Merchants at Ray-Sonora who fought a revolution, Part 2

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The old town of Sonora. Teapot Mountain can be seen in the background.

Ray-Sonora as it once appeared. This area is now the Asarco Ray Copper Mine.

Merchants at Ray-Sonora who fought a revolution, Part 2

By John Hernandez

Pinal Nugget

In January 1911, Cabral, Alvarado and 20 men arrived in Tucson and went directly to the California Fruit Store. It was there that they met with the wife of the store owner who was sympathetic to their cause. It is believed that she gave them some kind of support either money or supplies or both. The men then crossed the border to aid the revolution in Sonora. In those days most of the Arizona border was unpatrolled, unfenced and open to smugglers. Within days their group had seized a small village south of Agua Prieta which they used as a home base to recruit more men.

Cabral after raising an army of two hundred men soon occupied the village of Bacanuchi not far from Cananea. In March 1911 Cabral had sent a prominent merchant of Bacanuchi, Enrique Esquada to the town of Arizpe which was held by Federal troops to deliver a letter to the Prefect of the city. The letter demanded the surrender of Arizpe. Esquada who was not an insurrectionist was taken prisoner. The Prefect of Arizpe, Ignacio Pesqueira wired General Luis Torres in Hermosillo for directions on what to do. Torres told him to hold the town and kill the messenger. American newspapers reported that Pesqueira also wired the Governor of Sonora, Alberto Cubillas, seeking his advisement, as Esquada felt the orders to be extreme. Cubillas gave him the same orders as Torres. Pesqueira obeyed the orders then resigned as prefect and fled to the border. Esquada was executed by firing squad just outside of the town of Uris. His body was left on the highway.

Soon after, Cabral’s army ambushed a detachment of 80 Federal troops on their way to Arizpe in the mountains about 75 miles south of Cananea. Cabral’s troops killed 65, captured seven and recovered the soldier’s weapons which included 80 Mauser rifles and ammunition. The city of Hermosillo began preparing for an invasion from Cabral’s army as well as other rebel troops coming from the south and east. The town of Cananea also began preparations for a siege, the town’s leaders, supporters of the dictator Diaz, remembering what Cabral had told them.

Cabral’s troop camped in the Ajo Mountains 20 miles east of Cananea in an area that bordered William Greene’s ranch. There they had plenty of water, wood and Greene’s Cattle Company beef which they “appropriated”. William Greene known as Colonel, an honorary title, owned the Cananea Cattle Company as well as the Cananea Copper Company and other mines in the area. It was his mine where the violence during the strike of 1906 took place. Cabral sent a message to the leadership of Cananea demanding their surrender.

The leaders of Cananea were worried. They did not know the strength of Cabral’s army. Cananea had about 400 troops and policemen to guard the town. Colonel Greene offered to go and talk to Cabral. Greene knew Cabral and his family. Cabral allowed him to come into his camp. Greene spoke with Cabral. Cabral was firm and said the Federal troops and leaders could leave Cananea now or he would come in and take it, whether it took two or three days and the deaths of many men. Greene went back and advised the leaders to surrender. He wired the Governor of Sonora in Hermosillo and told him it would be wise to abandon Cananea as Cabral had about 500 men and once the firing started all the miners in Cananea would join in the fighting on Cabral’s side. Greene also did not want his mining properties damaged in the fighting or the large number of Americans that worked for him killed or injured.

Within days the Federal troops and leaders of Cananea boarded trains supplied by the mining companies and fled to Nogales. Cabral and his troops numbering between one and 200 entered Cananea without firing a shot. His father and family along with thousands of the townspeople greeted him with shouts of Viva Cabral, Viva Madero. The hometown boy had done well.

Cabral allowed the American mines and smelter to operate without interference. He then set up a provisional government. This was the first major town taken in Sonora by revolutionists. The town would be held throughout the revolution. The state of Sonora shortly came under the control of the revolutionists. Revolutionary victories in Chihuahua by the soldiers of Pancho Villa and General Pascual Orozco and the success of Emiliano Zapata in the south led to President Diaz fleeing the capital in May. In June 1911, Madero entered Mexico City and was declared interim president. He called for an election and was overwhelmingly elected and declared president of Mexico.

In August 1911, Colonel Greene died of complications from injuries received after he was thrown from his carriage. Juan Cabral commanded the honor guard for Greene who was well respected by the Mexicans of Cananea. Thousands marched with the procession and lined the streets. Captain Cabral was promoted to Colonel for taking Cananea. He was placed in command of the rural forces for Sonora.

