By John Hernandez
The Mexican Revolution began in 1910 although the spark that was said to have started the revolution was a worker’s strike in 1906 in the mining town of Cananea, Sonora Mexico. A young man by the name of Juan Cabral was working there as a cashier/clerk in a store for the Greene Cananea Mining Company. While there, he met and associated with future revolutionaries: Manuel M. Dieguez, Esteban Baca Calderon and Juan José Rios. These men were followers of Ricardo Flores Magon, an anarchist and publisher of the Regeneracion newspaper, who called for revolution against President Porfirio Diaz. They organized a secret club among the miners and people in the area known as the Liberal Club of Cananea. The miners called for a strike against the Cananea Consolidated Copper Company.
The miner’s demands during the strike were for equal pay and equal opportunity. Americans working at the mine received five pesos a day; Mexican workers were paid three and a half pesos a day for the same job. There was no mobility for Mexican workers to become supervisors or work in skilled trades. The strike began peacefully but an incident instigated by Americans turned into a melee which escalated into a shooting war. The strike would be ended when a 275 man posse of armed American volunteers led by Captain Thomas Rynning of the Arizona Rangers arrived in Cananea. Mexican Rurales followed and put down the strike, when it was over, at least 23 men lay dead, mostly Mexicans. No concessions were granted to the strikers. Most of the leaders were imprisoned including Dieguez and Calderon.
Juan Cabral participated in the strike and witnessed how it was brutally put down. The Mexican people believed that President Diaz had allowed armed Americans to violate their country’s sovereignty and were angered by the treatment of the Mexican miners in Cananea. Cabral, like many Mexicans, believed that President Diaz needed to be removed from office.
In 1909, Cabral became a follower of Francisco Madero, a candidate running against Diaz in the Presidential election that Diaz had called for. The “No Reelecion” (No Re-election) movement was an anti-President Diaz campaign. Many anti-reelection clubs were formed throughout Mexico. In Cananea, Juan Cabral, now working as a cashier for Gooch Lumberyard, Salvador Alvarado, a merchant and apothecary (pharmacist), and Pedro Bracamonte, a mechanic, had formed a club and were also busy gathering arms and men in preparation for launching an uprising on June 19, 1910, against Sonoran authorities. A few days before the planned uprising, one member betrayed the group and Cabral and Alvarado fled on foot towards the border. Five days later, Cabral and Alvarado crossed the border at Douglas, Arizona. Bracamonte would also escape. Cabral was said to have told the authorities in Cananea, “I will be back, and then it will be my turn.”
Juan Cabral was born in Piedras Negras, Sonora, Mexico to a mercantile and mining family. His father Juan Cabral, Sr., was Portuguese, his mother Mexican. Piedras Negras was about 29 miles southeast of Hermosillo. It is now known as La Colorada. His family would move to Cananea where his father had business interests. He attended college in Sonora and in 1898 and 1899 he was a student at the University of Arizona thanks to being highly recommended by prominent Tucson Jewish businessman Louis Zeckendorf. His ability to speak, read and write English and Spanish as well as his knowledge of business and accounting would come in handy after college.
After crossing the border, Cabral and Alvarado traveled to the mining camp of Ray. They opened a small store probably in the Mexican section of Ray which was known as Sonora. Sonora had been founded by Mexican and Mexican American workers and their families in 1907. Residential segregation was a normal practice of the Ray Consolidated Mining Company as was a dual wage system where Mexican and Mexican American workers were paid less than Anglos for the same job. There were many Mexican workers happy to support a fellow Sonorense. The store was known as Zarza and Cabral. All profits earned at the store were invested in weapons and ammunition which the store also happened to sell. Cabral and Alvarado were recruiting men to go back to Mexico with them to fight against the Diaz regime. It is not known if Zarza was another name used by Alvarado or if Zarza was another partner that would go fight in the revolution. The newspapers reported that the store was left in the hands of Zarza’s wife when they left for Mexico.
As the 1910 election approached, Diaz, fearing he would lose, arrested Madero. Madero was from a wealthy family and his father was able to get him released from jail. Madero would then flee to the United States. The election, now rigged, would keep the dictator Diaz in power. Madero planned with his followers for a revolution to begin on Nov. 20, 1910. On that date fighting began in the state of Chihuahua.
Be sure to check next month’s Nugget for more on the story of the merchants who fought a war.