Urban Indians in a Silver City
Zacatecas, Mexico, 1546-1810
Dana Velasco Murillo


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Silver Veins, Urban Grids, and Layered Identities
chapter abstract

The introduction argues that in spite of the importance of Native American emigrants, the mining historiography for Spanish America has concentrated on either the roles and activities of Spaniards or the impact of silver production on global markets. Studies on native peoples and silver mining are few in number, and primarily focused on men, their roles as temporary or coerced workers, and the hardships and exploitative conditions of mine labor. Urban Indians shifts the focus from indigenous peoples as laborers to settlers and municipal residents, stressing in the process the important roles of women and children to mining societies. While previous studies have stressed dramatic cultural transformation and rapid miscegenation among urban native peoples, Urban Indians argues that native peoples exploited the urban milieu to create multiple statuses and identities that allowed them to develop indigenous identities, practices, and associations, even as they embraced Spanish-style civic life.

1 A Tale of Two Settlements, 1546–1559
chapter abstract

Chapter 1 considers the role of Zacatecas's preconquest indigenous population on the city's early development, the impact of Spanish dependence on foreign Indian population to meet labor needs, and the evolution of Spanish and indigenous settlements from rudimentary mining camps to urban communities in the sixteenth century. It argues that the mines could not have prospered without the large migrant Indian population from central and western Mexico that displaced the local Zacateco population. They provided the necessary labor for the emerging mining economy and its subsidiary activities, and by creating indigenous communities, they brought into being a permanent and long-term labor source. As the indigenous workforce established roots in the town, they began adapting the Spanish urban environment to meet their own settlement needs, exploiting Zacatecas's frontier setting and labor shortages to derive some concessions, such as mobility, wages, freedom from tribute and rotary labor drafts, and semiautonomous neighborhoods.

2 Ethnic Cohesion and Community Formation, 1560–1608
chapter abstract

This chapter explores the factors and conditions that facilitated ethnic cohesion among the ethnically diverse native population and the development of indigenous civic life from the mid- to late sixteenth century. Indigenous migrants adopted and negotiated colonial spaces and institutions to re-create central Mexican–style indigenous communities and establish a corporate Indian status, allowing them to draw on concessions and protective measures afforded to native peoples under colonial rule. The evolution of a "Republic de Indios," barrios of native communities on the outskirts of the city, created spaces where native peoples could practice indigenous and Spanish lifeways. Shared housing and labor arrangements unified the native population through personal and professional ties. The establishment of indigenous confraternities allowed native peoples to develop formal social and political organizations. Even as native peoples began assuming the role of urban vecinos, or municipal residents, they continued to identify with their ancestral heritage.

3 The Creation of Indian Towns and Officials, 1609–1650
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the creation of formal indigenous towns, municipal councils, and leaders in the seventeenth century. It argues that the impetus for creating Indian towns and municipal councils came from an indigenous population lacking vehicles for redress and governance. It outlines the establishment of four Indian towns, Tlacuitlapan, Tonalá Chepinque, San Josef, and El Niño. It charts the evolution of Indian governance from the initial appointment of native alcaldes to the development of full-fledged indigenous municipal councils modeled on Spanish and preconquest indigenous governance practices. It discusses the changing nature and role of native rulers, highlights trends in the ethnic composition of the leadership, and documents the rise of a group of professional officeholders. Indigenous towns and municipal councils in Zacatecas provided native peoples with a modicum of juridical autonomy over indigenous affairs as it provided them entry into greater civic life within and outside of indigenous spaces.

4 Indios and Vecinos: The Maturation of Urban Indigenous Society, 1655–1739
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the maturation of urban indigenous society in Zacatecas, both at the community and individual level, in the midcolonial period. During this period, revitalized silver production and markets, and growing populations of non-Indians, drew native peoples further into the money-economy and into greater interactions with ethnically diverse producers and consumers. Yet indigenous societies survived and flourished within these social and demographic changes because of the stability of native institutions and communities, and native vecinos who retained their associations with the indigenous world even as they acquired the skills and fluency to succeed in the Spanish urban environment. Permanent residents and incoming immigrants created a critical population mass that facilitated continued indigenous social and kinship networks. By the early eighteenth century, native peoples had developed the practices and institutions they needed to survive and prosper as a community and ethnic group in the city.

5 Revival and Survival: Indigenous Society in the Mid-to-Late Colonial Period, 1730–1806
chapter abstract

Chapter 5 explores the dramatic changes at the local and viceregal level that indigenous peoples confronted during the long eighteenth century. Production declines and upsurges, empirewide administrative projects to centralize authority and increase economic productivity, often referred to as the Bourbon Reforms, and a rise in casta, or non-Indian, populations, affected native lands and resources, religious organizations, labor practices, and systems of governance. This chapter argues that indigenous societies and institutions remained fairly vital through the mid-1770s and that native peoples played a key role in the city's economic, social, and demographic recovery. But social, economic, and demographic changes during the last decades of colonial rule (1775–1810), particularly Spanish attempts to dissolve Indian towns and municipal councils, weakened and undermined indigenous communities and institutions to the point that they eventually ceased to function as autonomous units in the postindependence period.

Conclusion: From Indigenous Towns to Mestizo Barrios
chapter abstract

The conclusion offers some thoughts on the fate of the city's native communities and population after Mexico gained independence from Spain and the nature of mestizaje in northern New Spain. In Zacatecas, the dissolution of the native pueblos in 1832, and Mexican laws prohibiting classifications of native people as Indians, undermined indigenous leadership, organizations, and corporate structures. The decline of indigenous institutions and societies accelerated Zacatecas's demographic and cultural mestizaje. Yet the chapter's argument that the mestizaje of the city occurred much later than is usually presented in the scholarship—beginning in earnest only in the late eighteenth century—provides a more nuanced picture of the complex cultural changes and transformations that shaped Mexico's mestizo north.