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Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco): History

Read about the history of Rocky Point Mexico and some interesting facts

Rocky Point Old Marine Club 1928
Rocky Point Old Marine Club 1928
Current 'Original' human arrival & habitation in the Northern & Southern 'Americas' pre-date current held beliefs of the 'Native Indians' by thousands of years.

The discovery of human remains 'Kennewick Man' with almost European (Caucasiod) characteristics & tools that are far different than any ever found at Indian excavations are now being documented from the U.S. to Chile in South America. Still no link between 'Kennewick Man' and any existing human race on earth has been found.

It is believed that first inhabitants came in small groups from across the Pacific & Atlantic oceans. The recent finds are so controversial that the U.S. Government seized the human remains found in the United States,and have denied even the Smithsonian Institute access or research of them.

Later, during and after the last ice age small Asian (Mongoloid) groups speaking vastly different languages passed through what is now Russia & China crossing over the 'land/ice' bridge (often just huge floating sheets of ice) between what is now Russia & Alaska. The vast difference in languages suggests they were from vastly different cultures.

These 'migrants' pursued food sources, wider hunting ranges, open/uncrowded lands to settle into, and continued migrating for thousands of years through what is now Alaska, Canada, United States, Mexico, and South America.

The groups sometimes discovered as they traveled south that this 'new' land did not always support such groups. From this 'splintering off' may have occurred.

Approximately 20,000 years ago in the 'Ajo Valley' and continuing to Puerto Peñasco nomadic tribes& their more adventurous members started a 'trading zone' along these routes.

Regular encampments, tools, etc have been found all along the hills/mountains that run from Ajo to the Sea. Found in these sites are materials from tribes far to the north ,and south of the area. During these times the area supported many plants,animals,and water sources that have long since disappeared from the landscape.

During these times the Puerto Peñasco area (built on the heavy salt/calcium-'Caliche' in the sands 'Aeolian sand dunes'-making planting difficult) , and specifically the rock caves in what is now the 'Old Town' section supported a sizeable Native 'community'. The downtown mountain nicknamed the 'Whale' has long acted as a magnet for the different cultures that have settled there.

Archeological studies of the area seem to indicate this was a great gathering place for many different tribes, who during their visit remained peaceful with each other during their many,and sometimes lengthy visits of 'commerce'.

Between 700-1500 AD the warm gulf waters supported abundant sea life attracting Hohokam indians from as far away as present day Phoenix,Arizona to get fish, salt, and trade goods. Their trading with the local & often nomadic Pina Cateño & Areñero indians is proven archeologically.

After the 'Conquest' of the Aztec Empire by Spain in the 1520's in what's now Mexico City, the 'new' country's leaders, explorers ventured ever father north, and south of the new capital. On the sea,by horse,and afoot it was just a matter of time until the Spanish Military Forces 'discovered' the Sea of Cortez - and it's many coves - as well as the few natural harbors. In 1698 Padre Kino met these Peñasco 'hunting & gathering' people he called 'The people of the sand.' They were related to the Papago tribe, and both practiced cannibalism.

Kino continued his frequent visits to Puerto Peñasco. His diary backed by historical records show his tireless work teaching Penasco's local indians many skills, including the business of pearl diving.

Peñasco's rich natural pearl beds were 'untouched' & Kino wasted no time in claiming them in the name of God. His religious orders 'charter' allowed them to keep certain amounts of 'resources' found in Mexico, with the balance to be send back to the King of Spain. A continued rift built up over this 'distribution' finally leading to Spain's King Carlos to 'Expell' all of the 'Jesuit order' from the entire 'New World.'

His documents indicate members of the local tribal community were tall, thin, wrapped in animal/fish skins,having striking features,and practicing cannibalism.

Large mounds of very old oyster shells(indicating the age of Peñasco's Indian settlement)were observed in hundreds of spots throughout the area. Kino's news of minerals in the area, soon reached Mexico City, then as far away as Spain, setting off a 'Gold Rush' that saw adventurous miners & explorers prospecting from Peñasco, up to what is now Ajo,Arizona. Soon numerous gold ,and silver operations were started up,and began returning profits.

In the 1700's Spanish Army Lt. Diez, and his mounted detachment did a survey of the area on their way to California.The natural springs at what is now the south end of Organ Pipe National Monument was a well documented wayside stop for visitors through the area.

