Batopilas is a beautiful little town at the foot of a deep canyon that still retains traces of its former prosperity.
Alexander Robey Shepherd served as the last governor of the District of Columbia in the United States between 1870 and 1880 and finding himself in some financial difficulty decided to try his luck at mining. He organised the Consolidated Batopilas Mining Company with a capital of $3,000,000 and purchased 'the Great Batopilas mine' (apparently the San Miguel group), several important mines in the vicinity, surface rights to about 900 square miles of land, mortgages on several farms, a group of large buildings with some smelting machinery, and agencies in Chihuahua and other towns through which to send monthly shipments of silver to New York.
In 1880, he moved his family to Batopilas and within a short time had taken over as 'el patron grande'. Because of Batopilas' isolation, Shepherd was a semiautonomous ruler. Always a favourite of President Díaz, in later years he cultivated the friendship of the Terrazas family and Enrique Creel joined his board in 1910.
La Hacienda de San Miguel
La Hacienda de San Miguel, situated on the river bank opposite the town, was one of the two main reduction plants which Shepherd made his home and the centre of his operations. By 1902 San Miguel had about ninety stamps, amalgamating pans, cyanide and leaching plants, a machinery shop and a foundry at which the company could make its own castings. The buildings at San Miguel, whose impressive ruins still dominate the town, housed this equipment and also included the main offices, the manager's house, dormitories, a dining room, a swimming tank for employees, and stables for the mules. Around all these stood a high, solid stone wall as protection against floods and robbers.
We know of two notes issued by Shepherd for use on the Hacienda de San Miguel. The notes, for 25c and 50c, have the printed date of 20 June 1885, and were payable to the bearer 'in silver coin or in a bill of exchange according to convenience and at Shepherd's choosing' (en moneda de plata ó en libranza según lo convenido á elección del que subscribe)details and images courtesy of Richard G. Doty, National Museum of American History. These examples were already in the museum (and a star attraction) in 1886.
"Coins of Interest Which Visitor to the National Museum Should Look At.
[From the Washington Star.]
"Do you want to see some of Shepherd's money?" said an attache of the National Museum to a Star reporter. Of course the reporter wanted to see it. The money in question consisted of two bits of paper, about the size of a 60-cent shinplaster. The notes are printed on white paper, in black, without any attempt at ornament, or any of the usual devices to baffle counterfeiters. The notes are dated at Hacienda de San Miguel, Batopilas, and the text upon them is in Spanish. One note is for 25 and the other for 50 cents. In the lower corner is printed the name, Alexander E. Shepherd, well known in this city. A card near the notes informs the curious people who stop to look at them that such notes are in general circulation in Batopilas district, and are preferred by the people there to the paper money issued by the Mexican government. A very extensive collection of coins and- specimens of money has been placed on exhibition in the museum. A curious piece of money is a bit of pasteboard, about the size of a street-car ticket, and marked with a stencil by the man that issued it. The one exhibited is for 3 cents, and was issued by a business house in Mexico. The pasteboard currency has been legalized by the state of Tamaulipas. …" (The Weekly Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 1 May 1886).
There is also a handwritten voucher bearing Shepherd's signature and dated 1 September 1886, payable to the bearer (al portador) for five pesos in assayed silver (en plata quintada).
The Batopilas Mining Company
Shepherd set up a tienda de raya which undercut other local retailers, and, like all companies, offered credit to his employees so that only the balance was paid out in cash on Saturday nightGrant Shepherd, The Silver Magnet, New York, 1938. At first his men demanded silver coins, but currency was both expensive and dangerous to bring in. Local merchants refused to accept Chihuahua banknotes, and at their suggestion Shepherd secured permission from the state government to issue his own paper notes.
Shepherd’s notes circulated freely in Batopilas. Upon demand, the company would redeem the notes (in multiples of $5 or more) in hard cash, discounting about 8% for transporting in the coin.
The system also prevented one form of exploitation: “The company has five stores in operation at the five principal mines and at Hacienda San Miguel, where the men can purchase at fixed rates the year round and not be subject to discount on the vales of the company. This was found to be necessary to prevent extortion by persons who discounted vales at 20 to 30 per cent. and the plan has worked perfectly"The Boston Herald, 10 March 1894. The gross sales of the stores amounted to $58,530.44 for the year, and the profit was $6,162.21. The profit from exchange of vales for drafts was $15,102.52.
