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Durango (state)

Durango, officially Free and Sovereign State of Durango (“Estado Libre y Soberano de Durango”), is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, compose the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. The state is located in Northwest Mexico. It is bordered by Coahuila to the northeast, Chihuahua to the north, Sinaloa to the west, Nayarit to the southwest and Zacatecas to the southeast. With a population of 1,632,934, Durango has Mexico’s second-lowest population density, after Baja California Sur. The city of Victoria de Durango is the state’s capital, named after the first president of Mexico, Guadalupe Victoria.



Durango, along with the states of Chihuahua, Sonora and Sinaloa, formed the historical and geographical unity of Northern Mexico, for what was the majority of the last millennium; it was not until the territories were reorganized after the independence struggle that they emerged as independent entities. This broad area represents the natural corridor that the Sierra Madre Occidental offered to the Toltec and Nahuatlaca tribes, both who took advantage of the large accidental stone conformations to survive in the wilderness of the territory. The new formations formed as the only security for the tribes that moved among Northern Mexico and the Valley of Anahuac, eventually becoming a home-state for these tribes who then began to form small communities, united by language and region. The Tepehuános, Huichol, Cora, Tarahumara incorporated perfectly distinct nations, each with evident sedentary purposes, and a strong family structure, all whilst setting aside the bellicose attitude of the Chichimec tribe of the center of the then-current Republic. Sedentary life began in Durango around 500 B.C. in response to population growth. The exceptions were the Acaxee, Humas, and Xiximes who were constantly at war but always on the look-out for final settlements in the region of the Quebradas.

On the east bank of the state a longitudinal zone can be found, that extends from the current state of Zacatecas to the la Laguna area between the entities of Durango and Coahuila. The “Indios Laguneros” (Laguna Indians) traveled interchangeably between this area, they were characterized by their rebellious attitude, instability, religious customs and for being hunters and gatherers. These Natives of which so little was recorded were the first inhabitants of the region long before they were exterminated by the Spanish colonists. Today, only a few remain of the Tepehuanos, Huicholes, Coras and Tarahumara tribes.

By around 200–300 A.D., Durango along with the north central zone (from the Bajio to the states of Durango, Zacatecas, and San Luis Potosí) of present-day Mexico was inhabited by sedentary groups that were link to the cultures located further south. The state was connected by a broad commercial network that linked it to areas as north as New Mexico and as far south as the valley of Mexico.

Spanish colonization

Once the province of New Spain was established in the rest of the country, new explorers ventured out to conquer Northern Mexico, establishing the province of Nueva Vizcaya, in honor of the Spanish province of the same name. Spanish explorer Francisco de Ibarra, the first to colonize Durango, settled this part of the vast northern province of Nueva Vizcaya. On July 8, 1563, he founded the capital city and named it Durango for the town Durango, Biscay, Spain. Durango, along with the three aforementioned states (Chihuahua, Sonora and Sinaloa), formed part of the province of Nueva Vizcaya, a name that was used during the colonial period to designate the territory discovered by Captain Francisco de Ibarra between 1554 and 1567. Several important factors contributed to the region being named Nueva Vizcaya; one reason was that iron mines which were found in Durango also existed in the aforementioned Spanish province of Biscay, reasons of which gave more meaning to the assigned name of the region. Additionally many of the soldiers who came on the expedition of Captain Francisco de Ibarra and formalized the conquest of the region were Basquescitation needed] .

In 1552 Spanish Captain Ginés Vázquez del Mercado discovered one of the world’s richest iron-ore deposits (now an important part of Durango) which was named after him, present-day Cerro de Mercado. Gradually, in the following decades, the Franciscans followed by the Jesuits began the evangelization of Nueva Vizcaya, laying the foundations of a large diocese. The towns Nombre de Dios, Peñol (Peñón Blanco), San Juan Bautista del Río, Analco, Indé, Topia, La Sauceda, Cuencamé and Mezquital arose from the evangelical work of the Franciscan order; Mapimi, Santiago Papasquiaro, Tepehuanes, Guanacevi, Santa Maria del Oro, Tamazula, Cerro Gordo (Villa Ocampo), San Juan de Bocas (Villa Hidalgo) and two establishments that originally belonged to the Franciscans, La Sauceda (Canatlan) and Cuencame, were established by the religious members of the Society of Jesus at the invitation of the Spanish Governor Rodrigo del Río de Lossa. The establishment of garrisons in Northern Mexico provided security to the people immersed in isolation, a characteristic of the territory. The new routes enjoined the military camps and thus emerged the ‘Courier of the Provinces’, a government scheme adopted by the Spanish monarchs in 1767. The new territory began to split in the colonial period. The first to emerge was the Sinaloa Province, which then included the areas known today as Sonora and Arizona. Later, the state of Coahuila separated, and with the Constitution of 1824, was divided into provinces creating the states of Durango and Chihuahua, and attaching some municipalities to the state of Zacatecas.