These springs are still considered 'Sacred' by local Native Indians on both sides of the border. Notable travelers such as Father Kino noted the springs in his diary during his trips through the area, and while setting up the Mission in Sonoyta. (Today only a part of it's adobe wall remains)

Spain's fortified harbor at Matzatlan ,and the ships at anchor there soon allowed easier access to the entire Sea of Cortez area,and coincided with the rise in pirate activity in the gulf.

Admiralty records in Spain list a few of the 'skirmishes' fought during this time period, and list the Puerto Peñasco area as 'Ye Likesly Spot 'O Treachry & Villeanous Skum', The records go on to mention 'Privateers' in the Sea of Cortez"Doin Biddin Ye Francia Y Englash Devils O' Hell."

Spain around these times had a very uneasy truce in Europe with its old arch enemies of France and England.Secretly the leaders of both countries vowed to get their hands on the 'riches the Spanish Galleons' returning to Europe so overloaded with the bounty of the 'New World'(Gold,Silver,Gems)

In order to forward their desires,and to 'help' relieve Spain of the 'burden' of having to deal with such treasures,many leaders secretly hired captains,men,and outfitted ships.

The orders were simple and clear,"Bring back the Spanish Treasures" how yee do it ,Tis of no concern to us!

By the early 1800's, Spain's standing as the richest nation in Europe had faded, steadily drained by continual wars of the time.It's ability to maintain & influence their 200 year old colonial empire in Mexico was also declining.

In Mexico,discontent had been growing for many years and the revolution's sparks finally ignited in the hours just before the sunrise on September 16, 1810.

The Mexican Priest Miguel Hidalgo suddenly became it's first leader that morning when he told his indian and mestizo church members. "Viva Mexico!", ordered all Spanish citizens arrested, then issued the "El Grito de Dolores" (A formal Declaration of Independence from Spain).

Hidalgo quickly assembled a peasant army of indian and mixed blood volunteers armed with little more than clubs, axes, slings, knives, and machetes,against the Spanish artillery cannons.

Their intense hatred,which quickly turned into a class struggle,spured them on to successfully fight several winning battles against Spanish troops,and their supporters for almost a year.

The 'Priest General', almost 60 years old,was captured in 1811,and beheaded in the town's main square.His head was left up on a pole,to intimidate other supporters of independence.

(Hidalgo who was college educated  had earlier attracted the Spanish governments attention by illegally teaching the indians how to plant trees, grapevines, and manufacture pottery- leather goods. Upon hearing the priest was educating indian men with skills, the Spanish Viceroy in Mexico City ordered all of Hidalgo's trees and plants cut down, and their roots dug up & destroyed.)

By 1813 another group called the 'Mexican Patriots of Chilpancingo' had also formally declared Independence from Spain's rule. Another Priest,Jose Morelos took over as the revolution's leader. But,he was also eventually captured,and Spanish troops beheaded him in 1815.

Leaders,& battles came and went during the 11 years of war, until finally in the afternoon of August 1821 General Agustin de Iturbide and a sizeable army of revolutionary forces entered Mexico City.

The Spanish Viceroy Juan O'Donoju was arrested, and on August 24th was forced to sign the 'Treaty of Cordoba' which ended the war, and recognized Mexico's independence from Spain.

Taking power, General Iturbide proclaimed himself 'Emperor of Mexico' on May 18,1822 ,calling himself 'Agustin the 1st'.

Mexico's newly formed Congress ratified and 'crowned' the new 'Emperor' on the 23rd of June,1822 in a lavish ceremony.

The 'New Emperor' then officially created the "Order of the Guadalupe' for those who had fought with courage in the revolution. However,the political opposition,which favored a constitutional government lead by a president, opposed his ideas vigorously.

By October 31,1822 the new 'Emperor' was forced by his opposition rivals, lead by General Santa Ana, to dissolve the Mexican Congress.

On December 6,1822 General Santa Ana proclaimed Mexico a Republic and assumed power with the support of the opposition.

Then one month later on January 24,1823 General Santa Ana openly incited rebellion against any & all vestiges of the 'Emperor' citing a new plan called the, "Casa Mata".

March 19,1823 the 'Emperor' re-instated the Mexican Congress,and abdicated his position.

Fearing for their lives the 'Emperor' and his family then made their way to the harbor at Veracruz, and sailed on to Italy with the afternoon tide, March 29,1823(He & his family went on to live in Italy & England until 1824).

