1902 Encyclopedia > Honduras


HONDURAS, a republic of Central America, formerly a province of the kingdom of Guatemala, deriving its name from the Spanish honduras, depths, in allusion, it is said, to the difficulty experienced by its original ex-plorers in finding anchorage off its coast. It is bounded on the N. and E. by the Bay of Honduras and the Carib-bean Sea, extending from the mouth of the Rio Tinto, 15° 45' N. lat. and 88° 30' W. long., to the mouth of the Rio Wanks or Segovia, in 14° 59' N. lat. and 83° 11' W. long., having a coast-line of about 400 miles. On the S. it is bounded by Nicaragua, the line of division following the Rio Wanks for about two-thirds of its length, thence deflect-ing to the sources of the Rio Negro, which flows into the Gulf of Fonseca; it has on this gulf a coast-line of about 60 miles, embracing also the islands of Tigre, Sacate Grande, and Gueguensi. Upon the W. and S.W. it is bounded by San Salvador and Guatemala; the line of separation there is irregular, commencing on the Gulf of Fonseca, at the mouth of the Rio Goascoran, and ending at the mouth of the Rio Tinto, on the Bay of Honduras. The republic is therefore entirely between 83° 20' and 89° 30' W. long, and 13° 10' and 16° N. lat., and comprises about 40,000 square miles. The large island of Roatan, with Guannja or Bonacca, Utila, Helena, Barbaretta, and Morat are naturally dependent on Honduras.

Mountains.—The general aspect of the country is mountainous ; it is traversed by ranges of mountains and hills radiating from the common base of the Cordilleras. That chain does not, in this republic, approach within 50 or 60 miles of the Pacific ; nor does it throughout maintain its general character of an unbroken range, but sometimes turns back on itself, forming interior basins or valleys, within which are collected the headwaters of the streams that traverse the country in the direction of the Atlantic Ocean. Nevertheless, viewed from the Pacific, it presents the appearance of a great natural wall, with a lower range of mountains, bristling with volcanic peaks, intervening between it and the western sea. It would almost seem that at one time the Pacific broke at the foot of the great mountain barrier, and that the subordinate coast range was subsequently thrust up by volcanic forces. The northern and eastern coasts of the republic present several bold groups of mountains, which are the ends of the ranges radiating north and east from the Cordilleras, and which, striking the coast diagonally, and overlapping each other, seem to form an unbroken range, and are sometimes represented as such on the maps. The Cordilleras proper traverse the state in the general direction of north-west and south-east, but it is throughout serpentine, and at one point is interrupted by a great transverse valley or plain, known as the plain of Comayagua, having an extreme length of about 40 miles, with a width of from 5 to 15 miles, from which, extending due north to the Atlantic, is the valley of the river Humuya, and due south, to the Pacific, the valley of the river Goascoran, collectively constituting a great transverse valley reaching from sea to sea, which was pointed out soon after the conquest as an appropriate course for inter-oceanic communication. Topographically the country has great diversity of surface and elevation; broad alluvions, fertile valleys, wide and elevated plains, and mountains terraced to their summits, collectively afford-ing almost every variety of climate, soil, and production, from oranges and pine apples in the valleys to peaches and pears on the table-lands.

