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2— Nineteenth-Century Developments: The Socioeconomic Context of Migration
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The Porfiriato:
Foreign Concessions and the Mining Economy, 1870–1900

The policies of Porfirio Díaz, president of Mexico from 1877 to 1911, crystallized the laissez-faire trends begun by Benito Juárez. During the period of the Porfiriato (1877–1911), in Baja, as throughout Mexico, the government encouraged foreign investment as its principal development policy. In addition to the problem of capital, Mexico also lacked the technical knowledge to promote the development and production of her economy. Díaz, who favored the development of the nation by the economically powerful, encouraged foreign investment through legal statutes that leaned heavily in favor of foreigners. [6] As a result, American, British, and French capitalists competed for control of Mexico's resources.

American Investments

Although foreign investments of all types were eventually encouraged by the Díaz regime, the American investor played the dominant role in the rapid economic development of the period.[7] Mexico's new policies of economic liberty seemed to be aimed at the competitive American


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businessman. By 1885 an estimated forty American firms were working in Mexico (Bernstein 1964:19).

American business soon made extensive investments in Baja California. The peninsula, with its historic ties to the north and its isolation from the mainland, was an inviting, often irresistible, frontier for U.S. economic adventures. In 1864 the Juárez government made the first large land grant in Baja California to the Lower California Colonization and Mining Company. This grant included nearly 47,000 square miles, for which the company was to pay $100,000.[8]

The most famous of the Díaz schemes involved the International Company. In 1884 Díaz granted a charter for the entire northern half of the peninsula to the International Company of Mexico, an American company headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut. The grant contained some 18 million acres (28,000 square miles). (It was resold in 1889 to the Mexican Land and Colonization Company, an English corporation.) That same year, Flores, Hale, and Company was granted a tract that included about 4 million acres (the tract was later brought under the direction of the Chartered Company of Lower California, a Boston-Hew York syndicate). The following year a French company took over the interests of Moeller and Company, a German business operating out of Guaymas, and obtained a liberal concession covering over 50,000 acres. This concession, to be known as El Boleo, became the most successful in the entire peninsula.

Foreign Antecedents of Baja Californios

The influx of foreigners into Mexico had greater effects on the demographic composition of Baja California than on other parts of the republic. The peninsula's historic ties with the north were not only intensified but now peninsulars and foreigners interacted across class and within class levels. Native peninsulars had had early contact with a host of Europeans during the years of illegal otter trade and later during the era of coastal whaling. Settlements along the west coast (San Quintín and Magdalena Bay) brought peninsulars and Europeans face to face. During the mid-nineteenth century numerous sailors and businessmen married and settled in the cape region. Towns such as Comondú, Loreto, and Mulegé were especially affected, and the family names of Drew, McLish, Smith, McIntosh, Simpson, and Green, now part of Baja lore, appeared at this time. Given the numerous foreign inroads in the peninsula, it is no wonder that mestizo families migrating


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north across the border at the turn of the century consisted of descendants of English (Smiths), Peruvian (Castellanos), German (Bolume), Irish (Simpson), Sicilian (Marquez), and other foreigners who had been incorporated into the existing population and had made the peninsula their home.

The Technological Development of Mining

Mining during the Porfiriato and throughout the world in the late nineteenth century experienced rapid technological development. Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, great quantities of silver and gold had been extracted from Mexico under Spanish rule. Although technologically advanced for their time, the Spanish virtually raped ore deposits. They extracted ore without concern for human lives or geographic locales. After the War of Independence, English steam engines, pumps, and techniques were introduced into Mexico, but the techniques were costly and the effort proved a failure. After the U.S.-Mexican war, Mexican mining made fast progress. The political posture in Mexico, the laissez-faire policy, the spread of capitalist interests and parallel developments in mining technology promoted the extraction of Mexican ores. A shift from silver mining to emphasis on nonferrous metals, iron, coal, and oil necessitated modern techniques and encouraged technological advance in almost all arenas associated with mining. When Americans entered Mexico after mid-century, they introduced the techniques of stamp-milling, panamalgamation of silver ore, and blast furnace smelters. The result was the opening of a series of new districts.

Although new machinery and techniques reinvigorated the Mexican mining industry, the prominent flow of natural resources continued going out of Mexico. Shipments of high-grade ore to Europe from regions as remote as Oaxaca, Sonora, and Baja California were common. Smelters located in foreign countries relied on the Mexican mines (see Bernstein 1964, chapters 2, 3, and 4).

Progress of Transportation

Increasing production and extraction of ores in both old and new districts stimulated improvements in Mexico's outdated transport system. On the mainland American investors built roads into new areas, opening untapped districts. The need to get into newly discovered


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districts and transport raw materials from outpost sites and throughout Mexico were major factors in the development of Mexico's railroad system in the late 1880s.[9] The earliest railroad lines fed directly in and out of the mainland mining districts of the north and linked up with U.S. lines. Between 1883 and 1885 the north had a direct outlet to American smelters in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma."[10] Further developments in transport (extensions of the railroad system), support industries, and technology in Mexico came only after the U.S. stiffened import controls. In 1890 the McKinley Tariff Act imposed controls on incoming ores, causing a shift of American interests within Mexico. Thereafter, American investors built smelters in Mexico, expanded the rail system, and developed coal mining in order to provide the essential power for railroads and smelters. Not only did the mining districts become more independent but bulk exports became economically feasible.

