Mixtón War was fought from 1540 until 1542 between the Caxcanes
and other semi-nomadic Indigenous people of the area of north western
Mexico against Spanish invaders, including their
Aztec and Tlaxcalan
allies. The war was named after Mixtón, a hill in the southern part
Zacatecas state in
Mexico which served as an Indigenous stronghold.
1 The Caxcan
3 The War
5 See also
7 Further reading
The location of the Indian peoples in the area in which the Mixton War
Although other indigenous groups also fought against the Spanish in
the Mixtón War, the Caxcanes were the “heart and soul” of the
resistance. The Caxcanes lived in the northern part of the
present-day Mexican state of Jalisco, in southern Zacatecas, and
Aguascalientes. They are often considered part of the Chichimeca, a
generic term used by the Spaniards and Aztecs for all the nomadic and
semi-nomadic Native Americans living in the deserts of northern
Mexico. However, the Caxcanes seem to have been sedentary, depending
upon agriculture for their livelihood and living in permanent towns
and settlements. They were, perhaps, the most northerly of the
agricultural, town-and-city dwelling peoples of interior Mexico.
The Caxcanes are believed to have spoken a
Uto-Aztecan language. Other
Native Americans participating in the revolt were the Zacatecos from
the state of the same name.
The first contact of the
Caxcan and other indigenous peoples of the
Mexico with the Spanish, was in 1529 when Nuño Beltrán
de Guzmán set forth from
Mexico City with 300-400 Spaniards and 5,000
to 8,000 Azteca and Tlaxcalan allies on a march through Nayarit,
Jalisco, Durango, Sinaloa and Zacatecas. Over a six-year period
Guzmán, who was brutal even by the standards of the day, killed,
tortured, and enslaved thousands of Indians. Guzmán’s policy was to
"terrorize the natives with often unprovoked killing, torture, and
enslavement”. Guzmán and his lieutenants founded towns and
Spanish settlements in the region, called Nueva Galicia, including
Guadalajara in or near the homeland of the Caxcanes. But the Spaniards
encountered increased resistance as they moved further from the
complex hierarchical societies of Central
Mexico and attempted to
force Indians into servitude through the encomienda system.
Francisco Tenamaztle, Indian leader in the Mixton War, statue on the
main square of Nochistlan de Mejia, Zacatecas
In Spring 1540, the Caxcanes and their allies struck back, emboldened
perhaps by the fact that Governor
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado had
taken more than 1,600 Spaniards and Amerindian allies from the region
northward with him on his expedition to what would become the United
States’ Southwest. The province was thus bereft of many of its
most competent soldiers. The spark that set off the war was apparently
the arrest of 18 rebellious Indian leaders and the hanging of nine of
them in mid 1540. Later in the same year the Indians rose up to kill,
roast, and eat the encomendero Juan de Arze. Spanish authorities
also became aware that the Indians were participating in
“devilish” dances. After killing two Catholic priests, many
Indians fled the encomiendas and took refuge in the mountains,
especially on the hill fortress of Mixtón. Acting Governor Cristobal
de Oñate led a Spanish and Indian force to quell the rebellion. The
Caxcanes killed a delegation of one priest and ten Spanish soldiers.
Oñate attempted to storm Mixtón, but the Indians on the summit
repelled his attack. Oñate then requested reinforcements from the
The command structure of the Caxcanes is unknown but the most
prominent leader from among them who emerged was Tenamaztle (Francisco
Tenamaztle) of Nochistlan, Zacatecas.
The death of
Pedro de Alvarado
Pedro de Alvarado is pictured at the top left. The
Francisco Tenamaztle faces Viceroy Antonio de
Mendoza at the bottom left.
Antonio de Mendoza
Antonio de Mendoza and Tlaxcalan Indians battle with the
Antonio de Mendoza
Antonio de Mendoza called upon the experienced
Pedro de Alvarado
Pedro de Alvarado to assist in putting down the revolt.
Alvarado declined to await reinforcements and attacked Mixton in June
1541 with four hundred Spaniards and an unknown number of Indian
allies. He was met there by an estimated 15,000 Indians under
Tenamaztle and Don Diego, a Zacateco Indian. The first attack of the
Spanish was repulsed with ten Spaniards and many Indian allies killed.