Hydrography.—The rivers of Honduras are numerous, and some of them of large size and navigable. The largest is the Ulua, which drains a wide expanse of territory, comprehending nearly one-third of the entire state, and probably discharges a greater amount of water into the sea than any other river of Central America, the Wanks or Segovia, perhaps, excepted. It may be navigated by-steamers of light draught for the greater part of its course. The soil on its banks is of extreme fertility The Rio Aguan or Roman is a large stream falling into the sea near Truxillo, with a total length of about 120 miles. Its largest tributary is the Rio Mangualil, celebrated for its gold washings, and it may be ascended by boats of light draft for 80 miles. Rio Tinto, Negro, or Black River, called also Poyer or Poyas, is a considerable stream, said to have a length of 120 miles; it is navigable by small vessels for from 40 to 60 miles. Some English settlements were made on its banks during the last century. The Poyas Iudians have a number of establishments on its upper tributaries. The Rio Wanks or Segovia is the longest, if not the largest, river in Central America, rising within 50 miles of the Bay of Fonseca, and flowing into the Carib-bean Sea at Cape Gracias a Dios, constituting for the greater part of its length the boundary between Honduras and Nicaragua, and having a length of 350 miles. For 251 miles above its mouth it flows through an almost unbroken wilderness, among high mountains and over a very broken and rocky bed. It is nevertheless occasionally navigated by canoes to within a few leagues of the town of Ocotal or Nueva Segovia in Nicaragua. Three consider-able rivers flow into the Pacific,—the Goascoran, Nacaome, and Choluteca, the last-named having a length of about 150 miles. The Goascoran, which almost interlocks with the Humuya, in the plain of Comayagua, has a length of about 80 miles. The Lake of Yojoa or Taulebe is the only lake of note in Honduras, and is about 25 miles in length, by from 6 to 8 in breadth. Its surface is 2050 feet above the sea. It has two outlets on the south, the rivers Jaitique and Sacapa, which unite about 15 miles from the lake; and it is drained on the north by the Rio Blanco, a narrow, deep stream falling into the Ulua. It has also a feeder on the north, in the form of a subterranean stream of beautiful clear water, which here comes to the surface.

Harbours and Islands. —The Bay of Fonseca or Conchagua, sometimes called Amapala, is one of the finest ports, or "constellation of ports," on the entire Pacific, and on it Honduras has a larger frontage than Nicaragua or San Salvador. It is upwards of 50 miles in greatest length by about 30 miles in average width, with an entrance from the sea about 18 miles wide, between the great volcanoes of Conchagua, 3800 feet high, and Coseguina, 3000 feet high, the lofty islands of Conchaguita and Mianguiri lying between them, with a collection of rocks called "Los Farellones," dividing the entrance into four distinct channels, each of sufficient depth for the largest vessels. A channel called "El Estero Bear" extends from the extreme southern point of the bay into Nicaragua for about 50 miles, reachingwithin 20 or 25 miles of Lake Managua. The principal islands in the bay are Sacate Grande, Tigre, Gueguensi, and Esposescion belonging to Honduras, and Martin Perez, Punta Sacate, Conchaguita, and Mianguiri belonging to San Salvador. Of these Sacate Grande is the largest, being about 7 miles long by 4 broad. The island of Tigre from its position is the most important in the bay, being about 20 miles in circumference, and rising in the form of a cone to the height of 2500 feet. The slope from the water for some distance inland is gentle, admitting of cultivation. Upon the southern and eastern shores the lava forms black rocky barriers to the waves, varying in height from 10 to 80 feet; but on the northward and eastward are a number of playas or coves, with smooth, sandy beaches. Facing one of the most considerable of these is the port of Amapala, with deep water in front, where ships of ordinary size may lie within a