By all accounts, western Honduras  was densely populated by different indigenous groups, but archaeologists disagree on exactly which ones. Evidence from the Spanish suggests the people currently known as Lenca were at least a half dozen distinct tribes during colonial times, including the Potón, Guaquí, Cares, Chatos, Dules, Paracas, and Yaras, who lived in an area stretching from Olancho to El Salvador.
At the time of conquest, the Lenca “proper” are thought to have been a relatively small group centered around the mountains near present-day Erandique . They had established villages but were essentially hunters and engaged in little agriculture. Loyalties existed only among those who spoke the same language, and tribes were constantly at war with their immediate neighbors.
Farther west, toward the Guatemalan border in the Copán and Chamelecón valleys and in the department of Ocotepeque, the Chortí Maya dominated. The Chortí were the immediate descendants of the Classic Maya who had built Copán several centuries earlier. Although they were a relatively sedentary agricultural society, their political organization did not extend much beyond a group of neighboring villages at the time of the Spanish conquest.
The first Spanish forays into western Honduras came from Guatemala, when in the mid-1520s an expedition led by Juan Pérez Dardón took control of the Río Copán region under orders from Pedro de Alvarado. By 1530, other expeditions from both the Honduran coast and from Guatemala converged on the mountainous region around Celaque, but they were soon faced with indigenous rebellions led by Lenca leaders Tapica and Etempica, the Chortí Maya leaders Mota and Copán Galel, and later the most famous of all, Lempira. Not until 1539 was the revolt extinguished and Spanish control over the region consolidated.
Part of the Higueras province, western Honduras  was extremely poor throughout the colonial period. The small mines of gold and silver found near Gracias  were quickly spent, and treasure-seeking conquistadors headed for richer prospects in Peru and Mexico. After a few short years as the administrative center of Central America in the 1540s, western Honduras faded into a sparsely populated region, surviving on the meager income from cattle production and the tobacco industry.
To this day, the mountain highlands region of western Honduras is one of the poorest parts of the country, inhabited mainly by peasants, many of whom survive by subsistence farming supplemented by meager corn or coffee production. The banana plantations and—more recently—maquila factories around San Pedro Sula  draw a steady stream of job seekers from western Honduras.