The Gold Rush in Matagalpa. 1850
By Eddy Kuhl
Gold was discovered en the sands of Rio Americano in the land granted by the Mexican Government to a German Swiss named Sutter in 1848, the same year California passed to USA after winning the Mexican-American war. News of gold findings spread over the rest of the world. One of the easiest passages to California coming from east USA was thru Nicaragua. Many gold prospectors passed by this Isthmus, but some of them stayed in Nicaragua, many came to Matagalpa looking for gold mines in this region, and stayed for ever.
The first of such immigrants in 1850 we have records: an American namef Dr. John Segur, a German last named Wassmer and a two British named Painter and Williams.
Soon after. In 1852 arrived German couple Louis Elster and Katharina Braun, who planted the first coffee seeds in the region. Also in 1852 arrived an rare personality believed to be the French Duke Theobaldo Choiseul Praslin, who escaped Paris after the tragic death of his wife in 1847.
By 1870 from Missouri, honoring an old invitation made by William Walker in 1856 to invest in Matagalpa, arrived the journalist and miner Eliah Rupert Macy, his family believes Macys in New York was originated from the money of the mines of Matagalpa.
Then by late 1870s the Frenchman Charles Leclaire, and the Bavarian Captain Johannes Fischer.
By 1879 Wilhelm Jericho, who was killed by a Indian in 1896, then Carl Otto Zeyss, Alberto Vogl, Otto Kühl, Charles and Alex Potter, William DeSavigny, Fritz, Karl (formed the Military Academy in President Jose M. Zelaya’ s time) and Rudolph Uebersezig, the Swedish couple formed by Peer and Britta Viggh, and many others like: James Haslam, William Richardson, Alex Sullivan, Viktor Travers, Albert Kraudy, Albert Josephsohn, Alfred Mayer, Hans Boesche, Nicholas Delaney, Hermann Alm, Leslie Weimer, Bruno Mierisch, Stephen McEwan, Phillip Rourk, Dr. Oswald Raitt, William Hawkins, George Schmidt, Eric T. Smith, Haar, Karl Hayn, Eger, Buschting, John Bolt, Frederic Fley, Blanchard, Raitte, George Schicksol, Kiesler, Hermann Egner, Julius Kollerbohn, Moeller, Pedersen, and others.
Many of the descendants of these immigrants still live in Matagalpa, adding to the international fabric of this mountain town, which started with gold, and continues with the internationally known gourmet Matagalpa Washed Coffee.
The First Coffee Depulper en Matagalpa
Matagalpa was famous because of the many European and North-American immigrants who settle in this region beginning mid XIX Century.
At first they came looking for gold, but soon they found that coffee grown here was of very good quality because of the high altitude of their highlands. They had a problem thought, it was that the coffee was dried together with its peel. Finally by 1891 a German Immigrant, Otto Kuehl, who happened to be a mechanic, invented a depulper made up of wood cylinders with staples attached to its surface that in rotating by human muscle force removed the outer peel of the coffee beans. He built it at Luis Elster´s request. Luis Elster and his wife Katharina Braun happened to be the first persons who planted coffee in Matagalpa in 1852, and had the problem that depulping coffee in a wood mortar took too much time.
Otto tried to patent this machine, and even sent the drawings and a small wood model with two immigrants who offered to take it to USA, but they never came back.
Latter by 1894 it was found in the records that a similar machine has been patented the record reds like this:
“In the year 1895 Marcus & Mason assignor to Marcus Mason & Co. is granted United States patent on machines for pulping coffee”. Book: William H. Ukers, All about Coffee, page 740.
Facts about Matagalpa
Matagalpa is the capital city of the Province of Matagalpa. Its population is 109,100 inhab. (2005 census), meanwhile the population of the Province is 480.000.
Matagalpa was an Indian town found by the Spaniards when they were looking the passage to the North Sea in 1554. Matagalpa Indians had their own language, extinct since 1875, a document with 97 words from the Matagalpa language can be found in the Daniel G. Brinton section of the American Philosophical Library in Philadelphia.
According to the Matagalpan linguist father Guillermo Kiene (Catholic missioner priest 1898-1959 & son of a German immigrant) the word Matagalpa comes from the Sumo language meaning “Lets go where the rocks are”.
Gold was discovered at the mines of Matagalpa by 1850, that attracted some foreigners like the Englishman Mr. Painter (1851), Germans like Ludwig Elster (1852) and Leopold Wassmer (1854) and Americans like Elijah Rupert Macy (1857), doctor James Sigo (1852), Britishmen like Mr. Williams, and Frenchmen like Georges Choiseul Praslin (1852).