cable's length of the shore. This island was a favourite resort of the pirates, and it was here that Drake had his depot during his operations in the South Sea. If. exports hides, indigo, tobacco, bullion, silver and copper ores, and Brazil wood. The bay abounds in fish, oysters, crabs, and cray fish, and water-fowl swarm along its shores. The whole region around it is eminently productive, and adapted to the production of every tropical commodity. The savannas back from the shores are fitted for grazing, while wheat, potatoes, and other products of the temperate zone may be cultivated on the plateaus and slopes of the mountains in the interior, where oaks and pines are abundant. The silver and gold mining districts of Tabanco, Aramacina, San Martyn, and Corpus all lie within from 10 to 40 miles of this bay. Limestone is also found near by, with a fine rose-coloured sandstone. Extensive beds of coal exist in the valley of the river Lempa. Puerto Caballos, on the northern coast, in 15° 49' N. lat. and 87° 57' "W. long., was selected by Cortes during his expedition into Honduras for the settlement which ho founded, with the purpose of making it the entrepot of New Spain ; he called it Natividad. For more than two centuries it was the principal establishment on the coast; but, during the time of the buccaneers, the settlement was removed to Omqa, a few miles to the east, because of the large size of the bay, which could only be adequately defended by the construction of several forts, while a single work, still extant and formidable, was sufficient for Omoa. The port or rather bay is about 9 miles in circumference, with a depth throughout the greater part of its area of from 4 to 12 fathoms, with secure holding ground. Towards the northern shore the depth of water is greatest; there suitable docks have been constructed, and the largest ocean steamers may enter and tie up, the rise and fall of the tide being scarcely perceptible. The prevailing winds are from the north-east, north, and north by west, from all which points the port is perfectly protected. The port of Omoa, in 15° 47' N. lat. and 88° 3' W. long., is small but secure, and is defended by a strong work, "El Castillo de San Fernando." The anchorage is good, in from 2 to 6 fathoms. The population in 1876 was about 600, most of the inhabitants having removed to San Pedro, 37 miles inland, where the business of the port is transacted. The exports of these ports consist of bullion, tobacco, indigo, sarsaparilla, hides, &c. A large number of cattle are shipped annually to supply the markets of Cuba and the mahogany establishments of Belize. There is an abundant supply of fish, turtle, and wild fowl from the quays and waters in its vicinity. Puerto Sal is a small harbour a few miles to the eastward of Puerto Caballos. Truxillo is an ancient port, in 15° 55' N. lat. and 86° W. long., situated on the western shore of a noble bay, formed by the projecting land trade is chiefly with Olancho, of which department it may be considered the port. There are some mines of gold in its vicinity. Triunfo de la Cruz is a large bay, commencing at Puerto Sal, bend-ing thence inward and terminating at Cabo Triunfo, with a coast-line of upwards of 20 miles. To the northward of Honduras, in the bay of the same name, distant from 30 to 50 miles, is a cluster of islands, sometimes called the Bay Islands, consisting of Roatan, Guanaja or Bonacca, Utila, Barbaretta, Helena, and Morat. They have a good soil, fine climate, and an advantageous position. Roatan, the largest, is about 30 miles long by 9 miles broad, with mountains rising to the height of 900 feet, covered with valuable woods, and abounding with deer and wild hogs. Its trade is chiefly with New Orleans in plantains, cocoa-nuts, pine apples, &c. Guanaja, discovered by Columbus, is 9 miles long by 5 miles broad; it lies 15 miles north-east of Roatan, has interior highlands thickly wooded, with beds of limestone, and, it is said, ores of zinc. Wild hogs are numerous. The other islands are comparatively small, and may be regarded as detached parts of Roatan, with which they are connected by reefs.

