Indigenous Zacatecos – one of the Chichimec tribes – mined local mineral deposits for centuries before the Spanish arrived; it’s said that the silver rush here was started when a Chichimec gave a piece of the fabled metal to a conquistador. The Spaniards founded a settlement in 1548 and started mining operations that sent caravan after caravan of silver off to Mexico City, creating fabulously wealthy silver barons in Zacatecas.
By the early 18th century, the mines of Zacatecas were producing 20% of Nueva España’s silver and the city became an important base for Catholic missionaries.
In the 19th century political instability diminished the flow of silver. Although silver production later improved under Porfirio Díaz, the revolution disrupted it. In 1914 in Zacatecas, Pancho Villa defeated a stronghold of 12, 000 soldiers loyal to President Victoriano Huerta. After the revolution, Zacatecas continued to thrive on silver; today, the city’s 200-year-old El Bote mine is still productive.