Durango did not escape the great national struggle between conservatives and liberals and the capital was taken several times by representatives of both sides, as was the case of siege imposed by Coronado and Patoni in 1858 for the liberal cause, as well as the French intervention that between 1864 and 1866 that occupied the state with the support of conservative forces. At the time that Porfirio Díaz was at the head of the Republic, Durango also experienced local dictatorships such as that of Governor Juan Manuel Flores, who held office between 1884 and 1897. Esteban Fernandez, who also became governor, was reelected in 1908 after his four-year term only to leave in 1911.

During the Porfiriato, Durango joined the network of railway and telegraph networks that he laid down on the country, resulting in the creation of new regions, as was the case of the Laguna region from which the cities of Lerdo and Gomez Palacio emerged, both now of paramount importance. The railroad also connects the state capital with Mexico City and the border towns, which allows the marketing of goods produced in the region, and the transportation of mineral resources for exportation.

Durango played a very important role in the Mexican Revolution. Important revolutionary figures of historical validity in important battles between 1910 and 1924 emerged, such as Francisco Villa, Calixto Contreras and Severino Cenicero, in support of the “Maderistas”, supporters of the ideologies of President Francisco I. Madero. On November 21, 1910, Duranguense military personnel Jesús Agustín Castro and Oreste Pereyra, took up arms in the Laguna region commanding a small army that would join the forces of Francisco I. Madero, shortly after his assassination.

The splitting of the territories continued with the government of Enrique R. Calderon, who implemented the provisions of President Lázaro Cárdenas with the distribution of 100,000 acres (400 km2) in the Laguna region of Durango, and the formation of the Municipality of Tlahualilo, shedding Mapimí and Gomez Palacio. At the half century, the “educational crusade” began which bestowed upon Durango colleges of upper education such as Instituto Tecnológico de Durango (Technological Institute of Durango) and Universidad Juarez del Estado de Durango (University of Juarez in Durango). The latter was based on the historical Instituto Juarez (Juarez Institute), which dates back to the eighteenth century. At that time, the town of Vicente Guerrero also emerged, separating itself from Suchil an action which resulted in completion of the geographical pattern which now is the state of Durango, with modern means of communication that in the form of paved roads connects most of the municipalities with the capital and connects the capital with the important cities across the country.

The last years are representative of the rural exodus to the main cities of the entity, requiring the implementation of numerous development services, that completely changed the traditional image of the Colonial and Porfirista Durango that seemed rooted in the style of life of most of its inhabitants. This was a late colonization for the Spanish, due mostly to heavy resistance by the indigenous population. From first contact to modern times, the indigenous peoples have attempted to gain some autonomy, address grievances, and maintain traditional land ownership. Spanish colonists became highly attracted to the Durango area for its mining and grazing prospects. In 1823, shortly after victory over Spain in the Mexican War of Independence, Durango earned the right to become a separate state.

Comanche raids in Mexico

The Comanche Indians had begun raiding Spanish settlements in Texas as early as the 1760s. Soon after, the Comanche warriors began raiding Chihuahua, Sonora, Coahuila, Durango and Nuevo León. T. R. Fehrenbach, the author of Comanches: The Destruction of a People, writes that “a long terror descended over the entire frontier, because Spanish organization and institutions were totally unable to cope with war parties of long-striking, swiftly moving Comanches.” Mounting extended campaigns into Spanish territory, the Comanches avoided forts and armies. T. R. Fehrenbach states that these Amerindians were “eternally poised for war.” They traveled across great distances and struck their victims with great speed. “They rampaged across mountains and deserts,” writes Mr. Fehrenbach, “scattering to avoid detection surrounding peaceful villages of peasants for dawn raids. They waylaid travelers, ravaged isolated ranches, destroyed whole villages along with their inhabitants.”

War with the Comanches (1820s)

In the 1820s, the newly independent Mexican Republic was so preoccupied with political problems that it failed to maintain an adequate defense in its northern territories. Comanches ended the peace that they had made with the Spaniards and resumed warfare against the Mexican Federal Government. By 1825, they were making raids deep in Texas, New Mexico, Coahuila, Nuevo León, Chihuahua and Durango.

