When the Spaniards "discovered" Yucatan, they thought it was an island. Although they later realized that it was part of the vast country that Cortes had conquered, they were not very wrong to think of it as an isle, considering the zealous and independent spirit that has characterized its inhabitants then and now. Although it has been part of Mexico for 170 years, it was encouraged by the example of Texas, compelling the peninsula to twice proclaim its independence and create the short-lived Republic of Yucatan. Many presidents in Mexico had to repress the great peninsula that, despite its longing for independence, had a vibrant foreign trade with the world capitals and a privileged geographical location, even as it lacked the abundance of resources that Texas and California possessed.
As that suggests, Yucatan was not a wasteland when the first shipwrecked, battered Spaniards arrived on its shores. In fact, they found the descendants of an ancient civilization who refused to be conquered and who, when they finally succumbed to the steel and germs of the Europeans, refused to assimilate and instead disappeared into the jungle. By the mid-19th century, virtually all the native peoples of America had been defeated or were fleeing in small bands from canyon to canyon, only for the Maya to lead the last great, indigenous rebellion in the Yucatan, attempting to shake off the white domain initiated through the conquest of Spain. The so-called "Caste War" was a total war, much larger than the skirmishes with the Native Americans in the United States around the same time. While the Apaches and Comanches were barely bands of men attacking towns and ranches, wandering homeless, the Mayan rebellion was nothing less than a war of annihilation in an attempt to take back their former nation.