The Valley of Mexico

The Valley of Mexico is a plateau in Central America that gives Mexico its name. The Aztecs and Toltecs built their cities here and it was the epicentre of pre-Colombian civilisation. The Valley a high and fertile land, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes on four sides. Today is is home to Mexico City, the second largest in the Americas.

Mountains enclose the Valley of Mexico, with only a small pass in the north, where wind can enter. The pass was the historical migration route. As waters could not escape, the Valley once housed great lakes, the most famous of which was ‘Lake Texcoco’. Its elevation gave the Valley a cool temperature while volcanic ash made fertile soil and provided abundant obsidian – a valuable commodity.

Humans settled in the Valley of Mexico in ancient times. Beans, squash, maize and legumes grew easily here, attracting human settlement. By 1,000 AD the Valley of Mexico was one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The great city of Teotihuacan, and the Toltec civilisation that followed, were centred here.

In the 1300s, the Mexica or ‘Aztecs’ migrated from the north. Looking for a place where an eagle perched on a cactus eating a snake, they settled in the marshes of lake Texcoco. The Aztecs adopted the sophisticated culture of their neighbours and expanded across the lake, where they built the city ‘Tenochtitlan’ on an expanse of artificial islands. The city followed a plan and included marketplaces, pyramids, a palace, aquarium, zoo and botanical gardens. By the 1400s, the Aztecs were the preeminent power in the Valley, ruling their neighbours through a system of tribute and military subjugation.

In 1521, conquistador Hernán Cortés destroyed the Aztec Empire with an alliance of Spanish and native forces. He forced Aztec captives to level Tenochtitlan and built a new settlement – named Mexico City – on its rubble.

Lake Texcoco was buried. Under the weight of the ruins of the old and the streets of the new, the lake dried up. Today no trace remains. It took until 1900 for Mexico City to surpass the one million people who had lived in Tenochtitlan at its peak. By 2000, the population was 21 million.

Pollution is now rife in the Valley of Mexico. As smog and heat from cars and electricity have nowhere to escape they sit stagnant until the yearly rains. Furthermore, without the old lake to soak up the rainfall, Mexico City – particularly its shantytowns – are also prone to terrible flooding, often breaking into water supplies and creating open sewers in parts of the city. The conditions which brought cities to the Valley of Mexico, are now their greatest impediment.

Sources: Fall of Civilizations Podcast, World Health Organisation

Wars of 2022

This is an ongoing list of wars fought in 2022. For clarity, I will use the definition from the Upsalla Conflict Data Programme, a leading authority on wars and conflicts.

A war must:

  1. be an armed conflict between states and armed groups involving military and paramilitary units.
  2. have over 1,000+ battle-related casualties in a given calendar year.

The broader definition of ‘armed conflicts’ includes insurgencies and smaller-scale clashes. All wars are armed conflicts, but not all armed conflicts are wars.

This list does not include:

  • insurgencies spread across multiple countries whose casualties exceed 1,000.
  • wars whose casualties have not yet exceeded 1,000 in 2022. I will update, as these occur.

For a full list of ongoing wars, see Wikipedia or Worldpopulation Review.

Today, not all wars are as clear-cut as state conflicts were in the past, where one country fought another. Most are civil wars between governments and arrays of competing rebel groups. As most deaths go unreported, I have taken the highest average estimates. The casualties below are rounded to the nearest 1,000.

Burmese Civil War (Myanmar Conflict)

  • Since 1948. Civil war involving Burmese government and rebel groups. 16,000 + casualties

War in Afghanistan

  • Since 1978. Civil war involving Taliban government, Islamic State and other rebel groups. 3,000+ casualties.

Colombian Conflict

  • Since 1964. Insurgency involving Colombian government, rebel groups and drug cartels. 2,000+ casualties.

Somali Civil War

  • Since 1991. Civil war involving Somali government (with US, UK, Turkish and Italian support), Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. 5,000+ casualties.

Allied Democratic Forces insurgency.

  • Since 1991. Insurgency involving the Ugandan and Congolese governments and the ‘Allied Democratic Forces’, a Ugandan rebel group. 3,000+ casualties.

War in Darfur

  • Since 2003. Civil war involving Sudanese government (with Belarussian and Libyan support) and rebel groups (with South Sudanese support). 1000+ dead.

Mexican Drug War

  • Since 2006. Drug war involving Mexican government and drug cartels. 6,000+ casualties.

Syrian Civil War

  • Since 2011. Civil war involving Syrian government (with Russian and Iranian support) and rebel groups. 4,000 + casualties.

Nigerian bandit conflict

  • Since 2011. Civil war involving Nigerian government, bandit gangs and rebel groups. 2,000+ casualties.

Mali War

  • Since 2012. Civil war involving Malinese government, rebel groups and Al-Qaeda. 4,000+ casualties.

Yemeni Civil War

  • Since 2014. Civil war between Yemeni government (with Saudi, US and UAE support) and Houthi Rebels (with Iranian support). 6,000 + casualties.