Ludwig Elster (from Hannover) and his wife Katharina Braun (from the Black Forest) planted the first coffee trees in the area, produce which soon found good market in Germany.
Coffee business attracted more foreign immigrants, up to 120, most of them married Matagalpan women. Their descendants still live in the area, last names like: Elster, Smith, Haslam, Richardson, Weimer, Alm, Vogl, Kühl, Hayn, McEwan, Stultzer, Kollerbohn , Hawkins, Rourk, Haar, Travers, Kraudy, Vita, Frauenberger, Weimer, Stuart, etc. can be found in the area.
Matagalpa is known for its good quality coffee production, same as cattle, milk produce, vegetables, flowers, and mountains for ecotourism.
It has been the center for historical mountain tourist resorts like Aranjuez, Santa Maria de Ostuma, and Selva Negra Mountain Resort.
Matagalpa was the city of refuge of Nicaraguan patriots when the Tennessean Filibuster William Walker took over most of the country in 1856. Patriots organized the Ejercito del Septentrion which won the Battle of San Jacinto in September 1856, ending Walker dominion in Nicaragua.
Matagalpa was the cradle city of Nazario Vega, Governor and Constructor of the Cathedral; Bartolome Martinez, President of Nicaragua 1923-24, Carlos Fonseca Amador, founder of the Sandinista Front in 1961, among other figures..
Up to now Matagalpa is the second most populated Province of Nicaragua, after the Capital Managua. And the most diversified in production.
How to get to Matagalpa
In order to get to Matagalpa, either from Managua or from the International Airport there are three choices: 1.You can rent a car in the airport lobby taking “Carretera Norte” heading north, it takes 2 hours to get Matagalpa City. 2. Public Bus Ride, the other alternative is just outside the Airport to take a bus heading to Matagalpa, the bus takes 2.5 hours and the ticket cost between 4 or 5 dollars. 3. Hitchhiking on the highway going north to Matagalpa just outside the airport is also ok, you more likely get a free ride on the bed of an eventual good will driver of a pick up. On the way to Matagalpa you pass by the following little towns: Tipitapa, San Benito, Maderas, Calabazas, just outside Ciudad Dario, Sebaco, then in kilometer 130 you get to Matagalpa.
Once in Matagalpa you can go to kilometer 140 on the Highway Matagalpa to Jinotega to the well known Selva Negra (Black Forest) Mountain Resort, good for mountain hiking, horse backriding, birdatching, food and lodging. If you keep going north 30 kilometers you get to kilometer 160 or the City of Jinotega, and 15 kiometers ahead is the City of San Rafael del Norte, here is the original house of Blanca Arauz, General.Sandino´s wife, which has been converted in a Museum, visit also the Tepeyac Sanctuary and the oil painting inside the local Church, across the local park. Farther north is the biggest Natural Forest Reseve north of the Amazons, named Bosawas. From Matagalpa you also can go to the town of San Ramon (12 kilometers) it is close to the Indian Community of El Chile, only remaining of the Matagalpa Indian ethnic group where you may have the chance to observe how they nit old Indian textile (ask local residents)
Matagalpa neighborhood farms are a good place to practice Eco Tourism, Agritourism, Adventure hiking, Trekling and the Coffee Tour. For food, ask for the local Nacatamal, strong black coffee, pupusas, rosquillas, and Güirila or Fresh-corn Tortilla.
Matagalpa, a city of beautiful women
Matagalpa has been called the city of beautiful women. There are many poems and song lyrics referring to that fact. The reason is the result of the melting pot of many races and nationalities that took place there. We can mention historical names of handsome women like: Aureliana Tinoco (1840s), Margarita Arauz Fajardo (1850s), Hortencia Boniche (1880s), Mina Uebersezig Sierra (1915s), Anita Frauenberger Zeyss (1920s), Mercedes Reyes Arauz (1925s), Elsa Vogl (1927s), Celia Navarro Richardson (1940s), Maruca Kühl Arauz (1950s), Claudia Celedón Deshon (1955s), Delia Pao Bornemann (1957s), Nidia Casco, Indiana Orúe (1959s), Antonieta Leclaire (1963), Hilda Fajardo Raitt, and many more.
The Railess Train of Matagalpa (Terrocarril)
My family has been into the railroad trade in USA since 1880s, and I found very interesting for my personal collection the story of this railess steam locomotive. A friend of mine translated this to English language, it would be nice if you had more English stories about your town. This coming month of December my wife and me are planning to travel to Matagalpa during our vacations. Thank you. Howe McLaughing