The Guachichiles and Cerro de San Pedro

Templo de la Asunción at Cerro de San Pedro in San Luis Potosí

My family and I recently came back from spending Christmas in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. During that trip we visited Cerro de San Pedro; a small village and the seat of the Municipality of Cerro de San Pedro.

Cerro de San Pedro is a very important town in San Luis Potosí; it is where this state was initially born, the cradle of what would become the great city of San Luis Potosí. It was here where the discovery of a natural resource, which the Europeans praised more than life, would put this area on the map, eventually making it one of the most affluent cities in Mexico for a time.

When we first arrived at el Cerro, the early afternoon was very windy and cool. I was glad I took a warm coat with me; it sure was helpful against the strong winds that greeted us. At first glance, it seemed as if there was nothing around us but hills and cactuses. However, after a short walk from the parking, I saw in the distance what looked like the remnants of a small old-west town.  There, not far from where we were, I could see the tower of an old church standing over one of the highest hills.

I never been to this place before, so I had to remember first impressions can be deceiving when visiting a new place. Even though at first, everything seemed abandoned and desolate, like a ghost town, somewhere ahead of us I heard loud music and people chanting familiar songs; songs that I almost had forgotten from all these years living in the U.S. Ranchera songs or traditional Mexican songs from Jose Alfredo Jimenez and Vicente Fernandez filled the air around us. A big smile painted my face as nostalgia took over me. I walked fast, trying to figure out where the music was coming from and, after rounding a corner, there it was! A big cabaña or log cabin located right at the entrance of the town stood just ahead. This log cabin was a restaurant called El Molino. That day, El Molino was packed full of people in the midst of a big family birthday celebration. The contagious energy coming from the people at that party made me more determined to go and explore this town.

A big cabaña or log cabin located at the entrance of the town.

As we entered the main town area in Cerro de San Pedro, a particular sight caught my eye: a picturesque mural covering the entire wall near the entrance to El Molino. At the time, I didn’t know much about the history of Cerro de San Pedro. However, this detailed and very colorful mural gave me a glimpse of the story behind this town. Every town has a story to tell and from the mural, I could tell that Cerro de San Pedro had a rich history full of amazing feats.

a mural at the entrance of Cerro de San Pedro depicts the history of the Guachichiles and the Spanish Conquistadores.

Beyond the mural, the entrance to the town was adorned with metal sculptures. In fact, I will come to find there are metal sculptures all throughout the town. Immediately to the right of El Molino’s mural there was a sculpture of a miner holding a shovel. The statue was about six feet tall, wearing boots, goggles, helmet and a head light; the gear of a miner at work. There were other sculptures around the entrance of the town such as the one in the picture below that sparked interesting conversations.

a metal sculpture of a miner holding a shovel at Cerro de San Pedro.

Cerro de San Pedro in San Luis Potosí.

To properly understand Cerro de San Pedro, and the art and architecture found throughout this small village, it is important to know its history. Although at first glance it might look like an abandoned village lost in time, this place is an important piece of history in the establishment of San Luis Potosí. In fact, this is where it all began.

Before the arrival of the Spanish, the region where San Luis Potosí is now located was originally occupied by the Guachichiles. This region used to be a Guachichil-Chichimeca settlement.

A Guachichil often referred to as Chichimecas are the indigenous people who lived in San Luis Potosí prior to the Spanish Conquest.

The Guachichiles are an indigenous people of Mexico who belonged to a larger collective group of people called Chichimecas. The Chichimecas, also known as the great Chichimeca Nations, were a group of nomadic and semi-nomadic people who occupied the large desert basin stretching from present day Saltillo and Durango in the north to Querétaro and Guadalajara in the south. Within this area of about 160,000 square kilometers (62,000 square miles), the Chichimecas lived primarily by hunting and gathering, especially mesquite beans, the edible parts of the agave plants, and the fruit (tunas) and leaves of cactus. The four main Chichimeca Nations were the Pames, Guamares, Zacatecos, and Guachichiles. Therefore, Guachichiles are often referred to as Chichimecas or Guachichil-Chichimeca.