“Such conditions were permitted to continue in the north,” writes Mr. Fehrenbach, “because independent Mexico was not a homogeneous or cohesive, nation it never possessed a government stable or powerful enough to mount sustained campaigns against the Amerindians.” As a result, Comanche raiders killed thousands of Mexican soldiers, ranchers and peasants south of the Rio Grande.

Confrontations with Comanches (1834-1853)

In 1834, Mexico signed its third peace treaty with the Comanches of Texas. However, almost immediately Mexico violated the peace treaty and the Comanches resumed their raids in Texas and Chihuahua. In the following year, Sonora, Chihuahua and Durango reestablished bounties for Comanche scalps. Between 1848 and 1853, Mexico filed 366 separate claims for Comanche and Apache raids originating from north of the Mexico–US border.

A government report from 1849 claimed that twenty-six mines, thirty haciendas, and ninety ranches in Sonora had been abandoned or depopulated between 1831 and 1849 because of Apache depredations. In 1852, the Comanches made daring raids into Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora, and Durango and even Tepic in Jalisco (now in Nayarit), approximately 700 miles south of the United States-Mexican border.


Durango is the fourth largest state in Mexico. The state is bordered to the north by Chihuahua, to the northeast by Coahuila, to the southeast by Zacatecas, to the southwest by Nayarit, and to the west by Sinaloa.

With an average elevation of almost 2,000 metres (6,600 ft), most of the state is heavily mountainous and a good part forested; the Sierra Madre Occidental occupies two-thirds of the state, mostly in the western and central part of the state. In the western parts of the Sierra Madre, the geography is characterized by deep ravines and rivers that mostly flow westward. The highest point in the state is Cerro Gordo at 3,340 m (10,960 ft) above sea level. This mountain range contains a good supply of minerals, including the silver that encouraged Spanish occupation of the territory after it was discovered. These mines extend north into Chihuahua and south into the state of Zacatecas. Vast desert basins in the Laguna District are irrigated by the Nazas River.

In summer, the average maximum range from 35.0 °C (95.0 °F) in the eastern parts of the state to a low of 20.0 °C (68.0 °F) in the western parts. In winter, the max ranges from 15.0 °C (59.0 °F) to a low of 0 °C (32.0 °F) in the winter. Except for the mountainous areas and small lowland areas in the west such the Quebradas area, the state is fairly dry because the Sierra Madre blocks most of the humid air coming in from the Pacific coast. The climate in the mountains tends to be cool with snowfalls common in winter and have heavier precipitation in the summer than the rest of the state. However, the snow that falls does not linger for long and melts. The average temperature reaches a maximum of 16.0 °C (60.8 °F) in June in the Sierra Madre. Precipitation is highly seasonal with 70-80% of the precipitation falling from June to September. East of the Sierra Madre, the climate is drier and warmer and precipitation is just enough to support agriculture. Most of the precipitation in the state fall during the summer months, owing to the development of the monsoon in southern Mexico that moves northward to reach the northern states and parts of USA by July. Drought like conditions and extreme changes in temperatures are common in the central parts. Owing to the contrast in climatic conditions, between January and April, the state has strong winds that run from the southeast. The average precipitation in the state varies from a low of 273 millimetres (11 in) in Ciudad Lerdo in the far-eastern part of the state to 890 millimetres (35 in) in El Salto in the west.

Major crops grown in the area include cotton, wheat, corn, alfalfa, beans, sorghum, and other vegetables.

Durango is famous for its scorpions. The scorpion is a common symbol representing the state. Mexicans generally refer to the people of Durango as Alacrán de Durango (Scorpions from Durango). The demonym for the natives of Durango is Duranguense(s).

The major occupations in Durango are farming, logging, mining, and ranching.

Arts and culture

The land of cinema

Durango is known nationally and even internationally for two reasons: one being that it is “the land of the scorpions” due to the many species of scorpions in the state, especially in the colonial areas, and second as “the land of cinema.” Durango has among its credits over 120 film productions, both domestic and foreign, and as a result, during the decades of the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s, had earned that title. Durango has established itself as one of the favorite places of film producers and directors due to its picturesque views and scenic beauty.

Film had arrived in a train heading to Durango in 1889; when the Mexican Revolution began in 1910, film producer Raoul Walsh recorded the battles of General Francisco Villa. These scenes were included in the film The Life of General Villa produced by D. W. Griffith, and directed by Christy Cabanne in 1914. Hollywood had discovered Durango in the mid-century.