Except for the El Boleo concession, mining developments in the peninsula never gained the prominence of those on the mainland. Baja mines remained isolated and added only peripherally to the economic development of the region, hindered by a lack of roads, small population centers (for labor), and extreme aridity. Furthermore, most if not all the mining exploits were short-term. As in the colonial and missionary periods, Baja's main barrier to settlement and development continued to be physical geography. The ore strikes, although numerous, were short-lived, and districts that attracted hundreds and occasionally thousands of prospectors were quickly abandoned. The Baja mines never reached the maturity so often associated with frontier boomtowns in the rest of the west. The peninsula mines generally produced no lasting settlements. Once the ore was exhausted, the prospectors, laborers, and company moved out, taking everything they owned. They disassembled machinery, transported it to the coast, loaded it on dinghies, and shipped it back to Alta California or to a new boom area.

Throughout the last half of the nineteenth century peninsula travelers continued to rely on the old mission trails that followed natural geographical passages. On the mainland railroads had opened districts and provided the primary transport for the export of ore and the import of necessary goods and supplies. But Baja would not have a major railroad until 1948.[11] As in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the waters of the Pacific and the gulf provided access to the entire peninsula and made the transport of machinery to isolated districts


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possible. Mules and wagons to carry new machines, lumber, foodstuffs, and people were all shipped in. When the boom fizzled, the equipment was again shipped out.

Steam travel between Baja and Alta California had been revived during the '49 gold rush and increased tremendously at the turn of the century. The International Company, like other large concessions, began periodic steam shipments between various towns along the Pacific and gulf. Travel between San Francisco, San Diego, Ensenada, Magdalena Bay, La Paz, and mainland ports became regular.

The Baja Mining Circuit and Peninsular Families

While most mines on the mainland were worked by an ample local labor pool, Baja California first depended on imported labor. Around mid-century groups of Yaquis were brought across the gulf to work the new mines. Only later did peninsulars begin heading to the interior mines (see Aschmann 1967; Bernstein 1964; Martinez 1965; North 1908). The mines were supported by migrant populations that soon were making the labor circuit of the mines much like the great piscas (seasonal fruit-picking migrations) of Alta California in the twentieth century.

During this short period mining became a way of life for the individuals who moved up and down the Baja peninsula from mine to mine. The baja barretero (miner) viewed his existence as dependent on mining in the peninsula. The mines, mining towns, and their geography became a principal aspect of family lore.

Peninsular miners worked and traveled to various spots on the mainland as well (see chapter 5). During the late 1880s and particularly in the early twentieth century the copper mines of Cananea attracted numerous peninsular families. Many of these individuals worked in Santa Rosalía and learned valuable skills that they transferred to other jobs during their lives.

The peninsular miners and families of this study came primarily from the southern portion of the peninsula. The small rancho towns there were unable to support growing populations and the mines provided an outlet. In the late 1880s and early 1890s the mines of San Juan (in Las Flores on the Gulf Coast) and Calmallí in the central desert attracted individuals and families from the cape region and from the mainland west coast. Many families traveled to join relatives with hopes


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Typical gold and silver mine in Mexico showing methods of interior mining,
barreteros  (miners), peons, and the gang leader ( capataz ). September 1890.
(Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

of participating in the mining ventures. Later, in the late 1890s, families migrated into the northern peninsula mines of Punta Prieta, Julio César, El Marmol, and El Alamo.

The peninsular families, unlike the miners of the gold strikes of Alta California, became company miners. The large placers required shaft operations and smelter work in which semiskilled labor could be used. The majority of these migrants were not aiming to strike it rich but were seeking employment and a life-style similar to what they knew in their hometowns in the south. They became barreteros , miners who actually worked within the mines or shafts, and a few subsisted on the support economies of such as leñadores (wood collectors) and small store operators. These individuals formed the working class component of the mine operations, under the supervision of the company engineers and managers.

The social interaction between the English, American, and French company men and peninsulars was very different from that in previous


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decades of foreign immigration. Where peninsulars had intermarried and interacted socially with the otter traders, whalers, and others during the early mid-century, the mines produced a labor-company stratification. Company managers and operators separated themselves socially from the common mine laborers and their families.

Although the mines of Baja California were quickly exhausted and abandoned by capitalists, these mines stimulated development of the border region in Alta California. Small economies in San Diego blossomed and expanded because of the mining boom in Baja. The port of San Diego bustled with steamers heading to the south loaded with passengers, materials, and foodstuffs. Furthermore, populations of San Diego and Southern California, having increased tremendously during the land boom of the late 1800s, became increasingly aware of available land on the peninsula. Developments along the U.S. side of the border began entering the adjacent border lands and were to bring land and population development of the frontera region as a whole. The Porfiriato foreign investment policies that had brought about the development of mining also stimulated the development of the frontera.


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