Adventures

Paso de Ovejas
The End of the Jesuit Trail

Photographs and Text By John Todd, Jr.

Background:
Much of the early history of Mexico around Veracruz has been forgotten, or is not fully appreciated. For several months I had been searching for information about the lost trail of the Jesuits.

When the third Camino Real in Veracruz was authorized in 1600, the Jesuit missionary order began a profitable sheep raising venture in the mountain areas of Veracruz. To support their business they founded the Hacienda Acazónica at the midway point.

After finding an old map dated 1831, I found the old trail. I had never heard of any of these towns and during my free time began to explore the old trail. I started with some general information about the Jesuits and the banishment order, then I went to Tlacotepec de Mejía and found a beautiful little town that was founded by the Jesuits.

One day I took a short trip to the little town of Paso de Ovejas which is about an hour from Veracruz and found it to be an interesting little town.

How to Get There
Over the years I had driven past Paso de Ovejas, along the old federal highway and never paid much attention to it. It was just another small town in the state of Veracruz.

With the new four lane through Antigua and Cardel, it´s about 15 minutes faster to get to Xalapa by taking the toll road and for the first time in almost 400 years, most of the traffic doesn't come this way any more.

How to Get There
The New Bypass
The center of town is about 4 blocks from the highway, and few people nowadays stop in Paso de Ovejas on their way to Xalapa.

It´s just a wide spot on the road where you don´t have to drive around the plaza any more.

And now, Paso de Ovejas is just another little town in Veracruz.

The Third Camino Real
On March 23, 1600, King Felipe III authorized a third Camino Real by royal order.
Los Portales
It was at about the same time that the Jesuits moved in with the first sheep from Spain to drive from the coast of Veracruz up into the cool mountains.

It was where they would graze on the green grass in the fresh mountain climate and produce fine quality wool, much in demand in Europe in those days.

The business of the Jesuit friars continued for another 167 years. That was almost 5 generations.

By the year 1796, the roads in the small, yet modern, village of Paso de Ovejas were cobble stoned which was a major innovation of the day.
Los Portales
"Pasos" and "Matas"
The first Spanish land grants were the encomiendas given to the soldiers of Hernán Cortes.

These were large haciendas or plantations that covered hundreds of square kilometers and included the Indian peoples on these lands.

As time went on the different kings of Spain gave out smaller land grants called "Matas" or clusters, and "Paso" or pass, which sometimes isn´t a pass.

In the countryside today, especially in the remote areas around Veracruz, you can see original names like Mata Cazuelas, or Paso de Ovejas which in most cases now are dry hard scrapple ranches.

In the case of Paso de Ovejas, there is a a sort of mountain pass along the highway on each side of the little town that lead into a small valley along the Paso de Ovejas river.

Many of these old traditions can still be seen and felt in the little towns near the Port of Veracruz.
Los Portales
The End of the Jesuit Trail
In Paso de Ovejas, the largest building that remains is called "Los Portales", or the Portals.

The Portales covers the whole block front and back.

It was the end of the Trail of the Jesuit sheep herders. and was the center of the sheep and wool trade.

It is said there were 25,000 sheep being raised in the mountains, and several thousand would be brought down each year to be sheared.

I could just imagine the wide area out front full of sheep.
Los Portales
Wool and Taxes for the Crown
Sheep were being sheared and Royal Agents were overseeing the operation to be sure the taxes were collected properly for the king of Spain.

In the huge secure patio in the back, the wool was piled in bales to be sent by teams of mules to the port of Veracruz.

In those days it was an 8 hour trip to Veracruz.

However in 1767, the Jesuits were exiled and the wool trade in Veracruz abruptly ended.

Today, it is quiet in the cool of the shade of Los Portales.

One man has a shoe repair business, and the other office has the Municipal Committee for one of the political parties.

People still come to Los Portales on hot days to rest in the shade and talk.
The Small Plaza
La Plaza
The plaza is quiet and peaceful with pigeons competing for a place at the fountain. Other than the sound of the fountain, in the distance you can hear a cumbia playing on a neighbors radio

A man quietly waters the grass and the trees behind the park bench where I sit for a minute to look at the spires of the pink church.

There´s not much to do now in Paso de Ovejas. It´s nice to sit and think for awhile about the sheep that must have passed down the street in front of where I was sitting.
Store
Corona, Superior, and Playstations
After taking some pictures of the fountain in front of the church, I walked across the street to get a coke.

