RICH PRODUCTS OF THE SOIL AND PRECIOUS METALS IN THE ROCKS
 MEXICO, despite its large areas of desert, is a land of immense fecundity in products of nature, a
realm of splendid promise. With its unusual variety of climate, ranging from tropical
warmth to wintry chill, its rich natural resources, its vast abundance of valuable timber,
its broad extent of ranch land, and its enormous richness in mineral products, it has few
rivals in point of native wealth in soil and rocks. This is yet far from its full
development and the future is full of rich possibilities. Hitherto the chief attention of
capitalists has been given to the mining districts, the large yield of silver and other
valuable metals in these having caused the cultivation of the soil to be neglected. It has
been said that ii the capital used in mining had been devoted to agriculture the country
would be four times as rich as it now is. But when the silver and copper pass, the soil
will remain, and in its cultivation Mexico may yet find an unceasing source of prosperity.
The estimate has been made that Mexico possesses 250,000 square miles of well-timbered
land, nearly 6,000 of dense forest and the vast total of about 500,000 of uncultivated
land, the latter forming nearly two-thirds of the entire area. To what extent cultivation
can be applied to this broad domain only time can tell. It is in this that the cattle and
sheep ranches are situated, and here, we are told, pasturage for millions of food animals
can be found. At present the greater part of this rich food-producing territory remains in
a desert condition, awaiting the development of which it is capable.
DRYING COFFEE ON A COFFEE PLANTATION NEAR CORDOBA.
A PRIMITIVE METHOD OF SUN DRYING.
How great are its possibilities, how widespread its riches,
 none but those who have traveled in the land with an observing eye can appreciate. With
its wide range of climate and its soils adapted to every variety of vegetable growth, its
vast mineral wealth and its enormous area fitted for the pasturage of sheep and cattle, it
simply needs intelligent labor and wise processes of agriculture to supply the needs of a
much larger population and to add very largely to its export trade. At present it sends
abroad silver, gold, copper and other minerals from its mines; mahogany, cedar, rubber and
dye-woods from its virgin forests; coffee, tobacco, fruit, vanilla and other products from
its cultivated fields; meats and hides from its ranches; and in all these respects there
is a wide scope of undeveloped opportunity yet to be taken advantage of.
Passing from the coast inward, alike on the Atlantic and Pacific sides, the traveler
crosses zones of tropical climate, from which he may rapidly pass into temperate, and if
he cares for mountain climbing, into frigid, zones. The bordering lowlands are hot, at
times oppressively so, yet the night breezes from the ocean compensate for the heat of the
day, sufficiently so to render agreeable the climate of the Vera Cruz and Yucatan
sections. A degree of refreshment also comes from the rains, which last from June to
November, the year being divided into two seasons, a wet one and a dry one. The mean
temperature varies from 77° to 80° F., but often rises to 100° and at times higher, yet
the refreshment brought by the night breezes goes far to mitigate the enervating heat of
In this realm of solar warmth and fertile soil all the chief products of the tropics grow
in the greatest profusion. These productions include coffee, sugar-cane, tobacco, pepper
and rice; alligator pears, oranges, bananas, limes, cocoanuts and many other fruits;
chocolate, vanilla, indigo, maize, and various products of tropical soils. These are not
all native, the sugar-cane, orange, grape and coffee having been introduced from Europe;
but they all grow as profusely as though at home in this western realm.
