Before the arrival of the Spaniards, Sinaloa was inhabited by six major tribes of hunters and gathers: the Cahita, Tahue, Totorame, Pacaxee, Acaxee and Xixime. The Acaxees lived in rancherías (settlements) dispersed throughout the gorges and canyons of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. Along with the Xiximes, Pacaxee and Tahue, the Acaxees were nonaggressive agricultural gatherers who took no part in human sacrifice rituals. The Cahita, on the other hand, were ferocious warriors who practiced cannibalism in the belief that they could acquire the strength of their most valiant enemies.
Little is known of Sinaloa’s early history. Prior to 1529, the region was part of the unexplored Spanish province called Nueva Vizcaya, which also included present-day Chihuaha, Durango, Sonora and Coahuila.
The first Spanish foray into Sinaloa took place in 1529. The Spanish conquistador Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán battled his way through central Mexico to the Pacific coast with an army of 300 Spaniards and 10,000 indigenous fighters. When they reached the vicinity of the Culiacán River, they met and defeated a force of 30,000 Cahita warriors. At that time the Cahita constituted the largest single language group in northern Mexico, numbering about 115,000 in Sinaloa and Sonora.
The Sinaloan city of El Fuerte was founded by Francisco de Ibarra in 1563. Despite frequent battles with Zuaque and Tehueco Indians, El Fuerte prospered and became a vital economic link to Mexico’s vast northwestern region.
Like much of the region, in the early 17th century, Sinaloa was organized into encomiendas which subjugated the native people to Spanish rule and required them to work land that did not belong to them. Consequently, the 17th and 18th centuries saw several indigenous uprisings. One in 1740 was particularly violent, costing the lives of several thousand Spaniards and more than 5,000 Indians. Following the 1740 rebellion, the Spaniards became slightly more cautious of the native population and, by the end of the 18th century, the rebellions had largely come to an end.
After Mexican independence in 1824, Sonora and Sinaloa were combined to form the Estado de Occidente (Western State), with El Fuerte serving as the capital. In 1830 the state was split into present-day Sonora and Sinaloa.
During the second half of the 19th century, Sinaloa experienced dramatic economic expansion under the rule of President Porfirio Díaz (1830-1915). However, the state’s small population limited its ability to continue growing.
In the late 1800s, partly because of the recent influx of Chinese settlers, Sinaloa became a significant source of opium derived from the cultivation of poppies. Sinaloa’s proximity to the United States provided a large market for the drug, which was legal at that time.
Throughout the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917), Sinaloans were divided in their loyalties to the various factions. Many in Sinaloa supported the revolutionary party led by Pancho Villa and by 1917 the state of Sinaloa was ultimately controlled by the newly established constitutional government of Mexico.
Meanwhile, Sinaloa continued to be a major producer of opium in spite of the United States’ Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, which tightly regulated the sale of opium in that country. Opium production rose further as a result of World War II, which increased the demand for morphine, an opium extract. Since Japan controlled most of the world’s opium supply, the United States turned to Mexico--specifically Sinaloa--for assistance. Although the morphine supply was a benefit to the military, the legal market for opium opened the door for more widespread illegal distribution.
Sinaloa, the "Breadbasket of Mexico," devotes over three quarters of its landmass to agricultural production. It is the country’s leading producer of rice and vegetables, and the second largest producer of wheat and beans. Fishing and livestock provide additional revenue, as does Mazatlán’s canning facility, the largest in Latin America.
Each January the city of Culiacán hosts an agricultural exhibition called the Expo Agro Sinaloa. This premier agricultural trade show is the largest of its kind in Mexico, allowing exhibitors to demonstrate their products, equipment, machinery and technology.
Agriculture accounts for about 21 percent of the state’s economy. Service-based companies account for another 21 percent, followed by trade activities at 19 percent, finance and insurance at 16 percent, transportation and communications at 11 percent, manufacturing at 8 percent, construction at 3 percent and mining at 1 percent.
Facts & Figures