In April 1824 the 'new' Mexican Congress, lead by the opposition revoked the Emperors pension, and declared him a "Traitor of Mexico!"

Former 'Emperor Iturbide' was soon contacted by an agent from Mexico at his London home,and was asked to return to Mexico to 'clear his name', and help re-instate a 'stable' government.

So, on May 4,1824 former 'Emperor Iturbe' left London aboard the HMS ship the 'Edith' for Mexico.

Upon his arrival on June 14,1824 to Mexico 'Iturbe' was arrested and immeadiaetly sentenced to death.

Then on a cloudless morning on June 19,1824 Mexico's First Emperor & Revolutionary General was executed by a firing squad.

During these and the next 80 turbulent years, the goverment(s) lacked any of the resources to venture much past even the largest cities.

Understandably, areas such as Puerto Peñasco and the Sea of Cortez became all but forgotten during those times.

In 1826 while attention focused on internal strife, privateers like Capt. 'Red' Hardy visited the Peñasco and charted the hill in present day 'Old Town' as 'Rocky Point.' (An Andesitic Butte) Shortly after spanish charts referred to the hill as 'Punta Penasco.'

Oddly nothing seemed unusual, on the morning of June 5,1878 when the first of 5 children was born to a poor sharecropper & his wife in the city of San Juan, Durango, Mexico.

But,a future date with destiny for the area now called Puerto Peñasco had just been set.

Named Doroteo Arango, the boy would eventually fill one of the larger spotlights in Mexico's history.

In the early part of the 1900's Mexico was again on the verge of revolution. Puerto Peñasco - with its harbor, nearby gold mine, and only 60 miles from a U.S. border trade route (Arizona) quickly fit into the Army of the Revolution's plans, and its northern leader, Francisco Pancho Villa!

Pancho Villa, no stranger to the area,had been selling rustled cattle to some of the Arizona ranchers along the border for years.

But, the revolution wasn't selling any cattle, its success now depended on acquiring large amounts of guns,and ammunition. The 1920's brought 'permanent settlers', such as U.S. citizen John Richardson who built the area's first hotel near the point. It can be seen in this early photo as the dark building to the right at the base of the hill.

Prohibition then hits, making alcoholic beverages illegal in the U.S. & the hotels first order of business was to sell beer, whiskey, and wine to the 'tourists'. Soon another U.S. citizen & Ajo,Arizona hotel & bar owner Thomas Childs - and a partner named Al Capone - were in the hotel business in Peñasco. He and several Mexican fisherman formed the nucleus of a town.

More Mexican citizens followed and built houses-businesses on the west side of the point. During the 1930's & 1940's Peñasco's 'Old Town' grew up. Boats started showing up in the harbor,and a small 'fishing town' was formed.

1939 saw a visit by Mexico's President Cardenas, who declared the area 'strategic' and pushed through a railroad link to Mexicali in 1940 & additional harbor dock projects.

Worlds away on December 7 1941, Japan's attack on the United States Pacific Naval Fleet & the city of Honolulu,Hawaii would soon affect Peñasco's future.

Ajo,Arizona quickly became the site of a military base & buildup as a military airfield & major supply-distribution center. Within days the State of Arizona & Pima County signed an agreement to build a paved highway from Ajo to Lukevile,Arizona. Construction began almost overnight.

The United States Government 'secured' Puerto Peñasco's harbor as a "Joint Contingency Plan" for part of its pacific naval fleet. The agreement included the U.S. Military building a military dock area in the harbor & a 65 mile paved highway from Lukeville,Arizona to Puerto Peñasco. (Note:The U.S. Military still has an agreement to use the highway 'when necessary'...)

Several 'military actions' later occurred with Japanese mini-subs & fighter aircraft in the area. 1940's & 1950's were a time that 'New Peñasco' grew up, bringing the building of churches, elementary schools, shipyards, stores, restaurants, etc.

in 1952 the Mexican government recognized Puerto Peñasco as a city, and a government was established. The government appointed Victor Estrella Bustamante (one of the town's original fisherman & founders)

1965 the price of shirmp rose worldwide, and hundreds of commercial fisherman & boats from throughout Mexico poured into Peñasco. Suddenly the town had become the center of Mexico's fishing fleet.

