By John P. Schmal/HispanicVista.com
Lagos de Moreno, located in the northeast corner of the
Mexican state of Jalisco, is an important commercial hub in the central
Mexico region. While Aguascalientes lay eighty miles to the northwest, the
city of Leon (in Guanajuato) is only forty miles to the east, while Mexico
City lay 445 miles to the south. Lagos de Moreno represents one of the
twenty-four municipios that makes up the Los Altos region of Jalisco, an
area that is defined by its socioeconomic and geographic nature and shares a
common cultural history. Although the literal translation of Los Altos
conveys the image that the region is a "high land," it is actually a plateau
which is bounded by Guadalajara's Valle de Atemajac on the southwest, the
states of Aguascalientes and Zacatecas on the north, and the states of San
Luis Potosí and Guanajuato to the east and southeast.
Founded in 1563, the city of Lagos de Moreno is the capital of the municipio
of the same name. As the third largest municipio of Jalisco, Lagos de Moreno
has a total area of 2,849.36 square kilometers and a total population of
124,972 people, with a density of 44.1 inhabitants per square kilometer. A
promotional booklet published by the municipio of Lagos refers to this
jurisdiction as a "region of poor soil and industrious people."
The climate of Lagos de Moreno is semiarid, with a rainy summer season and a
mild, dry winter. The primary economic drivers of this municipio are
agriculture and stock-raising, with a minor dairy industry of milk products,
such as cheese and candies. Lagos is also well known for its manufacture of
various high quality handicrafts, such as carved wood furniture, basket
weaving, textiles, and dolls.
Alfredo Moreno González, the author of Santa Maria de Los Lagos, tells us
that the pre-Hispanic indigenous village occupying this area was called
Pechititán. It is believed that the Guachichiles, Guamares, Tecuexes and
other indigenous peoples occupied the area. The Guachichile Indians - whose
primary territory included most of Zacatecas - were a particularly warlike
group. With the discovery of silver near the city of Zacatecas in 1546, the
"silver roads" leading from the mining camps to Mexico City became very
strategic routes. Most of Jalisco and Zacatecas became parts of the Spanish
province of Nueva Galicia. But, in 1550, the Guachichile started to attack
caravans traveling along the strategic Zacatecas-Guanajuato-Mexico City
In 1554, Indians attacked a caravan of Spaniards in the nearby Ojuelos area,
causing significant loss of life and material. Not long after this, Viceroy
Luis de Velasco called for the foundation of villas, forts and military
prisons throughout Nueva Galicia to protect travelers, missionaries, and
laborers carrying supplies to the mining sites and silver ore from the mines
to refining sites. When Velasco issued an order for the establishment of
these sites on March 13, 1563, the present-day area of Lagos de Moreno was
earmarked for settlement.
La Villa de Santa María de los Lagos was founded on March 13, 1563 at the
crossing of two roadways to serve as a defensive outpost. Hernando de
Martell was charged with the founding of the town and oversaw the settlement
of seventy-three families of colonists in the small settlement. The earliest
settlers of this town were resourceful people and, by May 3, they had
already built twenty houses. However, with the Indian depredations hitting
closer and closer to Lagos, fear took its toll on the population and economy
of Lagos. By March 1574, Santa María was left with only eight residents.
As the century progressed and the Amerindian attacks became less frequent,
the Royal Crown started granting land titles to Spanish settlers in the Los
Altos region. During the period between 1550 and 1555, Viceroy Velasco had
sold a large number of land grants to cattlemen. Many of the Spanish people
who first settled in the area of Lagos are believed to have come from
Castilla, Andalusía and Extremadura. But the parish registers at the church
during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries indicate a significant
population of indios (Indians), mestizos (persons of both Indian and Spanish
extraction) and mulattos libres (free people of African and Spanish
Ann L. Craig, the author of The First Agraristas: An Oral History of a
Mexican Agrarian Movement, comments that "title-holders did not immediately
occupy the lands. Instead the lands in the area of Lagos were first worked
by renters or sharecroppers." The newcomers to Lagos found that the soils in
the area were so poor that they were, for the most part, unsuitable for
large-scale commercial agriculture. Thus, they became small and medium
landholders with an emphasis on cattle ranches. By the end of the Sixteenth
Century, cattle ranching had become the primary activity for both Santa
María de los Lagos and Los Altos. Many of these cattle ranches became the
primary suppliers of cattle for Guanajuato and San Luis Potosí.