 Not only fruits, but flowers of every hue are abundant in great variety, birds of
beautiful plumage flit in rainbow hues through the verdant groves, and gorgeous
butterflies rival them in beauty of wing. In the depths of the woods the twining boa coils
round the overhanging limbs, the crocodile haunts the streams, the jaguar and puma prowl
through the untrodden wilds and the tapir wanders clumsily by the river bank. Monkeys of
many species frolic amid the densely clustered boughs, and the whole scene teems with
The dense forests which cover much of the tropical region with profuse vegetation contain
trees of commercial value in the greatest variety, considerably more than a hundred
species fitted for building or cabinet wares being known. These include the oak, mahogany,
Brazil wood, logwood, rosewood, cedar and others of leading importance, while there is a
long list of medicinal plants, dye-woods, fiber and gum-bearing trees, edible plants,
fruit trees, etc. The woodlands are so thick and dense as in places to be impassable
unless opened by the axe of the woodsman, while they are so infested by malarial
exhalations that only the native Indian seeks game and food within their unhealthful
In this region we see none of the stone buildings found in the Mexican highlands. All the
people need here is shelter from the sun and protection from the rains, and their
habitations are flimsy constructions, built of bamboo and light poles with palm leaves for
thatch. Towns are rare and the villages are of the most primitive type, swarming with
naked babies and boys and girls in the simplest attire. So rich is the soil that support
could be provided for a very large population, but this section is much more thinly
peopled than the salubrious and temperate region of the interior.
Among the chief cultivated plants of the lowland region sugar stands prominent. Of this
Mexico has now a considerable export trade, while the henequen, or Sisal hemp, is another
of the principal exported products. The dry climate and hard,
 sandy soil of Yucatan are admirably adapted for the growth of this plant, the fiber of
which is in large demand in carpet, rug, rope and bag manufacture. The considerable demand
has caused large attention to be given to its growth.
Other plants which are now actively cultivated are those yielding India rubber, the useful
product of which is now in such active demand. Large sums of money have been invested in
the cultivation of rubber plants in Mexico, but the return has not been promising, and it
is doubtful if this country will ever be able to compete with Brazil and Peru, Malaysia
and Ceylon in this culture. Another plant of high value in Mexico, as it is needed for the
tortilla, the chief article of food of the laboring class, is maize, or Indian corn, the
leading vegetable product of the country. This is cultivated on the plateau as well as in
the tropical region, but in the hot lands its growth is extraordinary. It reaches there a
height of fifteen to eighteen feet, and in two months after planting the mature ears may
Indian corn is grown widely in the Mexican highlands, it being the leading vegetable food
product of the country, but the demand for it is so great that importation from the north
is still at times necessary. Wheat is also grown extensively in some districts, its
cultivation being confined to the temperate region of the plateau, largely in the State of
Chihuahua. Here irrigation is necessary, and only enough grain is produced for local
consumption. For bread and cake making in the hotels and restaurants flour is imported in
considerable quantity from the United States.
Two important products of the soil are cotton and sugar-cane. Of these, cotton has long
been grown, the Aztecs cultivating it and spinning it into clothing. The Aztec warriors
wore armor of quilted cotton of much utility as a safeguard against arrows, for which
reason some of the Spanish invaders adopted it. The plant has been grown ever since, there
being a very large area adapted to its cultivation, greater, indeed,
 as is stated, than exists in the United States. The most important region for its
production is upon the rich irrigated lands along the Nazas. But as cotton clothing is
worn almost universally in Mexico, the product falls far short of the demand and this also
is largely imported from the United States. Cotton is grown to a considerable extent in
the tropical lowland region on each side of the country, but the total product in the
country is less than 120,000 bales. Some of this is exported, but there are about 125
cotton-weaving mills in the republic, some of them having very large capital.
