guzmán translated the name from the local language. In Spanish, the word for "Deer" is "Venados" (as in Isla de los Venados, or Deer Island).
During the 1600s precious metal deposits discovered by Spanish explorers began to be more thoroughly exploited in places near Mazatlán like Concordia, Copala, and El Rosario. Given the difficulty of hauling large tonnages east through the mountains or south to the Acapulco harbor, it was recognized that the Mazatlán harbor was an ideal alternative for originating sea-borne shipments back to Spain. Thus began a more accelerated development of the Mazatlán region.
Although still under colonial rule, the 1700s were a period of continuing growth and prosperity for Mazatlán. Mining output continued to expand and, along with it, the attendant need for dockworkers, new construction, food and water supplies, ship building and repair, heath care workers, and other support systems required for a growing population. Because of its location on the Pacific coast and its growing economy, immigrants attracted from Asia and Europe filled the need for commercial workers and in turn started small businesses that contributed to the economy. By the end of the century, Mazatlán had become one of the most important ports on the Pacific coast of the Americas.
Meanwhile, during the early portions of the 1800s, a movement for Mexican independence was ongoing. On September 16, 1810, parish priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla - "the father of Mexican independence" - rang his church's bell to call his Indian parishioners to revolt. His revolutionary tract, Grito de Dolores or "Cry of Dolores", so-named because it was publicly read by him in the town of Dolores, called for the end of 300 years of Spanish rule, redistribution of land, and racial equality. The subsequent march of his peasant army to Mexico City came close to capturing the Mexican capital but was eventually defeated, and Hidalgo was captured and executed.
After Hidalgo's death, the movement's leadership was shouldered by other citizens who led armies of native and racially mixed revolutionaries against the Spanish and the Royalists (Mexicans of Spanish descent) in the War of Independence. In 1820, a new and more liberal government was put in place in Spain, with promises of reforms to appease the revolutionaries. Wanting to preserve their privilege in Mexican society, the Royalists recanted and called for independence. To achieve that goal in manner favorable to them, the Royalists negotiated a plan to establish an independent constitutional monarchy with the caveats that the Catholic Church would maintain, and the Royalists would be regarded as equal to pure Spaniards while Mexicans of mixed or pure Indian blood would have lesser rights. After some push-back from some still-reluctant Royalist forces and the Spanish viceroy, Mexican independence was accepted, the Treaty of Cordoba was signed on August 24, 1821, and the leader of the Royalist independence movement, Agustin de Inturbide, who was a military hero in the war, was proclaimed the emperor of Mexico. The period of Inturbide's reign over the resulting constitutional monarchy is known as the First Mexican Empire.
Iturbide's reign was plagued by conflicts with congress and a bankrupt treasury. He lost support of the military when he desolved congress and replaced it with a junta of his supporters. The subsequent military revolt lead by Antonio López de Santa Anna caused Iturbide to abdicate in 1823. After a new constitution was drawn up that established a federal Mexican republic composed of 19 states and four territories, former General Guadlupe Victoria became the first president. He served during a period of little factional conflict and completed a relatively calm 4-year term. But the election of 1828 was thrown into chaos when Santa Anna questioned the results and, joined by other Mexican leaders, rebelled against the newly-elected president, Manual Gomez Pedraza. When Pedraza was forced to resign and was replaced by Santa Anna's preferred candidate, Vicente Guerrero, Santa Anna gained a reputation as a defender of federalism and democracy.
Santa Anna gained further popular approval when he led the Mexican opposition against a final Spanish effort to invade and reconquer Mexico in 1829. Against a larger force of 2,600 soldiers (significantly weakened by yellow fever) Santa Anna defeated the Spanish during the Battle of Tampico, ending the short-lived invasion and consolidating the independence of the new Mexican republic.
In December 1829, the liberal President Guerrero was deposed by conservative Anastasio Bustamante. Bustamante's forces chased the fleeing Guerrero into southern Mexico where he was captured and subsequently executed after a brief trial. The execution shocked the Mexican citizens, resulting in the loss of support among the public who considered Guerrero to be a hero of independence. Bustamante proved to be an autocratic leader who jailed political dissenters and robbed public revenues to pay off the military in order to keep their support. In 1832, Santa Anna seized the government's customs revenues in Veracruz and instigated a rebellion against Bustamante. The ensuing bloody conflict forced Bustamante's resignation and new elections were held in 1833, which Santa Anna won handily.
Santa Anna would rule for intermittant periods from 1833 to 1853. During this time, Mexico experienced a series of military failures, including the loss of the Republic of Texas and the subsequent defeat in the Mexican-American War, with the collateral loss of more than half of Mexico's land to the United States.
After winning its independence, Mexico was left in a difficult situation. Agricultural, mining, and industrial production had fallen during the conflict, and over half a million Mexicans had died. The country would have 50 different governments over the next 30 years, many of them put in place by military coups. Mazatlán, however, seemed to better tolerate the difficult transition from a colony to self-governing country than other regions of Mexico. The city was advantaged by its strategic location on the Pacific coast coupled with a harbor which had a natural configuration ideally suited for marine-based commerce and trade.
By the mid-1830's Mazatlán's non-indian population had greatly increased as many Europeans, primarily German, French, and Spanish, had migrated to Mazatlán seeking entrepreneurial opportunities. Fortunes were made manufacturing and selling needed commodities (e.g., candles, carriages, clothing, footwear, etc.). The city's seaport was developed to accommodate much increased marine traffic. The city's architecture and culture was and continues to be influenced by its immigrants. One example is Mexico's popular Banda music which has its roots in Bavarian music (derived from Polka) introduced by the Germans. And there some 479 buildings in Centro Historico that are designated as national historic landmarks, and exhibit Mexican, Spanish, Italian, French, German and other influences.
Mazatlán's growing prominence also attracted entreprenuers from the Far East. One such entreprenuer was a banker from the Philippines named Juan Nepomuceno Machado who, upon arrival, set out and succeeded in developing an import/export business spanning Asia, North and South America, and Europe.