Civil wars in Ethiopia

  • Since 2018, including Tigray War. Civil war between Ethiopian government (with Eritrean support) and Tigray rebels, Sudan and Al-Qaeda. 100,000 + casualties.

Russo-Ukrainean War

  • Since 2022. Inter-state war between Russia and Ukraine. 156,000 + casualties.

Sources: Uppsala Conflict Data Programme, Wikipedia (lists sources for casualty counts), World Population Review


Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout: Mexicans End the Long ...

Victorio (1820 – 81) was the last great Apache chief. A leader of the Chiricahua Apache from New Mexico, he led a breakout from the San Carlos Reservation in 1879. Victorio fought a guerrilla war against Mexico and the United States until his final defeat at Tres Castillos.

Victorio is his Spanish name. His other monikers included ‘Beduit’, ‘Checks His Horse’ and ‘Apache Wolf’. 

As a young man, he trained for strength by running up hills with a mouthful of water to force him to breathe through his nose. Victorio fought alongside Apache chiefs Mangas Coloradas and Cochise and surrendered with the other Chiricahuas to reservation life in 1871. When bandits and other Apache attacked settlers, they blamed Victorio’s band, so in 1877, the US military forced them into a new home.

Their new home was San Carlos, a stretch of Arizona desert with little water or shade. Apache called it ‘Hell’s 40 Acres.’ Unsanitary, crowded conditions made tuberculosis rife. After three years, Victorio decided to leave.

He had two key allies:
  • Old Nana (1810-1896, right) was a veteran of the Apache Wars and a skilled strategist with a reputation for cruelty. At 70 years, despite being half blind and rheumatic, he could still ride and fight.
  • Lozen (1840 – 1889), Victorio’s younger sister, was a warrior and seer. She could allegedly foretell the future and track enemy movements from a distance.

Victorio claimed:

“Lozen is my right hand … strong as a man, braver than most, and cunning in strategy. Lozen is a shield to her people.”

Victorio and Lozen persuaded 300 men and women to escape from San Carlos. The band stole horses from a nearby ranch and fled the US cavalry into the Sierra Diablo mountains.

The US refused his demands for a return to his traditional lands. In response Victorio raided both sides of the border, fighting over 200 skirmishes and raids. His warriors hid in the mountains, ambushed unsuspecting soldiers, and poisoned wells to evade pursuit. Victorio defeated a four companies at Los Animas and slaughtered 43 civilians at Los Alma. 

In 1880, Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry and Texas Rangers pursued Victorio across the desert. They intercepted him at a wellspring and forced his band to cross the Rio Grande.

Victorio’s band arrived in Mexico tired and hungry. Lozen left to escort a pregnant mother back to a friendly reservation in Arizona.

The others made camp on a redoubt called ‘Tres Castillos’ – Three Castles. Old Nana took half of the band on a raiding party for ammunition and supplies. The next day Colonel Joaquin Terrazas and seasoned Indian fighter, Juan Mata Ortiz attacked. Their force of 250 included local millitia and scouts from the Tarahumara – a Native people with renowned endurance.

The Battle for Tres Castillos was one-sided. Victorio was shot early in the battle, and his fighters fought hand-to-hand against Mexican rifles. After one day of fighting, Victorio killed himself with a knife.

Not By Bullet Or Blade — By Fire - Frontier Partisans

Colonel Terrazas killed the men and took the women and children captive, parading them to cheering crowds in Chihuahua city then selling them into slavery. A Tarahumara took Victorio’s scalp and later sold it for 2,000 pesos.

When he heard the news, Old Nana went on a revenge spree, killing soldiers and civilians. He captured Juan Mata Ortiz, burned him alive then fled into the Sierra Madre. Three years later, both Lozen and Old Nana would fight alongside Geronimo in the last Apache uprising.

Sources: James Kawaykla and Eve Ball – In the Days of Victorio (1970), Legends of America, Legends of the Old West Podcast, South Arizona Guide

See Also:

The Apache

Native American Warriors and Battles Pictures - Native ...

The Apache are a Native American people from the southwestern United States. They resisted the Spanish and Mexicans for centuries and were the last Native Americans to submit to the USA. Today, they live in seven reservations across Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

The Apache were never a single nation. They lived in different tribes, including the Chiricahua, Lipan and Mescalero, who spoke a common language and shared a common way of life. Historically, the Chiricahua were the most defiant. 

Apaches speak an Athabaskan language, closely related to Navajo, and distantly to Tlingit. Their ancestors migrated from Siberia thousands of years after the initial settlement of the Americas and lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers. Over the centuries, Apache drifted from Alaska to the Great Plains of the USA, where they hunted buffalo and trained dogs.

In the 18th century, the Comanche drove the Apache into the deserts and mountains of the American Southwest. As the land was barren and lacking in buffalo, Apache raided for supplies, their victims the settled Puebloans and Spanish colonists.

Traditionally, Apache lived in wikiups and tipis. They mainly hunted deer, pronghorn and rabbits, gathered a range of wild plants and made clothing from leather and buckskin. Women fought alongside the men.

