Oct 122017
 

Horace Sutton (1919-1991), one of the most prolific and well-known American travel writers of all time, and the creator of the term “jet lag”, visited and reported on Chapala in 1970.

Sutton was a lifelong travel journalist and editor. He began his career, before the second world war, in the advertising department of The New York Post. During the war he worked in Army Intelligence and then returned to The Post as a reporter and travel writer.

He joined the Saturday Review in the late 1940s, and remained there for more than 30 years, first as travel editor and then as editorial director. He also founded travel sections for Sports Illustrated and McCall’s. In the 1980s he served as the editor of Citicorp’s Signature magazine (1981-1985) and editor-in-chief of Citicorp Publishing Company (1984-1987).

As author of a syndicated column, Sutton traveled more than 100,000 miles a year, not only to popular destinations and resorts but also to some of the most remote areas of the planet. His work was published in dozens of newspapers and magazines. In 1960, at the peak of his career, Sutton was profiled for Time magazine in “The Press: The Traveling Press”, shortly after returning from Tahiti:

In the musette bag of red-haired Horace Sutton are Dramamine tablets, bug spray, a ten-bladed Swiss army knife, cable cards, swimming trunks, traveler’s checks—and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of paregoric. These are the tools of Sutton’s profession: he is a travel writer, working for newspapers and magazines in an age when more and more of the world’s citizens are excursioning to more and more foreign countries.”

But perhaps his most enduring contribution to the world of travel was his coining of the term “jet lag”, which he first used in a 1966 piece in the Los Angeles Times when jet passenger service was barely 14 years old. Sutton explained that jet lag was “a debility not unakin to a hangover” and derived “from the simple fact that jets travel so fast they leave your body rhythms behind.” The phenomenon had previously been known as time zone syndrome.

Sutton won numerous accolades for his travel writing, as well an award from the Overseas Press Club for his coverage of a military counter-coup in Indonesia in 1965.

His eleven books included a series for Rinehart that included Footloose in France (1948); Footloose in Canada (1950); Footloose in Italy (1950); and Footloose in Switzerland (1952). In addition he wrote Confessions of a Grand Hotel: The Waldorf-Astoria (Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1953); Sutton’s Places (Holt, 1954); Aloha, Hawaii;: The new United Air Lines guide to the Hawaiian Islands (Doubleday, 1967); Travelers, the American Tourist from Stagecoach to Space Shuttle (William Morrow, August, 1980); The Beverly Wilshire Hotel: Its Life and Times (1989).

In his 1970 article, “Chapala is Retiree’s Dream – Cost of Living Big Attraction” (sic), Sutton described the town of Chapala – “a settlement of 7,000, Mexicans and Americans included” – as “the heart of the hammock and siesta country, a prime center for lollers, yawners and retirees”, where “more than 10 per cent of all the residents are retired citizens down from the U.S. of A.”

He claimed that “nearly 20,000 American retirees are nesting along the fringes of Lake Chapala, a balmy pool that is 70 miles long, 20 miles wide and a mile high. The weather is peachy.”

Everyday prices were very favorable compared to prices back home since “shoeshines that now cost 50 cents in midtown urban centers up north, are 8 cents.” Haircuts were 48 cents (compared to $2.50 up north), a bottle of spirits was $1.25 and a cook-maid might cost $30 a month. The average rent was, according to Sutton, under $100 a month, with the highest $240.

In nearby Ajijic, “once selected by bands of hippies”, Sutton found that most- Americans stayed at the American-operated Posada Ajijic, where they could dine for $2, and shopped at El Angel for stonework, embroidery and other “hand-turned works of the native citizenry.”

Sutton’s other pieces related to Mexico include articles about Acapulco and Guadalajara.

After a lifetime of travel and reporting, Horace Sutton died at his home in Manhattan on 26 October 1991 at the age of 72.

Sources:

  • Hofstra University (Hempstead, New York). Sutton, Horace, 1919-1991. Papers, c. 1948-1991. Special Collections Department.
  • Rebecca Maksel. 2008.”When did the term “jet lag” come into use?“, airspacemag.com (Air & Space, Smithosonian), 17 June 2008.
  • Frank J. Prial. “Horace Sutton, 72, Magazine Columnist And Travel Author” (Obituary), in New York Times, 28 October 1991.
  • Horace Sutton. 1966. “Jet Set Living has its Perils”, Los Angeles Times, 13 Feburary 1966.
  • Horace Sutton. 1968. “Acapulco: Golden Nest for Tourists”, Chicago Tribune, 7 April 1968.
  • Horace Sutton. 1970. “Murals, Mariachis. Colorful Guadalajara.” Chicago Tribune, 15 November 1970.
  • Horace Sutton. 1970. “Chapala is Retiree’s Dream – Cost of Living Big Attraction”, in Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 15 November 1970, p 30
  • Time magazine. “The Press: The Traveling Press”, in Time, Monday, 4 July 1960.
Feb 062017
 

In a previous post, we offered an outline biography of Canadian writer Ross Parmenter, who first visited Mexico in 1946 and subsequently wrote several books related to Mexico.

One of these books, Stages in a Journey (1983), includes accounts of two trips from Chapala to Ajijic – the first by car, the second by boat – made on two consecutive days in March 1946.

The author is traveling with Miss Thyrza Cohen (“T”), a spirited, retired school teacher who owned “Aggie”, their vehicle.

They meet up with Miss Nadeyne Montgomery (aka The General), who lived in Guadalajara; Mrs Kay Beyer, who lived in Chapala; and two tourists: Mrs. Lola Kirkland and her traveling companion, Mary Alice Naden.

The following extracts come from chapter 3 of Stages in a Journey.

1. TRIP ONE  (March 21, 1946)

“We had arrived in Guadalajara ready to spend a week with Nadeyne. We had never heard of Chapala, but we were willing to take her word that it was worth visiting, especially when we learned it was on a lake.” (82)

– – –

[After a day in Chapala] We drove out past the villas of the wealthier residents and found the smooth gravel ended at the outskirts of the town. The road proved even worse than I anticipated. It was dirt all the way and in very poor repair. To minimize the jolts it was necessary to go so slowly that most of the time I had to drive in second gear.

The road paralleled the shore of the lake. There were fields on either side and the mountains rose on our right. Actually, it was very pretty, with the picturesqueness being heightened by the cattle grazing in the fields and by the peasant people we passed, some riding donkeys, some herding goats, others carrying baskets. But, Lord, the going was bumpy! Trying to find the least broken surfaces occupied most of my attention.

As we rounded the first mountain headland, where the hills came close, I saw that a flood-stream, in racing down the slopes to reach the lake, had cut a ravine across the dirt tracks that comprised the road. The gully was narrow, but it was a good four feet deep and it was bridged only by two thick planks which were set a car’s width apart. As we crept over the planks, I thought, with a shudder, of the danger if one had to come back over them at night when it was hard to see.

After jolting along for about four miles we came to a pretty village called San Antonio. The road took several jogs to get through it and at the far end the General asked us to stop. She had some business to transact at a friend’s house. We offered to wait, but she announced she would walk the rest of the way. She needed the exercise. Mrs. Beyer would show us where to go, so we would not get lost. Once in Ajijic we were to visit the authoress, Neill James. We were to wait there and she would join us later.

As we resumed our way over the rutted washboard, I could see why the General preferred to walk. From here on the road had the appearance of a country lane, for it was shaded by gnarled trees that resembled mimosas. And besides being cooler and lovelier for walking, it was, if possible, even rougher for riding. Once in Ajijic the bumps came like bullets from a machine gun. The streets were cobbled. (85)

– – –

There was a resplendent purple and gold sunset. Sometimes unusual lighting effects can illumine a scene in an odd way, opening its whole significance, as it were. But this sunset did not have this effect on me. Principally, I saw it as a reminder of how late it was. I even resented the vividness. It seemed too flagrantly showy to be beautiful, and it heightened my sense of not belonging to Mexico. (90)

How could anyone ever feel at home in a land of such overpowering and excessive color? I asked myself. And as the question presented itself I felt as if all the alien features of the country—the heat, the tropical vegetation, the primitiveness, the throbbing colors— had gathered themselves together to oppress my northern spirit. (90)

Ross Parmenter: Aggie the Car[They had trouble starting the car and only left Ajijic as the sun was going down]

We were only a little way beyond Ajijic when I had to turn on the lights to see the ruts of the awful road. At first I doubted if the bulbs were burning, but as the dusk deepened I could see they were making a faint orange impression on the air in front of them. The glow dimmed and brightened according to our speed. I saw the generator was operating a bit, for when the motor turned faster the lights shone brighter. The trouble was that the road was so bad I had to go very slowly. It meant we had very little light. (91)
– – –
The intervening town of San Antonio, where the General had stopped on business on the way out, proved the greatest hazard. Not being electrified, there were no street lights and one turn looked very much like another. But we got safely through the dark village. [and eventually safely back to Chapala]. (91)

The illustration in this post is by Ross Parmenter.

Source:

  • Ross Parmenter. 1983. Stages in a Journey. New York: Profile Press.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Nov 282016
 

Travel writer and novelist David Dodge lived in Ajijic for several  months in 1966. He had traveled throughout the country and subsequently published a popular motoring guide covering all of Mexico. The book, Fly Down, Drive Mexico: A Practical Motorist’s Handbook For Travel South of the Border, was published by Macmillan in 1968, together with a Special Guide to the XIX Olympic Games that were held in October of that year in Mexico City.

dodge-david-cover

The book was revised and reissued the following year (1969) as The Best of Mexico by Car: a Selective Guide to Motor Travel South of the Border, from which these extracts are taken:

Except for the pescado blanco and pleasant scenery, there is no real reason to make the drive [from Guadalajara to Chapala] unless you have leisure for it and want to see how the other half lives. No tourist “musts” lie along the road to Chapala, and not much in the way of maybes. The lake’s north shore, like Cuernavaca, is simply an American retirement colony; sprawled out more, less expensive to live in and with fewer swimming pools, otherwise much the same.” . . .

“If you do make Lake Chapala an overnight side trip, taking the time to loiter along the way, a good place to spend a night is Chapala town. It’s the first community you come to on the lake shore, a pretty place remindful of Riva on Lake Garda, relatively un-Pepsi-Coked except for two enormous eye-popping billboards that challenge each other for maximum offensiveness to the eye as you come back to dock from what would otherwise be a very pleasant boat ride on the water. Chapala town is as popular with tapatíos, Guadalajarans, on weekend family outings as it is with semipermanent gringo residents enjoying a year-round climate even better than Guadalajara’s own, so best call ahead to make a reservation on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

The first motel you come to conspicuously by the side of the road where the road begins to wind down out of the hills toward the lake shore is both phoneless and unrecommendable. No problem here. Best place, a good one, to spend the night in Chapala town is the Hotel Nido, tel. 38, $7. It’s right on the (quiet) main stem a few steps from the lake. The Nido, essentially an American-plan hotel but not one liable to insist of American plan except possibly on weekends, serves one of the best inexpensive cubiertos in the whole countryside, with pescado blanco a specialty, and even better pescado blanco a la carta. Its chief rival in this specialized field is the Restaurant El Mirador, with a pleasant view overlooking the water. Incidentally, you may hear much of Chapala as a fishing resort. It isn’t one, for you. The lake does contain catfish, and a species of sunfish that can be taken by hook and line, with patience. The pez blanco, which becomes pescado blanco after it has been caught, is taken in nets, by professionals.