The sugar-cane is not indigenous to Mexico, but was introduced by the Spaniards. But the
soil and climate have proved excellently adapted to it and its growth is prolific, the
yield per acre being high. First grown by Cortes and his followers, it was being exported
from Mexico to Spain as early as 1553. The whole of the hot country is well fitted for its
growth and along the Gulf coast the canes are enormous in size. In ten months growth they
will attain a height of twenty feet and a girth of two inches. Neither ploughing nor
irrigation is necessary, and the cane, once planted, will grow without need of care for
ten years. The yield per acre is from 30 to 35 tons, producing from 20 to 25 tons of
juice, this yielding 15 to 16 per cent of sugar. Vera Cruz is the best fitted state, and
sugar-cane cannot be grown profitably at over 3,000 feet in height. About 1,000 feet high
is apparently the best elevation, in view of rainfall, labor, transportation and other
In addition to the cane, the sugar-beet is also becoming a product of value, and the
opinion is growing that it will eventually supersede the cane. It is suited to most parts
of the country and can be grown for ten months of the year, while it has the advantage
that corn and maguey can be planted in connection with it. Nearly all the beets now grown
are used as food for cattle, but with the growing tendency to convert all the sugar-cane
product into alcohol there is an open field for the beet as a sugar producer.
A NATIVE EXTRACTING RUBBER IN A RUBBER TREE GROVE ON THE UBERO PLANTATION,
ISTHMUS OF TEHUANTEPEC. THIS IS ONE OF THE GREAT MEXICAN INDUSTRIES AND ONE OF GROWING IMPORTANCE.
 Coffee is of comparatively late introduction into Mexico, the first planting being in
1790. The largest output is that of the State of Vera Cruz. Here labor is plentiful, and
the picking of the berries may be done leisurely, only the perfectly ripe berries being
gathered. This is a more profitable method than that used in places where labor is scarce
and picking hurried, and where the whole branch is stripped at once instead of the ripe
berries being selected. The best quality of berries comes from the State of Colima, these
being preferred by experts to the best from Brazil. Mexican coffee is not largely used in
the United States, but it is popular in some countries, as Germany, France and England.
As the use of tobacco is universal among the male population of Mexico, much attention is
paid to its cultivation and an excellent quality is grown. The plant is indigenous to the
country, and though Spain at one time restricted its cultivation it is now cultivated all
over the republic. It is also everywhere manufactured, cigar and cigarette factories
existing in every community. There is abundance of excellent land for tobacco culture,
composed of a sandy soil containing decomposed vegetable matter and salts of iron and
aluminum, with a little lime. This combination yields a leaf of mild and aromatic flavor
which is much esteemed. It is said that the finest Mexican cigars go to Havana and are
sold as "Cuban" in all the Central American and the adjoining South American countries.
The Mexican tobacco has a flavor peculiar to itself, which soon appeals to the smoker who
makes use of this product, and which is creating an increasing demand for it in the United
States. One of the best grades, if not quite the best, is that grown in the San Andres
Texla district of Vera Cruz. There are also excellent tobacco lands in the Territory of
Tepic, where the plant with good cultivation could be brought to a high state of
Maguey is one of the most widely cultivated plants, due
 to the universal demand for its mildly intoxicating product, pulque. Of this plant
there are no fewer than 125 species, but the favorite ones are those yielding
pulque and the fiery spirit, mescal. Pulque is a refreshing and
not unwholesome drink, though its flavor does not appeal to the American palate. It is
intoxicating when drunk in large quantities. As already stated, the consumption of it by
the lower classes in Mexico is something astonishing, while it is scarcely ever tasted by
people of the middle and higher classes.
The use of the maguey plant is not confined to the extraction of its juice. In fact it is
of somewhat general application, there being, it is said, as many as forty articles made
from it. These include paper from the pulp, twine from the fibers, needles from the sharp
leaf tips, and from the leaves roofing material for native huts. A fine kind of papyrus
was made from it by the ancient Mexicans, and this art is still in use. Specimens made a
thousand years ago are still in an excellent state of preservation.
EXTRACTING PULQUE FROM THE MAGUEY PLANT, SAN JUAN, TEOTIHUACAN, MEXICO.
PULQUE IS MEXICO'S FAVORITE DRINK. IT IS PLEASANT AND HARMLESS UNTIL FERMENTED,
WHEN IT BECOMES A POWERFUL INTOXICANT.