In 1837, Machado dedicated some proceeds from that business to the construction of a plaza in the middle of what is now termed Centro Historico. Initially named the Paseo de las Naranjes (Orange Tree Walk) in reference to the orange trees dispersed throughout the plaza, it was later renamed Plazuela Machado (Plaza Machado) in honor of its builder. The plaza and nearby built-up areas could only be constructed because a pre-existing swampy ocean-fed estuary was de-watered by the construction of a seawall along the Olas Altas beach. Today the seawall is still in place and Plaza Machado is a very popular gathering point in Centro Historico for both Mazatlecos and visitors.
When the new Mexican republic was evolving in the wake of independence, the new government experienced widespread disruptions accuring from multiple rebellions and changes in leadership as various factions competed for control of the country. In the early years after independence, diplomatic relations had been established with France and France had become Mexicos's third-largest trading partner. French immigrants had established businesses throughout Mexico but the ongoing political upheavels were often accompanied by destruction and looting of French-owned private property.
One such insident involved a French pastry shop on the outskirts of Mexico City. The owner of the shop complained to the French King Louis-Philippe that Mexican officers had looted his shop, and refused to pay their bills. In view of the pastry shop owner's complaint and other complaints filed by French nationals, the French prime minister issued a demand that Mexico pay 600,000 pesos (3 million francs) in restitution for the damages inflicted. When then President Bustamante refused payment, the King of France ordered the French fleet to blockade Mexican ports on the Gulf of Mexico, bombard the Mexican fortress of San Juan de Ulua, and seize the city of Veracruz. Thus began what came to be called the Pastry War.
The French squadron under Rear Admiral Charles Baudin arrived at Veracruz on 29 October 1838, and established the blockcade. After negotiations with the Bustamant's government failed, Baudin continued, through the later part of November, what turned out to be a failure of the blockcade to force Mexican capitulation. During that time, the French had reconnoitered the San Juan de Ulua fort that protected the city, and determined that the fort's artillary was in poor shape and presented little threat to the French ships.
On November 26, the French formed a line of battle in opposition to the fort and, after rejecting a Mexican offer to negotiate, began a bombardment of the fort. After inflicting severe damage, including explosion of two powder depots and the loss over 220 men, the commander of the fort, General Manuel Rincón was forced to capitulate, and French forces were sent in to occupy the fort.
In response, the Mexican government expelled all French citzens established in Mexico, relieved General Rincón of command, and sent in an army of 3200 men, under Generals Santa Anna (who came out of retirement) and Arista to retake the city (Battle of Veracruz). Santa Anna's forces quickly reached the city, but before they could organize for an offensive, Baudin had dispatched a 1500 man raiding party comprised of artillary men and sailors from the French ships, which caught the Mexicans by surprise. Baudin's strategy was to capture Santa Anna and Arista to use as bargaining chips. They were successful in capturing Arista, but Mexican troops pushed back in time to prevent Santa Anna's capture. As Baudin's squadron retreated back to their ships, Santa Anna mounted a counterattack, but was stymed by intense fire from carronades (small cannons) mounted on the French landing boats. The anti-personnel grapeshot ammunition (small round lead balls) devistated the oncoming Mexicans, including Santa Anna who was severly wounded and lost a leg.
A peace treaty, negotiated with the help of the British was signed on 9 March 1839 whereby the Mexican government promised to pay the 600,000 pesos demanded by the French and increase the security for French residents in Mexico. The two most important outcomes of the conflict were, 1) the success of the French bombarbment using light-weight attack ships and newly introduced weapons and ammunition served to revolutionize the manner in which other countries in the world armed and employed their navies, and 2) Santa Anna's reputation was resurected after being severly compromised by his losses in the Texas Revolution and being ousted as president. His failed counterattack and his narration of it served to make him a very popular hero in the eyes of the public, to the extent that his severed leg was given a burial with full military honors.
Santa Anna exploited his new-found popularity by seizing power on March 1839 in coup d'État, ousting Bustamante. He would serve as President until 1844 when his lack of enthusiasm for governing led Mexico into economic failure, and he stepped down from power and fled to eventual exile in Cuba. He would reappear again as a military leader in the Mexican-American War.
In 1836, after an almost 2-year war involving the Alamo, Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, Stephen Austin, Sam Houston, and Santa Anna, Texas gained its independence from Mexico and became an independent republic. A decade later in 1845, Mexico severed relations with the US shortly after the US annexed the Texas republic.
In September 1845, newly elected US President James K. Polk, a proponent of Manifest Destiny, sent an envoy on a secret mission to Mexico to settle claims against Mexico, negotiate the disputed Texas border, and purchase New Mexico and California. Knowing that Polk was proposing a land-grab of Mexican territory, Mexico's then President Jose Joaquin Herrara refused to meet with the envoy. When Polk received word that the envoy had been snubbed, he ordered troups under General Zachary Taylor to occupy the disputed area between the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers.
In May 1846, Polk was preparing a war message for congress when he was informed that Mexican troops had crossed the Rio Grande into the disputed territory and attacked Taylor's troops. In response, Polk revised his war message from blaming the snub of his envoy and refusal of Mexico to pay US claims, to a call for war because Mexico had "invaded our territory and shed American blood on American soil."
The American army had several advantages over the Mexican army, including better weaponry, such as the Colt revolver and the new rifled muskets, which gave them a significant advantage in accuracy and range. The Americans also had a more advanced artillery system and a more efficient supply chain, which allowed them to maintain their momentum in the campaign.
In addition to these military advantages, the United States had strong leadership in the form of Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, who were experienced and skilled military commanders. They were able to effectively plan and execute successful campaigns that allowed them to capture key strategic locations and defeat Mexican forces.
Political instability within Mexico also contributed to the American victory. Mexico was still struggling with internal divisions and a weak central government, which made it difficult for them to mount an effective defense against the American invasion.
The war was fought on two main fronts: in northern Mexico, where General Taylor led the American forces, and in central Mexico, where General Winfield Scott launched an amphibious assault on the port city of Veracruz and marched inland to Mexico City.