At Chapala town, Highway 35 becomes 94 and bears westward, right, along the lake shore, ann attractive drive. Two or three miles on, an almost exclusively gringo-built and gringo-occupied, brand-new retirement center, Chula Vista, offers the Motel Chula Vista, tel. 69 (Chapala), $12. This, cocktail bar and all, is as familiarly American as the rest of its community. It offers, besides the usual pool, a tennis court, golf privileges at a course next door and a coffeeshop serving hamburgers, pies, ice cream, sandwiches, all the familiar short orders. Many Americans would prefer Chula Vista to the Hotel Nido for these reasons.

Two or three miles beyond Chula Vista, 94 touches the fringes of Ajijic, a four-century old stone-and-adobe fishing village that is just beginning to suffer the onslaughts of Pepsi-Coke. Luck, relative isolation by bad roads until a few years ago and the determination of a fair-sized American colony to preserve its native Mexican ambiente have permitted the village to survive so far, much as San Miguel de Allende and Taxco have survived under the protection of Federal law and Guanajuato because of one man’s dictatorial determination. Ajijic has no motels, but a very attractive hotel on the lake shore, Posada Ajijic, tel. 25, $12. (The Monte Carlo, another good lakeshore stop-off on the road out of Chapala town, has still to open for business at this writing.) The Posada welcomes a drop-in trade for lunch or dinner at the family board, which serves a regular house cubierto. The only place in town serving a la carta meals (good) that are consistently acceptable by gringo standards is the Villa del Lago, no phone yet, write A.P. 81, Ajijic, Jal., $7, a nice small hotel in the middle of town one street west of the little central plaza. Other places on the lake or in the village offer mainly housekeeping accommodations.

Ten or eleven miles beyond Ajijic, 94 runs through Jocotepec, another fishing-village-turned-retirement-colony….

Source: Pages 137-138 of The Best of Mexico by Car: A Selective Guide to Motor Travel South of the Border. (1969)

Related posts:

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Nov 032016
 

David Dodge was already a successful author of plays, novels and travel books when he and his wife Elva settled in Ajijic in 1966.

David Francis Dodge was born in Berkeley, California, on 18 August 1910. When his father, an architect, was killed in an auto accident, the family moved to Southern California. After attending Lincoln High School (and leaving before he graduated), Dodge had a succession of jobs, as a bank messenger, marine fireman, stevedore, night watchman and in an accounting firm. He became a C.P.A. in 1937, a year after marrying Elva Keith who had worked as a publishing company representative. Their daughter, Kendal, was born in 1940.

dodge-david-coverDodge’s career as a writer dates back to 1936 when his play A Certain Man Had Two Sons, won the Northern California Drama Association’s Third Annual One Act Play Tournament. The play was later published by the Banner Play Bureau in San Francisco. Dodge co-wrote (with Loyall McLaren) a second play, Christmas Eve at the Mermaid, which was first performed as the Bohemian Club’s Christmas play of 1940.

Drawing on his experiences as a CPA, he then wrote Death and Taxes (1941), the happy result of a $5 bet with his wife that he could write a better detective story than the one she was reading. Death and Taxes introduced readers to James “Whit” Whitney, a San Francisco tax expert turned amateur detective. Whitney continued his investigations in Shear the Black Sheep (1942), Bullets for the Bridegroom (1944) and It Ain’t Hay (1946). These books were completed despite Dodge joining the U.S. Naval Reserve during the second world war, and rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander by the end of his active service three years later.

Following his navy service, Dodge and Elva decided to drive to Guatemala. The family’s adventures in Mexico, Guatemala, and then in South America, became the subject matter for several travel books. They also provided Dodge with the raw material for another fictional tough-guy private investigator, Al Colby, who first appeared in The Long Escape (1948).

The novel Dodge completed the following year, Plunder of the Sun (1949), was turned by Warner Bros. in 1953 into the movie of the same name.

However, Dodge’s greatest success, beyond any doubt, was the novel To Catch a Thief (1952). In the Guadalajara Reporter in 1966, Anita Lomax explained that,

The way David came to write “To Catch a Thief” is a thriller in itself… the Dodges were living on the Riviera when the house next door was robbed of a fortune in jewels – they left early the next morning, before the robbery was discovered for a trip to the Far East and they were in Cambodia when they learned that they were the chief suspects and were being “hunted” by the French police! Fortunately, the real thief was caught by the time they returned to France to clear themselves.”

To Catch a Thief was the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1955 Paramount film starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.

His career established, Dodge spent the next decade alternating between novels and lighthearted travel books. His Poor Man’s Guide to Europe (1953) was revised annually and became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. He also wrote travel articles for several magazines, and was a regular contributor to Holiday Magazine from 1948 to 1968.

dodge-hooliganIn 1966, David Dodge and his wife settled in Ajijic for a few months, while David worked on a travel article for Holiday and on his next novel. The novel is presumed to be Hooligan (1969), which features a Treasury Department agent named John Abraham Lincoln who “is sent to Hong Kong to investigate a series of insurance claims for U.S. dollars following a devastating typhoon.”

A reference in 1966 to the couple taking “their former home in the Neill James’ compound” suggests that they were already very familiar with Ajijic prior to this, though the precise timing and length of any previous visits is unclear.

During their stay in Ajijic, Elva (“Elvita”) Dodge took part in at least one group art show, held in the Posada Ajijic for Easter. The exhibition was held in the first half of April, and included works by Jack Rutherford; Carl Kerr; Sid Adler; Gail Michel; Allyn Hunt; Franz Duyz; Margarite Tibo; Elva Dodge; Mr and Mrs Moriaty; and Marigold Wandell.

While David and Elva Dodge were in Ajijic in 1966, their daughter, Kendal, flew down from her job in New York with CBS to visit them. Within a few weeks, she had met and married a Guadalajara portrait photographer named Joaquin Reynoso Escatell. They lived in Guadalajara, where Kendal worked in Joaquin’s studio and taught languages and American History part-time at The Butler Institute. Their daughter, “Kendalita”, was born in 1967. In order to be closer to their daughter and granddaughter, David and Elva “retired” to San Miguel de Allende in 1968, the last major move in their global wanderings. When Kendal and Joaquin separated a few years later, Kendal and her daughter returned to the U.S. More than a decade later, in December 1983, Kendal married Frank Butler, the founder of The Butler Institute and her former boss; the couple settled in California. The early years of the life of Kendal Dodge Butler (1940-2007) were portrayed by her father with great  charm, humor and sensitivity in How Green Was My Father (1947) and the subsequent travel accounts of the family’s adventures through Central and South America.

Dodge’s travel writing is exemplified by his Fly Down, Drive Mexico: A Practical Motorist’s Handbook For Travel South of the Border, published by Macmillan in 1968 with a Special Guide to the XIX Olympic Games in Mexico City (held 12-27 October 1968), which was reissued the following year as The Best of Mexico by Car. Dodge’s passion was travel and he viewed writing as a means to an end: he did not travel in order to write but wrote in order to travel.

Elva Dodge died on 17 October 1973; David’s own travels came to an end less than a year later on 8 August 1974. Both Elva and David Dodge are buried in San Miguel de Allende.

Dodge’s extensive bibliography includes fourteen novels published in his life time, with another novel published after his death, as well as several plays and nine travel books.

His novels are Death and Taxes (1941); Shear the Black Sheep (1943); Bullets for the Bridegroom (1944); It Ain’t Hay (1946); The Long Escape (1948); Plunder of the Sun (1949); The Red Tassel (1950); To Catch a Thief (1952); The Lights of Skaro (1954); Angel’s Ransom (1956); Loo Loo’s Legacy (1960); Carambola (1961); Hooligan (1969;) Troubleshooter (1971).

Dodge’s travel books are How Green Was My Father (1947); How Lost Was My Weekend (1948); The Crazy Glasspecker (1949); 20,000 Leagues Behind the 8-Ball (1951); The Poor Man’s Guide to Europe (1953); Time Out for Turkey (1955); The Rich Man’s Guide to the Riviera (1962); The Poor Man’s Guide to the Orient (1965); Fly Down, Drive Mexico (1968), revised as The Best of Mexico by Car (1969).

Several of Dodge’s books have been reissued in recent years, including Plunder of the Sun (2005), Death and Taxes (2010),  To Catch a Thief (2010) and The Long Escape (2011). In addition, a previously unpublished novel, The Last Match, was published posthumously in 2006.

Sources:

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jan 252016
 

In an earlier post, we looked at the multiple achievements of Emma-Lindsay Squier, an extraordinary woman who visited Guadalajara and Lake Chapala in 1926.

In this post we take a closer look at just how Squier described her visits to Lake Chapala and Jocotepec in her autobiographical Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934).

squier-emma-lindsay-gringa

Her initial impressions of Lake Chapala were, frankly, not that positive:

“About twenty miles east (sic) of Guadalajara is the famous Lake Chapala. It is by way of being the Mexican Riviera; one which lacks, however, the Continental touch. It tries hard to be sophisticated, but I did not find the purple and pink stucco castles of the millionaires either interesting or in good taste. Mexico is at her best when she caps herself with red tile, bougainvillea vines over her painted adobe panniers, and smilingly challenges the world to produce anything more pictorial.” (Gringa, 145)

However, she was fascinated by the possibility that the Aztecs had lingered at Lake Chapala for several hundreds of years, during their migratory wanderings:

“Today, the blue waters of the lake and burial mounds on the the surrounding hills are constantly yielding up primitive, distorted little clay images that are thought to be mementos of that far-gone time. The Indians say that these small people of barro (clay) are those of the Aztec tribe who would not desert Chapala, and for their disobedience were turned into soulless effigies. They say, too, that the fireflies one sees at night, drifting up from the marshy shores in clouds of golden stars, are the spirits of those repentant ones who are belatedly trying to follow their kinsmen to glories that have long been swallowed up in the tragedies of the past.” (Gringa, 145-146)”

From Chapala, she was then driven by Dr. William Walker to Jocotepec:

“We drove from the village of Chapala along a narrow sandy road that follows the lake. Now and then through the interlaced greenery of trees and shrubbery we could see long primitive fishing boats scooped out of logs propelled by triangular orange-colored sails, skimming across the blue water. The smell of nets drying on the beach mingled with the fragrance of lime blossoms. On the other side of the road, in fields, bounded by fences made of piled stones, small but powerful-looking cattle grazed, and white-garmented peons dozed in the shade of coral-flowered tavachin (sic) trees.”

The farther we drew away from the town of Chapala with its rococo castles and its air of pseudo-sophistication, the closer we came to a Mexico unspoiled, untainted by self-consciousness.

And when we bumped along a cobblestoned road that led to the plaza of Jocotepec, a wave of color and movement and music engulfed us. It was if we stepped out of the twentieth century into the life of a hundred years ago.” (Gringa, 146)

They arrived during a fiesta and she describes the people thronging the plaza:

“… the central square was an almost compact mass of peons in freshly white garments, shirts that were stiff with starch, and long, wide cotton trousers that had been pleated in diagonal lozenges by the patient application of heavy charcoal-heated irons.

