The Sierra Otomí culture arose from the complex civilizing influences that began in the Preclassic period in central Mexico. The legendary Toltec traversed the Sierra Otomí region, which was probably part of their empire. The Otomí were known to the Aztec, who regarded them as one of the important races in central Mexico. Between the fall of the Toltec Empire at Tula, in 1168, and the rise of the Aztec in 1400, the Sierra Otomí were isolated from the Highland Otomí.
At the time of the Conquest, the Sierra Otomí region was governed as a principality from Tutotepec, Hidalgo. The Indians rebelled against the Spanish but were put down several times in the sixteenth century. During the colonial period, the Sierra Otomí remained isolated and resisted the control of secular and ecclesiastical authorities.