The Copper Fever Arrives in Cachanía


Not even the arrival of the Jesuit missionaries at the end of the 17th century in the region caused such an intense transformation in Santa Rosalía as the establishment of the French company El Boleo in 1885. The story of the copper fever begins with José Rosas Villavicencio, a landowner who, in the mid-19th century, found spherical formations of bluish-green color in an uninhabited region of Baja California Sur and took some samples.

Later, with Rosas’ indications, two Germans conducted a geophysical survey in the place, discovering that it was a copper deposit. From 1868, the mine would be exploited and two years later, it exported the mineral to England.

The Mexican copper caught the attention of the prominent French Rothschild family. Therefore, two geologists would be financed by the French to visit the region and determine the mine’s potential.

The Beginnings of El Boleo Mine

The mine promised to be a great business for the French, so in 1885 they obtained a concession from the then President of Mexico, Porfirio Díaz, to exploit it for 50 years over an extensive territory, ranging from Santa Rosalía to Mulegé.

Thus, the Compagnie du Boleo or El Boleo Company was established in the region, which had to found a mining colony with houses, workshops, laboratories, camps for workers, and even a railway.

That colony was later baptized as Santa Rosalía and would be established very close to the copper mine.

A Multicultural Community Forms

Both the French executives and technicians built many buildings, houses, a school, and a hospital; a pier and the general offices of the company, with a French style in what is now the Historic Center of Santa Rosalía.

However, the mine workers were located in camps on the outskirts of the town. There arrived Yaquis and Yoremes from Sonora; also inhabitants of Sinaloa; and from the state, they migrated from San Ignacio and Mulegé.

Why did they call the mine El Boleo?

There are two theories, the first is that the name refers to boleite: a mineral discovered in the region. The second hypothesis says that El Boleo referred to a set of balls, as the copper mineral appeared in the earth in a spherical form.

Five years later, in 1890, Santa Rosalía already had 38 kilometers of railway tracks, 5 locomotives, 118 wagons for transporting the mineral and coal; 11 platforms; 7 water tanks, and a passenger car.

Likewise, it had the latest mining technology: six smelting furnaces capable of processing 100 tons daily of the mineral.

The El Boleo mine was so productive that it rivaled its namesake located in Cananea, Sonora, to obtain the first place in copper production in the country. It is estimated that between 1900 and 1922, it produced between 11,000 and 14,000 annual tons of the precious mineral.

The Prosperity Runs Out In 1938, copper extraction declined, but the exploitation of manganese began, which gave life to El Boleo for 16 more years. However, in 1954, the company considered the deposits exhausted and closed its operations in Mexico, causing an exodus of families to Sonora and Baja California Norte.

Finally, the Mexican authorities created a state-owned company that continued to exploit the mine until 1985, the date on which it was extinguished and more than 500 workers were liquidated.

Santa Rosalía faced the challenge of reinventing itself, and its mining past would be of great help in achieving its purpose.

Source: México Desconocido