Minerals.—In respect to mineral resources, Honduras ranks first among the states of Central America ; the work-ing of the mines, however, has been conducted on a very small scale, and in a very rude manner, and as a conse-quence most of them have been abandoned and have filled with water, and have thus or otherwise been allowed to go to ruin. Silver ores are most abundant and valuable. They are chiefly found on the Pacific ranges or groups of moun-tains, while the gold washings, if not the gold mines proper, are most numerous on the Atlantic slope. The silver is found in various combinations with iron, lead, and copper, and in a few instances with antimony. Chlorides of silver are not uncommon, and rank among the richest ores in the country. The principal supply of gold is from the washings of Olancho, which are exceedingly productive. There are also rich mines of copper, the ores, in all cases, containing a considerable proportion of silver. Iron ores are common, most of them magnetic, and some so rich that they can be worked without smelting. Antimony, zinc, and tin also exist. Lignite has been discovered in various localities, and large beds exist in the department of Gracias, in which opals are also abundant.

Animals.—The domestic animals of the country are much the same as those of England and the United States. Cattle are everywhere abundant, and form one of the great sources of wealth in the country. Of late great numbers have been taken to Cuba, where there is a large and increasing demand for them. The forests are frequented by the ocelot or American tiger, and the peccary and deer ; the tapir is found near the sea, and the manatee in the northern creeks. Monkeys are numerous and of many varieties; the raccoon, squirrel, opossum, ant-eater, and armadillo abound. The alligator is found in all the rivers and lagoons on both coasts. Of lizards there are numberless varieties, including the iguana. Serpents are very rare, and of but two or three varieties, of which one only is venomous. Tortoise and turtle are everywhere numerous, and of several kinds. Oysters of two varieties are plentiful, namely, the bank and mangrove oyster. Vast beds of the first are found in the Bay of Fonseca. Crusta-ceans of various kinds and sizes, from the largest lobster to the smallest crab, are abundant. The lagoons and creeks of the coast abound in endless varieties of fish, as do also the waters of the interior. Several varieties of honey bees also are found. Mosquitoes are almost unknown in the interior, and are found at but few points on the coast. The woodtick and flea are common everywhere. The insect most dreaded is the "langosta" or "ehapulin," which at intervals afflicts the entire country, vast columns passing from one end to the other, darkening the air, and destroying every green thing in their course. The parrot, macaw, and toucan are found everywhere. Hawks, vultures, owls, and sea eagles are among the birds of prey. The crow, black-bird, Mexican jay, ricebird, swallow, rainbird, and humming-bird are common. There is a very great variety of water birds. The wild turkey, quail, and pigeon are numerous in the interior.

Inhabitants.—The inhabitants of Honduras are princi-pally of the Indian or aboriginal type. In the eastern portion of the state, between the Rio Roman and Cape Gracias a Dios and Segovia river, the country is almost exclusively occupied by native Indian tribes, known under the general names of Xicaques and Poyas. Portions of all of these tribes have accepted the Catholic religion, and live in peaceful neighbourhood and good understanding with the white inhabitants. There are, however, consider-able numbers who live among the mountains, and still con-form closely to the aboriginal modes of life. They all cultivate the soil, and are good and industrious labourers. A small portion of the coast, above Cape Gracias, is occu-pied by the Sambos, a mixed race of Indians and negroes, which, however, is fast disappearing. Spreading along the entire north coast are the Caribs, a vigorous race, descendants of the Caribs of St Vincent, one of the Windward Islands, who were deported in 1796, by the English, to the number of 5000, and landed on the island of Roatan. They still retain their native language, and are active, industrious, and provident, forming the chief reliance of the mahogany cutters on the coast. A portion of them, who have a mixture of negro blood, are called the Black Caribs. They profess the Catholic religion, but retain many of their native rites and superstitions. In the departments of Gracias, Comayagua, and Choluteca are many purely Indian towns, with industrious, peaceable inhabitants, retaining many of their primitive habits and their ancient language. The aggregate population, in the absence of trustworthy data, can only be estimated approxi-mately. Attempts were made under the crown and subse-quently under the republic to effect a complete census, but with very unsatisfactory results, since it has always been found that the ignorant masses of the people, and especially the Indians, avoid a census as in some way connected with military conscription or taxation. The bulk of the Spanish population exists on the Pacific slope of the continent, while on the Atlantic declivity the country is uninhabited or but sparsely occupied by Indian tribes, of which the number is wholly unknown. Nevertheless, from the im-perfect data which are accessible, the population of Honduras may fairly be estimated at about 400,000, 6000 to 7000 being whites, and the balance Indians and the mixed races.

Departments.—Honduras is divided politically into seven departments, viz., Comayagua, Gracias, Choluteca, Tegucigalpa, Olancho, Yoro, and Santa Barbara.
That of Comayagua lies in the very centre of the state. It con-tains the capital of the same name (see COMAYAGUA). The trade of the town is small, but the plain around it is very fertile, and capable of sustaining, as formerly, a large and flourishing population. Numerous monuments of antiquity are scattered over the plain, consisting of large, pyramidal, terraced structures, conical mounds of earth, and walls of stone. Pine and oak are abundant on the hills, and mahogany, cedar, and lignum vita;, as well as other useful woods, are found in the valleys. The nopal, cultivated in Guate-mala and Mexico as the food of the cochineal insect, is indigenous.Coffee and the other staples of semi-tropical regions also flourish here.

