Sierra Madre

Sierra Madre

[see-er-uh mah-drey; for 2 also Sp. syer-rah mah-thre]
Sierra Madre, residential city (1990 pop. 10,762), Los Angeles co., S Calif., at the foot of Mt. Wilson; inc. 1907. There is some light manufacturing.
Sierra Madre, chief mountain system of Mexico, consisting of the Sierra Madre Oriental, the Sierra Madre Occidental, and the Sierra Madre del Sur and forming the dissected edges of the vast central Mexican plateau; a volcanic belt along the plateau's southern edge links the three sierras. Extending from northwest to southeast through Mexico from the U.S. border, the rugged Sierra Madres, 6,000-12,000 ft (1,829-3,658 m) high, with deep, steep-sided canyons (barrancas), have long been a barrier to east-west travel. The terrain ranges from permanently snow-covered peaks to hot, tropical valleys; and from the humid, thickly vegetated seaward slopes to the dry, largely barren interior-facing slopes. Agricultural products vary according to the climate. Lumbering is done in the N Sierra Madre Occidental. The Sierra Madres have a great wealth of minerals including iron ore, lead, silver, and gold. The mountains are sparsely populated, with settlement limited to mining towns and agricultural communities. The Sierra Madres hold good potential for hydroelectric-power development, and several stations have been built in the northern ranges. The Sierra Madre Oriental, beginning in barren hills S of the Rio Grande, runs for c.700 mi (1,130 km) roughly parallel to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, ranging from 10 to 200 mi (16-320 km) inland. It reaches an elevation of 18,700 ft (5,700 m) in Citlaltépetl, which belongs also to the volcanic belt, Cordillera de Anáhuac. This belt, which divides Mexico in half at about lat. 19° N and includes the peaks Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl, on the other end joins the Sierra Madre Occidental. This range, paralleling the Pacific coast for c.1,000 mi (1,610 km), extends SE from Arizona. Its main escarpment is more abrupt than that of the eastern cordillera. From c.5,000 ft (1,520 m) in the north, elevations reach over 10,000 ft (3,048 m) in the south. The Sierra Madre del Sur is a tumbled, broken mass of uptilted mountains that touch the Pacific coast but form into no clearly defined range. It spreads over S Mexico between the volcanic belt and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and forms the natural harbor of Acapulco.

Principal mountain system, Mexico. It includes the ranges of the Sierra Madre Occidental (to the west), the Sierra Madre Oriental (to the east), and the Sierra Madre del Sur (to the south)—all running roughly northwest-southeast. The Sierra Madre Occidental extends for about 700 mi (1,100 km) parallel with the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean; summits reach elevations above 6,000 ft (1,800 m), with some exceeding 10,000 ft (3,000 m). The Sierra Madre Oriental originates near the Rio Grande to the north and extends roughly parallel with the Gulf of Mexico for about 700 mi; it has an average elevation of about 7,000 ft (2,150 m), but some peaks rise above 10,000 ft (Mount Peña Nevada). The Sierra Madre del Sur stretches through the southern Mexican states of Guerrero and Oaxaca, reaching elevations of about 6,500 ft (2,000 m), with a few peaks above 10,000 ft.

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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a 1927 novel by the mysterious German-English bilingual author B. Traven, in which two American down-and-outers in 1920s Mexico hook up with an old-timer to prospect for gold. The book was very successfully adapted into a 1948 film of the same name by John Huston.

Story and historical setting

By the 1920s the violence of the Mexican Revolution had largely subsided, although scattered gangs of bandits continued to terrorize the countryside. The newly established post-revolution government relied on the effective but ruthless Federal Police, commonly known as the Federales, to patrol remote areas and dispose of the bandits.

Foreigners, like the three American prospectors who are the protagonists in the story, were at very real risk of being killed by the bandits if their paths crossed. The bandits, likewise, were given little more than a "last cigarette" by the army units after capture, even having to dig their own graves first. This is the context in which the three gringos band together in a small Mexican town and set out to strike it rich in the remote Sierra Madre mountains. They ride a train into the hinterlands, surviving a bandit attack en route.

Once out in the desert, Howard, the old-timer of the group, quickly proves to be by far the toughest and most knowledgeable; he is the one to discover the gold they are seeking. A mine is dug, and much gold is extracted, but greed soon sets in and Fred C. Dobbs begins to lose both his trust and his mind, lusting to possess the entire treasure.

The bandits then reappear, pretending, very crudely, to be Federales, which leads to the now-iconic line about not needing to show any "stinking badges". After a gunfight, a real troop of Federales appear and drive the bandits away. But when Howard is called away to assist some local villagers, Dobbs and third partner Curtin have a final confrontation, which Dobbs wins, leaving Curtin lying shot and bleeding. Dobbs continues on alone but is soon confronted and killed by three drifters. The drifters, thinking the gold is just worthless sand, scatter the paydirt. They are later captured and executed by the Federales. Curtin and Howard hear the story and can do nothing but laugh in the end.

Film

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