Don Carlos owned La Central, the frequently photographed store on the plaza in Urique.
A Spaniard, Alfredo Salmineto Monge, built this store in 1909 during the heyday of local mining. In 1910, the second story was added and the date placed prominently in front of the building. (Sr. Monge is the same person who had an upright piano carried to Urique from Creel, Don Carlos donated this piano to a priest many years ago and he believes it to be in the boarding school in
Placer mining done in Cienaguita unlike most areas, which have hard-rock mines. The name of the mine operating at that time, El Placer, reflects this. Dirt was taken to a nearby lake where it was washed to reveal the gold.
Don Carlos started school in Cienaguita but his parents soon sent him to the Colegio Palmore in Chihuahua. There he attended elementary school for only a few years before going to Urique to help in the family store started by his father. The store was located where the hotel Canyon de Cobre now stands.
During the revolution, most mines were closed and the people of Urique lived frugally by farming and raising livestock. Twice, Don Carlos drove more than 200 head of cattle cross-country to Cerro Prieta, just this side of La Junta. There they were loaded on the Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient railway, the predecessor of the present Chihuahua al Pacifico railway. At that time wood-fired steam engines were pulling the trains.
The Urique store sent merchandise to several other stores, one in Areponapuchic[ii] and another in the gold mining town, Lluvia de Oro[iii], The latter store was operated by Manuel Puente and served families working in the mine operated at the time by Thomas Lifer (Spelling very uncertain), whose German father was the previous owner of the mine. Thomas operated it from about 1938 to roughly 1950.
In 1943 Don Carlos married Maria de Jesus Dominguez from Urique, they have 9 children, five sons and four daughters. In March 1943, a major flood destroyed much of the Urique. Adobe walls dissolved in turbulent waters that came almost to the main street. In one case, the walls of a house near the huge Ceiba tree (in front of where Hotel Cañ6n del Cobre now exists) collapsed and the roof floated downstream on the raging waters. About 2:00 AM neighbors pulled the family of Roberto Acosta[iv] from their home, by dawn, the home was totally destroyed and its remains swept away. Floodwaters also ruined the family store and Don Carlos’ father, Carlos Becero Silva, bought the La Central store soon thereafter. This same year, the senior Carlos was elected County President, a most important position.
The family kept about 36 mules for bringing merchandise from Creel every 3-4 months. Goods were first ordered from Chihuahua where it was shipped to Creel and stored pending arrival of the conducta. Leaving Creel, the first jornada (day’s journey) entered Arroyo Hondo then stopped in the bottom of the arroyo[v].
The second jornada passed Pitorreal stopping on the other side, the third jornada stopped at Arroyo de San Caytano after passing Churo. The final jornana ended in Urique. Or at least this is what was supposed to happen. Lost animals and other problems frequently delayed the conducta a day or more.
Certain products, primarily sugar, were also brought from Choix. The sugar was in 40-kilo sacks of cubes about ¾ inch square. Also brought in from Chiox was raw (verde) coffee, flour, and 40-kilo sacks of the 4x6 inch rectangular bars of panocha, a sugar for sweetening coffee and other beverages.
When Don Carlos was county President (1974-77, his most important accomplishment was completion of the road connecting Urique with the outside world. Work on this road took roughly six years with the first 3 years of mostly hand work being paid for by dispensas (allotments of food) and small salaries[vi]. Heavy equipment was brought in the final three years and work began progressing much more quickly. The road connected with existing logging roads built in 1972 and ending in El Puerto. Errors were made and one can still see traces of a false start at Nopalito, the road below there was abandoned because the curves were too tight and could not be made more open. Governor Manuel Bernado Aguirre visited Nopalito to see how construction was going (unfortunately we do not have the date of his visit).
As Don Carlos’ first informe (state of the county speech) approached (October 1975), workers began working day and night. They completed the road just in time for the informe; the first vehicles to enter Urique were bulldozers and construction vehicles followed by a jeep, a pickup and a cargo truck owned by Don Carlos. He chuckles when he recalls that the cargo truck was loaded with black beans donated by the government. Only problem was that people of the Sierra use pinto beans and do not like black beans, which are eaten mostly in the Southern states.
In 1983 Don Carlos’ son, Rafael, was elected Presidente Municipal, making three generations who have served in the same office. Assisted by grandchildren and his daughter, Don Carlos operated his store until his death in December, 2006. In the picture above, Don Carlos displays a letter he kept in a drawer in his store. The letter was written in 1910 and describes a transaction for one peso fifty centavos. Note the ornate name on the letterhead - it is that of the original store owner, Alfredo S. Monge who served as President Municipal when the Spanish Flu hit Urique in November, 1918. As an aside, like the influence of the Spanish flu in the United States, Monge's diary recorded fifteen deaths from the flu in November 1918. The dead ranged in age from seventeen to thirty-nine with most of the victims being in their twenties.
[i] Cieniguita Lluvia de Oro is commonly known as Cienaguita de los Trejos after a large family that lived there.
[ii] Areponapuchic is the pueblo served by the Posada Barrancas train station.
[iii] Lluvia de Oro was made famous by Victor Villaseñor’s book by the same name (the English version is titled “Rain of Gold” and is in print).
[iv] Roberto Acosta II, the son of this family, now has a small store in Guapalaina on the corner of the side street leading to the Church.
[v] Note: this is the arroyo one begins to enter at about km 15 on the road from Creel to San Rafael.
[vi] According to Don Carlos, road construction initially began in Urique and worked uphill.
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