The department of Gracias lies in the north-western portion of the state, touching on Guatemala and Salvador, and its territory is in many respects the most interesting in Central America, of which it may be regarded as an epitome. On the north are many beau-tiful valleys, among them that of Copan, celebrated for its ancient monuments. Among its mountains is found the quetzal, the royal and sacred bird of the aborigines. Peaches, apples, and plums flourish here, and the blackberry is indigenous among the hills. The vegetable products, actual and possible, exhaust the list of pro-ductions of the tropics and the temperate zones. Wheat, barley, rye, and the potato grow on the mountains, while sugar cane, indigo, cotton, coffee, cocoa, oranges, and plantains flourish in the valleys. Pine covers the hills, and there is much mahogany, cedar, and granadillo, also Brazil wood, &c., for dyeing and manufacture. Copal balsam and liquidambar are among the common gums, while the tobacco has a wide and deserved celebrity. Gold and silver mines are numerous and rich, although but little worked. Bituminous coal, in beds of from 8 to 10 feet in thickness, is found in the plain of Sensenti, and asbestos, cinnabar, and platinum in various loca-lities. Opals are frequent, principally in the vicinty of Erandique, where as many as sixteen mines have been "denounced " in a single year. Amethysts are reported to have been found near Campuca.

Choluteca is the extreme southern department of the state, lying along the Bay of Fonseca. It is extremely diversified in surface. Its alluvions, fronting the bay, are remarkably fertile, and are capable of producing all the staples of the tropics. As the country rises, which it does by a series of terraces, the savannas become broad and numerous, affording vast pastures for herds of cattle, which at present constitute the chief wealth of the department. Apart from its agricultural wealth, it is rich in minerals, chiefly in mines of silver.
Tegucigalpa, to the north of Choluteca, is the smallest but relatively the most populous department. It is a vast interior basin or plateau, with an average elevation of not less than 3000 feet above the sea. Its soil is not so productive as that of some of the other departments, and is essentially a mining district, rich in gold and silver. Tegucigalpa is the largest and finest city of the state, and is at present the capital, alternating with Comayagua as the seat of government.

The department of Olancho joins Tegucigalpa on the east, and has an area of about 11,300 square miles. Its people are indus-trious, and the department is comparatively the richest in the state. Its exports are bullion, cattle, hides and deer skins, sarsaparilla, and tobacco. Next to its herds of cattle, its principal sources of wealth are its gold washings. Nearly all of its streams carry gold of a line quality in their sands.

The department of Yoro comprehends all the northern part of Honduras, with an area of 15,000 square miles, being the largest in size and the smallest in population. The valleys of all the streams abound in precious woods, and comprise the great mahogany dis-trict of Central America. The inhabitants are chiefly mahogany cutters by occupation. The mountains of Pija and Sulaco are said to con tain great mineral wealth, but the)" have never been adequately explored.

The department of Santa Barbara lies between Gracias and Comayagua and the Bay of Honduras. It is traversed by several large streams. The great plain of Sola is the distinguishing feature of this department, which has a frontage of between 60 and 70 miles on the Bay of Honduras, and reaches inland upwards of 50 miles, comprising an area of not less than 1500 square miles. Its products are cotton, rice, sugar, cocoa, and all the great staples of the tropics.

Administration.—The government is republican in form, based on a constitution promulgated in November 1865. The chief executive consists of a president elected every four years, assisted by a council of state, consisting of two ministers appointed by the president, a senator elected by congress, and a judge of the supreme court. The legislature consists of a senate and chamber of deputies.

Public Debt.—The public debt of the republic in 1876 was $29,950,540, held in London and Paris, having been issued in three different loans in those cities, at high rates of interest and at a low valuation to make them attractive to capitalists. Since that time the accumulated interest, which has never been paid, has considerably swollen the amount. This debt, which is of a very questionable origin, was contracted for the alleged purpose of building the "Honduras Interoceanic Rail-way" between Port Caballos on the Bay of Honduras and the Gulf of Fonseca on the Pacific, a distance of 148 geographical miles. The road was first proposed by Mr E. G. Squier of New York, in 1854, who made the preliminary survey of the line, finding it per-fectly feasible, and had it been built then it no doubt would have proved a financial success, and a great benefit to the commerce of the world. But the breaking out of the American war put a stop te the enterprise for the time, and the completion of the Union Pacific Railway in the United States has done away with the necessity for such a road as a highway for the nations. Still it would be a great benefit to the interior country should it at any time be completed. It is graded, and has a narrow guage track laid to San Pedro, 37 miles from Port Cortez.