The sombreros they wore lacked the high crowns I had seen elsewhere. But the brims made up for the lack of height. They were tremendously wide, curved upward at the edges just the least bit, and two long black cords came down from the shallow-crowned hat and held it under the owner’s chin or dangled down the back of his neck–al gusto.

Few of them wore shoes. Their brown feet were encased in finely woven sandals. But every mother’s son of them in that bobbing, undulating throng was carrying a sarape over his shoulder, the kind you see only in this remote Indian village, one with a dark background of well-carded wool and a woven border of vivid flowers. The boca (mouth) is ornamented thus as well. When the wide opening is slipped over the owner’s head, he is wearing a fringed brown cloak, decorated with flowers, so closely woven that the tropical rain can scarcely seep through.” (Gringa, 147).

Squier goes on to describe the mariachi bands, and being invited to a local bullfight by the mayor – presidente – of the town, an invitation she was unable to pass up. Fortunately, it turned out to be a bloodless bullfight in which the bulls were not killed.

Some time later, when she was listening to a mariachi band in Mexico City with her husband John Ransome Bransby, Squier was delighted to see that some members of the group were wearing sarapes identical in design to those she had seen in Jocotepec. Sure enough, several of the band’s members were indeed from that village on Lake Chapala.

Source:

  • Emma-Lindsay Squier. 1934. Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (Houghton Mifflin Co.)

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jan 182016
 

Emma-Lindsay Squier (1892-1941) was a nature and travel writer who lived much of her life in California. She visited and wrote about Lake Chapala in the 1920s, while spending several months in Guadalajara.

Known as “Emily” to family and friends, she was born in Marion, Indiana, on 1 Dec 1892. Her father, Russell Lafayette Squier, was a salesman, and her mother, Helen Ada Lindsay (Squier) was a teacher and an elocutionist. The family was not well off but Emily became a significant source of income at a very early age. At four years of age, Emily proved to have a natural talent for reciting poems and readings from memory and began making public appearances on the Chautauqua circuit, promotional materials billing her as “Baby Squier”.

Recalling her first visit to Mexico, at age ten, to give a dramatic recital in English in Ciudad Porfirio Diaz (now Piedras Negras), across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, she later wrote, “I fell in love with Mexico when I was ten years old. It was love at first sight.” (Gringa, 3)

After classes in the Sacred Heart Academy in Salem (Oregon) and Bremerton High School (Washington), Emily studied journalism for two years at the University of Washington. She dropped out of university when the family moved to Glendale (California) in 1915, where she became a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She was later appointed an assistant editor of California Life, a monthly periodical published in Pasadena.

She became a prolific writer of short pieces, published in magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Collier’s, Ladies Home Journal, McCall’s, Cosmopolitan, Hearst’s and The American Girl. A series of articles about wildlife interacting with people, often with a degree of fantasy, proved especially successful with readers, and a collection of such stories was published as The Wild Heart (1922),with illustrations and decorations by Paul Bransom. The book “captured the imagination of readers from coast to coast…”

Emma-Lindsay Squier, ca 1923 (California Life, 1923)

Emma-Lindsay Squier (then Mrs George Mark), ca 1923 (California Life, 1923)

She spent the latter part of 1919 in Nova Scotia, Canada, collecting stories for a future book, and then in 1920 and 1921, she attended Columbia University in New York, studying drama and literature. She returned to the Seattle area to collect the legends of the Indians of the Puget Sound tribes.

Her writing fame and fortune continued to grow, Emily’s second collected work about animals, On Autumn Trails and Adventures in Captivity (1922) was heralded as “a grown-up book for children and a children’s book for grown-ups”. Squier’s other book-length works included The Red Palanquin (1924); Children of the Twilight: Folk-Tales on Indian Tribes (1926); and The bride of the sacred well, and other tales of Ancient Mexico (1928).

Her first marriage was to a distant cousin George Mark, whom she had met in New York. After their marriage in 1922, they initially lived in New York, but soon relocated to San Diego, where Emily joined the San Diego Players and first met John Bransby. They quickly became a couple and by 1926 Emily had separated from George and decided to fulfill a life-long ambition to travel in Mexico.

In 1926, Squier was offered the opportunity to spend several months in Mexico collecting local folk stories and legends. Her many adventures from this and subsequent trips are told with color and relish in Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934). She traveled on a freighter, the S.S. Washington, down the west coast, met and danced with ex-President Obregón in Culiacán, and then spent several months at the Hotel Cosmopolita in Guadalajara. In Guadalajara, she became such good friends with poet Idella Purnell and her father that he lent her his car whenever she wanted.

On one occasion, the car had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere and Emily was helped by the unexpected arrival of a man on a black horse:

“He was wearing an elaborate charro suit. The black, tight fitting trousers glinted with silver ornaments from thigh to ankle. His silken blouse was embroidered in festive colors, and his sombrero was the fanciest I had yet seen. It was of white felt, richly embroidered with silver, and had a painted medallion of the Virgin ornamenting the exaggerated crown. A sarape of the diamond-shaped Saltillo pattern was strapped across his saddle”. (Gringa, 131)

Safely back at the Purnells, she discovered his picture was on wanted posters and that she had been helped by the notorious ‘El Catorce’, “the bloodthirsty bandit who had attacked and set fire to a passenger train!” (More than 100 people were killed in this incident which took place in April 1927).

She also relates the story told by Idella’s father, Dr. George Purnell, about being kidnapped by bandits and released only after a ransom of $200 was paid. (This event actually occurred in April 1930).

Squier and Idella Purnell befriended a group of Huichol Indians in Guadalajara and after much confusion successfully bartered some ribbons and jewelry for Huichol arrows and woven bags. In a letter back home to her then fiance John Bransby, Squier wrote,

“We noticed that two of the Indians carried tiny, crudely made violins. The strings were of wire, the bow was of gut. Upon these weird little instruments they sawed with primitive vigor, and drew forth unmusical wailings as of cats on back-yard fences.”

The violins were home-made, but Squier never did find out how the Indians had first come into contact with the instrument. She did, however, have the opportunity to learn more about some of their stories and legends.

Among the legends she collected on this trip was one related to Lake Chapala. Her version, “The Little Lost Stars of Chapala”, was published in the August 1928 issue of Good Housekeeping.

The introduction makes for very interesting reading…

We had spent the day at Lake Chapala, that lovely blue body of water that is set like a jewel into the barren ring of Mexico’s mountains. It is a gay place, a meeting place for the old world as represented by the primitive Indian life about it, and the new world with its motor boats and motor cars and its air of naive sophistication. A curious place in a way, for you will find there that mingling of childlike simplicity and vague menace that is the essence of all things Mexican. Quaint little stucco castles shaded by palms and mangoes dot the shores of the lake, and are pointed out zestfully as being the homes of millionaire, and poets, and artists – this being the order of their importance. There is a plaza where the band plays on Sunday afternoons, and the sophisticates sit at tables and sip “refrescos“, watching with tolerant amusement the paseo of the Indians and humbler folk, who walk round and round in couples, enjoying themselves in solemn, aloof silence. Out upon the blue waters of the lake long black canoes come gliding, their sales huge and square-cut like those of Chinese sampans. Sometimes the sails are made of colored cloth, and make bright patches of blue or red or orange against the vivid background of sky and shore. They thread their way serenely through scattered flotillas of trim white modern craft, and there is always a drifting confusion of laughter and song mingled with the splash of oars and the subdued chugging of motor-boat engines.

In the center of the lake, a long, scorpion-shaped island lies. It is seldom visited, for there is little to be seen upon it, and the menace of the alacran for which it is named, and which it resembles, is not to be lightly disregarded.

Across the lake the mountains rise up sharp and grim, like the upturned teeth of some great prehistoric monster. And in these mountains, only a short journey from civilization as represented by the florid gaiety of Lake Chapala, are tribes of Indians among whom no white man would dare to venture unless under the specific protection of some priest of padre known to them, and capable of speaking their barbarous tongue. It is said that these savage Indios are the remnants of the once powerful Alcohuas, whose king, Cozoc, held in bondage the mighty tribe of Azteca for a long and irksome period.”

Portrait of Emma-Lindsay Squier

Gordon Coutts: Portrait of Emma-Lindsay Squier, ca 1925

In Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934), Squier describes visiting Lake Chapala and, in particular, Jocotepec, an account we will look at in a separate post.

In 1928, Squier divorced George Mark and married John Ransome Bransby (1901-1998), an actor and movie producer, whose fine photos illustrate Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934). The couple were living in New York, but within a week of marriage were traveling in opposite directions: Bransby was starting a theatrical tour while his wife was headed to Guatemala to collect legends for a new series. In 1929, Bransby was still touring when Squier was sailing even further south, to Peru.

Squier had taken a movie camera with her during her trip to Mexico in 1926 and the resulting reels helped Squier and Bransby win the opportunity (in 1930) to film an educational travelogue entitled Mexico (finally released in 1937). This trip is described in some detail in the second half of Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico.

The Bransbys spent time in southern Mexico before returning via Veracruz to Mexico City (where they socialized with Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Frances Toor, among other notables). They also spent six weeks in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where they filmed a traditional wedding ceremony, before returning to New York by October 1930.

Their resulting 60-minute film was divided into three 20-minute “episodes”: “Modern Mexico,” “Mexico of yesterday” and “Land of chewing gum.” The highlights included Diego Rivera painting murals, the “floating gardens” of Xochimilco, the Passion Play in Ixtapalapa, and some of the earliest known footage of chewing gum (chicle) production.

Squier and Bransby later spent time touring the Caribbean, and Squier also visited Africa, always looking for more legends and animal stories. Squier’s work became the basis for two motion pictures: the Academy Award-nominated Dancing Pirate (Pioneer Pictures, 1936), based on her story “Glorious Buccaneer” (Colliers, December 1930) and billed as “The first dancing musical in 100% new Technicolor”, and The Angry God (1948), based on a story by Squier about how the god Colima tries to win the love of a beautiful young Indian maiden, who won’t betray the man she loves.

After being diagnosed with tuberculosis, Emma-Lindsay Squier was forced to slow down in her final years. Her incredibly productive life came to an end on 16 September 1941 in Saranac Lake, New York.

Sources:

  • Aileen Block. 1995. Emma-Lindsay’s Scrapbook: A Biography of Emma-Lindsay Squier (Privately printed)
  • Emma-Lindsay Squier. 1934. Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (Houghton Mifflin Co.)

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Aug 102015
 

The Honorable (Selina) Maud Pauncefote (1862-1919) was the author of what is believed to be the earliest English-language travel article dedicated exclusively to the town of Chapala. Entitled “Chapala the Beautiful”, it was published in Harper’s Bazar in December 1900. The article includes what may well be the first published photographs of the village of Chapala. One, taken from the wharf, shows the lakeshore with the church in the background, while another shows a diligence (stage coach) in the high street, with the lake forming the backdrop. These brief extracts paint the scene as she saw it:

On the western slope of mountainous Mexico is a beautiful lake resembling in size and surroundings the Lake of Geneva. It is called the Lake of Chapala, and as it is out of the beaten track, many visitors who feel that they have seen Mexico quite thoroughly fail to see that interesting place.

