Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

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Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Cigarettes in the Southwest:

In Mexico and its territories, cigarettes and cigars were the preferred means of nicotine delivery in the early 1800’s.  In 1826 Captain F.F. Lyon visited a Mexican government cigarette factory near Villa Neuva, Mexico.  According to Lyon there were 750 people employed here, reportedly making 750,000 cigarettes per day. These cigarettes were made of “rasped” tobacco rolled in paper, and packed in paper packages of 32 cigarettes each.  Five cigarettes per minute was a typical production rate for these employees.  

Paper for rolling cigarettes was both expensive and scarce in the Mexican colonies. In New Mexico corn husks were used in place of cigarette papers, and the resulting product was called a “shuck cigarillo” by visiting Americans.  Lewis Garrard (reference) describes the process of rolling a shuck cigarillo in 1846 as follows:  “The shuck is scraped to free it from roughness and cut in slips, one and a half inches broad by three in length; then moistened to prevent splitting, by putting it in the mouth and drawing out with compressed lips.  The tobacco of the country-bland and fragrant-is sprinkled on one edge, and with a slight-o’-hand motion of the fingers, rolled up.  The ends are pinched, to retain the contents.”  

Many American traders and trappers in the southwest, when exposed to cigarettes quickly adapted the habit of their Mexican hosts.  In the United States at the time, it was socially unacceptable for women to smoke whereas in Mexico and its colonies there were no prohibitions on women, or even children smoking.  First time visitors to Mexican Taos and Sante Fe were scandalized by the sight of women smoking shamelessly in public.  Josiah Gregg (Reference) records the following in 1831. “Of all the petty vices practised by the New Mexicans, the vicio inocente of smoking among ladies, is the most intolerable; and yet it is a habit of which the loveliest and the most refined equally partake. The puro or cigarro is seen in the mouths of all: it is handed round in the parlor, and introduced at the dinner table even in the ball-room it is presented to ladies as regularly as any other species of 'refreshment;'”

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