a man who had lost an arm to a rifle bullet during the Mexican Revolution, Alvaro
Obregon seems to have been a bit lax with security matters.
born either of bravery or naivety, would prove costly, but it also set the stage
for an experience that Ruth Wilkerson Henderson remembered the rest of
her long life.
It happened when she was a young woman. Strikingly attractive,
appropriately enough she hailed from Venus,
Texas. Wherever she went, she attracted male eyes. But the man she considered
the love of her life had been killed in World
In 1920, she traveled by train from Fort
Worth to El Paso
to visit her uncle, a physician. Having a doctor in the family turned out to be
a good thing, because no sooner had she alighted from the passenger car at the
mountain city’s Union Station than she started having trouble breathing. Over
the next few days, she got worse.
“What in the world is the matter with
you?” the doctor asked. Answering his own question, he concluded that El
Paso’s altitude was having an adverse affect on his niece.
decided the only remedy was to send her home to the lower elevation of North
Texas. The following morning he took her to the depot to catch the 6 a.m.
A woman who knew her uncle also happened to be taking
that train and at the doctor’s request, she agreed to look after Ruth at least
until she got where she was headed, which would take about two-thirds of the trip.
Ruth protested that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, but her
having a chaperon forced on her proved to be the least of her worries. The crowded
coach car they had boarded smelled of body odor and tobacco smoke.
her companion at her side, Ruth walked down the aisle to check the next car. With
only a few men sitting toward the back, it was less crowded and far cleaner than
the car they had left. They sat down about mid-way.
When the conductor
strolled through a few minutes later, he looked at the two women for a moment
before walking back to where the men sat. After talking with them briefly, he
returned to the women.
“You and your chaperone are in the private coach
of the President of Mexico,” he said. “Maybe you didn’t know it.”
assured the conductor she had no idea she had boarded a private car, but said
she couldn’t go back to the day coach. It was a matter of her health, she said.
That’s when one-armed President Alvaro Obregon walked up and courteously introduced
be happy to have the young lady and her chaperone be my guest today,” he told
Ruth thanked him and said she’d readily accept his gracious
offer. Clearly, her chaperone didn’t mind the notion of the rail equivalent of
first-class travel, either.
told the women he was on his way to Fort
Worth on state business, but would be making a few public appearances along
the way. Whether acting in innocence or like a powerful man away from home, the
president said Ruth reminded him of his beautiful daughter and asked if she would
appear with him when he waved at people from the back of his private car.
agreed. Maybe it helped him politically to be seen with someone whom his citizens
may have believed to have been his daughter, but Obregon’s evident casual attitude
eventually caught up with him. On July 17, 1928, not long after being elected
to a second (but not consecutive) presidential term, Obregon was assassinated
in a Mexico City restaurant.
then, Ruth had long since settled into life as a school teacher in Comanche County,
which is where she later related the story of her “Royalty for a Day”-style encounter
with Obregon to one of her students. The student, in turn, published it in a school-produced
publication called “Comanche County: Reflections of Our Heritage.”
had never married. But when she was about 60, she got a second chance at love.
As it turned out, she and her fiancé had been friends with a couple
who went on to marry. That couple stayed together until the woman died. When Ruth
moved back to North Texas,
she became reacquainted with the widower and eventually he asked her to marry
The next five years, she later told a friend, were the happiest years
of her life. But then her husband died. Ruth lived on, making it to just 13 days
shy of her 90th birthday. She died in Venus
on Nov. 21, 1983.
Cox - November
3 , 2011 column
People | Columns