To reach charming Chapala one must either take a steamer from the end of the lake, or leave the train at the station called Atiquiza, thirteen miles across the mountains. Then comes a drive over a road so full of bowlders and holes, hills and valleys, that the wonder is one has a bone unbroken in one’s body at the end of the journey….

Chapala is 400 feet lower than the city of Mexico. The lake is surrounded by mountains, which in that lovely atmosphere, so high and rarefied, take every shade of violet and pink and blue. The coloring is magnificent, and the sunsets and starlight nights are things to dream of. The Southern Cross is seen, and every star seems brighter and bigger and nearer, and the sky more filled with gems than one ever imagined.

The little village of Chapala nestles down below the mountains on the shore of the lake. There is a small foreign settlement there whose members have discovered the charm and have built villas on the borders of the lake, the air being very good for the lungs. But the native Indians are not inclined to sell their homesteads, so it is difficult to procure land on the water’s edge.”

The Hon Maud Pauncefote, ca 1893

The Hon Maud Pauncefote, ca 1893

The details of Maud Pauncefote’s life have proved disappointingly elusive, despite her being the eldest of the four daughters of Sir Julian (later Lord Julian) Pauncefote, who was the British Minister in Washington (and subsequently the British Ambassador) from 1889 until his death in 1902. Sir Julian was senior British delegate to the First Hague Conference, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.

[Aside: Sir Julian’s major claim to fame was the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty signed in November 1901, by which time Roosevelt had succeeded the slain McKinley as U.S. President. The Hay-Pauncefote Treaty mapped out the role of the U.S. in the construction and management of a Central American canal, linking the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. The treaty led to the agreement in 1903 between the U.S. and the newly established republic of Panama that the U.S. should have exclusive canal rights across the Isthmus of Panama in exchange for Panama receiving financial reimbursement and guarantees of protection.]

Maud Pauncefote was born in Dresden on 1 June 1862, shortly after her father (a lawyer) had lost almost all his private fortune due to a bank collapse. The family sailed to Hong Kong later that year, where they remained for a decade before returning to England. Following her education in England, Maud was presented at court. In 1889, the Pauncefotes relocated to Washington D.C., where Maud, who loved the U.S., acted as hostess, alongside her mother Selina, at the British embassy.

Curiously, Maud Pauncefote did not attend the huge society wedding in February 1900 of her younger sister Lillian to Mr. Robert Bromley, of the embassy staff. Among those attending “this brilliant affair” were President McKinley, members of his cabinet and the “entire diplomatic corps”.

Besides “Chapala The Beautiful”, Maud Pauncefote also wrote the non-fiction piece, “Life in Washington” (1903), an article about diplomatic life, in which she offered some timeless advice for improving trans-Atlantic understanding: “In England there is still a vague notion that Americans are almost English. If that impression were thoroughly eradicated we should comprehend the American nation much better.”

Pauncefote also wrote several short stories, including the (fiction) pieces entitled “The Silence of Two” in Munsey’s (1908) and “Their Wedding Day”, published in The Cavalier in 1909.

Source:

This post is an updated version of the biography that appears in my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales (2008).

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May 112015
 

Christian Reid was the nom de plume chosen by Frances Christine Fisher (later Tiernan). As a woman writing in a man’s world, presumably she felt that her pen name would enable her to better compete with her male counterparts. Fisher was very familiar with the Lake Chapala area and must have visited it, or stayed there, in the late nineteenth century, though the precise details remain unclear. In 1890, Fisher published A Cast for Fortune: A Story of Mexican Life, which had the hacienda and village of Atequiza as its setting. (At that time, Atequiza was the railway station closest to the town of Chapala.)

Frances Christine Fisher. Credit: Archive.org

Frances Christine Fisher. Credit: Archive.org

In the slightly later travel story, The Land of The Sun: On Lake Chapala (1893), the protagonists agree that Mexico’s constant sunshine makes any discussion of the weather irrelevant, unlike north of the border. They are on their way from Guadalajara to visit “Don Rafael’s hacienda.” After taking the train to Atequiza, they ride horses to Chapala. The horseback ride, about four leagues in distance, takes longer than they expected since, as one of the characters aptly comments, “Leagues in this country are very elastic.”

Once in Chapala, they comment favorably on the beauty of the surroundings, the thermal water with medicinal qualities, and the local hostelry with its equipal furniture.

Fisher (1846-1920) was born in Salisbury, North Carolina. Her father invested in mining ventures and was the president of the North Carolina Railroad. The family was left penniless in the aftermath of the Civil War, so she began writing for money at quite an early age.

Among early pieces was “Regret”, a poem written “in memory of Julian Fairfax, MA, University of Virginia”, in 1861, when Fisher was about 15 years old. Her first book was Valerie Aylmer, published in 1870, when she was 23. She was a prolific writer, especially of very popular and financially successful light romances. In all, she had almost fifty novels and travel narratives published. In several cases, the books used material that had been previously serialized in magazines. Her best-known book is The Land of the Sky (1876) set in the now homonymous western part of North Carolina. Many believe the region took its popular name from the book.

In 1887, Fisher married James M. Tiernan, a widower who had interests in silver mines in Mexico. In letters to her, Tiernan describes meeting President Díaz, and is critical of Americans who displayed prejudice against Mexicans. He also related his problems involving an embezzling official and a recalcitrant British engineer. It is unclear if the couple actually lived together in Mexico for any extended period, but she certainly must have visited frequently. The couple traveled widely, and Fisher used the knowledge she gained to write novels set not only in Mexico, but also in New York, the West Indies and Europe.

After her husband’s death in 1898, Fisher turned to the church. She continued to write, in her hometown of Salisbury, until her own death in 1920. Frances Fisher (aka Christian Reid) was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in October 2002.

[This is a lightly edited excerpt from chapter 38 of my Lake Chapala through the ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales.]

Source of image: opposite page 327 of Jethro Rumple’s A history of Rowan County, North Carolina (1916).

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Mar 222014
 

For anyone who lives or travels in western Mexico, Tony Burton’s Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury is a “must have.” I own a well traveled copy of the third edition (2001) but I was delighted to see a fourth edition (2013) recently appear…in part because so many changes have taken place in the decade or so that has followed the third edition. For example, Guachimontones, the round pyramids west of Guadalajara, is described in far more detail than in the third addition.

There are lots of other changes as well. “A federal project to promote cultural tourism, called Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns), has brought much more publicity to no fewer than 15 towns featured in previous editions, including Tapalpa, Tequila, Mazamitla, San Sabastián del Oeste, Lagos de Moreno, Comala, Pátzcuaro, Santa Clara del Cobre and Angangueo.” In this past decade, the “quality of hotels has also improved, with the opening of excellent boutique hotels, some of them in quite unexpected places….”

New chapters have been added, new material has been added to existing chapters, maps and directions have been updated, new destinations, like Zacatecas, have been developed in detail.

Reading Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury, I felt that old desire rise up in me to be on the road, if only for a day or two. And so, even before writing this review, I called a young Mexican adventuress in Guadalajara. With the Kindle version of Western Mexico in hand we headed up a now modern highway to the charming old colonial town of Mazamitla, high in the mountains on the south side of Lake Chapala… and far more sophisticated than when I visited it twenty years ago. We even stayed in the inexpensive ($40US) boutique hotel Hostal Ciervo Rojo (a member of the Haciendas and Country Houses of Jalisco) recommended by Tony in his book.

A few days I went with a Chapala buddy on a day trip to Guachimontones, the round pyramids west of Guadalajara, passing trucks loaded with sugar cane, passing stands of a local potent drink called pajarete (a combination of milk, aguardiente, brown sugar, and sometimes chocolate) to arrive at what has become in a few short years, “one of the most astonishing archaeological sites anywhere n Mexico,” although only twenty years ago it was only “mounds of earth”. “The dramatic circular structures at Guachimontones, tiered in concentric terraces, are absolutely stunning….”

As Tony notes in his Introduction, this is “not intended to be a comprehensive guide to all the possible day trips and longer tours in the region…. Rather, it is a personal, idiosyncratic collection of my favorite places in Western Mexico….” The book is filled with whatever Tony finds fascinating… interesting and curious details of history and geography and geology and flora and fauna, and art and architecture and archaeology.

My kind of book!

Parts One and Two cover destinations within three hours of Guadalajara or the north shore of Lake Chapala…day trips. Part One begins with a history of the region from ancient times to the present, and discusses in detail Mezcala Island—“Lake Chapala’s National Monument”—and the “The Riviera communities: Chapala, Ajijic and Jocotepec,” although the spas at San Juan Cosalá, like the luxurious Monte Coxala with its large-scale pre-Hispanic replicas, are also included along with interesting places to stay, like the Los Dos Bed & Breakfast in Jocotepec, which was the home and studio of internationally famous Austrian artist Georg Rauch. Although Rauch passed away a few years ago, his charming wife Phyllis continues to operate their bed and breakfast.

Part One also takes us to the south shore of Lake Chapala, to places like Jiquilpan, a nondescript town that gave birth to two important Mexican presidents—Anastacio Bustamante and Lázaro Cárdenas), and several distinguished artists, like José Clemente Orozco, “one of the famous “Big Three” of Mexican Muralism.” Rafael Méndez (whom I heard when I was a teen, back in Ohio), “arguably the world’s greatest ever trumpet virtuoso,” was also born in Jiquilpan.

In Part Two we go west of Guadalajara to Guachimontones—those round pyramids—and to old haciendas (with concise histories of each), and to Tala, the sugar town, and to the giant stone spheres near Alhualulco. We also learn about mines…silver, opals, obsidian, and of course we visit the ever popular town of Tequila.

Part Three takes us on longer trips, best for overnight stays, to picturesque mountains towns like Tapalpa, and through pine forests to Mazamitla, and to Colima, a provincial state capital with important archaeological sites. Near Colima is Volcá de Fuego, sometimes called Volcán Colima, “the most active volcano in Mexico, and indeed one of the most active in the world, having erupted at least 30 times since 1576.”

Parts Four to Nine cover longer trips, to places like León, the “Leather Capital of Mexico,” and to Aguascalientes, and Zacatecas, and Bolaños, where the “old mining town revives its fortunes.” In Part Six we head west to the coast, to San Blas and Guayabitos (a youthful beach town for “a modestly-priced family holiday”) and even to Puerto Vallarta, “the resort that keeps reinventing itself.” In Part Seven, Barra de Navidad and Melaque—places once popular with pirates like Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish–are jewels not to be missed, and discovered by tourists only a few decades ago. Part Eight finds us on the road to Tzintzuntzan and to Pátzcuaro, a region where the first Bishop of Michoacán, Don Vasco de Quiroga, “based his approach on the Utopian principles espoused by Thomas More. He established a series of communities in the vicinity of Lake Pátzcuaro, the heart of Tarascan country, where the people would receive training in arts and crafts alongside religious instruction.” He allocated “specific crafts to specific places,” and thus today, Paracho is famous for its guitars, Tzintzuntzan (named after the sound a hummingbird makes with its wings) is famous for its pottery, Santa Clara for copper, and so on.