Numerous battles were fought during the war, including:
The war came to an end with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848. Under the terms of the treaty, Mexico ceded about 55% of its territory to the United States, including what is now California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma. In exchange, the United States paid Mexico $15 million and agreed to assume $3.25 million in debt owed by Mexico to American citizens.
The war was controversial both at the time and in retrospect. Critics accused President Polk of using dubious pretexts to start the war, and some argued that the United States had unfairly taken advantage of a weaker neighbor. The war also had significant long-term consequences for both the United States and Mexico. It further strained relations between the two countries and contributed to a legacy of distrust and resentment that persists to this day.
In the early stages of the Mexican-American War, the US formulated a Pacific Coast Campaign, the objective of which was to secure the Baja Peninsula of Mexico, and to blockade/capture west-coast ports of Mexico - especially Mazatlán which was viewed as a major port-of-entry for imported supplies. On August 19, 1846, Joseph B. Hull, commander of the USS Warren, was ordered to blockade Mazatlán. On September 7, the Warren seized the Mexican brig Malek Adhel in Mazatlán.
The revolt of armed Mexican civilians against the occupation of Pueblo de Los Angeles on September 27 prevented the resupply and replacement of the Mazatlán blockade force, which could not maintain station without them. When news of the revolt came, the Warren left for San Francisco on November 13 and the blockade was effectively lifted. On February 17, 1847, the blockade was re-established by the USS Portsmouth.
Late in June 1847 this second blockade was again was lifted in order to re-assign US naval assets elsewhere. On August 7, the USS Dale and the USS Portsmouth were ordered to establish a third blockade of Mazatlán. On November 10, a large Pacific Squadron landing party under the command of U.S. Navy Commodore William Shubrick arrived at the coast of Mazatlán and issued a demand for the port to surrender. When the Mexican forces refused, a contingent of 700 US Marines were landed in Mazatlán the next day under cover of cannon fire. The Mexican forces, having left the city the night before in order to protect the residents from a possible conflict they knew they could not win, complied with the surrender order. The city was occupied for the next 4 months until the Treaty of Guadelupe Hildago was signed.
When the Mexican-American War ended, many in Mexico were embittered by the relative ease with which the U.S. had won, coupled with the huge loss of Mexican territory that resulted. The bitterness engendered disatisfaction with the government and led Juan Alvarez, a hero of the independence, and Ignacio Comonfort, an influential political moderate, to instigate a rebellion against Santa Anna which forced him out of the presidency and opened up the opportunity for expatriate Benito Juárez to return to Mexico and assume the position of minister of justice.
Juárez's mission was to implement a reform plan, entitled La Reforma, that aimed to eliminate remnants of the Spanish colonialism by removing the special status of the church and military, separate the church and state by secularizing education, marriages, and burials, force the church to sell properties not directly used for religious purposes, and fostor economic development by eliminating monopolies, abolishing slavery, promoting freedom of speech, and expanding land ownership to farms and industries. These reforms were incorporated into a new constitution that was effected on the 47th anniversary (September 16, 1857) of the Cry of Dolores - Miguel Hidalgo's Grito de Dolores.
The constitution was anathema to the church and the military and led to a civil war between the conservatives (the church and military) and the liberal Comonfort government. Comonfort attempted compromise, and when that failed he went into exile and was succeeded by Juárez as constitutional president. Juárez' government moved to Veracruz when the conservatives captured Mexico City and set up their government there.
The civil war (known as the War of the Reform or Reform War) continued for 3 years until the liberals (backed by U.S.-supplied war materials) won a critical battle on December 22, 1860, and forced the conservative president and his supporters to flee the country as the conservative cause collapsed. The victorious liberal army entered Mexico City on New Year's Day, and re-established government under the constitution of 1857.
After the Reform War, Mazatlán continued to prosper as a port city, and served as the capital of Sinaloa from 1859 to 1873, with a population of several thousand (status as the Sinaloan capitol ended when the federal government passed a law that forbade state capitals from also acting as ports, and the capitol reverted to Culiacan.) A new age of education, arts, and journalism flourished. Newspapers were established, hotels were built, and restaurants were opened.
Interrupting this ongoing prosperity were periodic occupations of Mazatlán by foreign governments. In late 1862, the Second French Empire led by Napoleon III, launched an invasion of Mexico known as Second Franco-Mexican War, which hoped to replace the Mexican Republic with a monarchy favorable to French interests.
Initially, Napoleon III had resisted the invasion over worries that the US would intervene under the Monroe Doctrine. The outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 nullified that concern and Napoleon was convinced by Mexican monarchist exiles (from the Reform War) that a European-derived monarchy in Mexico would ensure European access to Mexican resources, particularly French access to Mexican silver.
Mexican President Benito Juárez's imposition in 1861 of a two-year moratorium on loan-interest payments to French, British, and Spanish creditors provided a pretext for the war. In response, the three countries agreed to band together and invade Veracruz in order to pressure Juárez into dropping his moratorium. Meeting little resistance, the fleets of Britain, Spain, and France landed at Veracruz in mid-December of 1861 and captured the city. Soon after, when the British discovered that France had a plan to unilaterally seize all of Mexico, the United Kingdom separately negotiated an agreement with Mexico to settle the debt issues and withdrew from the country; Spain subsequently left as well.
On 16 April 1862, after several months of unsuccessful negotiations between the remaining French occupiers and representatives of the Mexican government, the French issued a proclamation inviting Mexicans to join them in establishing a new government. This offer was not accepted, as the Mexican Foreign Minister Manuel Doblado had made it clear from the beginning that such efforts would lead to war. Knowing this would be the outcome of their proclamation, the French General Charles de Lorencez was soon leading 6,000 French troops inland to attack the city of Puebla. At that point, the French were certain that they would win the war in Mexico quickly. Lorencez arrived at the outskirts of the city in early May. On May 5, 1862, French forces faced off against the much smaller and less well-equipped Mexican army commanded by Ignacio Zaragoza and Porfirio Díaz.