Most important among the fiber-producing plants is the henequen of Yucatan, the soil of
which appears to be especially adapted to the growth of this plant. The fibers are taken
from the leaves and are excellent for the making of coarse textiles of various kinds, such
as rugs and bagging. As to the treatment of the laborers on the henequen plantations,
however, it is marked by a barbarity rarely seen elsewhere. A statement upon this
unpleasant subject must be left for a later chapter.
We have spoken of the leading vegetable products of Mexico, but there are others that call
for mention, including rice, barley, cacao, vanilla, and the numerous medicinal plants and
dye-woods. Much attention has been given to the rubber product, though not with very
encouraging results. The rubber tree flourishes in the tropical region of the country, and
as much as $50,000,000 has been invested in rubber plantations, though with no adequate
atten-  tion has been given to the guayule plant, which grows wild and the sap of which has been
regarded as possessing "valuable rubber qualities." It has attracted considerable capital,
as has also pinguay, a rival plant claimed to surpass it in its percentage of rubber. No
one has yet grown rich from their cultivation.
The fruit product of Mexico is large and varied, the list including alligator pears,
cocoanuts, apricots, dates, figs, limes, oranges, mangoes, pineapple, banana, and numerous
others, including the familiar apple, pear, peach, etc. Bananas are very prolific, a
growth of twenty feet in a few months being made, while, when properly cared for, each
stalk will yield from 75 to 100 pounds of fruit. There are about twenty varieties, and
under skilful cultivation a product of from 600 to 900 pounds of fruit per acre can be
realized. This fruit, as is well known, has no equal in quantity of foodstuff yielded per
acre of ground.
While the lowlands of Mexico are usually well watered, irrigation is in many places needed
in the more elevated localities, and it seems to have been practiced in Aztec days. In
recent times much attention has been given to this subject, though not much has been done
in the way of impounding the waters of the many mountain streams. We have already spoken
of the developed systems of irrigation along the Nazas, where there is a canal fifty miles
long, with a large flowing capacity, and several others of smaller size, the result being
that the river's flow is exhausted in the dry season. But by building dams to hold the
excess flow of the wet season a great addition to the area of irrigation might be made.
Where artesian wells have been sunk for this purpose they have proved satisfactory, but
this method of obtaining water also awaits development. Of irrigation systems one of the
most interesting is that of the great Jalpa hacienda. On this estate from 8,000 to 10,000
head of cattle are pastured and the system of irrigation, which was introduced more than a
 century ago, is kept in a high state of efficiency. The dam, containing some 15,000,000
cubic metres of water, gave way about seventy-five years ago, drowning everything before
it, including about 400 natives. The capacity of the present dams is nearly 60,000,000
cubic metres, while the Turbio River, which flows through the estate, has a capacity of
42,000,000. The soil irrigated totals about forty-five square miles of level alluvial
soil, and the excess water is sold to farmers farther down stream, where about forty
square miles are irrigated.
Cattle and sheep are raised in almost every state of Mexico, Jalisco being the first in
value of products, the extensive, but largely desert, State of Chihuahua coming second.
But there are vast areas adapted to this purpose which are disregarded or but slightly
utilized. Sheep and goat raising is more generally pursued than cattle breeding, the sheep
kept numbering over 5,000,000 and the goats several millions. Sheep thrive well on the
great central plateau, the chief region of arid lands. Here they are very free from
disease and little exposed to attack by predatory animals, while the cost of raising them
is extremely small, about ten to twenty cents per head per annum. Much is being done in
the improvement of breeds by the introduction of Merino rams, but the standard is yet not
Much American capital has been used in the development of cattle growing upon the ranches
of northern Mexico. But the pasturage here is very poor as compared with that of the
western United States, the cattle having to browse on coarse grass and weeds. They even
eat the cactus in spite of the prickles. It is often a long distance to water supplies and
in times of drought the cattle die in great numbers. At such times the peons gather
quantities of the prickly pear, burn off the sharp points of the spines, and feed them to
the cattle, which devour them ravenously. The ranches in this region need to be very
large, as it takes about fifteen acres for the subsistence of a single animal.