The final section, Part Nine, is mostly about the beloved monarch butterflies of Michoacán. “Every winter, some one hundred million monarch butterflies fly into Mexico from the U.S. and Canada. On arrival they congregate in a dozen localities high in the temperate pine and fir forests of the state of Michoacán.” Tony discusses the various reserves where visitors can witness the amazing number of monarchs, but Tony also insists that you sample the delicious local blue-corn tortillas. He also takes you farther west to Tuxpan and the country where John Huston shot Treasure of the Sierra Madre, staring Humphrey Bogart. The first bend on the narrow road from Tuxpan to Jungapeo is the bend to have a name on the official topographic survey map: La Curva de la Gringa, a rather dangerous 110-degree bend.

Leaving The Gringa’s Curve behind, you come to the best place to overnight or vacation in this “scenically-stunning part of Mexico,” at the Agua Blanca Canyon Resort, “a charming, small spa-hotel with just 20 rooms, its pools and lawns overlooking the deeply carved valley of the River Tuxpan.”

As in the earlier editions, Tony concludes with a useful appendix that has a “Table of elevations and approximate driving times,” for example from Chapala to Barra de Navidad is four hours and thirty minutes, from Chapala to Mazamitla is one hour and forty-five minutes. He also advises you to take a look at “online forums, such as those on MexConnect.com, to ask for up-to-date information and advice from people who have recently made the same journey or visited the same places.”

If you live in western Mexico or are thinking about living here or visiting here, make this the first book you buy. It has always been a favorite of mine and this latest edition of Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury is the best ever!

This review first appeared on MexConnect.com.

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The 4th (2013) edition of “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” is now available at select bookstores, and at:

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Dec 042013
 

In the twenty years since its first publication, “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” has become a classic. The latest edition is easily the best ever!

9780973519150-Cover-thumbnailAward-winning travel writer Tony Burton reveals the magic of Western Mexico. Relaxed and intimate, this easy-to-read yet authoritative account features more than 35 original drawings by Canadian artist Mark Eager and 10 maps. Enjoy the author’s unique insights into local history, ecology and traditions. Now in its fourth edition, the book remains a favorite among knowledgeable travelers visiting this region of Mexico. The 4th edition is one-third larger than the previous editions, and includes dozens of new places worth exploring. It incorporates several new chapters, including four devoted to the region around Zacatecas. Every chapter has new material. Maps have been redrawn and travel directions updated. A mixture of interests is represented. Included are historical sights such as Zacatecas, Lagos de Moreno and San Blas; artistic colonies like Ajijic; and lakeside communities, including Chapala and Pátzcuaro. Alongside them are ecological wonders, such as Manantlán and the monarch butterflies; old mining towns like Angangueo and Bolaños; coastal resorts such as Barra de Navidad and Puerto Vallarta; Indian villages like Angahuan, and a host of others.

“Whether you’re an intrepid on-the-road adventurer or a relaxed armchair traveler, Tony Burton’s “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” is an ideal companion… One factor that lends special appeal to this singular travel book is Burton’s departure from the stock formula found in conventional guides. He adheres to a more organic approach, drawing on personal experience and meticulous research to divulge the virtues and peculiarities of every destination.” (Dale Palfrey, 2014)

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Apr 192013
 

The much-lauded “Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales” is available as a regular print book, and in a Kindle edition. The book was chosen by Ellaine Halleck for the Guadalajara Reporter newspaper in 2013 as one of the 15 best books about Mexican history.

Lake Chapala Through the AgesLake Chapala is no longer a paradise without a past

Join award-winning author Tony Burton as he explores the fascinating history of the Lake Chapala region’s formative years from the arrival of conquistadors in the early 1500s to the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910.

Insightful and entertaining commentary enhances this unique collection of extracts from more than fifty original sources.

Poets, friars, travellers, exiles and scientists overcome bandits and natural disasters to offer captivating tales of courage, greed, delight, unexpected triumphs and much, much more.

xiv+215 pages, with map, more than twenty original illustrations, glossary, bibliographic references and index.

Illustrated by Rosemary Chan. Published by Sombrero Books, 2008.

“Ambitious and encyclopaedic; well organized and engagingly presented” – Richard Perry, Author and Publisher, colonial-mexico

“A must-read, full of little-known facts; a brilliant anthology that reveals Lake Chapala in a whole new light.” – David McLaughlin, Publisher, MexConnect

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Dec 182012
 

Sombrero Book is pleased to announce that the 4th (2013) edition of “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” is now available (Kindle  and Kobo editions).

In “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury”, author Tony Burton reveals the magic of Western Mexico. Relaxed and intimate, this easy-to-read yet authoritative account features 37 original drawings by Canadian artist Mark Eager and 10 maps. Enjoy the author’s unique insights into local history, ecology and traditions.

Now in its fourth edition, the book remains a favorite among knowledgeable travelers visiting this region of Mexico. This new edition is one-third larger and includes dozens of new places worth exploring. It incorporates several new chapters, including four (in part five) devoted to the region around Zacatecas. Every chapter has new material. Maps have been redrawn and travel directions updated.

A mixture of interests is represented. Included are historical sights such as Zacatecas, Lagos de Moreno and San Blas; artistic colonies like Ajijic; and lakeside communities, including Chapala and Pátzcuaro. Alongside them are ecological wonders, such as Manantlán and the monarch butterflies; old mining towns like Angangueo and Bolaños; coastal resorts such as Barra de Navidad and Puerto Vallarta; Indian villages like Angahuan, and a host of others.

Many of these smaller places in Western Mexico offer a glimpse of the Mexico behind the mask; they are places where Mexico has retained her ancient culture and her ancient traditions.

All the destinations in parts one and two are within day-trip range (maximum three hours driving time) from Guadalajara (Mexico’s second city) or nearby Lake Chapala, a popular retirement center for Americans and Canadians. In part three, all the locations described are worth at least an overnight stay, though Tapalpa, Mazamitla and Tamazula are still within three hours driving time of Guadalajara-Chapala. Parts four to nine describe longer, three or four day trips, which are all well worth the investment of extra time.

No fewer than 17 of the towns featured in the book have received the federal designation of “Pueblo Mágico” (Magic Town), in recognition of their cultural, historical or ecological significance, and facilities for visitors. There are now many excellent boutique hotels, some of them in quite unexpected places, making it far easier to explore the less traveled areas of Western Mexico.

Whether your interests lie in art, architecture and archaeology; fiestas and folklore; unusual sights and natural wonders, or in Indian villages and indigenous handicrafts, this book will help you discover for yourself Western Mexico’s many hidden treasures.

Author: Tony Burton has specialized in exploring and writing about Mexico for more than thirty years. He is the author of “Lake Chapala through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales” (2008) and co-author of “Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico” (2010), and a three-time winner of ARETUR’s annual international travel-writing competition for articles about Mexico.

For other formats besides Kindle and Kobo, please use the “contact us” form and we will do our best to meet your particular needs.

Apr 222012
 

Rose Georgina Kingsley (1845-1925) was the oldest child of the Rev. Charles Kingsley, the celebrated English clergyman and novelist, who contributed the prologue to her book South by west or winter in the Rocky Mountains and spring in Mexico.

Rose Kingsley had crossed the Atlantic to Colorado Springs in November 1871 to join her brother, Maurice, who was assistant treasurer of the company developing Colorado Springs. Even by 1872, there were less than 800 residents, so both Kingsleys were pioneer settlers.

The founder of Colorado Springs, General William Jackson Palmer, a railway entrepreneur, also owned a newspaper Out West which published several columns and sketches by Rose Kingsley. The Denver and Rio Grande train had been operating for only a week when Rose Kingsley boarded it en route to Colorado Springs. She quickly felt at home and rapidly made friends in the ever-changing community that she grew to love. She taught in the local school, begun by Palmer’s wife, Queen, for a short while, but did not enjoy the experience. Little did she realize at that time that she would, in 1884, and with the help of Dr. Joseph Wood, later Headmaster of Harrow, found The Kingsley School, in Leamington Spa, England. Rose

Kingsley went on to write many more books, including A History of French Art, 1100-1899 (1899) and Roses and Rose Growing (1908).

When General Palmer decided in 1872 to examine possible routes for a railway linking Texas to Manzanillo, Rose Kingsley was invited to join his wife Queen and General William Rosencrans on the trip. The group landed in Manzanillo and then headed inland to Colima, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Querétaro and Mexico City.

In chapter XVII of South by west or winter in the Rocky Mountains and spring in Mexico, Kingsley describes the route from Guadalajara past the northern shore of Lake Chapala on the way to Mexico City. Following a common convention of the time, she uses only initials to identify important people; several of the individuals referred to have been identified by historians. For instance, “Mrs. P.” is Mrs Queen Palmer, and Mr. C. is Mr. Duncan Cameron. Kingsley’s account of this route serves as an introduction to set the scene for so many other travelers, who would follow this exact same route from Guadalajara to Chapala in years to come. It is 1872…

“April 13.— Guadalajara to Ocotlan. At 6.15 A.M. we left hospitable Guadalajara, carrying away none but the pleasantest reminiscences of our stay of six days.

Pablo, a pleasant young fellow, who had been our cochero in Guadalajara, came with us as mozo, and was in a state of supreme delight at being armed with a Henry rifle and revolver. Mr. M. also came with us as far as La Barca.

The usual route from Guadalajara to the capital is by La Venta, Lagos, Leon, and Guanaguato; but for two reasons we chose the more southern route, past Lake Chapala and up the Rio Lerma. First, because the engineer’s party from the north (of whom we had heard nothing as yet, which made us very anxious) must pass along that route, and so be able to give a report on it. Secondly, because we were told the Chapala route was shorter and better, if there can be anything “better” in one Mexican road than another. Certainly, after the first few miles it was bad enough—rough and stony, and in the softer places there were clouds of dust.

At San Pedro [Tlaquepaque] we stopped and got three men as escort, and at 9.30 came to San Antonio, a hacienda where we changed mules, and had breakfast in a hut by the roadside. The women in the hut, which was only made of sticks and thatch, gave us eggs, frijoles, tortillas, and carne seca, in chilli colorado sauce, which for hotness almost beat the mole de guajalote at Atenquique. But besides these native viands we got capital chocolate, made from some cakes we had brought with us. So, on the whole, we fared well.

At 12.15 we came to the summit of a small pass (4850 feet), and there before us lay a splendid valley, rich with golden wheat-fields, with a fine river flowing through it on our left to the north-west; and we knew we had struck the great central valley of Mexico, commonly known as the Valley of the Lerma.

This valley is one of the richest portions of the Republic. Its length, between Guadalajara and Queretaro, is about 230 miles, and its greatest width (between Leon and the mountains of Michoacán), 60 miles. About one-tenth of the available land in it is under cultivation. Wheat, maize, and beans grow freely without irrigation, yielding good crops year after year without the slightest pains being taken to improve the soil. With irrigation and better farming two crops might be obtained; and when a market for the produce, and easy means of transportation are supplied, this tract will become one of the most important wheat-growing districts of the world. The amount of wheat which could be raised in this valley alone has been variously estimated from 500,000 to 1,000,000 tons yearly, equal to or surpassing the whole yearly yield of California.”

