In 1610, Juan de Mendoza y Luna, the Viceroy of Mexico and Peru, ordered that a riverside fort be erected on a hill overlooking the town of San Juan Bautista de Carapoa, to defend it against attacks by fierce Mayo, Zuaque and Tehueco Indians, and to guard the rich haul of silver from its many mines. Founded fifty years earlier by the Spanish conquistador Don Francisco de Ibarra, the town was renamed El Fuerte, “The Fort.”
In successive years, El Fuerte became a major trading post for gold and silver from the mines of Urique, Batopilas, and other Sierra Madre settlements and a station on Spain’s fabled Camino Real trade route. In 1824, after almost three centuries as the most important commercial and agricultural center in northern Mexico, El Fuerte became the capital of the territory which now makes up the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Sonora, and part of Arizona. After a few years, and a few wars, its administrative functions were taken over by Culiacán, Hermosillo and Phoenix.
El Fuerte today, with a population of around 30,000, is a quiet, picturesque colonial town, but the old fort still looks down on the quaint cobblestone streets as they wind past its historic church, mansions and shops, many dating back to colonial times. El Fuerte is also the starting point for most of The California Native’s journeys through the spectacular Copper Canyon.