From the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth centuries, Lagos experienced
many economic and political ups and downs. "With independence," writes Ms.
Craig, "the political stature of Lagos within the state of Jalisco became
apparent, reflecting its relative size and cultural and economic
development." In 1824, Lagos received the title of ciudad (city). Then, in
1829, the National Congress authorized the change of the town's name from
Santa María de los Lagos to Lagos de Moreno, in honor of the revolutionary
hero, Pedro Moreno (1775-1817).
The bitter and desperate battle between the Mexico's Liberals and
Conservatives began with independence (1821) and continued into the
Twentieth Century. During the political instability of 1829, 1831 and 1916,
Lagos de Moreno served as the state capital of Jalisco. The liberal
constitutional reforms, initiated in 1857 by President Benito Juárez's
Reform Constitution, caused a great deal of polarization throughout Jalisco.
"Violent social protest in the Jalisco countryside erupted without
comparison in the years 1855-1864," writes the historian Dawn Fogle Deaton.
"Jalisco's 'decade of revolt' witnessed massive peasant mobilizations more
frequently and in greater numbers than during any other time in the state's
history." From 1855 to 1864, seventeen peasant rebellions broke out in the
state, leading to eighteen transfers of power in the state government. In
April 1857, the political and military discord reached Lagos.
Ms. Craig writes that "the intended image of architectural beauty,
refinement of the arts, intellectual desire, and genteel living" of Lagos de
Moreno coincided with the reign and dictatorship of President Porfirio Díaz
(1876-1910). In these years, Lagos de Moreno became known as the "Athens of
Jalisco." The large haciendas in the countryside near Lagos "reached their
maximum size and the local aristocracy attained its cultural zenith."
Starting in 1872, the city held a traditional August fiesta to commemorate
Lagos' patron saint. This fiesta "became the social highlight of the year."
The numerous religious celebrations and processes led to "extensive visiting
between haciendas, country picnics, horse races, bull and cock fights,
elegant dinners and balls, literary and musical contests, and poetry
However, the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 was a period of demographic and
economic change for Lagos. "Families of means," writes Ms. Craig, "abandoned
rural areas and provincial towns. Prominent landowning families from Lagos
went mainly to Mexico City." For Lagos, the years from 1914 to 1917 proved
to be "the worst in terms of hunger, disease, and economic chaos." By 1917,
however, many land-owning families returned to the city.
"From 1900 to 1930," explains Ms. Craig, "the municipio as a whole retained
its predominantly rural character: nearly two-thirds of the inhabitants
lived outside of the municipio seat." But, during these years, there was a
pronounced exodus from Lagos. According to the Dirección General de
Estadística, Censo General de Población: Estado de Jalisco, the population
of Lagos declined from 15,999 in 1900 to 12,054 in 1930. The population of
the municipio declined even more dramatically, dropping from 53,205 people
in 1900 to 35,933 in 1930.
In 1926, President Plutarco Elías Calles took office as President of the
Mexican Republic. A morose, stubborn man, Calles was a strongly
anti-Catholic politician who decided to strictly enforce the anti-clerical
articles of the 1917 Constitution. Article 3 had called for secular
education in the schools, while Article 5 outlawed monastic orders. Article
24 forbade public worship outside the confines of churches, and Article 27
placed restrictions on the right of religious organizations to hold
property. Article 130 actually deprived clergy members of basic rights.