The practice ended at the government's request in the mid-90s, as the growth of the banking system began to ease the payroll situation for most of the mining camps. Shepherd then recalled his scrip and burned it at a public festival. In 1899 a correspondent reported that the Batopilas Mining Company had managed to see off all other retail competition. The company paid half in cash (numerario) every fortnight and half in goods (efectos) through an account at the tiendas de raya, and even though the tiendas’ prices were 40-50% higher than others, this stranglehold had defeated the competitionEl Continente Americano, 19 July 1899. The system was still in place in 1901 with the company paying every three or four weeks, half in cash and half in goods from the tienda de raya, which always lacked basic necessities (Regeneración, Tomo II, Núm. 57, 7 October 1901).
The surviving notes of La Compañía Minera de Batopilas (Batopilas Mining Company) are three values printed by the American Bank Note Company, for 25, 50 and 99 centavos, drawn on Sres. Francisco Larriva y Ca.In February 1889 Francisco Larriva had the Batopilas agency for the Banco Minero (AGN, Antiguos Bancos, Actas de Banco Minero, libro 1, 28 February 1888 to 5 January 1899). Francisco Larriva was jefe político of Andrés del Río district from 1898 to 1902 and a deputy in the state legislature, payable in merchandise (en mercancias) and dated 1889The American Bank Note Company archives record that they were ordered by Felix Bazet. Bazet was born in 1852. A Frenchman who married a Mexican woman, Bazet's profession is given elsewhere as a clerk (dependiente). He came to Chihuahua in 1883 and was living there in 1888.
There were also a $1 and a $5 note, printed by the Homer Lee Bank Note Company, payable in silver seventy days after presentation, in quantities of one hundred pesos or more (‘al portador a los setenta días de su presentación en esta Cabecera en plata quintada por su ley, valor entendido y amortizable en cantidades de cien pesos ó mayores’ ), dated 1 July 1891.
The $5 note is overprinted 1893.
A December 1893 newspaper article tells of Shepherd’s ability to strong-arm (or bribe) even President Diaz and states that Shepherd’s notes circulated throughout northeast Mexico”Obstinacy and Diplomacy.
Gov. Shepherd is today in some ways one of the most obstinate men that ever lived, but it is a genial, good-natured obstinacy that really tickles the other fellow. Two examples will illustrate this: …
The next step was to introduce the use of paper money, but the banks at the capital placed every obstacle in the way. Then the doughty baron said: “I will print my own money and you must use it, for it will be secured by bullion placed in your banks.” This was declared to be an impossibility, an offense against the government punishable by death. “I can and I will, now you see,” said the petty king, and the money was issued. The miserly, silver-hoarding people kicked and said it was “muy malo,” “very bad,” “the rats eat it.” The king said “good for the rats,” and smiled and issued more money. The military commander threatened arrest, and the king said, “Come and take me if you think you can.” The governor of the state sent his peremptory orders by mail and by special courier, and was laughed at for his pains. The power of President Diaz was invoked, and his special messenger came and was a carefully entertained guest for several days and departed with his face wreathed with smiles, and it is said that he never stopped smiling and patting his pocket book, even when closeted with Diaz at the Castle of Chapultepec. Then the king received an invitation to visit the president, and the glasses of the two are said to have clinked merrily in the halls of Maximilian above the caves of Moctezuma. At all events the return trip of the king was that of a conqueror, every one from the private soldier to the minister of war bowing low before the dear friend of Diaz, and every one, from railroad porter to banker being paid of in the king’s new “shin plasters,” just so they could learn what it looked like. There has been no change in the Mexican laws, but today Shepherd’s greenbacks are current all over Chihuahua and all up and down the coast of the Gulf of California.” (The Evening Star, Washington, 14 December 1893) but Shepherd himself in the Batopilas Mining Company’s Annual Report for 1893 refers to Diaz' 'intelligent, liberal and progressive policy' and states that circulation was limited to Batopilas”Some publications have been made concerning myself and the currency of the company, which are so erroneous and extravagant as to require correction. There being no mint or bank of issue nearer than Chihuahua, President Diaz, with the intelligent, liberal and progressive policy which has always characterized his dealings towards properly conducted enterprises, granted me the right to issue vales payable in assayed silver, as a local currency. The total amount in circulation at this date, as shown by balance sheet, is $11,975.50, and has never exceeded $15,000. These are redeemed by drafts on Chihuahua, Mexico, or El Fuerte, and about two-thirds of them are redeemed weekly, none of them being circulated outside of Batopilas.” (The Boston Herald, 10 March 1894). THe truth was, no doubt, somewhere in between.