This is an extract from chapter 30 of “Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales”, available as either as a regular  printed book or a Kindle e-book.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Nov 052011
 

A Review by James Tipton:

Lake Chapala through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales

Edited with Historical Notes by Tony Burton

Sombrero Books, B.C., Canada. 215 pages  $24.95 (Canadian)

Tony Burton’s passion is Mexico, and particularly Western Mexico. Most readers of Mexico Connect find his many articles on Mexico to be both fascinating and useful, articles with titles like “Guayabitos — the Family Vacation Spot,” or the four-part series, “Can Mexico’s Largest Lake Be Saved,” or “Butterflies by the Million: The Monarchs of Michocán.” Burton currently puts together “Did You Know? Facts About Mexico,” a monthly Mexconnect feature, offering answers to such questions as: “Did you know blacks outnumbered Spaniards in Mexico until after 1810?” or “Did you know the oldest winery in the Americas is in Parras de la Fuente” or “Did you know the birth control pill came from Mexican yams?” [Note: all of these articles are accessible in the e-zine archives.]

This man has a knack for searching out and then writing well about interesting places, people and events. Because I like to read what Tony Burton writes, Lake Chapala through the ages is one of those books I would buy sight unseen.

Many readers own his book Western Mexico—A Traveller’s Treasury (now in its third edition in English with a new edition well under way), which has taken us to off-the-beaten-path destinations. A geographer, Burton has also created the definitive street maps of the Lake Chapala area, maps that have been copied by others but which are original with Burton: Lake Chapala Maps — 2008. Obviously Burton is no stranger to our shores here at Lake Chapala.

Lake Chapala through the ages is “a collection of extracts from more than fifty original sources.” In the Introduction, Burton tells us his book “includes extracts from every published book that could be located which makes more than a passing mention of Lake Chapala, and which was written (originally) prior to 1910. Most are first hand accounts.”

Burton selected 1910 as the cut-off because “that marks the end of Chapala’s first tourist boom.” “Later that year the Mexican Revolution erupted. Mexico, including the Lake Chapala region, was thrown into chaos for more than a decade.”

Lake Chapala through the ages presents, then, historical accounts, beginning in 1530 when the first conquistador wrote about seeing the lake — and also the town: ”The scout, going over the mountains found himself in a village called Chapala and in other places whose names were not known at that time….” Lake Chapala through the ages ends with a piece about “Holy week and the elite of Mexican society 1909-1910,” in which we discover:

“Chapala, the most frequented settlement of the lake of the same name, serves as a meeting place during Holy Week for the elite of Mexican society. Elegant villas line the edge of the lake, surrounded by colorful gardens, created at great expense on the rocky soil of the beach. One of the prettiest, “El Manglar”, belongs to Mr. Elizaga, the brother-in-law of ex-President Díaz, who gives, in this enchanting setting, splendid Mexican fiestas, where nothing is lacking: cock fights, balls and joyous dinners.”

In addition to the excerpts, Burton himself provides many historical notes. We learn that Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztec capital in August of 1521, but only two years later, in 1523, two “well-placed brothers, cousins of Hernán Cortés,” were given the encomienda (the right to collect tributes and labor from Indians)” for a vast area that included the shores of Lake Chapala. The Spanish subjugation of the Indians in this area was “a relatively peaceful process, which enabled many indigenous customs to survive largely unchanged into much more recent times.”

Most of the early accounts were written by Franciscan friars. The Franciscans “saw the New World as an opportunity, not only to convert the pagan masses of native Indians to Christianity, but also to put their idealistic ideas of utopia society into practice, and demonstrate that natives and Europeans could live in peaceful and productive co-existence.”

Some of the excerpts are about those early relationships with the Indians: “Converting the barbarians” (mid-16th century),” but others are about geographical details — “Gathering geographic knowledge” (1579-1585) or “Lake Chapala… as large as an ocean?” (1600c). Still others are about a new paradise, filled with abundance, and with fascinating new fruits and vegetables: “Some roots that are called xicamas grow there, shaped like, and almost the same color as, round turnips, without any roots hairs, so thick that each one weighs at least thee pounds…. It is a very delicious fresh fruit, marvelous medicine for thirst, especially in hot weather and in hot lands.” (from “Visits to the Lake Chapala friaries” 1585-1586).

We discover, through Burton’s notes, that Domingo Lázaro de Arregui (Fishing and farming” 1621) made the earliest known historical reference to the making and consumption of tequila: roasting the roots and bases of agave plants then “by pressing these parts, thus roasted, they extract a must from which they distill a wine clearer than water and stronger than rum.”

In earlier censuses taken by the Spaniards (“Early censuses 1768 and 1791-1793”) we discover that Chapala had 123 Spaniards, 451 Indians, 37 mulattos and 671 castes, figures that were particularly interesting to me because the castes (those of more mixed parentage than mestizos or mulattos) now significantly outnumber the Spaniards and Indians combined.

Throughout Lake Chapala through the ages, Burton selects highly varied material that does not bore us with the weight of history and ponderous prose but instead actually delights us and even makes us long for more. Many passages are actually charming, and the historical notes provided by Burton are themselves illuminating and pleasurable.

In his notes to “Mezcala Island — scene of rebellion” (1824), Burton tells us the Italian author, Giacomo Costantino Beltrami, was an “incurable romantic and inveterate roamer,” who among other accomplishments discovered the northern source of the Mississippi River. Beltrami describes his visit to Mezcala Island, which by 1824 was being used as a penitentiary, where the convicts, Beltrami notes, “are less harshly treated than in the penitentiaries of our World [Europe], the dictator of civilization.” Shortly after he visits “Oxotopec, ten milles from Axixis,” Beltrami, with his youthful eye, records that it is “the largest village of all those around the lake,” but that “it has nothing worth noting except for the pretty niece of the curate….”

Even as we move toward more recent times, when there are attempts to accurately determine the dimensions of Lake Chapala, we still high imaginative descriptions of Lake Chapala. Felix Leopold Oswald in “A fanciful sketch of Lake Chapala” (1867-1877) announces Lake Chapala is “ten times as large as all the lakes of Northern Italy taken together, and four times larger than the entire canton of Geneva, — contains different islands whose surface area exceeds that of the Isle of Wight, and one island with two secondary lakes as big as Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine!” [The Isle of Wight, incidentally, is 23 x 13 miles, almost as large as Lake Chapala. Loch Lomond, Scotland’s largest lake, is 24 x 5 miles.]

By the early 1900s, tourism comes into sharper focus. One early and popular traveller’s guide, Lake Chapala, a travellers’ handbook (1909) by Thomas Philip Terry lists rooms available in Chapala, e.g. Hotel Arzopala, “facing the lake,” at $2.50 to $5 American Plan. In his note to this excerpt, Burton tells us that D. H. Lawrence, because of this handbook, was convinced to visit the lake; and of course Lawrence ultimately moved to Chapala in the mid-twenties and this is where he wrote The Plumed Serpent.

Those of us who live here, full time or part time, or who simply visit here have been relieved that the lirio, the noxious water hyacinth, seems at least for the time being to be well under control. I, like others, thought that the lirio problem originated only a few decades ago, but Burton tells us that it was introduced around the turn of the last century, and that by 1907, articles were being published about “the invasion of the terrible aquatic lirio,” which in some places “has completely blocked some docks, and in others it has appeared in such large masses that the Indians have been forced to suppress their trips, damaging trade, scared that they will be caught up in the wave of green.”

And so, there is something for everybody in Tony Burton’s, Lake Chapala through the ages. Whether you are fascinated by the early history of the place where you now live or visit (or would like to visit), or whether you interested in early accounts of the natural history of the region, or of the lake itself, or whether you are fascinated by those votive objects found on the bottom of the lake, or whether you simply want to connect yourself more deeply to the place you now call home (or that is “home” in your imagination), this book is for you.

I think Lake Chapala through the ages is terrific. Buy it!

Nov 012011
 

LAKE CHAPALA THROUGH THE AGES —An Anthology of Travelers’ Tales
By Tony Burton. 200 pages. Reviewed by Thomas Hally (El Ojo del Lago, April 2009)

Tony Burton, an award-winning travel writer and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, takes us with him on a spectacular journey on and around Lake Chapala.

The tales begin immediately after the Spanish Conquistadors had begun to take possession of the land referred to as New Spain, and end at the first ten-year mark of the 20th century, the final phase of the first Lakeside tourist boom and the onset of the Mexican Revolution.

Burton’s work is divided into five parts, with each part covering significant scenes, events and characters in the history of Lake Chapala during colonial and independent Mexico. The author advises us to remember his character analyses of each of the narrators of the 55 tales while reading through the sketches. The extracts are taken from every known published work that mentions Lake Chapala.

The narrators provide a vivid description of Lakeside, giving leading roles to the Indians, the Spanish rulers and priests, the scientists, the geographers and the eccentrics, who either came to the region or were born here. Special attention is given to the conditions at Lake Chapala itself: the various hot springs, the size of the lake, the flora and the abundant fish and avian population. Whitefish is frequently recommended as a delectable and healthy food and with corn, chile and frijoles, was a mainstay in the diet of the villagers.

Hernán Cortés made an appearance at Lake Chapala shortly after the Spanish arrived in the New World and appointed his nephews to oversee the region. The first Franciscan missionaries arrived on the north shore and Ajijic had built its friary by 1531. Jocotepec was the first village to be settled in 1529, and by 1548 Chapala also had a Franciscan mission.

The Franciscans were genuinely utopian in their outlook, caring not only for the souls of the newly conquered and converted Chapala Indians, but they also attended to their physical needs. They introduced crops and agricultural techniques as well as domestic animals into the region, and strived to put Indian and Spaniard on a relatively equal social status.

But the Spanish masters were harsh indeed, paying little attention to the friars and, in the first 100 years after the Conquest, the indigenous population was drastically reduced, with the number of Amerindians in New Spain dropping from a reputed 4 million or possibly as high as 30 million souls to a scant 1.6 million survivors. The Spanish rulers were constantly asserting their power, and the natives were the perennial victims of European diseases and brutality.

Tony Burton devotes several short chapters to the Island of Mezcala in Lake Chapala where a famous insurgency took place between the years 1812 and 1816. The uprising was led by a Creole priest, Marcos Castellanos, a curate from the parish in Ajijic.

Castellanos led a band of Indians as they fought the Royalists.  He was involved in combat until he was 75. In 1816, an honorable surrender was agreed upon and no reprisals were meted out to the Indians or to Castellanos. This marks one of the few times that the masters of the New World south of the Río Bravo (Rio Grande) actually kept a promise to the indigenous inhabitants.

Burton emphasizes the importance of Mezcala Island and the insurgents, and states that the historical events surrounding the history of the island should be a focal point of the Mexican Bi-Centennial Independence Celebration in 2010.

There is a chronicle written by George Francis Lyon, an author and adventurer who accompanied Captain William E. Parry on his quest to find the Northwest Passage. He was the first native English speaker to write about the lake, shortly after Mexican Independence; Joel Poinsett is briefly referred to. How many of us knew that the poinsettia plant popular during the Holiday Season is named after this horticulturalist and first United States Minister to Mexico?  In Spanish, it is called flor de noche buena.

Mary Blair Rice, who later changed her name to Blair Niles, first visited Mexico with her husband, Charles William Beebe, in the winter of 1903-1904 to take notes on the various species of birds they observed. Blair Niles would later have a distinguished career as a writer and novelist as well as being one of the principle founders of the Society of Women Geographers. The lady novelist/geographer left a legacy of books with variegated and controversial themes such as homosexuality and condemned prisoners. She had a noteworthy impact on 20th century feminism.

