Pánuco River

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Pánuco River

Pánuco River, one of the largest river systems in Mexico's Atlantic watershed, is about 365 miles long and drains a basin of approximately 26,500 square miles. Although geographers have debated the location of its headwaters, the Pánuco begins in the storm drains of Mexico City. The Moctezuma, one of its two major tributaries, begins as the Salado, which receives water from the Gran Canal de Desagüe, built during the last half of the nineteenth century to drain water from the Valley of Mexico. The Moctezuma receives other tributaries formed by springs and underground channels in the limestone rocks along its course and cuts through the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Madre Oriental with a deep canyon. It then flows across the Huasteca to be joined by the Tamuín, its other major tributary. The headwaters of the Tamuín have eroded deep into the Mesa Central and have captured many streams that formerly had flowed westward. The river takes the name Pánuco at this juncture and then meanders east toward the coast.

The river's levees, both active and abandoned, show many settlement sites from pre-Columbian times, and Carl Sauer identified the lower Pánuco as the northeastern boundary of the high civilizations of central and southern Mexico (represented by the Huasteca). Hernán Cortés established the first successful Spanish settlement in the region of the Pánuco, Santisteban del Puerto (present-day Pánuco), in 1523. With Nuño de Guzmán's successful introduction of cattle in 1527, the lower Pánuco became a major cattle-producing region during the colonial period.

The port of Tampico is located on the lower Pánuco, about 7 miles upriver from the mouth, where a bar limited traffic until dredging and the construction of jetties in the late nineteenth century allowed ships drawing 25 feet to reach the harbor. The discovery of oil around the turn of the twentieth century transformed the Pánuco region and made it a major oil-producing area.

See alsoPapaloapan River .


Jorge L. Tamayo, Geografía general de México, 2d ed., vol. 2 (1962), pp. 274-296.

Robert Cooper West, ed., Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 1 (1964), pp. 88, 90-91.

Donald E. Chipman, Nuño de Guzmán and the Province of Pánuco in New Spain, 1518–1533 (1967).

Additional Bibliography

Blázquez Domínguez, Carmen. Breve historia de Veracruz. México: Colegio de México, Fideicomiso Historia de las Américas: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2000.

Islas Ojeda, Rafael Mario. Aspectos físicos y recursos naturales del Estado de Veracruz. Xalapa, Ver., México: Universidad Veracruzana, 1990.

Souto Mantecón, Matilde. Mar abierto: La política y el comercio del consulado de Veracruz en el sistema imperial. México: El Colegio de México: Instituto de Investigaciones Dr. José María Luis Mora, 2001.

                                    John J. Winberry