In 1954, the film industry officially entered the state; American film art director Jack Smith had flown over Durango and was instantly seduced by the landscape. Subsequently, the first movie filmed in Durango was White Feather, directed by Robert D. Webb. Durango also had close ties with John Wayne. The close friendship between Durango and John Wayne, an American actor and icon of Western movies, started in 1965, and resulted in the making of the films The Sons of Katie Elder, The War Wagon, and Chisum, among many others. Such was the amount of time that Wayne spent filming in Durango, that he acquired a ranch in the state.


Spanish conquerors, who founded Durango and began the conquest of the northern territory, brought their recipes and the first herds. Among the dishes from Durango, is “caldillo”, particularly noted for its antiquity. Along with beef it can be prepared with chile verde (green chile), chile Colorado (red chile), or chile pasado (dehydrated green chiles). The broth is the first culinary preparation in the long history of culture in Durango, and demonstrates the influence of cultures that have been in the genesis of Durango. Its origin goes back to the days of Captain Francisco de Ibarra; one of the first conceptions appears in an old manuscript that belonged to wealthy miner and landowner, Joseph del Campo Soberón and Larrea Soberon, the Count of Súchil Valley.

Durango is also known for its marmalades and preserves made from quince, figs, and peaches, as well as the native pitahaya. Gallina Borracha or ‘drunken chicken’ is a dish unique to Durango, made mostly of Spanish ingredients, such as raisins, sherry and almonds. Traditional drinks include Licor de Membrillo, a liquor made from quince. Durango is also known for its cheese, in particular queso chihuahua, also called ‘queso menonita’, a type of cheese made by the state’s numerous Mennonite residents as well as the traditional “”Queso Ranchero”” usually made in the high Sierra’s (mountains) of Durango which tourists as well as natives like to enjoy. Another plate unique to Durango (usually more to North Western Durango) is “”Venorio”” made with pork ribs cut into pieces, nopales (cactus) and a special chile sauce made with different ground seeds of pumpkin as well as chile seeds, and has a distinctive orange look to the sauce. Carne seca (beef jerky) is also another traditional food that can be used to make “”machaca con huevo” (jerkey with eggs) and caldillo con papas (jerkey with potato soup). The people from Durango also enjoy traditional Mexican dishes, such as tamales, tacos, cabrito, and enchiladas as well as quesadillas made with the two cheese mentioned above.


Durango consists of geographical diversity which allows sports enthusiasts to participate in extreme sports such as kayaking, mountain biking, abseiling, free climbing and more; Durango is also home to a quantity of gorges, and voluminous waterfalls that measure 80 feet (24 m) one of which is Salto del Agua LLovida. The state also has numerous lakes that measure over 800 meters in diameter such as Lago de Puentecillas (Puentecillas Lake).


According to the last census that took place in 2005, Durango, with just over a million and a half inhabitants, occupies the 24th position within the 32 federal entities regarding population, and reports an average growth rate so low that it would take more than 250 years to double its number of inhabitants.

90% of the state population are baptized Catholics which are mostly concentrated in the rural areas; the urban areas of the state contain significant religious minorities consisting of Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Ashkenazim Jews, Muslims, Atheists, and Buddhists.

Despite the low overall demographic density it contains, only 12 inhabitants per km2., 60% of the population is concentrated in only three of the 39 state municipalities: Durango, Gómez Palacio, and Lerdo. The rest live in small and disperse localities, for as much as 6,258 communities can be found in the state, 82% of which have fewer than 100 inhabitants.

Some 67% of the population lives in urban areas, below the 76% national average. Even so, the migration of people from the rural zones towards urban environments represents a serious issue for the government of Durango, because it implies satisfying a high demand for public services and utilities.


Mennonites are another important ethnic group residing in the state for nearly a century after arriving to Mexico. Roughly 20,000 German-speaking Mennonites reside in secluded communities throughout the semi-arid region of the state.

Indigenous Durango

Of the 65 ethnic groups that exist in Mexico, in the current five ethnic groups coexist Durango territory: Tepehuanes or O’dam, Mexicaneros or Nahuatl, Huichol, Cora and Tarahumara or Rarámuris. At least 2% of the population over 5 years of age speak an indigenous language, 80% of which belong to the Tepehuan ethnic group, which is indigenous to the state. Other smaller indigenous groups include the Huichol and the Mexicaneros, the latter of an unknown descent and who speak a variety of Nahuatl. Currently, the indigenous population in the state of Durango is approximately 29 thousand people, the majority group is Tepehuano followed in a proportion of less than 10 percent from their number, the Huichol, Cora, Los Mexicaneros Nahuatl and the Tarahumara.

Durango is divided into (39 municipalities).

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