The word Guachichil comes from the Náhuatl word Quachichil or Cuachíchitl, meaning sparrow. Quaitli means cabeza in Nahuatl and chichiltic means red thing or vermilion. The name Guachichil meant “Red Colored Hair” referring to the pigment that they applied to their skin and clothing. Guachichiles were given this name because they also painted their hair with the same red dye. They would wear a pointy bonnet made of leather which they also painted with red or vermilion dye. Because of these practices, the Guachichiles resembled an endemic red head sparrow found in this particular region, hence the origin of their name.

The Guachichiles were warlike and brave warriors who fiercely fought for their land. They were skillful warriors who were experts at using bow and arrow. It is said that their children learned to use the bow by the time they were of walking age and that their hunters were such good shots, that if they missed the eye but hit the eyebrow, they would be extremely disappointed. The Chichimeca bow and arrow was expertly crafted, allowing for penetration of Spanish armor.

The Guachichiles played an important major role in provoking the other Chichimeca tribes to resist the Spanish settlement. The historian Philip Wayne Powell wrote:

“Their strategic position in relation to Spanish mines and highways, made them especially effective in raiding and in escape from Spanish reprisal.”

The Chichimecas lived in rancherias of crude shelters or natural shelters such as caves, frequently moving from one area to another to take advantage of seasonal foods and hunting.  The Chichimeca referred to themselves as “Children of the Wind,” living religiously from the natural land. The nomadic culture of the Chichimecas made it difficult for the Spanish to defeat them.

Because of their warlike and brave warrior skills, the Guachichiles were instrumental in the famous Chichimeca Wars, which took place between 1550 to 1590. The Chichimeca War was a military conflict waged by Spain against the Chichimeca Confederation. This confederation was established in the lowlands of Mexico, called La Gran Chichimeca, located in the West North-Central Mexican states. The region is now called the Bajío. It was recorded as the Spanish Empire’s longest and most expensive war campaign against any indigenous people in the Americas. This forty-year war resulted in a military and economic defeat for the Spanish Empire.

The Chichimeca War began eight years after the two-year Mixtón War from 1540 to 1542. It can be considered a continuation of the rebellion as the fighting did not come to a halt in the intervening years. The war was fought in the present-day Mexican states of Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes, Jalisco, Queretaro, and San Luis Potosí.

The story about how Cerro de San Pedro was founded starts in 1592, when the padre Diego de la Magdalena, a Catholic priest, met with some of the Guachichil peoples in the pueblo of Mesquitique. Among them was one man named Cualiname or Gualiname, who stood out amongst the rest because his face was adorned with outlines done in golden paint. The priest asked him where he had obtained this pigment and was told by the Guachichiles that much of the powder could be found to the east of Mesquitique.

Magdalena told padre Francisco Franco about this discovery, who in-turn told Captain Miguel Caldera, who then took possession of the place from the indigenous peoples for the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Captain Caldera sent Gregorio de León, Juan de la Torre, and Pedro de Anda to verify the existence of the minerals. The latter named the locality San Pedro del Potosí, to honor his namesake saint and in memory of the famous mines of the Potosí in Alto Perú, located in the Viceroyalty of Perú, in present-day Bolivia.

Gold and silver were found in and around the hills of San Pedro, but there was not enough local water to support mining operations. The nearest water source was to the north, in the homelands of the Chichimeca people. These hindrances were overcome by 1624, and the mines became rich producers of gold and silver for centuries. The Mesoamerican historian Primo Feliciano Velázquez y Basalenque included extensive descriptions of the Cerro de San Pedro area in his accounts.

The people who called this place their home, the Guachichil-Chichimecas were mighty warriors, fierce and relentless. They did not go down without a fight and fought for their land against the Spanish invaders. Even though the Spanish eventually took possession of Mexico and its people, their victory did not last long. Years later, Mexicans took control again of their land and fought for and won their independence from Spain.