The Mexicans, however, held the high ground and occupied two forts - Loreto and Guadalupe - in defense of the city. Contradicting the advice of Mexican allies, Lorencez choose to directly assault those fortifications. In what has come to be known as the Battle of Puebla, the Mexican forces turned back multiple assaults throughout the day, and the French were forced to retreat to the town of Orizaba to await reinforcements.
The defeat of the French forces at Puebla was temporary in terms of the outcome of the war, but has persisted in the memories of the Mexican people and celebrated by them to this day. From The Battle of Puebla:
"On 9 May 1862, President Juárez declared that the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla would be a national holiday, regarded as "Battle of Puebla Day" or "Battle of Cinco de Mayo".
Cinco de Mayo is not the national day of Mexico, as is sometimes misunderstood. The most important national patriotic holiday in Mexico is Independence Day, on 16 September, commemorating the 1810 "Cry of Dolores" call-to-arms, that began the War of Independence. Mexico also observes the culmination of the war of Independence, which lasted 11 years, on 27 September.
Cinco de Mayo as a day of celebration for the Hispanics is a tradition that takes place on May 5 to mark the date that Mexico defeated the Second French Empire in the Battle of Puebla in 1862, under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza. The Mexicans' morale was boosted by their win over the bigger and better armed French army with a smaller, less well-equipped Mexican force.
Since the 1930s, a re-enactment of the Battle of Puebla has been held each year at Peñón de los Baños, a rocky outcrop close to Mexico City International Airport."
Following the French failures in the Battle of Puebla, General Lorencez was dismissed, and the French leaders, having had their minds opened to the reality of what would be required to defeat the Mexican forces, implemented a large influx of men and materials and prepared for a much more difficult fight. Élie Frédéric Forey, a veteran of the French Revolution and the Crimean War was named commanding general of the French expeditionary corps to Mexico and was supplied with an additional 30,000 troops.
Forey was instructed by Napoleon III to work with Mexican supporters who opposed the Juárez government to pursue both military and political goals. Arriving in Veracruz in October 1862, he began planning another siege of Puebla. In March 1863 Forey arrived in Puebla and began the siege. He was opposed by Jesús González Ortega, an ally of Benito Juárez who had taken over the defense of Puebla after General Zaragoza had died of Typhoid fever on 8 September 1862. By March 17, the city had run out of ammunition and food and Ortega was forced to agree to a surrender.
Following the fall of Puebla, the Juarez government prepared to evacuate as the French army, under the command of General François Achille Bazaine, marched toward Mexico City and entered the capitol on June 10. When the capital fell, Juárez's government was forced into exile in the remote northern parts of Mexico. Shortly thereafter, in cooperation with anti-Jaurez monarchists (members of the Mexican aristocracy and the Catholic Church) a new Mexican government was formed as a constitutional monarchy and Maximilian I - Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria, as favored by Napoleon III, was designated to rule as the Emperor of what came to be known as the Second Mexican Empire. While a number of European states acknowledged the newly formed monarchy, the United States refused to do so.
What followed was a conflict pitting a coalition of the French and conservative Imperialists against the liberal government forces of Benito Juárez (Republicans). The Imperialist collaborators included the Mexican Catholic Church, Mexican conservatives, much of the upper-class and Mexican nobility, and some Native Mexican communities. They were later augmented by some former Jaurez-supporters, including generals, who defected when circumstances compelled them to do so.
Following formation of the new government, the French and Mexican Imperial Army was rapidly able to overwhelm and capture major cities throughout Mexico. Under General Bazaine, the Imperialists occupied Guadalajara on 6 January 1864, and French troops occupied Zacatecas on 6 February. Further decisive French victories continued with the fall of Acapulco on 3 June, occupation of Durango on 3 July, and the defeat of Republicans in the states of Sinaloa and Jalisco in November.
Maximilian landed at Veracruz on in late May 1864 and was enthroned as Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico, with his wife Charlotte of Belgium, known by the Spanish form of her name, Carlota. In reality, although Maximilian was initially well-received by the populace, he was a somewhat-naive puppet monarch of the Second French Empire. His progressive ideas were in conflict with the conservative Imperialists and the pro-Juarez liberals refused to accept a monarch. The lack of enthusiasm for him from both factions limited his authority, and he had very little influence over how the war was conducted.
As the war raged on, the Empire gradually established control of the center of the country. The Imperialists now controlled the central Mexican states, containing its major cities, two thirds of the population, rich mines and agricultural lands, and the main centers of manufacturing and trade. But the Republicans held out in the north and south, engaging in small battles and waging guerrilla warfare against the Imperialist forces.
In the latter parts of 1864 and into 1865, the Imperialists were making some inroads in the north and south, but Republican resistance was limiting their success and the conflict was increasingly using up French troops and money at a time when the recent Prussian victory over France's ally Austria was inclining France to give greater military priority to European affairs. The end of the American Civil War in April 1865 further compromised Napoleon III's ethusiasm for the intervention. The Union's official recognition of Benito Juárez's government was still in place and the reunited U.S. began providing material support to the Mexican Republicans.
In 1866, recognizing a deteriorating military situation and the need to maintain Franco-American relations, Napoleon III announced the withdrawal of French forces from Mexico beginning 31 May. In response, the Republican forces quickly took advantage of the Imperialist's loss of French military support and went on the offensive. By November 13, the Republicans had regained control of much of the country and the French had agreed to the withdrawal of their remaining forces, which they accomplished by noon of that same day.
The remaining French personnel supporting Maximilian in Mexico City withdrew on February 5, 1867. On February 13, Maximilian withdrew to Querétaro. On March 9 Republicans began a siege of Querétaro, and of Mexico City on April 12. On May 15, the Republicans captured Maximilian as he was trying to escape through their lines. He was quickly court-martialed and sentenced to death. On June 19 he was executed by firing squad with generals Miramón and Méjia. The Mexican emperor, who refused a blindfold, handed over a gold coin - a Maximilian d'or - to each member of the firing squad, and told them, “Muchachos, aim well, and aim right here,” indicating his heart. His final words were recorded as:
“Mexicans! Persons of my rank and origin are destined by God either to be benefactors of the people or martyrs. Called by a great part of you, I came for the good of the country. Ambition did not bring me here: I came with the best of intentions and sincerest wishes for the future of my adopted country and for that of my soldiers, whom I thank before my death for the sacrifices which they have made for me. Mexicans! May my blood be the last which shall be spilled for the welfare of the country; and if it should be necessary that its sons should still shed theirs, may it flow for it's good, never by treason. Long live Independence; long live Mexico!”
