June 29, during a gun battle in Juarez, Mexico, seven stray AK 47
rifle rounds flew across the Rio Grande and hit city hall in downtown
No one got hurt – at least on the Texas
side of the river – but violence in another country had spilled over
into the United States. While Juarez has been in turmoil for several
years as rival drug cartels fight for control of the lucrative drug
smuggling business in their part of the world, the incident earlier
this summer marked the first time during the 21st century Mexican
narco wars that gunfire has reached El
Paso from its struggling sister city.
Nearly a hundred years have gone by since the last time it happened.
When Oscar Branch Colquitt ran for governor in 1910, he told Texans
he believed the Rangers—already much smaller in size than their reputation—had
outlived their usefulness. He thought local officers could handle
law enforcement in the state. But when growing unrest south of the
border erupted into violence in the fall of 1910, Colquitt realized
he had been wrong about the Rangers.
Long-time Mexican President Porfirio Diaz allowed a presidential election
because it looked democratic, but the eighty-year-old dictator had
no intention of leaving office. However, when reform-minded opponent
Francisco I. Madero, the intellectual son of a wealthy landowner,
seemed to be making inroads on the incumbent, the candidate found
himself in prison. Bailed out by his family, Madero on October 5,
1910 left San Luis Potosi for Texas,
where he began fomenting revolution. From San
Antonio, he soon issued a proclamation urging the Mexican people
to remove Diaz from power.
The crack of rifle fire shattered an uneasy calm on December 15, when
insurrectos loyal to Madero engaged Diaz soldiers four miles upriver
from Ojinaga, the Mexican town opposite Presidio.
Down river, Eagle
Pass newspaper editor Joseph O. Boehmer reprinted a clipping from
a New York newspaper. According to “a well known citizen who has lately
returned from the western borders of Texas,”
Pass lay at the center of the revolution. Texans, however, could
rest easy as long as the Rangers rode the river:
“That portion of Texas bordering on the
Rio Grande . . . is being guarded from the invasion of the Mexican
revolutionists by the grandest, bravest body of horsemen ever assembled
under the stars and stripes or flag of any country, viz: the Texas
rangers. They are in a measure similar to the Pennsylvania constabulary
or the mounted police of Canada, all young, alert, brawny, keen-eyed
Texans and frontiersmen, quick on the trigger, can shoot from the
hip, swing the lasso and are unequaled horsemen, superior in fact
to the Cossacks of Russia.”
Calling the story “the most magnificent lie about Eagle
Pass it has ever been our pleasure to read,” Boehmer continued:
“Naturally we would like to see one of those magnificent Texas rangers.
We have lived here some twenty years and nary a dad-burned Texas ranger
have we seen in Eagle
Texas did not have many rangers in those
days, but most of them were stationed along the border, where by 1911
the violence had intensified. By March 2 that year, rebel fighters
held Mexican federal forces under siege in Ojinaga. U.S. troops marched
from Marfa to the border to make sure the fighting did not spread
At Juarez, rebels attacked at 10:30 a.m. on May 8. Errant bullets
whizzing across the Rio Grande into El
Paso killed five U.S. citizens and wounded 15.
“We are all…watching the fight at Juarez,” Ranger Capt. John R. Hughes
said in a telegram to the state adjutant general in Austin.
“Wish you and all the force could be here to enjoy the Fun.”
Meanwhile, local retailers did a brisk business selling field glasses
with many El Pasoans cheerfully paying a dollar for access to rooftops
affording a view across the Rio Grande. “Stay away from the danger
zone,” the A.D. Foster Co. advertised in the city’s two newspapers,
“but See Everything Across the River Today” by taking advantage of
low prices on “field glasses…of the finest foreign make.”
Under the watchful eyes of Hughes and thousands of other El Pasoans,
the Battle of Juarez ended two days later with Madero’s soldiers in
control. The revolutionaries had killed as many as a hundred federal
troops while losing only 15 of their own in taking the city, which
Madero quickly proclaimed Mexico’s provisional capital.
As Madero struggled to return Juarez to some sense of normalcy, in
El Paso the
Hotel Taxi Cab and Auto Co. offered round-trip tours of the battle-scarred
city across the river starting at 50 cents a head.
On May 25, faced with similar defeats elsewhere in his country, Diaz
resigned and fled to Europe with his former vice president. In November
1911, a year after starting the revolution, Madero became the republic’s
new president. El
Paso and the border felt more at ease, but the revolution soon
flared again and continued for nearly a decade.
Some of El Paso’s
older buildings still bear bullet pockmarks from that long-ago revolution.
And now the border city is in the line of fire again.
© Mike Cox
July 22 , 2010 column
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