Madero turned out to be a weak president and did not keep his promises on land reform angering some of liberal revolutionaries and the generals including Zapata. General Orozco in the north and Zapata in the south would take up arms against the government of Madero. The conservative factions of the revolution did not like how Madero operated and some of the generals and politicians began plotting against him. One of Madero’s generals Victoriano Huerta would betray him and have him killed. Huerta declared himself president which would set off counter revolutions, betrayals and power struggles among the generals, warlords and politicians which would last through the 1920s although most historians claim the revolution ended in 1920.

In 1914 Huerta fled the country. The top generals, state governors, and other politicians set up a convention in Aguascalientes in north-central Mexico to decide who would be selected as the interim president and to set up a provisional government. Cabral was considered as a candidate but it would be Eulalio Gutierrez who was chosen. General Venustianzo Carranza broke with the convention and more fighting resumed. Cabral remained loyal to Gutierrez.

Cabral was in command of 3,000 Mayan Indians when he was ordered to take his troops to Mexico City prior to the Convention of Aguascalientes. The wives and families of the Indians had been traveling with Cabral’s command as they fought in northern and central Mexico. Not wanting to slow his advance to Mexico City or burden the women and children with the harshness of the journey, Cabral promised the wives he would send half of their husband’s pay every pay period if they would return to their villages. Trusting Cabral, the women agreed.

When Cabral and his troops arrived in Mexico City, the Mayans were taken from him and given to General Obregon. Obregon would join forces with Carranza. Cabral now had no troops, no paymasters and no money. Obregon took the troops and left the city. Obregon would not honor Cabral’s promise. Cabral wanted to keep his promise to the Mayan women, so he asked another General for money to pay the women but was denied. He then went to the new Provisional President Eulalio Gutierrez. Gutierrez turned him down then sent him on a mission to visit General Pancho Villa to find out if Villa would be loyal to Gutierrez or would fight on someone else’s side. Villa said he would support Gutierrez; however he would later use his troops to manipulate Gutierrez. This would lead Gutierrez to resign as president after serving less than a year. Gutierrez would then declare that Villa and Carranza were traitors to the “revolutionary spirit” and exile himself to the United States.

Cabral told Villa about his promise to the Mayan women. Even knowing that Obregon would eventually be using the Mayan troops against his army, Villa respected and trusted Cabral enough that he agreed to give him the money to send to the women. In the book “Memoirs of Pancho Villa,” Villa called Cabral a good revolutionary. He was well respected by those that knew him and fought with him. He stayed loyal to the revolutionary ideals and helped bring about land reform in Sonora.

In February of 1915, Cabral became disillusioned with the revolution and all the fighting among the generals and politicians seeking power. He had over 2,000 troops under his command in re-occupying Cananea. After a meeting with the Governor of Sonora, José Maytorena, he resigned from the army and left for the United States where he settled in Tucson. He got into the newspaper business and was also involved in mining. In 1916 after the United States invaded Mexico, sending General Pershing in search of Pancho Villa, Cabral offered his services to Mexico should there be a break in relationships with the United States. Cabral briefly entered Mexico to talk with Mexican generals along the border. His services were refused and he was told to leave Mexico. When he reentered the United States some newspapers wrote editorials saying his entry into the United States should be denied and if allowed into the country he should be deported.

In 1918 there were reports of “outlaw” Generals Juan Cabral and Julian Medina gathering arms and recruits to begin a new revolution in Sonora. Rumors were they had crossed the border with a thousand men. They even had him preparing to attack Nogales with his troops at the same time that the Battle of Ambos Nogales was fought between American troops and Mexicans at the border in Nogales. This proved to be false although both Cabral and Medina were planning to reenter the revolution and had been gathering arms.

In June, Cabral was indicted on charges that he violated the neutrality of the United States by attempting to start a revolution in Mexico. He was thought to be in Mexico when the charges were filed. He was arrested on Benson Road in Arizona in March 1919. Arms and ammunition were seized on the Nogales Road that were headed for the border to support Cabral. The alleged conspiracy was reported to be Cabral conspiring with others to export arms and ammunition to Mexico. Cabral was listed as the leader of the conspiracy. Cabral entered a plea of guilty in the district court of Tucson and was sentenced to two years in Leavenworth prison plus a fine of $10,000.

Cabral returned to Mexico in 1923. He was appointed ambassador to Panama, Peru and Ecuador. In 1932 he was chief of the Federal district at Mexico City. He died in 1946 and is believed buried in the Panteon Civil de Dolores in Mexico City. A street in Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora, is named for him. Although he is one of the lesser known of the generals and heroes of the Mexican Revolution, he outlived the more famous who were assassinated during the power struggles among them. The big five of the revolution who were assassinated were Madero, Zapata, Carranza, Obregon and Pancho Villa.

John Huntington (10 Posts)

John Huntington is a local business owner in Oracle. He is a chiropractor with many years in the community. He writes a health related article in Pinal Nugget.


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