Starting in the first years of the 1860s, the French and British navies had been consistently harrassing merchant shipping flowing through the Mazatlán harbor. The intent was to establish a dominant presence in the region, to demand payment of debts owed, and to gauge Mazatlan's reaction to the harrassment.
In January 1863 the Frigate Palais, the flagship of the French Pacific fleet, entered the Mazatlán Bay in-company with three French corvettes. A few days prior, the Palais had participated in the bombardment of the Port of Acapulco. The Palais group spent a few days in the bay before withdrawing, perhaps because it lacked sufficient men and materials to conduct a landing or perhaps the purpose of the visit was to reconnoiter the defenses that had been put in place to repel an attack.
For the next year and a half the French navy was content with distrupting merchant traffic to Mazatlán, and left the city to pursue what trade it could generate under those circumstances. That calculated neglect by the French ended on March 26, 1864, when the Frigate La Cordelière unexpectedly appeared in the Bay of Puerto Viejo (just north and west of today's Centro Historico) and began to bombard the fortifications of the port.
By then, a strategy for defending the city against anticipated French incursions had been developed by Colonel Sanchez Ochoa, a veteran of the ongoing war. Fortifications had been established from which cannon fire could be directed at French vessels entering the harbor. Ochoa's cannons immediatley opened up on the La Cordelière, inflicting damage to its prow and forcing the La Cordelière to seek refuge behind Deer Island. After spending three days repairing the damage, the La Cordelière attemped another attack but was again turned back by the Mexican cannon fire.
On March 31, the French renewed their efforts to take the port by dispatching 14 French landing craft toward the beach supported by naval cannon fire. Eleven landing craft eluded Mexican cannon fire and were able to establish a beachhead in the area north of the city now referred to as the Golden Zone. Colonel Ochoa immediateley responded by dispatching his troops to attack the French marines. After a brief but intense firefight resulting in casualties on both sides, the marines were turned back and forced to re-board their landing craft and return to the La Cordelière.
Following the aborted landing, the French spent a couple of days revisiting their plan for taking the city. The decision was made to forgo another attempted landing and instead conduct a bombardment of hundreds of shells from offshore against random, mostly non-military, locations in the city. The intent was to inflict enough destruction to cause a terrorized civilian populace to turn against their defenders and call for a negotiated ceasefire or a surrender.
This strategy also failed, and under cover of darkness on the early morning of February 2nd, the La Cordelière and her escorts departed the Bay of Mazatlán. By forgoing another landing attempt the French had failed to occupy the port.
Every year during the Mazatlán Carnaval, the city celebrates the victory of Colonel Ochoa and his forces with a spectacular display of fireworks simulating the cannon fire exchanged in the battle.
Unfortunately, it was a pyrrhic Republican victory that was destined to be short-lived. For the next seven months, the La Cordelière and other warships imposed a continuous blockade on the Mazatlán port. The resulting economic hardships served to bring about the French's hoped-for internal dissent among Mazatlán's political factions that could not be achieved by the bombardment alone.
On June 10, 1864, Mexican President Benito Juárez was deposed and replaced by Maximilian I as Emperor. This imposed change in the country's leadership was not recognized by supporters of Juárez who controlled the Mazatlán government. But there was competition between two factions of the Juárez supporters and the politics were further complicated by the presence of some Mazatlecos who, as monarchists, favored a French victory.
The two opposing pro-Juarez factions were led by Jesus Garcia Morales, who in 1863 had served as Govenor of Sinaloa, and General Ramon Corona. The two men shared governance of Mazatlán and each controlled a component of the Republican forces defending the city - Morales with 500 soldiers and artillary within Centro Historico, and Corona with almost 2000 infantry and calvary stationed outside the city.
The two leaders dispised one another for a variety of reasons and their hatred came to a head on October 11, 1864, when Corona marched 700 of his forces to the edge of Mazatlán and demanded that Morales cede control of the port to him. Morales refused and turned the cannons defending the city around to face the Corona forces. The ensuing battle resulted in Corona overwhelming the Morales forces at the cost of significant losses on both sides. The human cost of the conflict shocked the Mazatlecos and weakened their resolve to oppose the French invasion.
The French leadership, likely aware of the internal conflicts within the city, embarked a compliment of warships and marines from French-occupied Acapulco toward Mazatlán on October 24, 1864. They arrived at Mazatlán on November 12th. Meanwhile, a force of 5000 French infantry lead by imperialist General Manuel Lazada had occupied fighting positions southeast of the city in a plan to surround the city from both the ocean and the landward sides.
Once those forces were in place, an effort by Sinaloa Governor Antonio Rosales to negotiate the situation was ignored by the French infantry commander who issued an ultimatum for surrender with a deadline for the following day.
The next morning the French warships began shelling the city, damaging a number of buildings in Central Historico. Knowing that he did not have the military strength to resist the French attacks, and in view of the damage being done to the city, Rosales informed the French fleet commander that General Corona had evacuated his forces as requested and offered the formal surrender of Mazatlán and its port.
Upon being informed of the surrender, General Lazada's troops immediatley surged into the city and martial law was imposed on the population. Meanwhile, the Republican units, under fire from Lozada's imperial forces, had retreated northward to El Quelite where they would execute a plan to conduct guerrilla operations against imperialist positions in Sinaloa.
Over the next two years of the occupation, the Republican guerrillas continually harrassed the French occupiers throughout Sinaloa. In January 1985 a contingent of fresh French troops marching from Durango to Mazatlán was twice ambushed by the Republicans and experienced significant losses. In the course of those enncounters, the French executed a number of Republican prisoners and the Republicans retaliated by doing the same with French prisoners.