Priests and nuns were denied the right to wear clerical attire, to vote, to
criticize government officials or to comment on public affairs in religious
In June 1926 Calles signed a decree officially known as "The Law for
Reforming the Penal Code" and unofficially as the "Calles Law." The
provisions of this law stated that priests were to be fined 500 pesos (about
$250 at the time) for wearing clerical garb. In addition, a priest could be
imprisoned five years for criticizing the government. Enraged by the Calles
Law, the Mexican Episcopate called for a boycott and resistance.
The boycott, aimed at recreation, commerce, transportation and schools, was
very successful. Catholics in Lagos de Moreno stopped attending movies and
plays, riding on buses or streetcars, and Catholic teachers refused to serve
in secular schools. The Cristero Rebellion officially began with a manifesto
issued by René Capistrán Garza on New Year's Day 1927. Titled A la Nación
(To the Nation), it declared that "the hour of battle has sounded." On this
day, ragged bands of ranchers, some armed with ancient muskets and others
only with clubs, seized one village after another.
"Between 1926 and 1929," explains Ms. Craig, "Laguenses became enmeshed in a
complex set of conflicts which originated outside their communities but had
severe local repercussions. Nationally, the Cristero rebellion was a
critical confrontation between the revolutionary government, with its
policies for social transformation and political centralization, and the
Catholic Church and its devoted followers."
Both the Revolution and the Cristero Rebellion provoked a steady outflow of
Laguenses, in which Lagos saw a significant portion of its population
emigrate to the United States during the 1910s and 1920s. This led,
according to Ms. Craig, to "a pattern of regional economic dependence on
wages brought or sent back by seasonal workers in the United States - a
pattern which persists today."
By 1930, the raising of livestock continued to be the mainstay of the Lagos
economy. Beef and dairy cattle and sheep, however, required extensive
grazing acreage. In 1930, 60% of the landowners in Lagos owned less than 1%
of the land, while 1.2% of the landowners, each of whom owned at least 500
hectares, owned 74.5% of the land in the municipio. Such conditions led to
the agrarian reform of the 1930s, a primary topic of discussion in Ms.
Today, Lagos' economy continues to be dominated by livestock-raising. In the
last four decades, the area has also become one of the principal dairy
production regions in Mexico due principally to Nestlé's setting up a plant
in the early 1940s inside the city limits of Lagos de Moreno. The
establishment of the Nestlé plant prompted cattle ranchers to shift from
meat production to milk production.
Like many other regions of Western Mexico, Lagos de Moreno and Los Altos are
still considered "traditional sending regions." The bond between Lagos and
the United States has been strengthened by the city's one-hundred-year-old
history of U.S.-bound migration. In spite of this steady outflow, the
population of the city grew from 12,054 in 1930 to 33,782 in 1970, while the
number of inhabitants in the municipio climbed from 35,933 in 1930 to 65,950
From 1960 to 1990, the population of Lagos de Moreno grew faster than that
of the state of Jalisco. The industrialization of Lagos began to attract
laborers from neighboring rural communities. Today, Lagos is a favorite
destination for tourists exploring Jalisco and Aguascalientes. Lagos, in
effect, represents the Gateway to Jalisco.
John Schmal is an historian and genealogist, specializing in Mexico and the
Southwestern U.S. He has published four works, including "Mexican-American
Genealogical Research: Following the Paper Trail to Mexico" (published by
Heritage Books, 2002). In recent months, Mr. Schmal has written several
articles discussing various aspects of Latino representation in American
government. Contact at:
Michael P. Costeloe, The Central Republic in Mexico, 1835-1846. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Ann L. Craig, The First Agraristas: An Oral History of a Mexican Agrarian
Reform Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.
Dawn Fogle Deaton, "The Decade of Revolt: Peasant Rebellion in Jalisco,
Mexico, 1855-1864," in Robert H. Jackson (ed.), Liberals, the Church, and
Indian Peasants: Corporate Lands and the Challenge of Reform in
Nineteenth-Century Spanish America. Albuquerque: New Mexico Press, 1997.