Potosi: The Mountain That Ate Men

Presented by: Craig Reid

Date and time: Thursday, May 27 at 6:30 p.m.

Location: Madera Clubhouse Crystal Ballroom

Cash donations at the door are welcome; please call for reservations.

Potosi: The mountain that ate men; how Spain gained control of the world economy and held onto lands in the Caribbean, Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia for three centuries.

The secret behind Spain’s rise to power was Potosi. This is the story of the men who died in Spain and in the southern American continent to make that dream come true.

From my research, I have come up with some interesting information on a mountain in Bolivia called Potosi. When it was found by the Spanish in 1545, they realized it was the largest deposit of silver in the world. To date, 60,000 tons of silver have been extracted, and geologists feel that is only half of the silver contained in the mountain. Mining continues to this day.

Spain was able to build a standing army to hold possessions on four continents and create the Spanish Armada (world’s largest navy at the time). The influx of silver into Spain from this site allowed Spain to become the first country with coinage accepted around the world for trade, and their influence was felt throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. Global trade started because of this strength.

But the mountain required sacrifice. Over 10,000 feet high, conditions were life threatening. Processing the ore, carried on the backs of children from underground, required a material known as cinnabar, the deadliest rock ever mined. The largest mine to produce the material was in southern Spain. Thousands of miners died extracting it and processing it. Tens of thousands of indigenous workers and slaves died at Potosi mining the silver ore and processing it with cinnabar to extract the silver that made Spain a world power for centuries. Potosi became known as “the mountain that ate men.”

They organized a global supply network larger than Amazon. They had “just in time shipping” to get cinnabar from Spain to the mountain and shipping arranged to get that silver to Spain. They set up a Royal Mint at Potosi to mint silver coins for trade with Asia and then sail directly to Japan, China, and India. The King of Spain had more money than Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos combined.

It is an amazing story. I have written about accounts from people who were present, historical records of development in the area, the impacts of the mining, and present day activity, which add color to the presentation. You can visit the mine today and see work in progress (along with crazy tourist trips inside the mine).

Due to COVID-19 guidelines, we will only be seating 120 patrons per show at six feet apart. We will have five rows of 12 seats across, grouping two seats together. Cloth face masks are required upon entering the Madera Clubhouse.