The French commander, General Armando Castagny, stationed in Centro Historico, also conducted executions of Mazatlecos he deemed uncooperative or dangerous. In addition, Castagny oversaw French raids in south Sinaloa, burning down towns and conducting executions of defenders. By the end of April 1866, the Republican opposition in Sinaloa, although still effective in the outlying areas, was too depleted to prevent the looting and burning of the local towns, and the civilian population was suffering hunger from disruption of food production.
But the direction of the conflict began to rapidly change when the U.S. Civil War ended and Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union at the Appomattox Court House, Virginia on April 9, 1865. President Abraham Lincoln had been sympathic to the Benito Juárez government since the beginning of the French intervention but was not able to provide any material support as long as U.S. military resources were dedicated to winning the Civil War. Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, but his successor President Andrew Johnson, a firm beliver in the Monroe Doctrine, immediately set about finding ways to support the Mexican Republicans.
The U.S. began funneling guns and ammunition through both official and unofficial channels. The U.S. navy, freed up from the Civil War conflict, was dispached to institute a blockade of all French-held ports in Mexico, preventing the occupiers from obtaining needed armaments and other supplies. General Corona's guerrilla forces, newly armed and motivated, took advantage their ongoing control of the countryside and starting having successes against the French forces occupying Mazatlán and its port.
In addition to the entry of the U.S. military on the side of the Republicans, Napoleon III faced a developing military threat from Prussia in Europe and the possibility of a revolution in France. Unwilling to risk opposing the American blockade and confronted by a strengthening Republican opposition, he began to quietly withdraw French troops from Mexico.
On November 13, 1866, pressing his newly acquired advantages, General Ramón Corona and the French agreed to terms for the withdrawal of the occupation forces from Mazatlán. At noon, the Europeans boarded three men-of-war, Rhin, Marie, and Talisman and departed, ending French colonial rule of the city.
On June 21, 1868, the English war steamer Chanticleer, commanded by Captain William H. Bridge, was in a perilous position off the coast near Mazatalan and was signaling for assistance. A Mexican pilot responded and was able to successfully extricate the Chanticleer from its predicament, but Bridge refused to compensate the pilot for his services and proceeded to Mazatlán.
Upon arriving, the "collector" of the port was notified that one of the British officers was engaged in smuggling "specie" (metallic money) in order to avoid export duty. The officer was arrested and forced to surrender a quantity of gold found on his person. Captain Bridge's response, in the words of a subsequent British report: "The captain of the Chanticleer came ashore, and in a very excited manner declared that his vessel and himself had been insulted by the indignity offered to his subordinates. High words followed, which culminated in the arrest and search of the person of the British commander by order of the collector, who asserted his suspicion that the commander also was implicated in smuggling specie on board of his vessel. Captain Bridge then went on board of the Chanticleer and notified the inhabitants of Mazatlán that he was about to bombard the city for the insult offered to the English flag."
Understandably, this declaration was not well-received by General Corona, and raised concern with local British authorities who felt Captain Bridge might have over-reacted. After some discussion between all involved parties, the United States' consul was able to convince Bridge that a more appropriate response would be a blockade of the Mazatlán port until higher authorities could weigh in on the situation. It was agreed that no American or other foreign vessels would be precluded from visiting the port.
As an additional condition, Captain Bridge demanded that the Mexican officer who had conducted the searches should be detained on board the Chanticleer to be dealt with as the captain saw fit. General Corona's response, according to the British report: "General Corona replied that sooner than submit to such an outrage, he would allow the city to be bombarded, and telling him, in indignant language, that if he had a reclamation to make, he should make it in the manner customary with civilized nations and through the proper channel."
Upon England being informed of the situation, it was agreed in discussion among British government representatives, that Captain Bridge had no authority to impose a blockade on his own volition. On July 10, 1868, the Admiralty received notification from Vice Admiral George Hastings, commander of the Royal Navy Pacific Station, that he had sent orders to Captain Bridge to lift the blockade. Thus ended the shortest and least-justified blockade ever imposed on the city of Mazatlán by a foreign power.
Following the French Occupation, Mazatlán resumed its economic and cultural expansion, much of which occured under the presidency of Porfirio Diaz, one of the heros of the Battle of Puebla.
Profirio Diaz was born into a lower-middle-class Spanish / Mixtec Indian family in Oaxaca. His father was a blacksmith and an innkeeper and died when Porfirio was only three years old. He was educated by the Catholic Church and at an early age his ambition was to be a priest. But when the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846, he joined the Mexican army as an 18-year-old. He did not experience combat in the war but when he returned to Oaxaca he became acquainted with Benito Juárez. When civil war (La Reforma) erupted in 1854, Diaz stood firmly on the side of the liberal Juárez in opposition to the conservative wealthy landowners and the Catholic Church. He proved himself to be an effective commander winning a promotion to General after the defeat of Santa Ana. When the French invaded in an attempt to replace the Mexican government with a monarchy, Diaz once again allied with Juarez and served with Ignacio Zaragoza in repelling the French army in the first Battle of Puebla.
After the French-imposed monarchy of Maximilian was overthrown and the Emperor was executed, Benito Juárez was reinstituted as president, and Diaz retired to Oaxaca. But Diaz had ambitions for political power. In 1870, he ran for the presidency, but Juarez won the election and was confirmed as president. In response, Diaz made claims of election fraud and supported a series of unsuccessful rebellions over the next year.
When Juarez died in office in 1872, he was succeeded by Sabastian Lerdo. Lerdo's policies over the following two years proved to be unpopular and provided an opening for another rebellion led by Diaz. He was able to defeat Lerdo's army in several subsequent battles, including taking Mexico City for the rebel forces. Once Lerdo was driven out of the country, Diaz was rewarded with the presidency. He took formal control of the presidency in 1877 and served in that role for a large majority of the years between 1877 and 1911 - a period that came to be described as the Porfiriato.