Trade.—The total trade of the country for 1876 is given below:—

Exports from the Bay Islands, Truxillo, Omoa, and Puerto Caballos during the year 1876.
To United States $230,503
To other countries 114,337
Total 344,840
From the port of Amapala, of which $208,646 was gold
and silver 250,00»
Grand total $594,840
Imports into the Bay Islands, Truxillo, and Puerto Caballos for 1876.
From the United States $230,184
From other countries 109,959
Total 340,143
Into the port of Amapala, estimated value 300,000
Total imports for 1876 640,143
Total foreign commerce for 1876 $1,234,983.

A number of small sailing vessels engaged in the fruit trade ply between the Bay Islands and New Orleans. Cocoa-nuts are in demand both in New Orleans and New York, and the inhabitants of the mainland, as well as those of the islands, have planted the fruit extensively, so that the entire north coast will soon be bordered by cocoa-nut plantations.

History.—It was in Honduras that Columbus first planted his feet on the continent of America. In 1502, while on his fourth voyage,, he discovered the island of Guanaja or Bonacca, whence he saw the high mountains of the mainland : and on the 14th of August he landed on the continent at a point which he called Punta de Cassinas, now Cabo de Honduras, and took possession of the country on behalf of the crown of Spain. He subsequently coasted to the eastward, and after many delays and dangers reached a point where the coast abruptly trends to the southward, forming a cape, to which, in gratitude for his safety, he gave the name of Cabo Gracias a Dios, Cape Thanks to God. Less than twenty years afterwards, Hernando Cortes, inspired by accounts of great and populous empires to the southward of the then prostrate empire of the Montezumas, undertook an expedition into Honduras, which for length and difficulties encountered and overcome stands unprecedented in the history of martial adventure. He entered the vast and unbroken wilderness, and after two years of struggle and endurance reached the point where Columbus first landed. Without giving the history of Spanish power in Honduras, suffice it to say that as early as 1540, sixty years before Jamestown in Virginia was founded, and nearly a hundred years before Hudson entered the Bay of New York, Honduras had its large and flourishing cities. After throwing off the Spanish yoke, Honduras in 1823 joined the union of Central America. In 1839 that union was dissolved, but the liberal party in the now independent state made repeated attempts to restore a federative union with the neighbouring republics of Nicaragua and San Salvador. These efforts even led to unsuccessful hostilities with Guatemala, but President Cabaiios in 1855 being defeated and exiled, his successor General Guardiola (1856) concluded with Guatemala a treaty of peace. Six years of quiet ensued, when an insurrection broke out in 1862 among the soldiers, which cost Guardiola his life. After passing through some vicissitudes, the republic in November 1865 adopted a new constitution, under which the president is elected every four years.

See Notes on Central America, by E. G. Squier, New York, 1855, and Honduras, by same author, London, 1870. (E. G. S.)


The most remarkable of these are the ruins of Tenampua, situated on a high hill, 20 miles to the south-east of Comayagua. The hill is of the prevailing soft sandstone, about 1600 feet high. At the acces-sible points are heavy stone walls, terraced on the inner side for convenience in defence. At various points are traces of towers, and remains of water reservoirs. Most of the mounds occur in groups, arranged with obvious design in respect to each other, from 20 to 30 feet square, and of several stages. The principal enclosure is in the very midst of the ruins, at a point conspicuous from every portion of the hill, and is 300 feet long by 80 feet broad, but now elevated only a few feet above the ground, on which are indications of buildings. Great quantities of fragments of pottery are found here, painted and ornamented. Altogether there are the remains of between 300 and 400 truncated, terraced pyramids of various sizes. The whole served probably for defensive and religious purposes.

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