El Cayo Town
Cayo and Benque Viejo were declared towns on Oct 19, 1904. That's 108 years ago.
Following Dr. Jaime Awe’s lucid presentation on the Early Hunters of the Pleistocene Age roaming this area, up to the times of the Mayan Empire, I will now cite other important dates and events in our history, which had an impact in our area, leading up to 1950.
1783 - 1803: Woodcutters harvested all the mahogany trees that were close to the riverbank. Consequently, in 1803 they began to haul the logs with oxen; and in this way they were able to harvest mahogany trees as far as 5 to 10 miles from the riverbank. Before the introduction of oxen, Baymen labor was employed to haul the logs to the riverbank. The log fellers went to the forest around November/ December each year. The men camped in the forest until the beginning of the rainy season in the following year – that would be around June/July. At that time the men would break camps and ﬂoat all the logs they had harvested up to the Boom.
1835: in April the Superintendent of Belize stated that the most westerly point of occupation by British woodcutters was 26 miles west of Garbutt Falls. Garbutt Falls is located on the Mopan River or the western branch of the Belize River.
1839: the British woodcutters had established a permanent settlement at Duck Run (just east of present day San Ignacio). This was the beginning of permanent settlements along the upper reaches of the Belize River.
1847: 30 July the Caste War in Yucatan began and many Mayans settled in what is today, Bullet Tree Falls, San Jose Succotz, San Antonio and Chial (Tipú).
1852: Spanish speaking people from Peten, who came to work as woodcutters, began to settle at Spanish Lookout and by 1866 this place had become a thriving village of about 70 families. One of the settlers, Mr. Roberto Lunas had a sugar making business there. One Jose Maria Lopez from Peten had a distillery going for himself.
1856: Garbutt Falls became the boundary between Belize and Guatemala.1859: Treaty between Britain and the Republic of Guatemala raises the unfounded Guatemalan claim bringing tension to the bordering towns of El Cayo and Benque Viejo del Carmen.
1862: Belize becomes the colony of “British Honduras’.
1865: the British woodcutters had consolidated their land rights along all the major rivers of Belize. One of these land rights was located between the Mopan River or western branch and the Macal River or eastern branch of the Belize or Old River and was called The Caye Works or Bank or simply known as The Caye or El Cayo in Spanish .
1865: a priest by the name of Fr. Eugene Bifﬁ visited the Mahogany camps along the Belize River, and reported baptizing a child at the Caye camp. This priest returned at the camp in 1866 and baptized another child.
1866: Spanish Lookout, Duck Run, Branch Mouth and the Caye (Cayo) had permanent settlers. In that same year hostilities between the British and the Mayas of San Pedro broke out.
1867: the British burned down the village of San Pedro (was located in the Yalbac area) and the surrounding villages including all their crops. The Mayas retaliated by attacking and burning down all the British camps from Society Hall up to Branch Mouth including the Maya villages of Benque Viejo and Succotz. In that year no woodcutting was undertaken. The government surveyor Mr. J.H. Faber visited the area and reported that all the camps were burned, abandoned and in ruins.
1868: the British woodcutters re-established their camps. Early in that year, Fr. Andrew Bavastro, a Catholic priest, visited the “Caye” and baptized a few children. He returned in 1869.
1870: Fr. Andrew Bavastro established a small chapel at the “Caye” and dedicated it to San Ignacio and so the “Caye” came to be known as the “Caye of St. Ignatius” or “El Cayo de San Ignacio,” and it soon became a thriving village.
1878: Edgar Alexander August became the ﬁrst and the only Alcalde recorded in the village of El Cayo (Government Gazette).
1881: the area was declared the Cayo District and San
Ignacio became the capital. Thereafter the development of the capital and the district gathered momentum.1882: in September – the ﬁrst District Commissioner, Benjamin Travers, was appointed; 1882 – In October the Government Pitpan appointed to leave the Cayo for Belize on the 10the and Belize for the Cayo on the 18 the of every month.
1883: Fr. José María Pinelo was the ﬁrst Marriage Ofﬁcer in the village of San Ignacio.
1900: Inﬂux of refugees from Guatemalan bordering towns, Plancha de Piedra, Fallabon and La Polvora due to severe drought in the area. The refugees settled in Benque Viejo del Carmen and El Cayo.
1904: 19 the of October, San Ignacio was declared a town, vide the Government Gazette of British Honduras No. 319, M.P. 1722/1904 dated the 19the of October, 1904 which brieﬂy states: “The Governor in Council has this day declared the Cayo and Benque Viejo to be towns under the provisions of Chapter 98 of the Consolidated Laws.” Signed by Command, H.E.W. Grant for Colonial Secretary.
1905: First Anglican Priest, Rev. C.G. MacArthur,
arrives in El Cayo.1908: The “Cacique” motorboat captained by Facundo Audinett was the ﬁrst boat to ever blow its whistle at the banks of Benque Viejo del Carmen. A big celebration was held in Benque for this occasion.
1907 to 1914: the chicle industry was very prominent in the growth and development of the town. Sadly, that era also came to be known as the Wild West. Many hard working people including 3 policemen lost their lives due to the extreme violence and lawlessness which prevailed. Fortunately, from then on, peace and progress has prevailed right up to the present.
1914 - 1918: 1st World War brought hardship to El Cayo and the rest of Belize.
1918: Anglican Church moves to its present location on Burns Avenue. Land donated by John O. Waight.
1921: Pallotine Convent opened on June 2 with Sisters Dominica, Sebastiana, Veronica and Radigundis as the pioneering nuns in El Cayo.
1926: Catholic Church (with steeples) constructed.
1930: Mr. Federick Bradley, continued to use oxen to haul mahogany logs from the forest around San Antonio to Duffy Bank.
1939 - 1945: 2nd World War brought even more hardship to El Cayo as the UK was suffering from serious economic problems.
1945: mahogany logs were being hauled from the deep forest with “Super White” trucks and trailers to Duffy Bank, Cristo Rey and Monkey Falls. By that time the workers did not stay in the camps for six months but instead for several weeks during the harvesting.
1947: Western highway (dirt road) was opened from
Belize City to El Cayo thus the adventurous Cayo Boat
Service started to fade out.
1948: St. Martin’s Credit Union opened its doors and
was the ﬁrst banking service in the area. (Fr. Bernard
C. Zimmerman S.J.)
1949: The Hawkesworth Bridge was constructed making way for increased commerce.
1949: St. Martin’s Credit Union received its
Certiﬁcate of Incorporation (licence) on May 20 as the ﬁrst ‘banking’ institution in the west.
1949: In the month of December, the British Government devalued the Belize Dollar after it had assured the people that it would not do so. This was “the straw that broke the Camel’s back” as that same night of the announcement, the People’s Committee was formed to protest the actions of the colonial masters.
1950: The new San Ignacio Police Station was constructed. One hundred years ago, it took about 5 days by boat to go to Belize City and as much as 10 days on the return trip. (Today Belize is only 1 ½ hours away). There was no telephone; no potable water; no electricity; today at the touch of a button we can talk to anyone, anywhere in the country of Belize or the world. The comfort and the convenience enjoyed today represent the hard work, sacriﬁce, resilience, vision and diligence of our ancestors. May this generation reﬂect today – that they also have a duty and responsibility to continue the great work for prosperity.
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