Despite his birth history and his long support for the liberal Benito Juárez, Diaz became more and more of an authoritarian during his time in office. He appointed his closest and most loyal friends to high office, and congress became a rubber-stamp for his policies including amending the constitution to allow for his repeated elections - which he claimed to have won with either unanimous or near-unanimous support. He suppressed the formation of opposition parties and gradually occluded the authority of local state governments and subsumed those powers into his administration. He suppressed the press and controlled the courts, and he kept the elites off balance by catering to private interests while playing off one against another. He maintained a balance between anti-clerical liberals and the Catholic Church by keeping the anti-clerical components of the 1857 constitution in place while not enforcing those measures.
Having been trained as a soldier, Diaz was adept at keeping the military at bay through higher salaries and retirement benefits, placing former comrades in his cabinet, and rotating potential rivals to far-flung locations, or frequently moving them to different assignments before they could become entrenched in any one location. Eventually the military became a kind of praetorian guard defending a dictatorship.
All the while that he was transforming the Mexican government into a "progressive dictatorship", Diaz was focused on the country's economic development. His primary approach was to pave the way for foreign investment to develop Mexico's vast resources. Money flowed in from the United States and Europe, and soon mines, plantations, and factories were built and humming with production. The Americans and British invested heavily in mines and oil, the French had large textile factories, and the Germans controlled the drug and hardware industries. All of this economic activity created a labor shortage, resulting in a large migrant influx from Europe as well as Asian countries such as China and Japan. They came to Mexico to work as merchants and on the plantations, where they were despised by the poor Mexican laborers. The economy boomed and many miles of railway track and roads were constructed to connect all the important cities and ports.
The downside of all this development was that the benefits went mostly to the upper and middle classes. The government was mandated to survey land in order to secure title for investors, resulting in land claims of local communities and indigenous peoples being obliterated because they could not prove title, and traditional land usage for livestock or crops sharply curtailed. Prime land was often set aside for railway routes and as a result small rural communities and farmers lost their holdings, reducing them to wage laborers who were poorly treated by the new, often foreign, ownership. Most of the country's population, especially in rural areas, remained illiterate and impoverished.
Mazatlán accrued significant benefits from Diaz's economic policies. Many of the migrants, especially those from Asian countries, arrived at the Mazatlán port. In addition, the ongoing gold rush in California was drawing prospectors from the U.S. east coast who disembarked at Mexican ports in the Gulf of Mexico and then traveled across country to Mazatlán, where they embarked on ships headed north to the gold fields. Mazatlán greatly benefited from the money spent as these travelers passed through the city.
The city's infrastructure was also greatly enhanced. City-wide electrical and water systems were constructed, the El Faro lighthouse, the Mercado Pino Suarez, and the Teatro Rubio were built, the Pacifico Brewery started up, and the Mazatlán Carnaval was instutionalized.
In 1879, the lighthouse called El Faro (Spanish for "the lighthouse") was constructed atop Cerro del Creston, the highest point in the city, in order to better guide commercial traffic into the Mazatlán harbor. At the time of its construction it was considered to be the highest lighthouse in the world, and still is the highest in the Americas at 523 feet above sea level.
Previous to 1879, ships were signaled by fires lit at the top of Isla de Creston (as the hill was called before it was joined to the mainland by a causeway). El Faro replaced those fires with a stationary oil-burning lamp, the light of which was focused using a combination of mirrors and a Fresnel lens. That lamp was in turn replaced by a fully-rotating hydrogen gas lamp to prevent it from being mistaken by ships for a star. Since 1933, the light has been generated by a 1,000 watt electrical lamp that can be seen from 30 nautical miles out at sea.
Today, the updated El Faro is an extremly popular tourist attraction with a trail starting at the base of the cerro and winding up to the top, where a glass-bottomed bridge extends out from the lighthouse to a view overlooking the ocean and the city.
In 1896, Mazatlán became one of the early locations to flip the switch on an electrical power distribution system (grid); only 14 years after the first large-scale grid had started operation in London. The grid operated for a while along-side existing gas-powered streetlamps, finally replacing them as the grid became more reliable and widely implemented. The initial electrification took place in the city plazas (Machado and Hidalgo) and along the Malecon. The service was provided by one, and later two, highly competitive private contractors until they finally merged in 1906, and were subsequently replaced in 1937 by the nationalized electrical grid of Mexico.
Today, electricity in all of Mexico is provided by the CFE (Comision Federal de Electricidad) which is the federal electrical company. No matter where one lives within Mazatlán, the electricity is provided by the CFE.
The Rubio Theatre (Teatro Rubio), later renamed the Ángela Peralta Theatre, was constructed in Mazatlán in 1874. After World War I, the theatre began to fall into neglect and decline. By the 1960s, the theatre was essentially abandoned and shuttered. A plaque on the entrance today reads as follows:
“This neo-classical gem is one of the few 19th century theaters still in operation in
northwestern Mexico. It was built and named for businessman Manuel Rubio by engineer Andres
Librado Tapia and its grand opening took place in February 1874. For more than a century the
Angela Peralta has done service as an opera house and theatre, a circus, boxing arena, cantina,
and cinema. And it also hosted school ceremonies, vaudeville performances, burlesque shows and
annual Carnival events before being closed down for 30 years.
In the early 1940s the theater was renamed in honor of "The Mexican Nightingale", Angela Peralta, an internationally-known homegrown diva who died of yellow fever shortly before her scheduled Mazatlán performance in 1882. Her tragic death had a powerful impact on the city's cultural history and on the theater itself which underwent long years of restoration before its triumphant re-opening in 1992.”
Tragically, the 19th century also brought disaster to Mazatlán. As described on the plaque, while touring Mazatlán in 1883, Ángela Peralta (age 38) - the "Mexican Nightingale" - while staying at the Teatro Rubio, fell victim to a yellow-fever epidemic that claimed the lives of more than 2,500 Mazatlecos, including Peralta herself and 76 of her 80 touring troupe's members.
