Chihuahua (chēwäˈwä) [key], state (1990 pop. 2,441,873), 94,831 sq mi (245,612 sq km), N Mexico, on the border of N.Mex. and Texas. The city of Chihuahua is the capital. Largest of the Mexican states, Chihuahua is divided into two regions—the mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental to the west, and the vast, cactus-and-greasewood desert basins, broken by scattered barren ranges, to the north and east. In extreme E Chihuahua and W Coahuila is a desolate basin, the Bolsón de Mapimí. At Nuevo Casas Grandes, in NW Chihuahua, is Paquimé, a vast and important archaeological site.
Chihuahua is a leading national mineral producer; the mines of the Sierra Madre yield silver, gold, zinc, lead, and other minerals and constitute the state's most valuable industry. Cattle raising on the wide plains, which was practiced from the 16th cent. until it was virtually halted by the depredations of Francisco Villa, has been revived. Long considered unsuitable for agriculture, the state has seen reclamation of some river valleys, notably that of the Conchos. The newly irrigated areas and upland mountain valleys produce grains, cotton, and fruit. Chihuahua is one of Mexico's chief agricultural states and has become a center for foreign investment in manufacturing. Foreign (particularly U.S.) corporations have taken advantage of the large and rapidly expanding population and built manufacturing plants (maquiladoras) in N Chihuahua. Among the products are electronics and automobiles.
Chihuahua was first known to the Spanish through Cabeza de Vaca, and after the settlement of Durango in 1562 by Francisco de Ibarra, Chihuahua and Durango were called Nueva Vizcaya. Chihuahua became a state after the Mexican revolution against Spain. During the 19th cent. Chihuahua was a center of Apache and Yaqui activity; today the Tarahumara inhabit some of the remote regions of Chihuahua.
Of considerable importance to Chihuahua's economic and political development was the westward expansion of the United States; during the 19th and early 20th cent. foreign investment was considerable, with the border city of Juárez as the commercial link. Chihuahua was occupied by American forces in the Mexican War and played a prominent part in the turbulent years following the revolution in 1910. In 1961, in an attempt to open some of the most valuable timber and mining lands in the nation, Mexico inaugurated the 560-mi (901-km) Chihuahua-Pacific RR, which borders the gigantic Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon). In recent years there has been significant outmigration from Chihuahua to the United States; the state also has been the scene of significant drug-cartel-related violence.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.