26 October 2009

Mora and Mora

Not far to the northeast of the municipality of San Miguel de Allende in the State of Guanajuato there is a smaller municipality named "Doctor Mora". It is the youngest municipality in Guanajuato, having been permanently established as a local seat of government in 1949. Originally it had been part of an hacienda named "Agostadero de Charcas " which translates to "Summer Pasture of Charcas". The origin of the hacienda isn't really clear but just prior to 1860 it was in the hands of a group of Jesuit priests. In 1860 the Jesuits were expelled from Mexico for the second time, "ipso facto", by the "Ley Lerdo" of the Mexican Reforma. They had already been forcefully expelled from all of New Spain in 1767 by King Charles III because they had becomes so influential and politically powerful. They returned to Mexico in 1814 but by the time of the Reforma the church and state were finally separated and church property was confiscated by the state. The hacienda was auctioned off by the Mexican government and it was purchased by a man from Querétaro named Agustín González de Cossío. He developed the property into a small agricultural town.

When the town was permanently made into a municipality it was given the name "Villa Doctor Mora". It was named after José Maria Luís Mora who was an important figure in the formation of Mexico after the fight for independence from Spain and the fiasco caused by the presidencies of Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Ana y Pérez de Lebrón...the man we commonly refer to as just plain "Santa Ana". Interestingly, the Spanish surname "Mora" translates into the English word "mulberry", or in other words, Doctor Mora would be Doctor Mulberry in English. In 1794 José Maria Luis Mora was born in Chamacuero, Guanajuato which the present day town of Comonfort that is located between San Miguel de Allende and Celaya. He was educated in Querétaro and Mexico City and was ordained a priest and later obtained a doctorate in theology which he eventually used to claim the title of "Doctor" when he entered politics and embarked on a more secular course. He was just sixteen years old when Padre Miguel Hidalgo led the uprising that began the fight for Mexican independence from Spain. In the twenty five year period following the attainment of independence he became a spokesman for that portion of the upper classes who were willing to break with the Spanish Crown and the authority of the Catholic Church and apply the principles of freedom in politics, religion, and economics.

Doctor Mora would probably be called a "centrist" today because when forced to choose between far left ideology and order, he chose order. However, he was a strong federalist and he wrote that federalism was a means of preventing radical fringe political elements from capturing control of the state. If he were a member of the U.S. Senate today I think he might be characterized as a "Blue Dog Democrat". He rejected Simon Bolivar's (and now Hugo Chavez's) dream of a united Spanish America and he felt that Mexico would have its own great future as a separate nation with a European flavor. The thing that distinguished him the most is that he perceived that in order to avoid revolutions and social upheaval the governing class must rule democratically and extend the realm of freedom by progressive measures. To paraphrase the words of Archie and Edith Bunker, "Mister we could use another man like Doctor Mora again".

The title of this post is "Mora and Mora" so now I better to say something about the other "Mora". It is the Red Mulberry tree (Morus rubra L.) which is native to North America and at one time flourished in Mexico. No, it is not the Mulberry upon which the silkworm (Bombyx mori) thrives. That is the White Mulberry (Morus alba). The Red Mulberry of which I write is the victim of a great tragedy. During the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, machines were invented that allowed for mass production of cotton cloth which could be tinted using large quantities of dyes of all colors imaginable. At that time there were no artificial dyes, so they used only natural dyes extracted from many plant species such as indigo and some types of insects such as cochineal. Unfortunately for the mulberry tree, during the same period it was discovered that by boiling the mulberry wood in water a substance was produced which made excellent fabric dyes in the shades of brown, yellow, beige or green, depending upon the exact method used. The marketing of this new coloring was so lucrative the world over that countless thousands of mulberry trees were cut down, their trunks and branches chipped into small pieces, and carried on wagons, trains, and ships to the dye makers where it was boiled in big cauldrons to extract the dyes. After the dye was boiled out, wood was dried and used as fuel to heat the dye pots. The principle source for the dye was a member of the Mulberry Family (Moraceae) named Dyer's Mulberry (Maclura tinctoria). The Dyer's Mulberry may have been the main source of dye but all types of Mulberry were used to make dye. The world famous fabric known as khaki, which provided uniforms for generations of soldiers and police, was nothing more than heavy cotton cloth dyed with some sort of mulberry dye.