1969 saw the city's 1st High School completed, and in 1971 it's only radio station 'XEQC' (Queen of the Sea) and broadcasts to this day @ AM 1390.

Mexico's federal government began massive development projects in the coming years including the 1974 city wells/pumps/water pipeline project bringing water in from the natural underground springs 40 miles north of town.

1975 brought the completion of water lines to the city & the public sewer system. The year also saw a massive harbor project with more concrete docks, pier work & dredging of the harbor's bottom.

1979 the city's 'Diesel Electricity Generator Plant' was closed (It's building still stands & is located on Juarez Blvd between Barra & Sonora Ave's) and Peñasco was hooked up to the National Electric System.

1979 also ushered in the paving of the main boulevard, and the building of new Police, Fire, and Community Hospital facilties.

1960's-1970's-Early 1980's were a time of huge financial fortunes made & squandered in Peñasco from fishing & supplying the fleet. The city was Sonora's 4th most important city. Massive homes were built around the area that survive in various states of repair/ownership to this day.

By the mid 1980's the area's shrimp & commercial fish had been 'fished out' and Peñasco's fishing fleet-businesses-homeowners faced sudden bankruptcy. Loans, mortgages, account payments were being 'called' and hundreds of people left town,lost homes & businesses.

Hope again sparked in the area during the late 1980's when the Mexican Federal Government sent a team to search the Peñasco area for OIL! Speculation was rampant,hotel rooms fetched unbelievable prices, costs spiraled, and property prices 'believed containing oil' (or visited by the team) went through the 'roof'. However, after many 'false starts' no oil was ever found,and Peñasco slipped back into its destiny.

1988 saw 240,000 tourists visiting annually. The steady development of beach homes, R.V. parks, tourist strips (zones) quickly followed.

Early 1990's the Mexican Federal Government again stepped in and this time declared the area a 'Conservation/Biosphere Zone' protected with very strict regulations on commercial fishing.

Annually the population has been growing an average of 9% per year (Mexico City's average is 6.8%) and their are 92 births per 1,000 people. 75% of Peñasco's residents have emigrated from Mexico's other southern areas, bringing with them a mix of ideas & customs. Mexican citizens from throughout the country's rural areas flock to city's like Penasco in search of 'city jobs.'

Early 1990's U.S. investors again come into Peñasco buying/starting (& taking over) construction, advertising, real estate, restaurants in the area.

1994 (December) a currency devaluation after which Mexicans - and all foreigners with 'Peso' denominated investments & bank accounts - lose a startling30% of their value & are faced with inflation on goods, services around 40% a year. Many local/foreign owned businesses start requiring U.S. dollars as payments on Mexican services and debts.

1997 Hurricane 'Nora' hit parts of Peñasco, especially damaging the shacks of the poor and disenfranchised.

1997-01 ushers in more currency fluctuations of the Mexican 'Peso' denominated currency & investments. Inflation rates continue near 15-30%. Those having their savings in U.S. dollar accounts-based investments have seen their capital preserved & some profits increase.

2001 The population and tourism has continued to grow on an exponential scale - multinational corporations are building enormous hotels, property values are high, and although the US's recent actions have caused more fluctuations in the peso/dollar relationship, Peñasco is flush with inhabitants, growth, and money.

After the September 11th attacks, U.S. interest in air travel plummets, but a corresponding influx of land-based travel results in renewed travel dollars headed to destinations close to the U.S. border. At the same time, U.S. interest in foreign - but close - retirement and recreation options sees a similar surge. These factors further Peñasco's economic and population growth, which was already enjoying a steady upward climb.

A 2006 visit - and glowing recommendation - by then-president Vicente Fox spotlights Puerto Penasco's position as an up-and-coming hotspot for both Mexico the U.S. The official census puts Peñasco's current population at 42,000, but non-official estimates put the number closer to 60,000.

The city's breakneck speed of development is further accelerated by U.S. investment, Arizona-Mexico cooperative economic efforts, an influx of construction labor, favorable articles in the New York Times, Luxury Living and other international media. Massive ongoing infrastructure projects like the international airport, the Escelera Nautica, and the coastal highway are fix Puerto Peñasco as a travel nexus in both Sonora and Mexico. At the same time, the city grapples with growth related issues - water availability, housing, quality of life, overfishing, and the city's new government puts forth many an initiative to handle the town's ambitious future.

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