LAND OF THE APACHES… - gypsywagens

In the Southwest, the Apache became expert guerrilla fighters. They struck isolated farms and villages, seizing resources and livestock, then melted away into the mountains and deserts. Their unsurpassed tracking skills and ability to survive in extreme climates made the Apaches a tenacious foe. Hundreds of Apache scouts would serve in the US military.

The Apache fought the Spanish for 120 years, the Mexicans for 80 and the Americans for 25. 

Apache paintings

While Apache saw raiding as a necessary peacetime activity, their enemies considered it an act of war. In 1835, the Mexican government issued ‘scalp bounties’ for killing Apaches– 100 pesos for a man, 50 for a woman and 25 for a child. Bounty hunters made a living murdering Apache, and revenge killings intensified. 

The US – Apache Wars (1853 – 1886) were the longest in American history. When the USA took over Arizona and New Mexico, they found themselves at odds with their new neighbours. Apaches raided with ferocity, while the US broke treaties constantly and forced Apaches onto barren reservations. Disaffected Apache broke out and fought as guerrillas in the hills.

Four great leaders fought the Americans and Mexicans:

  • Mangas Coloradas (Red Sleeves) – raided both sides of the border, murdered at peace talks in 1863.
  • Cochise – fought the United States for ten years after being wrongfully accused of kidnapping, died of natural causes in 1874.
  • Victorio – led a breakout of 200 warriors, killed at Tres Castillos in 1881.
'The Apache Wars' gives history of forgotten conflict ...

Geronimo (pictured right) led the last rebellion in 1886. With only 37 warriors, he held out in the Dragoon Mountains of southern Arizona for one year while 5,000 soldiers – a quarter of the US army – hunted him down. When Geronimo surrendered, the US took him and 300 Chiricahua to captivity in Florida then to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where most died of tuberculosis. They did not return until 1912. Geronimo became the most famous Apache and a figure of American myth.

As of 2010, there are 111,810 people of Apache descent. Most live one of 11 federally recognised reservations:

  • Apache Tribe of Oklahoma
  • Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma 
  • Jicarilla Apache Nation, New Mexico 
  • Mescalero Reservation, New Mexico 
  • Fort Apache Reservation, Arizona 
  • San Carlos Reservation, Arizona 
  • Tonto Apache Tribe of Arizona 
  • Camp Verde Indian Reservation, Arizona

Sources: Dan Carlin – Apache Tears, Chiricahua Apache Nation,, Legends of the Old West, Mescalaro Apache Tribe

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How California Got Its Name

The etymology of California has a curious story. America’s richest and most populous state is named after a fictional country from a 16th-century Spanish novelWhen the Spanish were exploring the Americas, they named the lands northwest of Mexico after the made-up island of California. It would be like naming a region Gondor or Narnia today.

Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo wrote the Amadis series around 1500 by translating and retelling older French and Portuguese tales. His books followed the adventures of Amadis of Gaul, a knight-errant who went about slaying giants and rescuing damsels. Although near unknown today, it was incredibly popular in its time. A century later, Miguel Cervantes parodied the Amadis books in Don Quixote, whose lead character claims Amadis of Gaul as his favourite.

books african history African Queens Queen Calafia ...

The land of California appears in Montalvo’s fifth bookThe Exploits of Esplandian (1510). Written when the Spanish were exploring the New World, which they still thought was Asia, it follows the adventures of Amadis’s son and his war with the amazon queen Califia (whose name likely derives from the Arabic ‘caliph’). Her kingdom, California was an island somewhere west of the Caribbean and east of Constantinople. Its people were amazons who rode griffins to battle and whose only metal was gold. Of course, by the end of the novel, Esplandian defeats Califia; she converts to Christianity and accepts men into her land.

Montalvo describes:

Know that on the right hand of the Indies exists an island called California, very close to a side of the Eartlhy paradise; and it was populated by black women, without any man existing there because they lived in the way of the Amazons. They had beautiful and robust bodies and were brave and very strong. Their island was the strongest of the World, with its cliffs and rocky shores. Their weapons were golden and so were the harnesses of the wild beasts that they were accustomed to taming so that they could be ridden because there was no other metal in the island than gold.

Montalvo’s chivalric romances were easily accessible, credit to the newly invented printing press, and especially popular amongst men seeking adventure in the New World. Hernan Cortes referenced Amadis when seeing Tenochtitlan for the first time.

In 1542, Juan Rodriguez, a Portuguese conquistador working for the Spanish, sailed from Honduras up the western coast of North America. Like most Spanish adventurers, he was familiar with Montalvo’s books and may even have thought them true. Rodriguez found a peninsular, mistook it for an island and named it California. In 1602 the Spanish colonised the region and applied the name not only to the peninsular (today’s Baja California, Mexico) but the land north as well, which they still believed to be an island. The name California has stuck ever since. 

Source: John Man – Amazons: The Real Warrior Women of the Ancient World (2017)

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