The Mulberry tree was also valuable for it's wood which is something like wood of the Ash tree or "Fresno" in Spanish. The wood was used for things like furniture, coffins and fence posts. The Red Mulberry grows very tall (about 70 feet) and it branches out in many stems close to the ground and these stems are not much thicker than eight to twelve inches in diameter making the wood easy to cut and split. After the Mexican Revolution the population of Mexico started to grow quite rapidly and many mulberry trees were cut down by "carboneros" to make "carbón" (charcoal) for domestic cooking fires. By the mid 1930's the amount of deforestation in Mexico was becoming alarming and the government began a massive program to plant trees. About the same time they began building roads for easier transport of other fuels and promoting the use of oil stoves to lower the demand upon charcoal for cooking. It was too late for the mulberry trees though. They never really came back. For one thing the male and female flowers are born by separate trees and if the balance of male to female is destroyed there will be no progeny. There are still some mulberry trees in our local park that was once a government tree nursery but other than that they have become quite rare. So there you have it folks, the story of Doctor Mora and the Mora tree, Morus rubra. Two obscure little histories of Mexico.


YayaOrchid said...

Bob, I just wanted to say THANK YOU for your comment on my blog. You offered me the EXACT Scripture I needed to hear at the right moment too! You are such a dear friend!

Billie Mercer said...

Bob, I love the way you wove these two stories together. I'd always wondered how the town Dr. Mora got it's name.

Leslie Harris said...

Bob, several months ago, my hubby and I took the kids to pick berries from what I have identified as a mulberry tree. Could you please take a look at the picture I posted on my blog and let me know if indeed it is a mulberry tree? (Click on the picture for a closer look.)


(I have been studying the tree, and I think that it's actually 2 trees that have "fused" together.)

Dan in NC said...

Thanks Bob, I enjoyed and learned quite a bit about a town I'll now visit. I've often spent days in Pozos and its ruins, but have never gone beyond to Dr Mora or even San Luis.. I'll certainly rectify this on my next visit.. Thanks again!
Dan in NC

Unknown said...


Are you sure the picture taken is of a mora? It looks like an "árbol del trueno" tree which is popular in guanajuato's plazas to me. Just wondering.

Bob Mrotek said...


I think that your tree is a Black Mulberry (Morus niger). They live to be very old and they have thick bark and a gnarled trunk.

let me know when you come to visit. Perhaps we can "do" Doctor Mora together :)

Now you've got me wondering about whether the tree in my photo is actually a Morus rubra or some other variety like Morus alba. I plan to keep an eye on it through a yearly cycle so that I can see the flowers. However, I definitely don't think that it is an Árbol de Trueno or "Ligustrum lucidum" (Glossy Privet, Chinese Privet or Broad-leaf Privet). Maybe when you come for a visit we can examine it together like junior tree detectives. If I am right you can take me to lunch. If I am wrong you can still take me to lunch :)

Suzanne said...

my grandson's family on his father's side is from Chamacuaro - but I see you have a different spelling and relate it to Celaya, comonfort - that comonfort is actually the old town of Chamacuero? am I reading that right?

There is a Chamacuaro near Acambaro...which I assumed was where they are from but I'm going to check with the family to see exactly where My daughter's husband's family is still there in Chamacuaro... or maybe it's Chamacuero - time to get the story straight about Andreas' heritage.

Bob Mrotek said...


Comonfort was definitely once called "Chamacuero". See:


There is a small town called Chamácuaro near Acambaro but note that it has a different accent mark and is pronounced quite differently.

Unknown said...

Ja, hecho Bob.

Anonymous said...

From your photos that looks like a fig (Ficus sp.) to me. At least, those fruit are more reminiscent of figs than mulberries, as far as I can tell from the photos. How did you make your ID, out of curiosity?

Bob Mrotek said...


Still working on the ID. Definitely not a Ficus. Don't be so Anonymous por favor. At least you can leave a first name. No?

JC Mora said...

I'm a Mora, and most of my family are from Acambaro,Paraquaro and Mexico City.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.