Subsequent attacks by Alvarado were also unsuccessful and on June 24
he was crushed when a horse fell on him. He subsequently died on July
Emboldened, the Indians attacked the city of Guadalajara in September
but were repulsed. The Indian army retired to Nochistlán and
other strongpoints. The Spanish authorities were now thoroughly
alarmed and feared that the revolt would spread. They assembled a
force of 450 Spaniards and 30 to 60 thousand Aztec, Tlaxcalan and
other Indians and under Viceroy
Antonio de Mendoza
Antonio de Mendoza invaded the land of
the Caxcanes. With his overwhelming force, Mendoza reduced the
Indian strongholds one-by-one in a war of no quarter. On November 9,
1541, he captured the city of Nochistlan and Tenamaztle, but the
Indian leader later escaped. Tenamaztle would remain at large as a
guerilla until 1550. In early 1542 the stronghold of Mixtón fell to
the Spaniards and the rebellion was over. The aftermath of the
Indian’s defeat was that “thousands were dragged off in chains to
the mines, and many of the survivors (mostly women and children) were
transported from their homelands to work on Spanish farms and
haciendas.” By the viceroy's order men, women and children were
seized and executed, some by cannon fire, some torn apart by dogs, and
others stabbed. The reports of the excessive violence against civilian
Indians caused the Council of the Indies to undertake a secret
investigation into the conduct of the viceroy.
As one authority said, the success of Cortés in defeating the Aztecs
in only two years “created an illusion of European superiority over
the Indian as a warrior.” However, the Spanish victories over the
Aztecs and other complex societies “proved to be but a prelude to a
far longer military struggle against the peculiar and terrifying
prowess of Indian America’s more primitive warriors.”
Victory in the
Mixtón War enabled the Spanish to control the region
in which Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico’s second largest city, was
located. It also opened up Spanish access to the deserts of the north
in which Spanish explorers would search for and find rich silver
After their defeat the Caxcanes were absorbed into Spanish society and
lost their identity as a distinct people. They would later serve as
auxiliaries to Spanish soldiers in their continued advance
northward. Spanish expansion after the
Mixtón War would lead to
the longer and even more bloody
Chichimeca war (1550–1590). The
Spanish were forced to change their policy from one of forcibly
subjugating the Indians to accommodation and gradual absorption, a
process taking centuries.
Caxcan possibly survive today, at least in folk festivals, as the
Tastuane Indians. Annual fiestas of the Tastuan in towns such as
Moyahua de Estrada,
Zacatecas commemorate the Mixtón War.
Indigenous peoples of the Americas portal
Latin America portal
New Spain portal
Antonio de Mendoza
Nuño de Guzmán
Pedro de Alvarado
La Gran Chichimeca
^ Schmal, John P. “Sixteenth Century Indigenous Jalisco.” Accessed
Dec 23, 2010
^ Bakewell, P. J. Silver Mining and Society in Colonial Mexico:
Zacatecas, 1546-1700. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 1971, p. 5
^ Krippner-Martinez, James. Rereading the Conquest: Power, Politics,
and the History of Early Colonial Michoacan, Mexico, 1521-1565. State
College: Penn State U Press, 2001, p 56
^ Quoting Peter Gerhart in “Sixteenth Century Indigenous Jalisco”
by John Schmal. Accessed Dec 23, 2010
^ Schmal, John P. “The History of Zacatecas”, Accessed Dec 24,
^ Padilla, D. Matias de la Mota. Historia de la Conquista de la
Provincia de la Nueva-Galicia.
Mexico Imprenta del Gobierno, 1870, p.
115. The phrase in the reference is "le mataron, Y asado se le
^ Simmons, Marc, The Last Conquistador: Juan de Oñate and the
Settling of the Far Southwest. Norman: U of OK Press, p. 23
^ Leon-Portilla, Miguel.
Mexico City: Editorial
Diana, 2005, pp. 25-59
^ Schmal, John P. “The Indigenous People of Zacatecas”, Accessed
Dec 24, 2010
^ Leon-Portilla, pp. 72-74
^ Leon-Portilla, pp. 77-80
^ Enciclopedia de Municipios. Nochistlan de Mejia[permanent dead
link],. Accessed Dec 24, 2010
^ Peter Gerhard quoted in Schmal, John P. “Sixteenth Century
Indigenous Jalisco”, Accessed Dec. 24, 1010
^ Juan Comas, Historical Reality and the Detractors of Father las
Casas, Juan Friede and Benjamin Keen (eds.). Bartolomé de las Casas
in History: Toward an Understanding of the Man and his Work.
Collection spéciale: CER. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.
^ Philip Wayne Powell, quoted in “The Indigenous People of
Zacatecas” by John P. Schmal, accessed Dec 23, 2010
^ ^ Ewing, Russell C.; Edward Holland Spicer (1966). Russell C. Ewing.
ed. Six faces of Mexico: history, people, geography, government,
economy, literature & art (2 ed.). Tucson: U of AZ Press, 1966. p.
126. Retrieved August 2009. "The Spaniards did not break through into
Chichimeca country until 1541 when several groups of Chichimeca
Indians were defeated in the Mixtón War"
^ Schmal, John P. “The Indigenous People of Zacatecas” , Accessed
Dec 23, 2010
accessed Jan 15, 2011
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