A STRAWBERRY FIELD AT IRAPUATO WHERE STRAWBERRIES ARE PICKED EVERY DAY IN THE YEAR.
 Horses also are raised in large numbers on the ranches, some of them having from 10,000 to
20,000 of these animals. Most of them are small, bony creatures, selling for a few
dollars, but some fine looking stock has been developed by the use of foreign breeds.
Goats, of which large numbers are raised, are profitable animals, they being left to care
for themselves and thriving on very poor pasturage. The poorer people are large consumers
of goats' flesh and the skins bring a good price.
The ox, used as a beast of burden, is invaluable in Mexico. It will work patiently and
ploddingly for eight or nine hours a day, hauling heavy loads of farm produce and standing
for hours uncomplainingly in the burning sun. This animal, however, has peculiarities of
temper. It may be willing, or it may be obstinate. It can pretend to be doing its part,
while leaving the bulk of the work to its mate. It has its likes and dislikes, and is not
altogether mechanical in its ways.
We have so far in this chapter dealt with the products of the soil; now the products of
the rocks demand attention. Mexico has long been famous for its minerals, especially for
its yield of silver, and the story of its many mines has much of interest. The cruelty of
the old-time Spaniard was especially shown in his mining methods, the natives of the
country suffering severely in order that their heartless task-master might put money in
his purse. A frightful system of forced labor was employed, thousands of the natives being
seized and forced to work in the mines, from which, with infinite toil and suffering, they
carried sacks of ore-bearing rock on their backs from the depths of the mine, to be driven
down again by armed men stationed at the mouth. Never have slaves been more cruelly
treated, and we can scarcely blame them when they rebelled at the great Valenciana mine
and massacred every white man upon the place. It was due retribution for half a century of
 The presence of silver deposits was quickly discovered by the Spanish invaders. Thus the
famous mines at Guanajuato, opened in 1525, owed their discovery to a fire built on the
rocks by some muleteers, who found silver in the ashes, melted from the rock below.
Another famous mining center was Zacatecas, where in three centuries nearly eight hundred
million dollars worth of silver was obtained. The Pachuca lodes also, now the richest in
Mexico, were famed early, their discovery being made by the companies of Cortes. In fact,
the Aztecs were familiar with these veins and showed them to the Spaniards. It was here
that the method of treating silver ores by amalgamation with quicksilver was discovered by
Bartolome de Medina in 1557.
The Aztecs were familiar both with gold and silver, but gold has not proved nearly so
abundant in Mexico as the white metal. Thus, of the $3,275,000,000 worth of gold and
silver estimated to have been mined between 1522 and 1879 gold furnished only from 4 to 8
per cent of the total. Everywhere the Spaniards prospected for these precious metals and
evidence of their burrowing activity may be found in the rocks of all parts of the
country. Many of these are corkscrew-like workings, but there are also splendid tunnels,
of dimensions that excite the wonder of modern engineers. There are, in addition, ancient
ore-reduction works and many other indications of former activity, long since abandoned to
dust and decay.
There is a story of Vasquez de Mercado, a wealthy Spaniard of Guadalajara, who in 1552 was
told by the Indians that a great mountain of pure silver existed in a region far to the
north. After this he set forth, with a following of armed men, and traveled for many days,
his eyes alert for the morning when the sun's early rays would be reflected back to him
from the mountain of shining silver his fancy pictured. At last the sought-for hill rose
on the far horizon. But on approaching, its metal contents proved to be iron, not silver.
 The disappointed treasure hunter turned back, had fights with the Indians, some of his men
being killed and himself wounded, and reached home to die of his wounds. But the Cerro del
Mercado, the hill of iron, is still one of the wonders of Mexico.