The narrators relate tales of nature, geography, lake and irrigation projects, rulers, visitors, villagers and even a brief mention of love forlorn. The intelligence and industriousness and, in some cases, the laziness and slowness of the Chapalan Indians is on the book’s agenda as well. Told is the short biography of the man who originally proposed draining a sizeable portion of the east end of Lake Chapala to help with the year-round agriculture: Ignacio Castellanos.

The local villagers saw through Castellanos’ plan and rejected it as self serving and pernicious. Castellanos, one of the wealthiest landowners in Ocotlán, wanted lifetime royalties paid to him if he were to finance the project.
The first English-language guide book, Appelton’s Guide to Mexico, published in 1886, advised tourists “to carry soap and matches.” Anecdotes throughout the pages of Tony Burton’s anthology tell stories such as those of José Francisco Velarde, El Burro de Oro, or “The Golden Ass,” and oddball Septimus Crowe. Velarde was a fabulously wealthy and equally foolish supporter of the Emperor Maximilian and the French Intervention in Mexico. He supposedly owned territory as large as a small state, a personal army, a harem and curious works of art purchased from around the globe.

His demise came in 1867, shortly after the execution of Maximilian in Queretaro, when Velarde was captured in Zamora and put to death by a firing squad. The order to eliminate Velarde was carried out, even though he had offered the government soldiers one million dollars if they would miss.

By 1888 the age of steamboats like Libertad was coming to an end on Lake Chapala and the era of the railways was fast approaching. Abandoned was Filipino-Mexican Longinus Banda’s plan to use steam boats to help train mariners, thus eventually providing Mexico with a national navy. Ernst von Hesse Wartegg, an Austrian-born naturalist and geographer, gave 100% of the credit to “Americanization” and the railroads for opening Mexico to tourism. Interestingly, in his narration, he also claimed to have sighted small alligators in Lake Chapala.

Mexico? Si señor! is a book written by Thomas L. Rogers for the ultimate benefit of the Central Railway system. Described as “upbeat and positive,” it provides American and European tourists with the reassurance that knowledge of Spanish is not essential but “…a little knowledge of Spanish is a very valuable thing in Mexico…,” and notes that prices are low south of the boarder.

Dream of a Throne, written by 26-year old Charles Embree, an American, was the first novel written in any language that was set in its entirety at Lakeside. And many of us are familiar with Callejón Mister Crow, a short street in Chapala named after a wealthy eccentric named Septimus Crowe.

As Chapala’s fame as a resort town grew, so did the power of Mexico’s dictator President, General Porfirio Díaz. President of Mexico from 1876 to 1880 and again from 1884 to 1911, he spent Easter Week 1904 in Chapala with in-laws, and would henceforth return yearly during the end of the Lenten Season to Chapala. El Porfiriato, as his long term in office is called, was ending when the Mexican Revolution started in 1910. He had balanced the national budget, done wonders for Mexico’s agricultural production and respected individual liberties; yet he was, nevertheless, a dictator.  Prone to nepotism, favoritism and the rigging of elections, he had corrupt advisors known as los científicos, but who were, in fact, lawyers and not scientists.  These scoundrels grew more and more powerful and wealthy as El Porfiriato dragged on. Porfirio Díaz and his family abandoned Mexico for Paris in 1911. The end of El Porfiriato coincided with the close of Chapala´s first tourist boom. Tourism was revived after the Revolution.

Tony Burton’s magnificent anthology gives the reader a brief but thorough look at Lake Chapala between the years 1530 to 1910. Nowhere will the lover of the delightful region we casually call “Lakeside” get such a colorful and detailed account of what the lake, the land and its people were like.

Feb 162010
 

“A giant walked around and the ground cracked” (a Tarahumar legend explaining how the canyons were formed).

Mexico’s Copper Canyon is narrower, deeper and longer than the US Grand Canyon. The train ride from Los Mochis and El Fuerte to Divisadero, Creel and Chihuahua traverses the Western Sierra Madre with its imposing peaks and pine forests. This area is home to Mexico’s Tarahumar Indians, an indigenous group whose distinctive lifestyle has, thankfully, resisted many of the supposed allures of modern living.

This partial bibliography offers a varied selection of reading, both fiction and non-fiction, directly related to the Copper Canyon region and the Tarahumar people.

Alvarado, C.M. (1996) La Tarahumara: una tierra herida. Gobierno del Estado de Chihuahua. Somewhat repetitive academic analysis of the violence of the drug-producing zones in the state of Chihuahua, based in part on interviews with convicted felons.

Bennett, W. and Zingg, R. (1935) The Tarahumara. Univ. of Chicago Press. Reprinted by Rio Grande Press, 1976. Classic anthropological work.

Dunne, P.M. (1948) Early Jesuit Missions in Tarahumara. Univ. Calif. Press.

Fisher, R.D. (1988) National Parks of Northwest Mexico II. Sunracer Publications, Tucson, Arizona. Fisher is the author of numerous well illustrated works about the Canyon region.

Fontana, B.L. (1979) Where night is the day of the moon. Northland Press, Flagstaff, Arizona. Very colorful and interesting.

Gajdusek, D.C. (1953) “The Sierra Tarahumara” in Geographical Review, New York. 43: 15-38

Johnson, P.W. (1965) A Field Guide to the Gems and Minerals of Mexico. Gembooks, Mentone, California.

Kennedy, J.G. (1978) Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre; Beer, Ecology and Social Organization, AHM Publishing Corp, Arlington Heights, Illinois. Republished, as The Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre: Survivors on the Canyon’s Edge in 1996. – interesting account by an anthropologist who lived in one of the more remote Tarahumar areas for several months, accompanied by his wife and infant daughter. Kennedy also co-authored with Raul A. Lopez Semana Santa in the Sierra Tarahumara. A comparitive study in three communities. Museum of Cultural History, UCLA.

Kerr, J.L (1968) Destination Topolobampo: The Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad, Golden West Books, San Marino, California. Difficult to find account of the railroad itself.

Lartigue, F. (1970) Indios y bosques. Políticas forestales y comunales en la Sierra Tarahumara. Edicions de la Casa Chata # 19, Mexico.

Lumholtz, C. (1902) Unknown Mexico. 2 volumes. Scribner’s Sons, New York. Republished in both English and Spanish. Fascinating ethnographic account from the last century.

Merrill, W.L. (1988) Raramuri Souls – Knowledge and Social Progress in North Mexico. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

Nauman, T. (1997) “Tala ilegal para la siembra de mariguana y opio en Chihuahua” p. 50 in El Financiero, May 12, 1997. Describes the Arareko project.

Norman, James (1976) “The Tarahumaras: Mexico’s Long Distance Runners” in National Geographic, May 1976. pp 702-718

Pennington, C. (1963) The Tarahumar of Mexico, their environment and material culture. Univ. of Utah Press. Reprinted by Editorial Agata, Guadalajara, 1996. Another classic account of Tarahumar life and culture. The reprint has additional color photographs, taken by Luis Verplancken, S.J., who has run the mission in Creel for many years.

Plancarte, F. (1954) El problema indígena tarahumara. INI. Mexico. Spanish language description published by National Indigenous Institute.

Robertson, T.A. (1964) A Southwestern Utopia. An American Colony in Mexico. Ward Ritchie, Los Angeles. This describes the early history of Los Mochis and surrounding area.

Roca, P.M. (1979) Spanish Jesuit Churches in Mexico’s Tarahumara. Univ. of Arizona.

Salopek, Paul (1996) “Sierra Madre – Backbone of the Frontier” in National Geographic, August 1996.

Schmidt, R.H. (1973) A Geographical Survey of Chihuahua, monograph #37 Texas Western Press.

Shepherd, G. (1938) The Silver Magnet. E.P.Dutton, New York. The story of Batopilas mining town.

Shoumatoff, A. (1995) “The Hero of the Sierra Madre” pp 90 – 99 of Utne Reader (July-August, 1995), reprinted from Outside (March 1995). An account of the determined efforts by Edwin Bustillos to prevent further environmental destruction in the Copper Canyon region.

Spicer, E. (1969) “Northwest Mexico: Introduction” in Handbook of Middle American Indians vol.8, Ethnology part II. Univ. of Texas Press.

Vatant, Francoise. La explotación forestal y la producción doméstica tarahumara. Un estudio de caso: Cusárare, 1975-1976. INAH, Mexico.

Villaseñor, Victor (1992) Rain of gold. Delta. A Mexican-American novel based on family tale of dreams, mines and wealth and Revolution.

Feb 032010
 

This review, by poet James Tipton, first appeared in MexConnect online mazazine.

Lake Chapala Through the AgesTony Burton’s passion is Mexico, and particularly Western Mexico. Most readers of MexConnect find his many articles on Mexico to be both fascinating and useful, articles with titles like “Guayabitos – the Family Vacation Spot,” or the four-part series, “Can Mexico’s Largest Lake Be Saved,” or “Butterflies by the Million: The Monarchs of Michoacán.” Burton currently puts together “Did You Know? Facts About Mexico,” a monthly MexConnect feature, offering answers to such questions as: “Did you know blacks outnumbered Spaniards in Mexico until after 1810?” or “Did you know the oldest winery in the Americas is in Parras de la Fuente” or “Did you know the birth control pill came from Mexican yams?” [Note: all of these articles are accessible in the Did you know archives.]

This man has a knack for searching out and then writing well about interesting places, people and events. Because I like to read what Tony Burton writes, Lake Chapala through the ages is one of those books I would buy sight unseen.

Many readers own his book Western Mexico-A Traveller’s Treasury (now in its third edition in English with a new edition well under way), which has taken us to off-the-beaten-path destinations. A geographer, Burton has also created the definitive street maps of the Lake Chapala area, maps that have been copied by others but which are original with Burton: Lake Chapala Maps – 2008. Obviously Burton is no stranger to our shores here at Lake Chapala.

Lake Chapala through the Ages is “a collection of extracts from more than fifty original sources.” In the Introduction, Burton tells us his book “includes extracts from every published book that could be located which makes more than a passing mention of Lake Chapala, and which was written (originally) prior to 1910. Most are first hand accounts.”

Burton selected 1910 as the cut-off because “that marks the end of Chapala’s first tourist boom.” “Later that year the Mexican Revolution erupted. Mexico, including the Lake Chapala region, was thrown into chaos for more than a decade.”

Lake Chapala through the Ages presents, then, historical accounts, beginning in 1530 when the first conquistador wrote about seeing the lake – and also the town: “The scout, going over the mountains found himself in a village called Chapala and in other places whose names were not known at that time….” Lake Chapala through the ages ends with a piece about “Holy week and the elite of Mexican society 1909-1910,” in which we discover:

“Chapala, the most frequented settlement of the lake of the same name, serves as a meeting place during Holy Week for the elite of Mexican society. Elegant villas line the edge of the lake, surrounded by colorful gardens, created at great expense on the rocky soil of the beach. One of the prettiest, “El Manglar”, belongs to Mr. Elizaga, the brother-in-law of ex-President Díaz, who gives, in this enchanting setting, splendid Mexican fiestas, where nothing is lacking: cock fights, balls and joyous dinners.”