In addition to provision of electrification, the growing city's infrastructure had an even more pressing need: the ability supply the population with potable water. In the early years of the city the primary source of water was annual rainfall that was collected in cisterns during the rainy season to be available during the dryer portions of the year. As the city grew, the greater demand for water forced citizens to haul (using pack animals) brackish and sometimes polluted water from the local estuaries and lagoons. In the latter portion of the 19th century, it became clear to the city leaders and Mazatlecos that, if the city were to prosper, a better source of potable water would need to be developed.
After several schemes were formulated and rejected, a group of prominent businessmen formed a consortium called Compania Abastecedora de Agua de Mazatlán and created a plan to collect and pipe water from nearby rivers and streams to the east of the city. The plan was accepted by the City Council and included the following stipulations: 1) an exemption from state import taxes on materials imported to construct the project (including among other materials, 22 kilometers of iron or steel pipe, connections, valves, joints, 50 thousand kilos of lead to cover the joints, 12 thousand kilos of steel screws, two large and powerful pumps, four steam boilers and two pumps to feed them, 2) free use of the squares, streets, and vacant lots owned by the City Council for the installation of tanks and pipes, 3) a promise by the company to begin work in 1897 and complete the project in 20 months, and 4) payments of annunities by the city to the company to cover city import duties on needed materials. As the project progressed, the city provided a subsidy for public hydrants; and land east of the city was expropriated for storage tanks and for the route of a pipeline from the collection area into the city.
The first stream of water arrived through the twenty-two kilometer pipeline on May 4, 1890, carrying with it a load of reddish sediment that initially started Mazatlecos, until it was explained to them that the initial flush was merely washing the interior of the pipeline.
Today, all water supplied to homes and businesses throughout Mazatlán comes from the city water company known as Jumapam. In addition to groundwater wells, water is collected behind dams/holding structures in the Presidio River basin and directed to the city through a series of canals, pipelines, storage tanks, pump stations, and water treatment plants
On the first of July 1895, council members of the Finance Commission of the City Council, presented to the council an initiative to build a new market, spacious, hygienic, comfortable, safe and with adequate ventilation. On May 5, 1900, after overcoming year-long disagreements between potential tenants, the doors of The Mercado Pino Suarez opened. The Mercado has since stood the test of time for the past 123 years. Its durability as a structure is a tribute to its original engineers, the same engineers who designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris France. Referred to as the "Iron Colossus", the structure's iron and steel was manufactured by the Sinaloa Foundry. The construction involved 143,000 kilgrams of cast iron, 113,370 kilograms of double steel "T", "U" and "ANGULAR", 28,000 kilograms of wrought iron, 49,530 kilograms of corrugated iron roofing sheets, and 584 cubic meters of masonry. The roof, divided into two naves, rests on 29 cast iron columns 9.11 meters (30 feet) high.
The French Art Nouveau style was likely influenced by Porfirio Diaz who was said to be somewhat of a Francophile (he spent the exiled portion of his life in France). The original name of the mercado was Manuel Romero Rubio Market. In 1915, the name was changed to honor the Vice President of Mexico, Jose Maria Pino Suarez, who was assassinated during the Mexican Revolution. Despite the current presence of big-box stores in Mazatlán, the Mercado continues to serve as the go-to place for fresh fish, meat, fruit, and vegetables, as well as all things Mexican.
The annual event known as Carnaval Mazatlán had its orgins in celebrations that took place during the very early settlement of the city. These unofficial activies were conducted in the days just before Lent and released pent-up behavioral excesses considered sinful during the rest of the year. An excellent description of the evolution of the Carnaval is contained in an article written by Enrique Vega Ayala entitled "Carnival History". His account of the first documented celebration and subsequent ones leading up to the Porfiriato:
On February 12, 1827, a “treat, masquerade, and comparsa” was held in
Mazatlán, in which the soldiers who guarded the port participated. This celebration is the
oldest of which we are right and accounts for the ancient roots of the carnival in this port.
That event is documented in a Report of the Commander of the Mazatlán Squadron, Captain Juan
Antonio Muñoz. It was, paradoxically, an act of protest by “the troop to demand the payment of
their salaries”, which degenerated into pachanga [wild party], according to the description that
Commander Muñoz sent to the head of the treasury office.
According to the ancient chronicles, on Tuesday of carnival a troop of forty or fifty masked mazatlecos, dressed in a long tunic and dressed in a cone cap, on foot or mounted by donkey hair, roamed the streets of the city in a frenzy, telling jokes, improvising ironic songs, entering the homes and bringing to a happy ending the most stupendous and noisy antics at the neighbors’ ribs. In their wake they left a trail of flour and dyes, smearing everywhere the landscape and the peasantry that would cross them on the way. This was the end and finish to the party of madness.
The practice of the so-called Games of Flour acquired greater vigor in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The games were held in public places or in private “gatherings”. In the parties of disguises they came to shine “the entertainments”, filled shells the same of chopped tinsel, that of flour and coloring substances. Apparently, neither the threats of epidemics halted their realization, much less the prohibitions of authority. When by order of the city council they could not be carried out in the social centers or in the streets, the celebrations were organized in the houses. By then, the original troop had been divided: To have fun, the Mazatlán populace formed two groups: those of the “Abasto” and those of the “Muey”. The city split into two great factions. Those of the “Abasto” controlled from the street of the Lighthouse (today March 21) to that of Tiradores (now Zaragoza); the land of the “Muey” went from the Faro to the South Beach. In carts and carriages covered with tarpaulins, brandishing brightly colored flags, the masked contestants made inroads into the opposite neighborhoods where singular battles with shell filled with flour like projectiles took place.
Under the authoritarian Profirio Diaz, the more extreme practices of the celebration came to be considered in conflict with the conservative, refined culture the government wished to convey for the city. There were some efforts by the municipal authorities to prohibit the annual celebration, including the "Games of Flour". When those efforts failed, compromises were implemented including substituting flour with confetti and making the game into an allegory as part of a parade.
In 1898, in recognition of its overwhelming popularity among the Mazatlecos, a civil committee was formed, and the celebration was institutionalized, making it the oldest carnival in the country to achieve that status. The 1898 parade incorporated the first street procession featuring chariots and bicycles. As well as the first official crowning of a king and queen and numerous social events and balls.