What a present day Chichimeca looks like, they are still here and have not been totally exterminated by colonizers. They are here to tell their story. This photograph is property of Diego Huerta and this Chichimeca is part of the Jonaz community of Chichimecas who live in Guanajuato and San Luis Potosí.

After Cerro de San Pedro was depleted of its minerals, having provided much wealth to the Spanish crown, the town was abandoned and for many decades afterwards was considered a ghost town. It wasn’t until the last fifteen years, that Cerro de San Pedro once again became popular with visitors and tourists. Many of these visitors come from the capital city of San Luis Potosí to spend a weekend at the Cerro with friends and family.

On the weekends, visitors like to walk around the village, spend a day with their family and eat at any of the nearby restaurants. Cerro de San Pedro is not as developed as other touristy towns, such as San Miguel de Allende or Real de Catorce, which have many shops and restaurants to choose from. The restaurants in Cerro de San Pedro tend to get full very quickly, which is why is important to get there early in the afternoon, because by evening all are full.

Some people from San Luis Potosí feel that a trip to Cerro de San Pedro is not worth it as there are more picturesque and vibrant towns in other nearby cities that have more stores, energy, and architecture. However, Cerro de San Pedro has a lot of history and breath-taking views that are perfect for anyone who likes photography. If planned properly, the whole family or a group can have a really good time. Also, considering the current situation with the coronavirus pandemic, many cities throughout the world will be cautiously and slowly reopening their doors to tourists and visitors. Once the recent quarantines and lockdowns are no longer necessary, Cerro de San Pedro would be the perfect place to visit as very few people visit and is not as popular as other well-known towns in and around San Luis Potosí.

During my visit, my family and I ate at the Nopal Cosmico –a pizza restaurant well known for its brick oven pizzas with exotic ingredients such as fresh cactus, chicharron or pork rinds, queso con rajas or hot pepper with cheese, and chapulines or dried salty grasshoppers. After this trip, Nopal Cosmico became my favorite restaurant at Cerro de San Pedro. I loved their pizzas and highly recommend it!

Huichol Art at the Nopal Cosmico restaurant in Cerro de San Pedro, San Luis Potosí.

Beautiful Huichol Art decorates Nopal Cosmico at Cerro de San Pedro.

Cow skull hanging on the wall as art decoration.

After our nice pizza dinner, we went for a stroll around the main plaza of Cerro de San Pedro.  The city became more energetic as we joined other families and visitors around for a stroll. For the thirsty adults, nearby restaurants and Mom and Pop’s shops sold Micheladas and Pulque. If you visit Cerro de San Pedro you have to try pulque, San Luis Potosí’s signature drink. Pulque, also called Octli, is a low alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant. You’ll see signs outside restaurants selling pulque de mazapán and other delicious flavors. I tried the marzipan pulque and it was delicious. In this particular region of San Luis Potosí, they flavor pulque with delicious ingredients such as piña (pineapple), mazapán (marzipan), and guayaba (guava).

San Luis Potosí has the greatest cacti diversity in Mexico and in the world.

This is maguey the plant where pulque is made out of.

San Luis Potosí is known for its pulque a beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant.

drinking pulque or octli – a low alcoholic beverage made from maguey.

Cerro de San Pedro at night – Templo de la Asunción

As we neared the end of our trip, I looked around and took a mental picture of this place. I wanted to make sure to not forget my memories of this special trip. Not only did I have a great time with my extended family who I hadn’t seen in years, but I also learned so much about the history of where I come from.

© Lizzeth Montejano and Aculturame, 2012-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lizzeth Montejano and Aculturame with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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There are 2 comments

    1. La Potosina

      Thank you so much for your comment! I just drank pulque for the first time when I went to SLP last Christmas and didn’t know how good it was until now. It’s a fermented drink made from the sap of the maguey plant and it’s a great source of probiotics and other vitamins, similar to kombucha.

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