Anthropologist Carl Lumholtz predicted that the Tarahumara Indians would disappear within a century. A hundred years later, these gentle people, who inhabit Mexico's Copper Canyon, continue to be the most populous indigenous group in northern Mexico.
explorers had entered the Sierra Madre Mountains by the mid-16th century.
Gold and silver were soon discovered and mines began operating. The Indians
were pressed into the labor force, often enduring the harshest conditions.
The Jesuits established their first mission pueblo in 1611. Although
many attempted to ease the burden of the Indians, a great deal of prejudice
existed. An early Jesuit wrote, “They are inclined to idleness,
drunkenness and other vices. They are ungrateful, dull and stupid...very
cunning and alert in evil things...They have no sense of personal honor
nor the honor of their daughters.”
Forced to live in artificially-created communities, the Indians were
susceptible to a variety of diseases, and epidemics swept the area. As
the demand for labor increased, the Spanish raided the mission pueblos.
The Jesuits managed to protect some of their charges, but many Tarahumara
fled, hiding deep in Copper Canyon. The expulsion of the Jesuits from
the Americas, in 1767, ended their efforts to protect the Indians, and
the Franciscans, who succeeded them, were not as effective.
Mexico attained independence in 1821 and soon established huge land grants
in Tarahumara country. The Indians were uprooted again, and fled, often
onto lands of other indigenous people. Fighting often resulted.
The Revolution of 1910-21 resulted in the re-creation of the pre-hispanic
communal landholding system known as the ejido. The Tarahumara received
some benefits from this, as much of this land has economic potential
for lumbering, agriculture, and tourism. Around 50,000 Tarahumara still
inhabit caves and simple dwellings in Copper Canyon.
The California Native has for many years assisted these people, donating
clothing, school supplies and money. Some of our travelers have returned
to volunteer in local clinics. Tourism is a positive factor, and visitors
gain a new appreciation for these noble people who have survived and
thrived despite Lumholtz' dire predictions.
Click Here for information on our Copper Canyon Tours.