Various references confirm the currency's semi-official status. In November 1886 a Mexico City newspaper reported that on the northern frontier a bushel of maize would cost $2.50 in Batopilas notes (papel del Banco de Batopilas) as compared with $2 in Banco de Santa Eulalia notes, $1.80 in Banco Chihuahuense notes and $1.20 in American dollarsEl Diario del Hogar, 5 November 1886 while three months later they were quoted, as ‘papel del Banco Shepherd Batopilas’ at 59-60c, the same rate as the Banco de Santa Eulalia and Banco Mexicano but less than the Banco Minero Chihuahuense and Banco NacionalPeriódico Oficial, 9 February 1887. The Ciudad Chihuahua newspaper El Norte, in its panegyric on the Banco Minero, mentioned an earlier Bank of BatopilasEl Norte, 5 July 1900.
Mendoza y Abasolo, Sucs
The company of Mendoza y Abasolo, Sucs., Batopilas must have been the successor or associate company of Mendoza y Nesbitt, which issued tokens in Barranca de Cobre and UriqueMartin J. Nesbitt was a mechanical and mining engineer. In 1905 he was part of the firm of Becerra y Nesbitt, wholesalers, forwarders and property agents (Herald, 15 November 1905). Becerra was Buenaventura Becerra. Martin married Buenaventura’s daughter, took over charge of the mines when he died and later succeeded him as jefe político of Urique. One five pesos note of this company ‘in paper notes backed by hard cash/silver pesos (en billetes de papel de pesos fuertes)’ is dated 24 August 1888We know of a similar bearer cheque for five pesos, dated 20 June 1889. A ten pesos note, dated 1 August 1888, is payable in paper notes backed by assayed silver (en billetes de papel de plata quintada).
Again, these notes had a short lifespan. On 13 April 1893 Mendoza y Abasolo, Sucs. asked the Banco Minero for a consignment of $10,000 in its notes, guarantied by Alexander R. Shepherd. The bank sent $7,000AGN, Antiguos Bancos, Actas de Banco Minero, libro 1, 28 February 1888 to 5 January 1899.
La Hacienda Nueva Australia
The ruins of La Hacienda Nueva Australia are still visible at Cerro Colorado, three miles upstream of Batopilas. The Becerra brothers discovered gold there in 1887 and by 1889 with other shareholders had established a large mining establishment (hacienda de beneficio)El Estado de Chihuahua, 23 March 1889. This hacienda issued vouchers for meat (carne) or merchandise (mercancias). The surviving notes are signed by Alejandro B. Daniel and dated 8 April and 30 April 1891. The two reales voucher was printed on cloth, whilst the three others (one real, four reales and one peso) were on paper.
Alejandro B. Daniel: Daniel, a Mexican, born in 1863, still owned the Nueva Australia in 1916 and was also co-owner of the Compañía Minera de Cuauhtémoc y Anexas.
Santo Domingo Silver Mining Company
Although no notes are currently known, mention should be made of this company. The Big Creek Mining Company was initiated in 1867 with its mines located in Batopilas and its corporate offices in Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaJohn P. Logan was the president of the Big Creek Mining Company and E.L. Stillson was the superintendent of the Batopilas mines. The company officially changed its named to the Santo Domingo Silver Mining Company in 1871. Its papers are held by the Historical Society of Pennsylvaniawww.hsp.org: Collection 3034 and include a payroll book (1897-1898) and a set of payroll notes and various bills (1891-1898, n.d.). The payroll book has a separate page for each pay week with entries that list the employee's occupation (i.e. washer, watchman, peon, breaking metal, cook, etc.), name, and amount paid for each day, as well as for the week in total. Some men worked up to seven days a week and wages ranged from $1 to $2.50 a day. Approximately fifteen men are consistently documented each week. Each page is stamped at the top with "Admin. subalterna del timbre, Batopilas." The payroll book pages also itemize each week's expenses for supplies such as hay, wood, and grocery bills. There are also many small sheets of paper with notes concerning payroll.