In addition to the excerpts, Burton himself provides many historical notes. We learn that Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztec capital in August of 1521, but only two years later, in 1523, two “well-placed brothers, cousins of Hernán Cortés,” were given the encomienda (the right to collect tributes and labor from Indians)” for a vast area that included the shores of Lake Chapala. The Spanish subjugation of the Indians in this area was “a relatively peaceful process, which enabled many indigenous customs to survive largely unchanged into much more recent times.”

Most of the early accounts were written by Franciscan friars. The Franciscans “saw the New World as an opportunity, not only to convert the pagan masses of native Indians to Christianity, but also to put their idealistic ideas of utopian society into practice, and demonstrate that natives and Europeans could live in peaceful and productive co-existence.”

Some of the excerpts are about those early relationships with the Indians: “Converting the barbarians” (mid-16th century),” but others are about geographical details – “Gathering geographic knowledge” (1579-1585) or “Lake Chapala… as large as an ocean?” (1600c). Still others are about a new paradise, filled with abundance, and with fascinating new fruits and vegetables: “Some roots that are called xicamas grow there, shaped like, and almost the same color as, round turnips, without any root hairs, so thick that each one weighs at least thee pounds…. It is a very delicious fresh fruit, marvelous medicine for thirst, especially in hot weather and in hot lands.” (from “Visits to the Lake Chapala friaries” 1585-1586).

We discover, through Burton’s notes, that Domingo Lázaro de Arregui (Fishing and farming” 1621) made the earliest known historical reference to the making and consumption of tequila: roasting the roots and bases of agave plants then “by pressing these parts, thus roasted, they extract a must from which they distill a wine clearer than water and stronger than rum.”

In earlier censuses taken by the Spaniards (“Early censuses 1768 and 1791-1793”) we discover that Chapala had 123 Spaniards, 451 Indians, 37 mulattos and 671 castes, figures that were particularly interesting to me because the castes (those of more mixed parentage than mestizos or mulattos) now significantly outnumber the Spaniards and Indians combined.

Throughout Lake Chapala through the Ages, Burton selects highly varied material that does not bore us with the weight of history and ponderous prose but instead actually delights us and even makes us long for more. Many passages are actually charming, and the historical notes provided by Burton are themselves illuminating and pleasurable.

In his notes to “Mezcala Island – scene of rebellion” (1824), Burton tells us the Italian author, Giacomo Costantino Beltrami, was an “incurable romantic and inveterate roamer,” who among other accomplishments discovered the northern source of the Mississippi River. Beltrami describes his visit to Mezcala Island, which by 1824 was being used as a penitentiary, where the convicts, Beltrami notes, “are less harshly treated than in the penitentiaries of our World [Europe], the dictator of civilization.” Shortly after he visits “Oxotopec, ten milles from Axixis,” Beltrami, with his youthful eye, records that it is “the largest village of all those around the lake,” but that “it has nothing worth noting except for the pretty niece of the curate….”

Even as we move toward more recent times, when there are attempts to accurately determine the dimensions of Lake Chapala, we still find high imaginative descriptions of Lake Chapala. Felix Leopold Oswald in “A fanciful sketch of Lake Chapala” (1867-1877) announces Lake Chapala is “ten times as large as all the lakes of Northern Italy taken together, and four times larger than the entire canton of Geneva, – contains different islands whose surface area exceeds that of the Isle of Wight, and one island with two secondary lakes as big as Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine!” [The Isle of Wight, incidentally, is 23 x 13 miles, almost as large as Lake Chapala. Loch Lomond, Scotland’s largest lake, is 24 x 5 miles.]

By the early 1900s, tourism comes into sharper focus. One early and popular traveller’s guide, Lake Chapala, a travellers’ handbook (1909) by Thomas Philip Terry lists rooms available in Chapala, e.g. Hotel Arzapalo, “facing the lake,” at $2.50 to $5 American Plan. In his note to this excerpt, Burton tells us that D. H. Lawrence, because of this handbook, was convinced to visit the lake; and of course Lawrence ultimately moved to Chapala in the mid-twenties and this is where he wrote The Plumed Serpent.

Those of us who live here, full time or part time, or who simply visit here have been relieved that the lirio, the noxious water hyacinth, seems at least for the time being to be well under control. I, like others, thought that the lirio problem originated only a few decades ago, but Burton tells us that it was introduced around the turn of the last century, and that by 1907, articles were being published about “the invasion of the terrible aquatic lirio,” which in some places “has completely blocked some docks, and in others it has appeared in such large masses that the Indians have been forced to suppress their trips, damaging trade, scared that they will be caught up in the wave of green.”

And so, there is something for everybody in Tony Burton’s, Lake Chapala through the Ages. Whether you are fascinated by the early history of the place where you now live or visit (or would like to visit), or whether you are interested in early accounts of the natural history of the region, or of the lake itself or whether you are fascinated by those votive objects found on the bottom of the lake, or whether you simply want to connect yourself more deeply to the place you now call home (or that is “home” in your imagination), this book is for you.

I think Lake Chapala through the Ages is terrific. Buy it!

Jan 032010
 

Tony Burton’s Tony Burton’s Western Mexico: A Traveller’s Treasury
Reviewed by Allan Cogan in MexConnect, 2003,

I’m not sure why I haven’t reviewed this book sooner. It’s been around since 1993 and it was one of the first books my wife and I read when we arrived here in Ajijic eight years ago. And – heaven knows! – I’ve reviewed more than 60 books about this fascinating country in the past few years. Anyway, this useful volume is back in a new and updated edition and it’s still as essential as ever. Whether you’re making a brief visit as a tourist, or escaping the northern winter for a few months or checking out the area more extensively as a place to spend one’s retirement years, this is one item you should have in your survival kit. It’s a nice blend of guidebook, travelogue and history text with lots of local color and some ecological notes sprinkled throughout.

Re-reading it brings back a host of good memories. I’d forgotten, for instance, Santa Maria del Oro and the impromptu New Year’s party we were invited to in the campsite there in 1994 when we visited the area – as a result of reading this book. And then there’s the lovely drive up the flower-covered slopes to Mazamitla in September and October. Also, my wife says I shouldn’t forget to mention the restaurant that Burton recommends on page 158 – the Camino Real just outside Pátzcuaro. (Cecilia never forgets a good comida.) The restaurant is located in an unlikely place, next to a gas station. But Burton’s book is like that – well researched and he’s obviously checked out all these places before writing about them. Lots of other memories flooded back as a result of a rereading.

The book covers eight distinct areas of Western Mexico in the States of Jalisco, Colima and Michoacan. Reading it leaves you wondering if there’s any country anywhere that’s offers so much variety in such a relatively small geographic area. Altitudes range from sea level to 12,600 feet, which is the peak of Tancítaro, the highest peak in Michoacan. That’s almost 2-1/2 miles straight up! The terrain includes desert, cloud forest, ocean beaches, picturesque villages, swampland, mountain ranges, tropical jungle and several cities, including, of course, one huge metropolis….Guadalajara. Also, we have volcanoes. I don’t know the precise number but there are obviously lots of them. And some are still active. As I write this, in February 2002, our local community newspaper, The Reporter, features a front page story on a volcano very close to Colima which is spewing out lava and causing the evacuation of several villages.

Guadalajara receives little mention because Burton is obviously more interested in getting into the hinterlands and exploring everything that’s out there. Be warned that it’s very much a book that’s geared to driving although the author provides maps and clear directions on how to reach the offbeat places he describes.

I know that there are lots of buses in Mexico and the first class ones are really first class. But this volume is also concerned with getting you down side roads and visiting places you might otherwise miss. Along the way you pick up all sorts of information on the various specialties offered in each community – whether it be equipal furniture, quilts, ceramic tiles, straw goods, woollen sweaters, guitars, pottery, toys or whatever. And you’re also given useful information on accommodations and restaurants and Feast Days and other occasions that might tickle your fancy.

History isn’t neglected either. People have been living in this area for thousands of years and there’s evidence everywhere regarding these former inhabitants and their societies. The author covers them with colorful accounts that enhance your explorations or are simply interesting to read, not just about the various Indian tribes that inhabited the area but also about the coming of the Conquistadors and the profound effect they had on every aspect of life here.

Burton is obviously interested in the geological and ecological history of this part of the world. He provides accounts on topics such as how Lake Chapala was formed and why there are so many of those troublesome volcanoes still around.

The book also contains some 30 or so short highlighted passages that cover various relevant subjects. For example half-page sidebars discuss topics like “Why There is Such an Astonishing Variety of Flora Here”, or “The Production of Tequila”, or “The Volcán de Fuego”, a brief look at Mexico’s most active volcano.

The book is illustrated throughout with drawings by Mark Eager. There are about three dozen of them, bringing the overall story even more to life. Maps are also provided for all the areas Burton explores and the driving routes he’s recommending.

Western Mexico: A Traveller’s Treasury is readily available in the usual shops here in the Lakeside area and also at Sandi’s Bookstore in Guadalajara. For those of you who live further afield, Sombrero Books has it.

In my humble O: It’s a volume that just makes you want to git up and go. Now then – where on earth did I leave those car keys….?

Jan 022010
 

“The area of Mexico covered by Mr. Burton’s book is filled with historical, cultural and geographical/geological riches. The problem for me as a resident of this area has been where to find them, and where to learn about them, once you have heard about them. This book has been a god-send as it has allowed us to learn and explore our “neighbourhood” with confidence and always rewarding experiences. If you are interested in more than beach, babes, and beer, then this is a wonderful book to use, or just to read, learn and dream. It is truly a “Mexico” book.
David McLaughlin, Jalisco, Mexico.

British born Tony Burton is a long time resident of Mexico and an award winning travel writer and naturalist. He has collected and updated the best of his writings over the years into what is a unique guidebook to western Mexico. Based on his frequent travels and intimate knowledge of the region, Tony offers his special insights into this scenic and culturally rich area of lakes and mountains, colonial towns and Indian villages. From San Blas on the Pacific coast to the celebrated Monarch butterfly refuge in the high Sierra of Michoacan, the author takes us to all of his favorite places along the less traveled roads of the region, revealing their history, ecology and archaeology, as well as their arts, crafts and folklore. I found the book to be especially valuable for his keen observations on, and enthusiasm for the varied natural wonders of western Mexico. Charmingly illustrated by artist Mark Eager, Tony’s guide is easy on the eye. It is well organized, packed with suggestions for the traveler, with suggested itineraries and detailed maps. A full bibliography and index is also appended.
Reader from Santa Barbara, California.

“I am very impressed with his literary style and his ability to transport the reader to the very presence of the action. I’ve never seen the villages or localities he describes but I can almost believe that I’m there, feeling the gentle breeze off the lake, hearing the birds, seeing the children in the square and seeing the changing scenes. Tony Burton adds a new dimension. He weaves in a history rich in detail and color. The book speaks about the pride of the Mexican people and their love of their homeland.”
Armchair Traveler from Vermont

“I have just finished reading your great book on Western Mexico and found it one of the most interesting and factual books on Mexico I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Even where I think I know a place, you add material that will increase my enjoyment and understanding the next time I visit.”
Editor of AIM (Adventures in Mexico).

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