I talked awhile with the seńora in the store.

She told me that most of the young people were now working in Veracruz.

Others had gone to the US to work and were sending money back home and people are rebuilding their houses.

Paso de Ovejas has changed over the years.

Now the town was emptier and more peaceful with people quietly working on remodeling their homes on the weekends with money sent from far away.
House Under Construction
Building a New Roof
The Church
La Casa de la Cultura
Next door to the church is the Casa de la Cultura.

I was looking for more details about the Jesuit Trail and perhaps what happened to Paso de Ovejas in later years.

Paso de Ovejas didn´t become the cabecera municipal, or county seat until 1870.

Up until that time, the county seat was at the Hacienda Acazónica founded by the Jesuits in the year 1600.
Los Portales
The Lost Gold of Paso de Ovejas
Every small town around Veracruz has a story of lost gold.

In 1760, Florentino Rebolledo was carrying an oxcart load of gold coins to the port of Veracruz under orders of the Viceroy Don Gaspar de Zúńiga.

It was to be shipped to the king of Spain. There were 10 kegs of gold coins weighing 30 kgs each.

It is said that it was the rainy season, and it was getting dark when Don Florentino reached Paso de Ovejas.

Since it was only 8 hours travel left to Veracruz so he decided to spend the night.

The river was rising, as he unhitched the team from his wagon.

Suddenly the water began to rise.

Before he could pull the wagon to safety, the water had risen quickly that it was overturned.
Behind Los Portales
The kegs fell into the rushing waters, and all was lost.

Over the years people down stream have found some occasional gold coins.

The Killing Field
Across the river from Paso de Ovejas is a ranch called "Mata de los Toros".

During the Mexican Revolution of 1910-20, many of the bandit gangs in the countryside called themselves "revolutionaries".
A Quiet Street
They gave themselves the names of some of the well known political groups of the day.

There were basically Carranzistas following Venustiano Carranza; Zapatistas after Emiliano Zapata; and Villistas after Pancho Villa.

They also frequently fought a lot among themselves.

The Zapatistas Won
On March 5, 1917, 300 zapatistas hid amongst the rocks along the Camino Real at Mata de los Toros.
The Camino Real Bridge to Veracruz
They were waiting to ambush a caravan of 1,500 Carranzistas on horseback.

The Carranzistas lost. There were 150 dead, 300 wounded, and 50 horses were killed.

The Zapatistas lost 6 men and a small number were wounded.

It is said the smell was so bad that the townspeople couldn´t use the Camino Real, and had to detour around area using the river bed for 3 next months.
The Camino Real Bridge to Veracruz
The day I drove to Acazónica, I saw a little wooden sign, "Mata de los Toros".

Next time I think I´ll stop and look around to see if there is an historical marker.

The Camino Real Bridge
Just down the street from the church is a walking bridge over the old Atliyac River. Now it´s called the Paso de Ovejas River.

Up close, you can see the original foundation built by the Spaniards in the 17th Century.

We are looking up the road toward Veracruz.

About a block from the other side of the bridge, is a road to the right.
Bridge
It is is the original Third Camino Real that goes to Acazónica and Boca del Monte in the cool mountains where coffee and cinnamon grows.

This was the trail of the Jesuits and their sheep to the mountains around El Pico de Orizaba.

A Snack
On the way back to the car, I noticed a man had just finished cooking some cracklings.

In Mexico, they are called Chicharrones.

Off to the side, he also had some Carnitas, or little morsels of pork, and some fresh hand made tortillas.

It was lunch time, so I stopped for a couple of tacos and a coke at one of the little tables he had set up
Carnitas and Chicharrones
In the back of my mind, I was already planning my next trip back to Paso de Ovejas, and maybe stop by Mata de los Toros to look around.

And do some more digging for more historical information about the Camino Real at the Casa de la Cultura.

I also want to do some more exploring for gold coins down river from Paso de Ovejas.

In the meantime, I think I´ll order some more tacos de carnitas, and maybe a little plastic bag of chicharrones to munch on the way back home to Veracruz.

When I get home, it will probably be time for a siesta.

>> Searching the Back Roads for the Lost Jesuit Trail >>

Back to the History Section