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Imagine a ghost town, once the capital of Baja Sur...
~story and photos by Francisco Estrada~
There is a special place, a beautiful location lost in time where the wind carries the knowledge of a secret, a treasure under the earth, a wealth of precious metals. Walking by these amazing ruins reveals its secrets and the historical interest of multinational companies in the silver and gold mines at El Triunfo. This ghost town is located 40 kilometers from La Paz, and is surrounded by the Sierra de la Laguna mountains. The story goes back to 1740, when silver and gold was discovered in this area, attracting the interest of the Spanish crown, an excuse to order a non-religious mission to the area with the purpose of protecting the community from Indian rebels. Juan Francisco de Güemes y Horcasillas, the Spanish viceroy in Mexico, gave the land titles of all Baja mines to Manuel de Ocio. The most generous silver veins were found at
a mine called “El Triunfo de la Cruz,” (“The Triumph of the Cross”) and was registered in 1751. Juan Manuel Ocio was a soldier in Loreto who started his own pearl business in Baja California Sur, and then followed by dealing in silver and gold. The first techniques used for exploration in the mines were based on magical wood rods and the invocation of spirits and elves. When the metal was found, ore was removed
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by open pits and shallow trenches, which led to digging small tunnels that allowed underground exploitation. After Juan Manuel Ocio, other investors got involved in developing the resources at this extraordinary location. The Triunfo Gold & Silver Mining Company was organized in 1862 by a group that included 16 Americans and eight Mexicans. Later it was renamed Triunfo Silver Mining & Commercial Company, then Hormiguera Mining Company and finally El Progreso Mining Company. Can you imagine those days of affluence, where the women wore long silk dresses and extravagant jewelry and hats in a town populated by Chinese, English, French, Mexican, Spanish, Italian and German
miners and Yaqui Indians? That bustling community is now a ghost town. Imagine the crowded streets full of horses and a steam train running through a city with more than 5,000 inhabitants, wide cobbled streets with shops of all kinds, some offering fineries and luxury products. Can we imagine a ghost town that at one time was the capital of Baja California Sur (beginning in 1828), and also had its own newspapers, telegraph and telephone lines connected directly to La Paz? It was a place with social classes so diverse that they had to establish an English cemetery and a Chinese cemetery, as well as a cemetery for Mexicans.
(FAR LEFT AND ABOVE) | In its heydey, El Triunfo was a bustling, cosmopolitan mining town. Today, remnants of this former glory can still be found there.
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(BELOW AND FAR RIGHT) | Decrepit structures, forsaken mining equipment and historical printed items all attest to the economic and cultural history of El Triunfo.
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Imagine as the wagons came out loaded with silver bars to be taken to port opposite Cerralvo Island, where boats were laden with precious metals heading to San Francisco, and very often the bourgeoisie also came out on boats to buy clothes and luxury items in California. That was opulence. Today we can find only the ruins of what was built with bricks, the houses of the rich families, the houses of the investors and the industrial architecture of the mines, but much of the city remained submerged in time, eroded by extreme weather. Those houses had lives, families, kids who played, servants, fine horses, European furniture, glassware and china, happy and sad people, forbidden romances between different cultures and social classes, cellars where the silver bars were stored, smoking chimneys,
troughs for horses, butchers, greengrocers, hairdressers, bakeries and bars with billiards, liquor and gambling. Here are the ruins left by people who took a chance and came to the peninsula in search of prosperity, people who came to El Triunfo leaving a former life behind. No sign of the prosperity remains today, only the ruins and some photographs and documents, ghosts serving as witness to what was once a mining empire. El Triunfo once had far reaching economic implications. Cattle sales from San Antonio and the agriculture of Todos Santos, San Jose del Cabo and Santiago all depended on the economy of this population. In the industrial ruins we can find only Continued on next page
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two remaining chimneys. The larger one is called “La Ramona,” which was designed by Gustav Eiffel with a height of 43 meters and a base of 1.50 meters, was inaugurated in 1890 on Saint Ramon Day. Three hundred meters away the second chimney, “La Julia,” was inaugurated on Saint Julio Day. These chimneys worked with wood furnaces, and this wood was carried by 350 mules who worked tirelessly to supply fuel. “When we arrived to El Triunfo, the demonstration of gratitude grew slowly. The wide streets of the town were illuminated by lanterns of many colors. The crowd was so tightly packed that there was hardly room
for the men on horseback, going. Members of this enthusiastic crowd were really children of México, heirs of our Catholic parents, most of them with roots in very solid principles.” (1) (1) Francis J. Weber; The Missions & Missionaries of Baja California. Dawson Books. Los Angeles, Calif. 1968 The decline of “El Progreso mining company” started to become evident in 1912, when it passed into the hands of the Company of Mines Triunfo, SA, and in1918 a tropical storm completely destroyed most of the facilities and flooded the tunnels. The competition for El Triunfo mining operations was the El Bolero Company in Santa Rosalia,
(FAR LEFT AND ABOVE) | The passage of time manifests itself in different ways in El Triunfo, from aging buildings and burial monuments, to old pianos and more.
which was one of the influences that helped convert this great place into a ghost town of 350 inhabitants. What we can find today at El Triunfo? What’s left of it? It’s still a magical place, full of energy, history, souvenirs, ruins of its mining glory days, cobbled streets and Continued on next page
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â€œImagine the crowded streets full of horses and a steam train running through a city with more than 5,000 inhabitants...â€? 100 â€˘ SUMMER/FALL 2014
bridges, and houses with beautiful columns and walls revealing many colors in old paint, a few restored houses, a property converted into a small hotel, and a gringo baker offering the best artisan bread on the peninsula. Inside his home are some last treasures of the glory years of El Triunfo, including a large safe, pictures, furniture and paintings. El Triunfo has a musical character, a history of love for art and music brought by European and Asian immigrants. It was a cosmopolitan population living in an isolated town, a place where music teachers and
famous southern California musicians and composers found a place that appreciated their work. El Triunfo became home to pianos from all over the world and at one time there were more pianos per capita in El Triunfo than any other place in Mexico. Today the evidence of those musical years is the local Museum of Music, which includes 87 pianos. Today what remains in El Triunfo is the essence of an empire dissolved like mist in the black night, a night that lasted a quarter El Fin! of a millennium.
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