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Los Lamentos, Chihuahua, Mexico

Historically speaking, mining has been a pillar in the economy of the state of Chihuahua, as an activity that founded many of its towns. Today, it is an important element in the industrial development of the state, which still has one of the richest sub-soils in Mexico. The Ahumada mine became an example of successful lead mining at the beginning of the XX century, and even though it was not silver it was the most economically rewarding mineral production in America. The lead mine called the Ahumada is nestled in the Sierra de los Lamentos, about 70 kilometres from Villa Ahumada in the north of Chihuahua, and 100 kilometres from Cuidad Juárez, border with El Paso, Texas. The district of Los Lamentos, which means mourning in English, gets its name from the sound the wind makes as it blows through the limestone caverns in the mountains of the Sierra. This location was known not only for its lead but also for its magnificent specimens of wulfenite found in the mines Ahumada and La Erupción. Both of these mines originate from the same mineral deposit and are interconnected internally. These exquisite specimens of wulfenite are internationally famous, being recognized as some of the best in the world.
Wulfenite is present in the area of oxidization of galena. It is associated with galena, cerussite, hydrocerussite, pyromorphite and other minerals. Among the best, known crystals are the red-orange tabular crystals of up to 50 centimetres in diameter; and the magnificent thick orange tabular crystals that come from La Erupción mine in Villa Ahumada, Chihuahua.

At the beginning of the XX century, in 1907 to be precise, José María de la Peña began the first exploratory excavations in the area where he found high-quality cerussite. And although, David Fenchler acquired the properties, he did not work the land. In 1909, David Bruce Smith, the legal representative of the mine of San Pedro de Corralitos, was invited by Peña to visit the zone and examine the pieces that had been found. He was impressed by his findings and in 1916 obtained the right of use, purchased from Fenchler for $50,000 dollars. Smith encountered two serious set backs when he began excavations, the first was the absence of water and the second was that the area was overrun by bandits.
Needless to say, those were complicated and risky years for the foreign mining companies. In 1910, the Mexican Revolution began with the uprising led by Francisco I. Madero, which managed to topple the President Porfirio Díaz. He had established peace through repression in order to ensure the economy, especially that of the excavation of mines by foreign companies. The uprising however unleashed aggression towards the foreigners on account of the feelings of dissatisfaction for the injustices. On coming to power, President Venustiano Carranza tried to regulate the violence that was stifling the mining industry, but control of the entire Mexican Republic was a long way off.
The mine was very successful and in 1917, La Erupción mine reached a production of 8,000 tons of anglesite of which 42.5% was lead. But on account of the continuing devaluations and economic uncertainty they were forced to sell the mine. The new owners, Henry C. Dudley, Louis D. Ricketts and John Campbell Greenway American businessmen, renamed the mine “Ahumada”, and built a railway line from the mine to the town Villa Ahumada. This fresh injection of capital was a great boost for mining and by the mid 1920´s, the Ahumada mine had become the third most productive mine for lead in North America, extracting all the cerussite, wulfenite, anglesite and vanadanite.

Old mine in Chihuahua

WulfeniteLuis Lyons photo

Some years later, Guillermo F. Foshag from the Smithsonian Institute visited the location and it was he who exposed the discovery of interesting specimens when the mine was still managed by La Compañía Minera de Plomo S.A., which merged with La Compañía Minera Erupción. Initially, he did not find any excellent specimens of wulfenite but as a result of his articles, many collectors were motivated to search for more. They found numerous pieces of high quality and articles were published about them in various magazines. This in turn aroused considerable interest amongst collectors and soon the location became renown as one of the most important veins of this mineral. In recent years, the mine became the property of the family of Pedro Licona Sáenz, who have operated the mine through a co-operative. They extract wulfenite specimens and HEMATINA (hematite) used in the production of cement, and zinc oxide.
The magnificent pieces of wulfenite continue in circulation today, some of which are highly appreciated for their beauty, and perpetuate the legend of Los Lamentos mine in the history of mining in Mexico.