We have spoken of only a few of the silver mines. They occur widely through the mountain
regions of the state, the mines of which were pronounced by Humboldt to be "among the
richest and greatest of the world." Toward the close of the eighteenth century horses and
mules largely took the place of human labor in working the mines and treating the ores,
and the old-time barbarity declined. But the hatred towards the Spaniard engendered in the
Indian mind by long centuries of cruel treatment was a feature in the revolution that led
to throwing off the yoke of Spain.
The period of turbulence that followed the gaining of independence put an end in great
measure to mining operations for many years. Where working was continued the mine openings
were guarded by fortress-like walls. These remain today in evidence of the troublous times
of the past century. Mining is now prosecuted under the stimulus of foreign capital and
with the most improved methods, and the output promises to remain large for a long period
to come. It is American enterprise that has largely brought about this improved state of
Silver has done much towards the advancement of church architecture in Mexico. A tax on
every pound of silver from the rich Santa Eulalia mine was used to build the fine
cathedral of Chihuahua, and the splendid church at Taxco, in Guerrero, had a similar
origin, as also the cathedral of Durango. It is said that in some mines the miners were
permitted to carry out daily a large piece of rich ore, which they presented to the priest
for church-building purposes. From this source the two-million dollar church at Catorce
Though silver is the most valuable the rock products
 of Mexico, there are many others found throughout the Sierra Madre ranges and their
offshoots. These include, in addition to silver, gold, copper, lead, quicksilver, iron,
zinc, tin, platinum, coal, antimony, sulphur, petroleum, salt and others, as also a
variety of precious stones, embracing opals, emeralds, sapphires, rubies, etc.
The yield of gold has not been large, but in recent times it has much increased, the value
of the product at present being about $25,000,000 annually. That of silver is very much
larger in quantity and considerably larger in value, reaching in some years a value of
0,000,000 or more. Next to silver in yield is copper, a metal not known to exist in Mexico
a quarter of a century ago. Today Mexico stands second in the world's output, being
surpassed only by the United States. The yield in 1911 was about 62,000 tons, that of the
United States being nearly 500,000 tons. What the future yield of Mexico will be is hard
Of iron the most abundant known deposit is that of the famous Cerro del Mercado, already
mentioned. This is estimated to contain 460,000,000 tons of ore, assaying 70 to 75 per
cent of pure iron. There are deposits in several other states, large ones in Guerrero. The
city of Monterey contains a number of iron manufacturing establishments.
Salt is largely produced, and Carmen Island, off the gulf coast of Lower California,
possesses one of the leading salt beds in the world. Lead is plentiful and there appear to
be large deposits of tin, though these are not worked. It has only recently been
discovered that Mexico is rich in coal, no one yet knowing how great are the deposits.
There are extensive beds of anthracite in Sonora, the seams in some places being fourteen
feet thick. These are being worked by an American company. There are coal formations in
other states, the most important in the republic being those of Coahuila. These are worked
alike by Mexican and American capital and the output is of growing value.
 Another Mexican product of large importance is petroleum. For about twenty-five years past
prospecting for oil has gone on in Mexico, and it has been found in many places. It occurs
in both the Atlantic and Pacific coast regions, almost, the whole Atlantic coast showing
traces of oil and asphaltum, the total oil-yielding area being much larger than that of
the United States. Much capital has been employed in oil-producing enterprises, with
considerable success, and the promise is encouraging.
One of the best finds was that of 1908, when a rich "fresher" was struck at San Geronimo,
near Tampico. Here the oil caught fire and burned freely for two months, the flames, 1,000
feet high, being visible a hundred miles distant. When the fire was extinguished the flow
of oil was so great that dams of earth had to be built in all haste to check it. A large
export trade from Tampico has sprung up, and war vessels were rushed there in all haste
during the rebel attack on Tampico in December, 1913, to prevent the oil wells being
tampered with. The interests of production and trade were felt to be more valuable than
those of war.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics