Digital Composite Edition

Copyright © 2007 Ron Pamachena, for The Border Is Here Internet site




Previous editions – Copyright © 1993, 1995, 2001 Ron Pamachena

First Edition – 1993

Second Edition – 1995

Electronic Edition – 2001                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Now in 2007, the economy of Mexico runs at the rate of about 1 / 4 that of the United States, instead of about 1 / 7 as in 1963.













Digital Composite Edition – 2007




Chapter 1 - Beyond the Border

Chapter 2 - Cananea

Chapter 3 - Nacozari de García

Chapter 4 - Nogales

Chapter 5 – Naco

Chapter 6 – Agua Prieta

Chapter 7 – Other Towns

Notes and Acknowledgements, Bibliography










                                                                                                                  Chapter 1


Beyond the Border


            A Monday in October 1990.  Perfectly sunny today, after the rains from the remnants of a tropical storm from the west, the day before.  A good day for seeing the sights in Mexico City’s historic center, from both the recent and the ancient past.

            Just paved, the Plaza de la Constitución, also called informally the Zócalo.  At its north, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the symbol of the religious authority of Spain.  Around the corner to the east, the symbol of its political authority, the Viceregal Palace, which became the National Palace when Mexico’s independence became complete in 1821.  To the north of the Zócalo, the Templo Mayor, or Great Temple, of the Aztecs.  Destroyed by Spain and the enemies of the Aztecs in 1521, the ruins of the temple remained covered until they were unearthed accidentally in 1978.

            After walking across the Zócalo, I stood by the cathedral and admired its work.  Next, I went to the temple.  I marveled at the craftsmanship of the objects, as pots and jewelry, in the museum in front of the complex.  Then, I took the walkway, which went around the rooms and buildings of the temple.

            I walked back to the National Palace.

            To the left of the entrance, there was a stairwell, going to the second floor.  A section of a mural, with a street scene from the beginning of the 20th century.  Stores, along with offices of British and American oil companies.  Derricks in the back of the offices of the oil companies.  The street was filled with people.  In the crowd was a man with bullets around his shoulder, holding a rifle in one hand, and a banner in the other.

            The banner listed six events that led to the Mexican Revolution, according to Diego Rivera, the painter.  At the bottom was the miners’ strike in Cananea, Sonora in 1906.  Cananea, just 75 miles from Sierra Vista by road, no farther from Sierra Vista than Tucson.  In two days, I would start the journey of 1,600 miles to return to Sierra Vista from Mexico City.  What is on the other side of the border here?  What has made it what it is today?  What do we really know about the people there, who come across to shop in our stores and buy our products?  We came up with an acronym for our attempts to streamline commerce with them, NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, even before the agreement was finally approved in both the United States and Mexico.

            Events happened in the towns south of the border here, that are important to the history of all Mexico.  Since many of these events were so destructive, they are recorded better north of the border than in the towns themselves.  As they prepare what people in Mexico’s conservative and centrist streams of politics hope will be quick and smooth going for NAFTA, their infrastructure has improved greatly.  Still, the towns are dealing with the events that happened in them years ago.

            In this writing, the towns across the border here are presented in the order when their most important historical events happened.  Cananea, with the strike of 1906, is first.  Next is Nacozari, where Jesús García sacrificed his own life to run a train with cars filled with dynamite out of town a year later.  Then, Nogales, where the defeat of the federal troops in an early part of the Mexican Revolution assured Alvaro Obregón the finances from customs revenues to seize Mexico City more than a year later.  Naco, where forces loyal to Pancho Villa faced troops loyal to Obregón and Plutarco Elias Calles for two and a half months in 1914 and 1915, is afterwards.  Next, Agua Prieta, where Villa personally opposed future Mexican presidents Calles and Lázaro Cárdenas in person later in 1915.  Finally, other towns in northeastern Sonora – Santa Ana, Magdalena, Imuris, Sasabe, Santa Cruz, Fronteras and Esqueda, Cumpas, Ures, and Arizpe. 



            After Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, was destroyed, and Mexico City built on top of it, Mexico’s Spanish colonizers crushed everyone, enemies and friends of the Aztecs alike.  The highest officials of New Spain were always sent from the mother country.  After almost 300 years, people of European, native, and mixed descent born in Mexico took advantage of Spain’s problems with itself and with Napoleon in France to rebel.

            What if one event in history had happened differently?  Not the war for Texas independence in 1836, by which residents of eastern Albuquerque and Santa Fe have to remind their guests that they are in New Mexico in the U.S.A.  Not the war of 1846-48, called in most histories in Mexico the American Intervention, by which Los Angeles and San Francisco in California, Las Vegas and Reno in Nevada, Salt Lake City and my old college town of Logan in Utah almost 1,000 miles north of Sierra Vista, Farmington and western Albuquerque in New Mexico, and Phoenix, Arizona are now in the United States instead of Mexico.  Not the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, by which Tucson, Sierra Vista, and most of southeastern Arizona are in Arizona rather than Sonora.  Not the Civil War in the United States or the French Intervention in Mexico, which occurred at the same time.  Not the Mexican Revolution which began in 1910, as large and tragic as the military action in it was.

            The area of the Louisiana Purchase belonged to Spain in 1800.  Spain then ceded it to France, in a vain attempt to appease Napoleon to stay out of the homeland.  Needing cash after he lost several battles to Britain in the West Indies, Napoleon sold the area to the United States three years later.

            What if Spain had kept the area, and Mexico assumed it when it completed removing Spain 21 years later?

            Where Colorado Springs and Denver, and Casper and Cheyenne, Wyoming are would have been in Mexico.  Great Falls and Billings, Montana.  Bismarck and Fargo, North Dakota, and Rapid City and Sioux Falls, North Dakota.  Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska.  Minneapolis would have had a Spanish name, and it and St. Paul would have been international twin cities, as El Paso and Juarez are today.  Farther down the Mississippi, Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa would have joined Moline and Rock Island, Illinois as Quad Cities in two countries.  Going south, St. Louis, and to the west, Kansas City, Missouri.  Little Rock, Ft. Smith, Hot Springs, and Hope, Arkansas.  Alexandria and Shreveport, Louisiana.  Moving north and west, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, and Topeka and Wichita, Kansas.

            A history of popular music written in Mexico describes singer Alberto Vázquez as an imitator of Elvis Presley.  If Mexico had kept the area west of the Mississippi, would Alberto have built a museum in Chatfield, Arkansas, just 10 miles west of where Elvis built Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee?  Would Elvis have been considered an imitator of Alberto?  Would Elvis Presley, and Alberto Vázquez, even have existed at all?

            Then again, if Spain had held the area, would Miguel Hidalgo have attempted to go to the United States in 1811 to get arms when he began to fail in his battles for Mexican independence, if he knew that he would have to go farther east than St. Louis or New Orleans?



            As it was, Hidalgo was captured, taken to the city of Chihuahua about 240 miles south of El Paso, and shot there.  After they removed Spain 10 years later, military leaders and politicians of all stripes fought over who should rule Mexico for 55 years.  The complete conquest of the United States was made quicker because many local warlords preferred anyone to Antonio López de Santa Anna, the most prominent commander of the time.  When Benito Juárez became president and stopped payments on debts owed by a previous leader to France in 1862, France tried to take over and rule through an emperor its forces brought with them, Maximilian.  Juárez defeated superior French forces at Puebla, east of Mexico City, on May 5.  This is the origin of Cinco de Mayo.  Juárez then had a clear path to the states of Chihuahua and Coahuila to the north.  As some say Hidalgo was trying to do eventually, Juárez returned from the north, and had Maximilian shot.

            In 1876, Porfirio Díaz, a general from the southern state of Oaxaca, took over, and ruled for 35 years until Francisco Madero forced him out in the early days of the Revolution.  Most of Mexico’s railroads, ports, and mines were developed during this time.  Foreign developers could do anything they wanted, as long as Díaz and those he installed in power through all Mexico retained political control over their own domains.  American investment in Mexico soon outstripped investment from Mexicans themselves. 

            Very little of this wealth got to the people.  Only one in six Mexicans could read and write.  Landowners broke up village lands in different ways throughout the country, took them over, and built up haciendas.  Villagers were left with debts to the landowners,  and the army and the rural police, the rurales, would forcibly return to these lands anyone who tried to escape.  There were continuous local rebellions.  Maya from the southeast were deported to the mines in the southern part of the state of Sonora, 2,000 miles from their homes, and Yaquis from southern Sonora were deported in the opposite direction to work henequen plantations.

            It is estimated that 1.5 million, or one out of eight people in Mexico, were killed, or fled Mexico in the years of the Revolution from 1910 to 1920.  Had the Civil War happened on this scale in the United States, 4 million would have been killed or fled, instead of 600,000.

            Most of the national figures left in Mexico in 1920 came from Sonora—the state in Mexico opposite along the border to Arizona.  They were gradually removed in favor of figures from the area between Guadalajara, 1,200 miles south, and Mexico City.  Many less prominent leaders held areas as generals, or as labor or agricultural leaders.  The leaders formed the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, for two reasons—to try to make sense of what happened in the Revolution, especially from 1910 to 1920; and to compete politically instead of militarily for control of Mexico, as happened through 1935. 

            Mexico is still reforming politically.  Governors of all of Mexico’s 31 states belonged to the PRI, until candidates from the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, were awarded victories in Baja California Norte in 1989, and in Chihuahua in 1992.  The liberal Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, received many seats in the federal Congress in 1988, and the PAN got many more than it had.  Through the system of proportional representation, these parties were given seats in the Congress again in the midterm elections of 1991.  In 1993, Mexicans were given photo voter registration cards, in the hope of ending the charges of voter fraud which all parties have accused each other of after every election.  In 1994 before the elections, the federal Senate was expanded, in the hope that there would be more members both from the PRI and its national opponents.  In 2000, Vicente Fox of the PAN won the election for president, and became the first person ever to take power in Mexico without removing an opposing party in power by force first.









Chapter 2



            A flyer posted on a store in Cananea on June 11 in 1993 said that the mining festival was going to be from June 15-20.  Tours of the mine were going to be conducted on Friday, June 18, and Saturday, June 19.  The branch of the library in the Casa de la Cultura was open in the afternoon on Fridays.

            One week from when I was there before, I was back.  After I fumbled my question in Spanish, the guide told me in English that the tours were being done in the brown buses belonging to the mine.  With five other people, the bus I got on pulled away from the cultural center.  Before going to the mine, the bus went in the opposite direction, and climbed the hill to the primary school near the downtown area.  It picked up about 30 children, who appeared to be in the sixth grade, and a teacher.

            The tour went through every part of the mine accessible from the main road.  It stopped at the old open pit now being used as a tailings pond.  As children in Globe, Kearney and Morenci would when they tour the mines there, they oohed and aahed when they saw the old open pit, and again when they saw the ore trucks with tires 13 feet in diameter from left to right.

            One thing was missing from the tour.  There was no narration or printed guide of any kind, in Spanish, English, or any other language.  Nothing said by the tour guide, except for a few words in English said to me when we stopped at the pond.  Nothing said by the teacher.

            There were many signs along the road in the mine.  One said that it was Mexico’s largest mine.  I had a Spanish-English dictionary, so I could look up the words I did not know.  I had driven by most of the mines in Arizona in years of going around the state, so I had an idea of what the copper mining process is.

            After the tour, I walked up the hill past the school, and visited the historical sites that had been closed the week before.  Close to them was the other library branch, which I revisited.  Nearby, children were starting to swim in the municipal pool, operated by the local Lions Club.

            The library branch at the Casa de la Cultura was closed for the days of the festival.  I left town earlier than I had expected to.  At the east end along Highway 2, there was an ore truck, as the ones that had awed the children at the mine.  It was parked there, to entice motorists to stop in town for the festival.

            As I stopped along the highway between Cananea and Naco on the way back, I wondered who would be more lost on the tour, me, for whom Spanish was distinctly a second language, or a motorist coming from somewhere like Mexicali or Chihuahua, who did not know anything about the copper mining process. 

            Certainly, the motorists had heard about Cananea’s history, in classes as the ones the children had been in before going on the tour.  Down the hill before leaving town, a man was wearing a cap saying, Cananea – Cuna de la Revolución Mexicana.

            This is a look at what Cananea is like, and why it is called the Cradle of the Mexican Revolution.




            The origin of the name Cananea is unclear.  Some say that the origin is unknown, but it is not from the land of Canaan in the Bible.  Others say that it comes from the Apache words “can”, for meat, and “enta”, for horse.  Other than mining, the predominant activity in the area of Cananea is ranching.  In 1986, the number of people in the municipality of Cananea was counted as 29,500.  The population was estimated to be 35,000 in 1989.

            When Coronado visited in 1540, and Father Kino visited in 1696, the site of Cananea was inhabited by Pima people.  Spanish authority first came in 1760.  For reasons given as “lack of security” and “benefits not certain”, Cananea was abandoned in 1762.  In this brief time, mining activity was attempted.

            Various other people endured Apache raids, and tried to work the mines until 1860, when General Ignacio Pesqueira acquired a controlling interest in them.  Pesqueira, the strongman of Sonora, held power in the state for as long as he could against Porfirio Díaz.  In 1883, control of mines in the area passed to a pair of Americans, George Perkins and B. Benham.

            By 1896, William Greene had taken control of the mines in Cananea.  He had just been acquitted of killing a neighboring rancher in revenge in Tombstone, after his daughter drowned in a flood caused when his dam near the San Pedro River was blown up in an explosion.  He established the Cananea Consolidated Copper Company, or 4 C’s.  Once Greene became an honorary colonel, he used the title frequently.  The camp rapidly grew, and temporary buildings soon became permanent.  By 1906, there were 21,000 Mexicans, and 2,000 Americans, in town.

            To attract Americans with the mining experience that he needed, Greene paid them $5.00 for a day of 8 hours.  Mexicans were paid 3 pesos and 50 centavos, or $1.75 at the exchange rate of the time, for a day of 10 hours.  This was much more than the 50 centavos a day which ranchers and industries in nearby surrounding area were paying their workers.  As people left them for Cananea, these employers complained to the governor of Sonora, Rafael Izábal.  Greene cut Mexican wages to 3 pesos a day.

            Revolts in Sonora and Chihuahua against Díaz in the 1890s had been crushed .  After their newspaper, Regeneración, was suppressed in 1905, the Flores Magón brothers of the Mexican Liberal Party, escaped to St. Louis and published it there.  Copies were smuggled to Mexico, and Regeneración soon became more popular than it had been when it was published south of the border.

            Inspired by Regeneración and other liberal thought on both sides of the border, miners in Cananea formed two secret clubs early in 1906.  One was the Liberal Humanity Union, whose president was Manuel Diéguez, and whose secretary was Esteban Baca Calderón.  The other was the Liberal Club of Cananea, led by Lázaro Gutiérrez de Lara.  Both groups came together to sponsor the Cinco de Mayo celebrations.  At the celebrations, Baca Calderón exhorted workers to stand up for their rights.  Excerpts from Baca Calderón’s speech are printed in Mexican history books today.

            On May 30, an American saloonkeeper was killed by the Cananea municipal police, for no reason.  The incident was included by both the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Citizen in their initial reports on the strike.

            On May 31, workers were told in public that the 4 C’s could lay off “a good part” of their numbers, and give more work to those who were left.  Hastily, some workers met in secret.  An informer told Greene about this meeting.  He immediately wired the Copper Queen store in Bisbee.  The store stayed open until Greene could get there and purchase all available weapons.  As word of possible trouble spread in Bisbee that night, a crowd of 2,000 people gathered.  It was not dispersed until the city of Bisbee ordered all saloons to be closed.  The stage was set for what both the Star and Citizen called a race war.




            By 5 A.M. on Friday, June 1, 400 miners blocked the entrance to the shaft of the 4 C’s’ Oversight Mine.  Baca Calderón later reported that Diéguez had not wanted to strike.  Whether or not the Liberal Humanity Union had wanted to strike, it put together a negotiating committee.  Its four demands were: pay Mexican workers a minimum wage of 5 pesos for an 8-hour day, employ three Mexicans for every American, give Mexicans the right to be promoted, and replace some supervisors with others who had “noble sentiments”—who would not degrade them for their national origin.  Other miners wanted half the supervisors to be Mexican, and complained of the high prices that the company store charged.

            By 10 A.M., a formal meeting was held between company and union negotiators, in the Ronquillo district of the city.  Greene was an amiable man, and was cheered by some in the crowd of 2,000 which had gathered outside.  Greene, citing Mexican government pressure, refused all demands.  He pointed out that wages were already the highest of any paid to miners in Mexico.

            By 2 P.M., miners gathered in Ronquillo to march.  All sources agree that they wore their best Sunday suits.  They carried banners reading “Ocho horas, cinco pesos”, and carried Mexican flags. 2,000 joined them at the Oversight mine and at Buenavista, and 1,000 more joined them at the smelter.  The marchers then went to the lumberyard, run by the brothers George and Will Metcalf.  While George Metcalf had the responsibility of moving miners from their temporary shacks to good company houses as they were built, he was still disliked for his arrogance.

            Leaders of the marchers demanded to talk to the workers at the lumberyard.  George had Will turn a firehose on the marchers, soaking them, as well as their suits, banners, and flags.  After initial surprise, miners with candlesticks for seeing as they worked underground rushed and killed George Metcalf.  Shots from the lumberyard drove off miners who attempted to kill Will.  The miners set fire to the lumberyard.

            When Greene saw the smoke from the lumberyard, he rushed in a carriage to the Cananea police station.  Finding no one there, he rushed in an automobile to his house, hitting people along the way.  With those Americans who had not fled into the hills, he set up a defense.  After his general manager made a last-ditch attempt to calm the streets of Cananea that almost cost him his life, he joined Greene at his house on the mesa.  Four Americans who had molten ladles of copper thrown at them in a mine, and 35 other Americans, joined them.  There, they were besieged by strikers who had 300 guns and ammunition taken from the pawn shops of Ronquillo, and explosives that had been taken from the mine a few days before.

            Col. Greene made a telephone call to Bisbee, asking for volunteers to relieve him and the other Americans.  During a lull in the fighting, he went to the nearby railroad station and telegraphed Governor Izábal in Hermosillo.  The American consular official sent a telegram to the State Department in Washington, saying “American citizens are being murdered”, and one to President Theodore Roosevelt.

            The telegrams to Washington brought Buffalo Soldiers from Ft. Huachuca to Naco, where they awaited orders to cross the border that did not come.  Izábal contacted Díaz in Mexico City, and took the train from Hermosillo to Nogales.  Crossing the border, he took the train to Naco.  Díaz ordered 1,500 of his regular army troops from Arizpe to Cananea.  He also ordered Emilio Kozterlitzky, the commander of the rurales in northern Sonora, to take them from Magdalena to Cananea.

            The call to Bisbee brought 30 volunteers led by the local YMCA physical instructor, and 275 volunteers led by Arizona Ranger Captain Thomas Rynning, all acting on their own initiative.  The YMCA volunteers got to Naco first, and were repelled by Mexican border guards.  When Rynning’s larger party arrived in Naco around 1 A.M. June 2, the mayor tried to surrender Naco, Sonora to him.  He declined, and waited for Gov. Izábal.

            Soon, the governor arrived.  To get around the impression that his men were an American force invading Mexican territory, Rynning persuaded Izábal to allow them to march across the border as individuals.  Izábal then swore Rynning into the Mexican army as a colonel, and then Rynning formed the volunteers into ranks and swore them in as his regiment.  Rynning and the volunteers then boarded the train to Cananea.  They relieved Greene after dawn.  Izábal and Greene made speeches, to attempt to calm the town down.  Miners attempted to make another march that day, and were met by gunfire.  By the time the afternoon’s gunfire ended, six Americans and 35 Mexicans were dead.

            At dusk, Kozterlitzky arrived from Magdalena with 75 rurales.  Kozterlitzky had jumped a Russian ship in Venezuela in 1872, and had become a lieutenant in the Mexican cavalry by 1880.  He gained respect and fear for his dealings with common bandits, Yaquis in southern Sonora, the last of the Apache raiders in the north, and opponents of Díaz.  When he arrived, he put Cananea under martial law, and the rurales killed 56 men in two groups.  They then seized and hanged 7 of the strikers’ leaders, and displayed their bodies in public.  He ordered Rynning’s volunteers to leave Mexico.  After delay, they took the train to Naco at 10 P.M.

            The regular army troops arrived in the morning on Sunday, June 3.  Immediately their commander, Luís Torres, assembled 2,000 of the miners.  He told them that anyone not at work the next day would be inducted into the army and sent to southern Sonora to fight the Yaqui Indians.  When Greene announced that he knew which American miners had sympathized with the strike, and would begin dealing with them, 300 left as soon as they could.

            Greene stayed in Cananea until his death in a carriage accident in 1913, two years after rebels led by Juan G. Cabral came to power.  All other Americans left soon afterwards, except for experts retained by Anaconda and Atlantic Richfield. 

            Diéguez, Baca Calderón, and six others were sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in the fortress of San Juan de Ulúa, in the port of Veracruz, about 250 miles east of Mexico City.  They stayed there until released by Francisco Madero after the Revolution replaced Díaz with him as president of Mexico in 1911.  However, they were not released immediately; Madero did not release them until he received political pressure from leaders of Sonora.  Gutiérrez de Lara escaped.  Posing as a Spanish interpreter for John Turner, who posed as a salesman of supplies to the henequen plantations of southern Mexico, he secretly returned to help Turner compile material for his book.  Turner wrote Barbarous Mexico in an effort to counter the part of the press in the United States that praised Díaz.

            Diéguez would become a capable general in the Revolution in Sonora and its neighboring state of Sinaloa.  He always fought for Alvaro Obregón and his political leader, Venustiano Carranza.  Calderón fought for Obregón and Carranza in Guadalajara against supporters of Pancho Villa in 1915.  The next year, he participated in the convention that wrote Mexico’s constitution.  It is not known what happened to Gutiérrez de Lara for certain, but the best guess is that he fell in the mountains southwest of Nogales in 1918 fighting Carranza.

            Kozterlitzky opposed Madero in late 1910 and early 1911, but did not fight him.  Díaz fell from power quickly after forces led by Villa and Pascual Orozco, swearing allegiance to Madero, took Juarez in 1911.  When Madero came to power, Kozterlitzky resigned from the armed forces.  Madero would recall him to service.  After Madero was overthrown by Victoriano Huerta in 1913 and killed, Kozterlitzky would meet Obregón in Nogales.

            Even though the federal congress in Mexico was handpicked by Díaz, it thought the actions of Izábal, particularly in letting Rynning and his volunteers go to Cananea were disrespectful enough of Mexican sovereignty to summon him to Mexico City.  Izábal was exonerated, and returned to Sonora as governor.  However, Torres soon took over for him.  Successes of the Revolution brought Pesqueira’s grandson, also named Ignacio, to the governor’s chair in 1913.

            The events of the strike in Cananea were highlighted in the next issues of Regeneración.  More strikes broke out in Mexico—textile mills in Río Blanco near Veracruz and near Mexico City, and railroads based in the central Mexican city of San Luis Potosi.  The strike at Río Blanco was more brutally suppressed than the one at Cananea.  Wealthier people, as Madero, began to think of ways that they could run the country better than Díaz.


            Cananea endured many skirmishes in the Revolution—Orozco’s failed rebellion against Madero in 1912, Obregón’s taking of the town from Huerta in 1913, and continual fighting between supporters of Obregón and Villa in 1914 and 1915.  Obregón’s forces finally took Cananea for good in late 1915.  The rebellion of José Escobar came to Cananea in 1929, and was quickly defeated.

            Soon after Greene died, Anaconda took control of the mines of Cananea.  Even after political pressure from many in Mexico, the Greene family’s properties in the area surrounding Cananea were not completely bought by the federal government until 1958, and the government did not buy Anaconda out completely until 1961.

            With Atlantic Richfield as a minority partner, the mines of Cananea remained nationalized as Companía Minera de Cananea through 1989.  At the time, they were the second-largest producing copper mines in Latin America.  In August, one week before the union contract was to expire, the government declared the mines bankrupt, and closed them.  The closure was backed by 3,000 army troops, who remained inside the mine complex, and did not come out except to go through town to take the road to Hermosillo.  There was a march by 6,000 in protest which blocked the road, but there was no violence.  The union began proceedings under Mexican bankruptcy law to take the mine over.  Miners received food from Sierra Vista.

            In December, the mines were reopened.  Workers resumed getting $300-400 a month in wages, plus benefits which were said to be the best in industry in Mexico.  They also got half the money that they would have received if the mines had stayed open.  By September 1990, the mines were sold to a consortium led by Mexican investor Jorge Larréa, known as Mexicana de Cananea.  Despite the fears of workers, Section 65 of the National Miners’ Union still represents them at Cananea.  However, 1,500 of them were let go, when Mexicana de Cananea gained control.

            The interior customs check was moved from northeast to southwest of Cananea, so the city is now within Mexico’s border zone.  For Americans, this means that they can now drive to Cananea without a car permit, and be there for a short period of time without a tourist visa.  Cananeans can now drive cars imported from the United States and elsewhere legally, and use appliances and other imported goods, without paying duties in addition to Mexico’s value-added tax.   Another purpose of bringing Cananea into the border zone was to encourage it to diversify its industries by adding maquiladoras, or twin plants.  There is no significant maquiladora activity, though.  There is still soreness about the events of 1989 and 1990, and about economic conditions in general, among residents of Cananea today.

            Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari went to Cananea to speak about NAFTA, the day after he, George Bush, and Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney simultaneously announced in their capitals that negotiations on the free trade agreement had been completed, in August 1992.  The visit by Salinas marked the deep significance Cananea holds in the history of all of Mexico.  With respect to its international commercial relations, Cananea holds more significance to Mexico than any other spot there, except Mexico City, Veracruz, and maybe Monterrey and Juarez.

            And Cananea is the same distance by road from Sierra Vista as Tucson is, about 75 miles.


















Chapter 3

Nacozari de García


            The first time that I ventured into the interior of Mexico after coming to Sierra Vista was on Thanksgiving weekend in 1987.  My destination was Agua Caliente, about 100 miles south of Cananea.  Agua Caliente had been written about in both the Star and Phoenix’s Arizona Republic. 

            After getting my tourist visa and permit in Agua Prieta, I would turn down the road to Hermosillo, which goes through Nacozari, Moctezuma, and Ures.  I would swing west at Moctezuma, and turn north to Agua Caliente at Mazocahui.  At the junction, I slowed down for a lone soldier with an automatic weapon.  Next, I stopped at the interior customs check, staffed by an older man with his cat.  About 48 miles south at the town of Esqueda, I filled my car with gasoline.  According to the map I had, the road was paved to Lake Angostura.  I had time to see what was there, and still get to Agua Caliente to camp before dark.  It appeared that the side road branched from the main road north of Nacozari, at a point about 20 miles south of Esqueda.

            I did not think that it was completely strange that I had to sign in at the entrance to the copper mine to pass through their property.  After all, there had been the soldier up the road.  Also, I had to sign in to stay after hours at the offices of the government contractor where I worked in Sierra Vista.  I passed the new smelter of the mine.  The concentrator.  Around the bend where there was a large Mexican flag, an open pit.  The paved road ended at the other end of the open pit.

            It was obvious that this road did not go to Lake Angostura.  I gathered that I had to go north of where I was.  I went back past the concentrator and smelter, and entered a small, modern town.  I got a Tropicana orange drink, made in Tijuana, at the store.  I asked how to get to Angostura.  The storekeeper said that the road was very bad, and that it would take cuatro horas, four hours, from where I was now, to get there. 

            I abandoned my attempt to get to Angostura.  I signed out of the mining complex, and returned to the main road.  Just six miles to the south, the main road bypassed Nacozari.  I had no time to go into the town, or make any other stops if I wanted to get to San Felipe before dark.  The peso had just been devalued to about 2,800 to the dollar, so my camping fee was about 40 cents a day.

            This is what I would have seen, if I had gone into Nacozari de García.

            For the García in the town’s name recognizes the Casey Jones of Mexico.  Jesús García ran a train that had dynamite on fire out of Nacozari, not long after Casey Jones lost his life in slowing his train down so only he, and not its passengers, went into a river in western Mississippi in 1900.



            The people who settled most of northeastern Sonora before the Spaniards came were the Opatas.  They provided the origin of the name Nacozari, “naco” for “prickly pear cactus”, and “zari” for “place of”.

            Gold, silver, copper, and lead mining began in the Nacozari area in 1660.  Most famous in the area was the lost mine of El Huacál.  El Huacál was probably developed by the Moctezuma Concentrating Company as San Pedro in 1890.  In addition, Moctezuma developed the La Cobriza and La Bella Unión mines.  As the Moctezuma Copper Company, it discovered the mines at nearby Pilares, and began to develop them.

            Moctezuma did not have the resources to continue developing the mines.  By 1900, Phelps Dodge and Company had acquired them.  Phelps Dodge put in a new mill, and began a railroad to the border.  The towns of Douglas and Agua Prieta were built where the railroad met the border.  Copper was hauled partially by mule trains, until the railroad was finished in 1906.

            By 1907, Nacozari had become the metropolis of far northeastern Sonora.  It had 5,000 people, mostly Mexicans and Americans, with some Chinese.

            Because of the religious and moral convictions of the founders developed in the woods of Pennsylvania, Phelps Dodge built good housing, stores with reasonable prices, churches, schools, and recreation centers.  A particular point of pride was the large library downtown.  It built a modern hospital, and imported American doctors to staff it.  Housing and utilities were provided free to workers.  While there were enough Americans in general in Nacozari for separate schools to be constructed for them, there were never more than 50 Americans working in the mines at any one time.  A prominent educator from Hermosillo and other towns in Sonora, Luís G. Monzón, developed the Mexican schools.  Miners received from 1 peso and 50 centavos to 10 pesos (75 cents to $5.00) a day, depending on their experience.  The company did not negotiate with workers on any issue.  Workers and their dependents were taken care of “from the cradle to the grave”.

            Once the railroad was completed to Agua Prieta, the major event became the daily arrival of the train from there.  On one September 16, a Mexican Independence Day speaker found himself completely deserted, when the audience left to meet the train.



            Jesús García was born in 1883 in Hermosillo.  Widowed, his mother moved him with his five sisters and three brothers to the town of Batuc in east central Sonora in 1894.  After a brief stop in Cananea, the family settled in Nacozari.  There, García worked odd jobs, until he became employed by Phelps Dodge in the main railyard of Nacozari in 1900.  At the railyard, García first worked on the track maintenance crew.  He then got to clean the locomotives, and work with the crew on one.  Soon, he had enough money to move the family to a house in a better neighborhood than where he was.  With seven other young and rapidly-advancing workers, he was rewarded with an all-expenses-paid trip to the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.

            By 1905, García had become an engineer, running trains from Nacozari to the mines of Pilares, six miles away.  Hazards of running the trains included burros wandering onto the tracks and grazing, lost brakes, and saboteurs who tore up sections of track who were never caught.

            He nade enough money to have the best musicians in town serenade the women he was romancing.  By 1907, he had settled on Jesusita Soqui as his fiancee.  On Friday, November 7, he had had her serenaded all the night before, and he had just enough time to change into his work clothes in the morning.  After he got to work, he and his crew made two runs from Nacozari to Pilares and back.

            Pilares needed dynamite to reach new copper deposits.  Of the 2,000 boxes in the storehouse near the railyard, 160 were to be taken there.  The plan was for workers to load the dynamite with detonators onto the train, then break for lunch.  During the break, García, his fireman, and his three brakemen would prepare the locomotive for the run.  They would make the run after the break.

            The conductor, Albert Biel, was a stern, elderly man from Germany.  Ordinarily, he would have been in charge of the loading of the train.  On this day, Biel was sick and in the hospital.  Responsibility for the loading fell to García, age 24, as train engineer.  García allowed the dynamite to be loaded in the two cars in front of the train, which Biel would not have done.  According to the account in the Star of November 8, the load included hay, and 2 bales were loaded on top of the dynamite because there was too much hay in the other cars already.

            The crew had allowed the fire in the locomotive to go down, so the locomotive had no reserve steam pressure.  The fire had to be built up again.  Finally, the train pulled out, about 2:00.  A spark from the locomotive had reached a detonator in one of the cars with dynamite.  A Mexican boy, and then an American man, spotted the smoke coming from the car.  Not seeing their warnings, the crew continued to add cars to the train.  Just outside the railyard, the crew saw that boxes of dynamite had caught fire.  They could not find dirt or water anywhere, to put it out.

            Francisco Rendón, a brakeman from another crew hitching a ride to Pilares, had an idea.  García stopped the train, and Rendón went to a dynamite box and tried to use dirt to smother the fire.  Gusts of wind came up, and Rendón had to draw back from the flames.  García then stated the train, and ordered the crew to jump, which the brakemen immediately did.  Fireman José Romero asked to take the train, saying that García had family, and he did not.  García replied with words as.”I am the engineer. You must save yourself.”  Romero then jumped into a drainage ditch. 

            Fifty more meters, and the train would have gotten to a flat, open area.  García would have had a chance to jump himself, and let the train go.  However, the dynamite exploded 500 meters from the railyard, at Estación Seis.  A 14-year-old boy with an American father and a Mexican mother who was riding the train, and 4 miners waiting at the station were killed.  Along with García, 9 people living near Estación Seis also died in the explosion.

            The explosion, at 2:20, was heard 10 miles away.  The glass in the library in the downtown area of Nacozari was shattered.  Had García not been able to move the train as far as he did, a good part of the town would have been destroyed.  Had he not been able to move the train at all, and all the cases of dynamite in the storehouse exploded, the whole town would have been destroyed, as well as a good part of the surrounding area.

            The first thoughts about the accident were that García had saved the mining property, as well as the townspeople.  Phelps Dodge mining superintendent James Douglas spent all night going from Cananea to Douglas to Nacozari, when he heard of the accident.  He had met García several times before.  He telegraphed Luís Torres in Hermosillo, and Torres acknowleged him.  Very quickly, García was recognized in Mexico, and in railroad and southeastern Arizona lore if not beyond in the United States, as a hero.  On the same day, thousands turned out for García’s funeral.  Monzón, in his eulogy, said that García’s act was an example of the civic duty that they needed to have to get rid of the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz.

            Two years to the date of the accident, a monument was dedicated in the plaza of Nacozari to García’s honor.  The town was renamed Nacozari de García.  In his speech, Douglas recounted the accident, and denied that hay had been put in the dynamite cars.  He also pointed out that García needed to stay with the train to be sure that it would not roll back into town.  Along with the rest of the town, García saved his fiancee, but she would not live to see the monument dedicated to him.

            Besides Nacozari, there are monuments to Jesus García in many other Mexican cities and towns.  November 7 is the Day of the Railroader in Mexico.  All except essential workers of the National Railways of Mexico get the day off.  (To raise money, the federal government sold all railroads in Mexico piece by piece to private investors in the 1990s.)    Many streets in Mexico are named Jesús García or Heroe de Nacozari.  Poems and songs have been written about him, and about the accident.



            Nacozari encountered battles in the revolt of Orozco against Madero in 1912.  It raised troops to help Obregón fight Huerta in 1913.  Pancho Villa passed through after facing Calles in 1915, on his way to Hermosillo.  It was then that most Americans left Nacozari.  Phelps Dodge retained the mines in the area until 1949, when they were exhausted.

            A large mine, La Caridad, was discovered about 20 miles southeast of Nacozari in 1968.  By 1979, the population of Nacozari was back to about 3,000.  As Mexicana de Cobre, the federal government spent hundreds of millions of dollars to develop La Caridad, and revive other mines in the area.  Nacozari was estimated to have 18,600 people in 1986, and 30,000 in 1989.

            In 1988, the government sold the mines around Nacozari to a group of Mexican, Canadian, and European investors.  Even though the miners had been unionized, in accordance with the principles of the Revolution, the turnover of the mines was not accompanied by anywhere near the same problems as at Cananea.

            For economic purposes, Nacozari remains in the interior of Mexico.  The sign at the railroad station at Agua Prieta says that it is 123.8 kilometers, or about 76.9 miles, to Nacozari.  Nacozari is about 127 miles from Sierra Vista, closer than Phoenix.  It is a little more than 185 miles from most parts of Tucson, closer than nearly all parts of northern Arizona.


















Chapter 4



            A day in early March in 1992, in Hermosillo.  Because of new regulations for entry of cars into the interior of Mexico that were tried and later junked, and the reactions of people within Mexico to them, I took the bus instead.  Unlike just a year and a half before, when the bus I was on had to wait for cattle before entering the rear of the terminal, the road was paved and modern.

            From my hotel, I walked to the campus of the University of Sonora, and stopped in the small historical museum and library across the main street north of downtown.  From there, I walked through downtown, and to the old state prison, now turned into a museum, much larger than at Unison.

            On the way back through downtown, a sign on one of the stores caught my eye.  The state of Sonora was sponsoring a tour by the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico.  The orchestra would play in the three largest cities in the state—Hermosillo with 550,000 people, Ciudad Obregon with 300,000, and Nogales with 250,000.  No problem in Hermosillo and Obregon, the orchestra would play at their cultural centers.  But, in Nogales, the symphony would play at Nogales High School, just across the border.  Nogales, Sonora had grown so fast that there was still no place suitable for a major orchestra to play.  It had just about 35,000 people, when I first visited there to shop with my parents from Phoenix and my grandparents from Illinois 30 years ago.

            When I got back to Sierra Vista, a TV news report from Tucson taked about the symphony, and added another angle to the story.  It seemed that this would be the first time that the orchestra would play in the United States under its new conductor, Enrique Biemecke.  Biemecke had already spent much time directing American orchestras.  It would have been even more embarrassing to the symphony, and certainly to Mexico and the state of Sonora as the tour’s sponsor, if its first international performance under Biemecke were because there was no place for it to play in a domestic twin city, than it was already because it had to play across the border.

            Therefore, the Mexican consulates in Tucson and Nogales joined the tour as sponsors, and the orchestra gave a concert at the University of Arizona’s Centennial Hall in Tucson.  The next night, the symphony made its second international performance under Biemecke at Nogales High School.



            The meaning of the word Nogales is clear.  It means “walnuts” or “walnut trees”.  Before Father Kino and others erected many missions in the area, before Spanish military and political authority followed, and before there was a border, the area was inhabited by Pima, Tohono O’odham (Papago), and Apache people.  North of the current border, Spanish troops established the presidio of Tubac in 1753.  Nogales, Sonora was founded in 1880, specifically as a port of entry for commerce between the United States and Mexico at the border.  The railroad reached it from the south in 1882.  Nogales was chartered by the state of Sonora as a Villa in 1889.

            As in the United States before 1913 when income taxes were introduced, the main source of revenue for Mexico was customs duties.  As Nogales grew, it became more attractive as a source of money for anyone who could use it, including rebels.  Knowing this, rebels against Díaz under Juan Cabral took the town quickly in 1911, and Francisco Madero held it with enough force so that Orozco and others never attacked it.  To use that force, Madero recalled Emilio Kozterlitzky to command.  Instead of rurales, which Madero had dissolved, Kozterlitzky had fiscales, and regular troops.

            In February 1913 in Mexico City, generals Victoriano Huerta and Bernardo Reyes fought a sham battle in the streets, destroying much of the city.  This is called la Decena Trágica, the Ten Tragic Days.  Huerta then overthrew Madero.  Madero and his vice-president, José María Pino Suárez, were killed, “shot while trying to escape” detention by Huerta.  Madero could not, or would not, implement the reforms that led people to support him against Díaz.  He still is called “The Apostle of Democracy” in Mexico.

            Governors of most of the states in Mexico supported Huerta, when he demanded it.  Abraham González of Chihuahua east of Sonora wavered, was captured, and killed.  Prompted by Alvaro Obregón and others dissatisfied in different ways with how Díaz had dealt with the Yaquis and Mayos in southern Sonora, and seeing Huerta as a counterrevolutionary, José Maytorena of Sonora refused to recognize him as head of Mexico.  Maytorena then took a leave of absence, and left for the United States.  He was then replaced with Ignacio Pesqueira.

            Also, supporters of the Flores Magón brothers crossed from California to the west of Sonora, and quickly removed the forces loyal to Huerta from Baja California.  With the Revolution beginning again in four of the six states of Mexico bordering the United States, American troops were sent again to patrol every town along the border.  Soon, their numbers grew to over 100,000.

            Kozterlitzky stayed loyal to Huerta, and continued to hold Nogales.  Less than a month after Huerta had taken over Mexico City, Obregón decided to move northward from Hermosillo, and take the town on the border.



            Just three years before, Alvaro Obregón had been doing various things, as storekeeping and teaching, in the areas of Huatabampo and Navojoa in southern Sonora.  Now, he was the commander of the state armed forces of Sonora.  Obregón had begun his military career by raising companies of Mayos and Yaquis to fight Pascual Orozco, instead of fighting the people of Spanish origin living locally.  He left March 6 with as many as 1,500 troops, mostly Yaquis.  Kozterlitzky only had about 300.  The federal troops burned railroad bridges to try to stop the state troops, but this was only a delay for Obregón.  He arrived in the outskirts of Nogales on March 11.

            The fighting all occurred in the areas near the border, where American tourists shop today.  Kozterlitzky resisted all day March 12, and through much of the following day.  He expected General Pedro Ojeda to relieve him with 500 troops.  Ojeda was busy evacuating Agua Prieta, and establishing himself in Naco.  Ojeda could not come to his aid, right away.

            Obregón needed to use only 900 of his troops in the fighting.  He was able to keep 600 in reserve.  Gradually, he maneuvered Kozterlitzky to the north, closer and closer to the border.  Shots from the regular troops of Kozterlitzky’s second-in-command, Manuel Reyes, strayed across, killing an American soldier and wounding several civilians.  Col. Wilder, the American commander, then put his soldiers into a mass formation, and demanded that Reyes cease firing.

            Kozterlitzky, Reyes, and their men chose to cross the border, rather than take their chance at the hands of men that they had fought in southern Sonora years before.  Kozterlitzky had his family brought from Magdalena to join him.  The next month, Ojeda followed him across at Naco, after Obregón and his troops attacked him.  All the federal troops were interned at Fort Rosecrans, an old army post in San Diego, California.

            The Americans allowed Kozterlitzky to file a report of the battle with his superiors in Mexico.  Obregón filed a report with the state government in Hermosillo.  Obregón berated Kozterlitzky for crossing the border instead of surrendering to him.  Both exaggerated the number of the enemy they killed.  Kozterlitzky claimed that he killed 150 of the attackers, while Obregón claimed that he killed 24 defenders.  Interestingly enough, Obregón claimed that he lost one more man than American Red Cross and newspaper reports said that he lost.  These reports credit each with killing five of the enemy.

            Maytorena returned to Sonora, and assumed the governorship again.  After Obregón left Nogales, he did not return until the middle of 1914, when he and Pancho Villa met with Maytorena to try to settle their growing political and territorial differences.  This failed, and Maytorena sided with Villa and the Conventionists.  Obregón and the Constitutionalists, under Venustiano Carranza, would fight Villa farther south and east in Sonora and the rest of Mexico.

            Kozterlitzky never returned to Mexico.  He became a special agent for the Justice Department based out of Los Angeles, looking for German agents, and then keeping track of the intrigues of people in Mexico from north of the border.  He died in Los Angeles in the year 1928.



            Nogales easily fell to the Constitutionalists late in 1915.  An attempt by an American customs agent with others, all acting on their own, to take it failed in 1918.  In 1920, it was chartered as a City by the state of Sonora.

            The two cities of Nogales have become the leading ports of entry for commerce between Arizona and Mexico.  They have all the features of border life, legal and illegal, rich and poor.  American shoppers go to the shops within two blocks south of the main border crossing, to get both hand-made and mass-produced crafts and clothes.  Mexican shoppers go to the shops on Morley Avenue, just north of the border, to get goods that the Mexican economy cannot produce enough of, in quality good enough for their needs.  More and more, they are shopping in the new stores and malls in the northern part of the Arizona side.  Anyone that wants to cross from Phoenix or Tucson to the population centers of Hermosillo, Ciudad Obregon, or Guaymas, or to the beaches of San Carlos or Kino Bay, must go through Nogales.  Charts that show distances by road between cities in Mexico show Nogales rather than Hermosillo or Ciudad Obregon.  Residents of Nogales, Sonora cross to go to the fast food places, while those in Nogales, Arizona cross to go to the movies.  Most of the produce grown for export in Sonora goes to Nogales.  Vendors, from large grocery chains to small produce stores, buy it wholesale from distributors in Nogales, Arizona. 

            Nogales has become an entry point for drugs.  Smugglers of all types are happy to keep younger and older Americans alike who demand them supplied.  Those who live in Nogales earn barely enough to keep alive, while the leaders of drug operations may live like kings farther south in Mexico.  If government activity in Mexico is able to remove them from there, they operate from countries as Colombia and Peru.  Nogales is a transit point for persons who want to cross the border north to work.  Coyotes are ready to take large sums of money to take people from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America across, and get them to where they want to go.  Most of the time they deliver on their promises, but too often, they do not, with tragic results. 

            The core of Nogales extends about 5 miles south of the border.  There are two main streets running south: one from the area of the main border entrance, and the other from the “truck entrance”.  For awhile, the south end of the city was where the two roads met.  The city now goes far past this junction.  There are factories both north and south of the junction.  A little north of the core, Nogales International has become one of Mexico’s major passenger and freight airports.

            In Sonora, Nogales has grown as other cities in Mexico.  Poorer people often locate in the inner parts of American cities, and people relocate more to the outer parts as they are able to move.  In Mexico, it is generally the opposite—the poorest people are in the outer edges of the cities, while people who can afford it move towards the centers, to join the people already there.  But, as on this side of the border, that is not a hard and fast rule, in Nogales or any other city in Mexico.   There is housing for the more well-to-do in the hills above the center area of Nogales, and poor neighborhoods stretch down to the valley near the railroad and bus stations. 

            Usually, those who can afford it live in the valley or the lower areas near Nogales Wash.  In the hills up from the wash are the neighborhoods of people who use discarded lumber, cardboard, and sheet metal—anything that will keep rain, snow, and cold off them and their children, in their homes.  If they can spare the time from their families, they work in the maquiladoras. These are plants that assemble goods for sale from raw materials in the border area of Mexico.  Duties are not charged on goods made in maquiladoras except on the value of the finished goods less the value of  the raw materials, when the goods are moved into the United States.  As the economy of Mexico improves enough for people to purchase large quantities of goods, Mexico has more of a problem in controlling how these goods get from the border to the interior.

            Cities in Mexico along the border, as Nogales, tie their water and sanitation systems to their American twins.  Often, this has not stopped hepatitis and other germs from crossing the border with the rest of the wash.  Water and sanitation systems do not stop air pollution.  Currently, residents of Nogales, Arizona are collecting statistical evidence to see if their cases of cancer are being caused by burning at the landfill on the other side.  A new landfill, with modern techniques for burning wastes, was finally completed last year.  In varying forms, these problems exist all along the border—from San Diego and Tijuana, Baja California Norte, by the Pacific Ocean, to Nogales, Naco, and Douglas-Agua Prieta, to Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Tamaulipas, by the Gulf of Mexico.

            The people of Nogales Sonora live with 20,000 people in Nogales, Arizona.  They live together, about 65 miles west and slightly south of Sierra Vista, and 65 miles south of Tucson.





Chapter 5



            The Saturday afternoon before Christmas in 1983, the first time that I had crossed the border since returning to Arizona.  Naco was the closest border port of entry to Sierra Vista.  If Naco had anything at all, I would pick it up and be done with my shopping.

            I first entered the Farmacia Naco, the Naco Pharmacy.  I noticed a sign both in Spanish and English saying that the federal government reserved the right to limit sales of basic goods.  Nothing in the pharmacy.  I then crossed the main street, Madero.  The cross streets were paved for only one block in each direction from the main street.  Two stores, each the size of a small room in my house, or any house in Sierra Vista which I visited.  Nothing but groceries.  I went back across Madero, and walked into the Conasupo grocery store.

            Conasupo is a chain of stores, started by the government to sell staples at the lowest prices possible.  I was not going to find any Christmas presents in Naco.  Back across the border, I needed sugar.  It was not in the highly-refined forms that C&H and even store brands here are; there was some brown mixed with the white.  Should I buy some, and take it away from people who might need it?

            I remembered newspaper articles I had seen earlier.  Mexico was in a state of economic depression, la crisis, and needed hard currency to pay for medicines to distribute all through the country.  I revived the Spanish that I had not used for four years.

Aceptan ustedes dólares, would the store accept dollars?  Yes, and I left the store with sugar, in two clear plastic 1-kilogram bags.

            Crossing the border to go back home, I stopped at customs.  I had the bags next to me in the car, so the inspectors could see them clearly.  But, something got them excited.  Maybe it was because there had been nothing much happening all day, and they had a chance to make something out of the day by seizing 2 kilos of cocaine.  Maybe they became more excited because I started to pull out without closing my trunk after they had me open it.  At any rate, I had to wait fifteen minutes while they ran a check on my driver’s license.

            But, a lot more happened in Naco in the past.  Maybe Naco deserved to cool down, after all that happened in it in a short period of time.



            Some say that “Naco” is a combination of the last two letters of “Arizona” and “Mexico”.  Others say that it is from “prickly pear cactus” in the Opata language, like Nacozari.  Possibly both origins were thought of, when the twin towns at the border were started in 1897.  They were founded as ports of entry between Bisbee and the new mines at Cananea.  By 1901, the railroad was completed between Naco and Cananea.  Miners and mining equipment bound for Cananea went through the two towns, and copper from Cananea went through them in the other direction.  On both sides of the border, there were customs buildings and adobe homes.  Electricity was supplied by windmills on the towns’ buildings.

            In 1906, volunteers who crossed and did not cross the border successfully, the governor of Sonora, and American troops assembled in Naco, Arizona for the strike at Cananea.  When the strike was over, refugees crossed through Naco, Sonora.  The mines in Cananea stayed active, so Naco, Sonora remained a large source of customs revenues.  In the Revolution, Naco became a point of interest for every rebel movement—the initial rebels of 1911, rebels supporting Pascual Orozco against Madero in 1912, and Obregón against the federal armies of Huerta in 1913.  Naco, Sonora changed hands so much that Americans who crossed to its saloons and dance halls did not know if the side they had cheered for when they entered would be the same side to cheer for when they left.  Soon, the hotel on the American side plated the windows of its rooms facing Mexico, and advertised itself as a “bulletproof hotel”.  The plating did not stop every stray bullet across the border, though.



            When Obregón split from Sonora Governor José Maytorena late in 1914, his supporter in the Constitutionalists, Plutarco Elías Calles, held control of Agua Prieta.  Another of his supporters, from southern Sonora with the English name of Benjamín Hill, brought 2,000 troops to Naco on September 26.  They were hemmed in on three sides—by the United States to the north, by Pancho Villa to the east, and by Villa’s ally Maytorena to the west and south.  The Constitutionalists had just lost at Cananea.  They burned the railroad bridges between Cananea and Naco, to try to stop Maytorena’s advance.  Four days later, Maytorena reached the outskirts of Naco, and demanded its surrender.  Hill refused.

            For a week, Maytorena probed the defenses of Hill.  Afterwards, a brief truce gave an opportunity for Maytorena to bring in Yaquis, and for more American troops to come from Ft. Huachuca to the border.  Spectators started to come from Bisbee to watch the action.  Some were turned away from the border by American soldiers, while other spectators stayed.

            Soon, the truce ended.  Some of the Yaquis tried to attack Hill from the north, and were met by American troops.  Stray bullets killed two and wounded three north of the border.  As the shooting went on, Americans supposedly tried to end it by dynamiting one of Maytorena’s troop trains, and attempting to steal his personal airplane.  The Cochise County sheriff threatened to end the fighting with a posse of 500 volunteers.  On October 11, the Constitutionalists tried to break out of Naco, and join their garrison in Agua Prieta,  This attempt failed, and they retreated back into their trenches.

            By October 14, the Convention of Aguascalientes, an attempt by political leaders to end the splits among them and end the fighting throughout Mexico, ordered the two sides to stop fighting.  Both sides welcomed this cease-fire.  The convention itself broke down by November 1, and the fighting resumed.  Villa’s forces mounted a cavalry charge.  As many of Villa’s charges in other places would end later, it was cut to pieces by the defenders in the trenches.

            Five Americans had died, and 47 had been wounded, by stray bullets and shells falling north of the border.  More American troops came to the border, until their number reached 5,000.  By December 23, American General Hugh Scott came to Naco, and conferred with Hill, Calles, Villa, and Maytorena.  Villa said that he could remove Hill in 8 hours if given the chance, but with the way the fighting had gone, Scott did not agree with him.  On January 11, 1915, everyone reached an agreement for all troops to evacuate Naco.  Villa and Maytorena could keep Cananea, while Calles could keep Agua Prieta.  An official named Acosta was named mayor, and allowed to keep five men to exercise police functions.  Forces supporting Villa returned to Naco in late January.  By July, the Constitutionalist forces of Venustiano Carranza came back to Naco.  After Villa retreated there from Agua Prieta on his way south in November, Carranza’s forces came back, and held Naco for good.



            In 1915, Arizona established Prohibition, before it was in effect in the United States in general.  Many in Mexico wanted to ban alcoholic beverages.  Calles banned them from Agua Prieta, while he held control there.  However, many groups who fought for the winning commanders in the Revolution, and many which the winners did not care to fight again, made tequila, vino mezcal, and other liquors.  The framers of the Constitution of 1917 opted to keep liquor legal, under federal control.  Therefore, Naco, Sonora became an active watering hole.  After it was completely rebuilt, Naco again became a large source of customs revenues.  After a few years of peace, rebellions broke out in Mexico again.  Most notable was the Cristero Rebellion from 1926 to 1934, which took place in most of Mexico except the north.  Governors and generals in the north, led by José Escobar, developed the Plan of Hermosillo, and started to rebel in 1928.  Early the next spring, having taken Cananea, the rebels came to Naco.  They knew from experience that if they could take and hold Naco and Agua Prieta, they would have enough money to keep fighting for a long time.  As a goodwill gesture to American customers of Naco’s bars, they waited to start their siege until 8 in the evening.  Their initial attempts to break the defenses of the federal troops failed.

            Quickly, the rebels took the offer of a crop duster from north of the border, Patrick Murphy, to bomb Naco from the air.  The bombs were made of dynamite, scrap iron, nails, and bolts stuffed into suitcases.  His first two attempts on March 31 were duds.  The third attempt hit the customhouse, but it also sprayed spectators watching the battle from the other side of the border on railroad cars.  After lunch, he loade four more bombs.  The first bomb landed in a federal trench, killing two soldiers, but the other three landed north of the border.  They landed on a garage, on the local Phelps Dodge office, and near the United States Post Office.  The following day, the government troops disabled Murphy’s plane before he could drop any bombs.  He landed safely behind rebel lines.  He crossed the border when the rebellion ended, and was immediately arrested.

            On April 5, the federals brought in an airplane to bomb rebel positions.  It was immediately shot down, and both airmen were killed.  On April 6, the rebels tried to come into Naco behind three tanks.  This assault failed.  The rebels withdrew to Cananea.  Large numbers of American troops came to the border, to make sure that they did not come back.

            As the mines in Cananea were gradually nationalized, Naco dried up as a source of customs revenues.  Its other source of revenue dried up when Prohibition ended in the United States in 1933.  It became a separate municipality from Cananea in 1937, but this did not revive the town.  In 1967, the railroad from Naco to Agua Prieta was completed.  Now, goods could move by rail from Nogales to Cananea, through Naco to Agua Prieta and Nacozari without having to pass through American territory.  The railroad was a first step in the reopening of Naco’s mines.

            Today, Naco itself has about 8,000 people.  It is growing fast, for 4,578 people were counted there in 1986.  There is railroad and maquiladora activity in town, as well as the distribution of mining supplies.  Elsewhere in the municipality, there is agriculture, ranching, and mining.  In 1993, Naco, Sonora is much more lively than it was ten years earlier.  There are stoplights at the corners of Madero with both Juárez and Hidalgo.  The large grocery store is much better-stocked than ten years ago.  But, it is not completely lively—residents still go to Cananea and Agua Prieta to shop, or go across to Bisbee, Sierra Vista, and Douglas.

            Naco is the closest port of entry into Mexico from Sierra Vista, about 35 miles.  Before crossing the border, one goes through Naco, Arizona, with about 800 people.  Naco is about 95 miles from Tucson.







Chapter 6

Agua Prieta


            A Thursday late in October 1992.  I decided to go to the library and municipal complex in Agua Prieta, and then come back and go to the city and Cochise College libraries in Douglas.  Since I had just been to the library in Nogales, Sonora, I figured that the library in AP, as Agua Prieta is known familiarly in both northeastern Sonora and southeastern Arizona, would open at 10 or 10:30 A.M.

            I got to the library, about 6 blocks south of the border, at about 10:30,  The sign said that it was open at 10, but the door, with wrought iron in front of it, was locked.  A passer-by told me in English that the library was really not open until about 4, and gave budget cuts as the reason.

            What to do?  I did not want to cross the border twice in one day.  Fifty miles from Sierra Vista, and not having worked since stepping out of computer contracting in June, I did not want to spend money to try again another day.  The weather was very good.  So, I decided to walk to the east, and then to the south, as far as AP goes.

            I first stopped at the city complex, about 6 blocks east.  I went into the auditorium.  There were three men and two women at the front, and an audience of about 40,  From what I could tell, what I was at was a hearing on features of education for children in the 4th through 6th grades of the schools.  The federal government runs all schools in Mexico except preschools, universities, and specialized technical schools, so input on schools is taken through forums and hearings.  This is the same as by city councils and boards in the United States.

            Then, I walked east to 20 de Noviembre, which would be 20th Ave. if it followed AP’s regular street numbering system.  November 20, 1910 was the day that Madero called for the Revolution to start, after he escaped house arrest by Díaz in San Luis Potosi in central Mexico, and crossed into Texas.  I walked 7 blocks south from P.E. Calles to 13th St.  East of 20 de Noviembre, the streets were simply tracks plowed into the desert by bulldozers or road graders, and maintained by the tracks of vehicles that drove on  them afterwards.

            As I walked east, houses became smaller and smaller.  What was I doing worrying about when I would make my next $180 a day, in an area where people were making about $40 a week?  At 43rd Ave., a small army base.  Originally, the base was located out of town, as the Constitution of 1917 says bases have to be, but AP had grown so fast that there was still a long way to go before I reached the development that I saw at the east end of town, and a little to my north.

            I got to the development, at about Calles and 50th Ave.  The north half was a subdivision as I had lived in and seen in California.  The only things missing on each house were a cedar-shake roof, for which it is too dry in Sonora as well as Arizona, and one of the side yards.  The south half was a public housing project.  The streets in both halves were paved.  Was I seeing the future of housing north of the border, as living conditions all through the United States keep getting worse?

            After getting something to drink at the Tecate convenience store where the subdivision and the project meet, I turned south towards Highway 2.  To go straight. I went through a stand of desert, picking my way among the short creosote bushes, and catclaws and whitethorn acacias.  A good place for Pancho Villa to camp with his troops, and park his long-range artillery, when he came to Agua Prieta almost 77 years before.

            On the highway, there was a social hall, run by the Rotary or some other service club.  The sign said that the band Blanco y Negro would soon perform there.  Instead of following Highway 2, because it swings southward as it turns west, I went straight west to 20 de Noviembre.  Al poniente, to the west, the streets were unpaved and not well-graded, but the occupants could afford to buy Blazers, Explores, and similar vehicles at some point in time, and keep them well-maintained.  Good to carry large numbers of children, and also to carry large quantities of goods bought in shopping, this is why so many of the vehicles from Mexico seen in Sierra Vista and Tucson are SUVs and vans.

            I turned north on 7th Ave.  After walking by the Zenith plant and the cemetery, and gong one or two blocks west, I got to the library at about 3:15.  The library was open by then.  On the east wall, the text of the Plan of Agua Prieta of 1920.  But, no books of interest.  There may not have been any, or the person at the library may have thought I was looking for books in English.  Before it closed that night, I got to the Cochise College library west of Douglas.  It had two books which said that Pancho Villa had probably lost 3,500 - killed, wounded so they could not follow him further, and deserted - 

when he came to Agua Prieta.

            This is a summary of what happened in AP and with its visitors, before, when, and after Villa came to the area in 1915.



            Agua Prieta means “dark water”.  Likely, it was named after the Río de Agua Prieta, a usually dry stream that runs south of town.  Founded at the same time as Douglas across the border in 1901, it was the point of exit from Mexico for copper ore from Nacozari bound for Douglas to be smelted, and of entrance for supplies bound for the mines of Nacozari.

            As Nogales and Naco, its location on the border made it attractive to rebels looking for customs revenues to help them continue their operations.  Agua Prieta was the first town on the border to be taken by rebels, in April 1911.  Stray shots killed Americans, including a worker in the Douglas railyard, and President William Howard Taft tried to get Americans to leave border areas in the name of preserving neutrality.  Four days later, AP was recaptured by federal troops.  By June, the rebels had removed Porfirio Díaz from Mexico, after taking the much bigger town of Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso 250 miles to the east.

            After Huerta overthrew Madero, Plutarco Elías Calles held Agua Prieta for the Constitutionalists, under Venustiano Carranza and his chief general, Alvaro Obregón.  He was helped in keeping the federals out in 1913 by bombings from a Douglas flying club secretly supported by the U.S. Army.  These were the first bombings done by aircraft anywhere in the world.

            Huerta did not fall rapidly, as Díaz had.  It took until the summer of 1914 for Obregón, operating from Sonora and the Gulf of California and Pacific coasts, and Villa, operating from the state of Chihuahua and points farther south, to force Huerta from Mexico City. Soon, Villa split from Carranza and Obregón.

            Villa is the greatest guerilla fighter that the North American continent has produced.  Only Geronimo comes anywhere close.  Villa was also good in surprise attacks, as on Juarez against Díaz, and on the city of Torreon, Coahuila against Huerta.

 However, Villa’s skills did not carry over to large, pitched battles.  Villa would not listen to the advice of the generals who were loyal to him, including Felipe Angeles, who had studied at the military academy in France.  Obregón studied the battles of World War I beginning in Europe.  Early in his campaigns, he used German advisors.  In April 1915, Obregón moved into the town of Celaya, about 200 miles northwest of Mexico City, and entrenched it.  In two battles, Villa sent waves of troops toward the trenches, and Obregón’s troops decimated them.  Northwest of Celaya, Obregón moved into and entrenched La Trinidad, near the city of Leon, and the city of Aguascalientes, with the same results.  By October, Villa could count on only 6,700 men, instead of the 20,000 in his Division of the North, with whom he started 1915.  By that time, Villa held the north central parts of Mexico, and his ally José Maytorena held most of Sonora and the west coast.  Obregón, under his political leader Carranza, held the northeast and central parts. The southern parts were held by Emiliano Zapata and his supporters.

Calles was still holding Agua Prieta, in the name of Carranza.  In the north, Agua Prieta stood out like a sore thumb.  If Villa could take Agua Prieta, he could easily link with others holding towns across from California and Texas, and take the whole border.



Elías Torres, in his book written about Pancho Villa in 1933, says that Villa brought only 3,000 men to Agua Prieta.  Perhaps Villa brought the others as reserves.  However many he brought, they came from Chihuahua to Sonora through the difficult Cañon del Púlpito (Needle Canyon).  In one of the most difficult marches in military history, they came through the canyon as winter weather was starting in late October, without provisions.

Calles was on his own, with 750 men.  All around him in Mexico were Villa and his allies.  To his north was the United States.  It was a few blocks if he wanted to cross, but he did not want to endure the detention, and the disgrace in Mexico, that Kozterlitzky had gone through 2 years earlier in Nogales.  Besides, his mentor was Obregón, the victor over Kozterlitzky.  It would have been physically impossible for Obregón to come to his aid himself through Mexico, and politically impossible from the north.

The politicians came to a solution for him.  President Woodrow Wilson recognized Carranza as de facto leader of Mexico.  Carranza stopped his own covert support, and that of the Germans, for Mexicans fighting racial conflicts with different groups of Americans in and across from Texas.  In return, 3,500 troops got to cross the Río Bravo at Piedras Negras, Coahuila.  Before they boarded the train at Eagle Pass, Texas for Douglas, they saw the river as the Rio Grande.  Obregón stayed in central Mexico.  In Douglas, American troops made sure that they crossed to Agua Prieta, and gave them electricity for their searchlights.  Once across, they were in close quarters, for Calles had fortified an area 800 by 600 meters (2,624 by 1,968 feet), and abandoned the area outside to Villa.  Calles did this to allow the attackers little room to maneuver.  In case the Americans could not stop Villa if he attacked from that way, he even fortified the side facing Douglas.  On October 31, when Villa learned that the United States had recognized Carranza, he still resolved to take Agua Prieta.  He could not attack it from the south, in case his long-range artillery overshot it and crossed into Douglas, and invited American retaliation.

All through October, men kept leaving their homes in Chihuahua to join Villa.  Once the rumors became clear that they were going to AP, 4,000 people joined the Army in Douglas, as spectators.

Calles divided the area into four sectors.  One was commanded by Lázaro Cárdenas, who had defeated an advance patrol of Villa’s outside a few days earlier.  The others were commanded by Fimbres, Ancheta, and Quevedo.  At 2 P.M. on November 1, Calles fired his artillery, to determine where Villa had concentrated his heavy weapons.  The duel took place for two hours.

At 8 P.M., Villa attacked the sector headed by Cárdenas, and was quickly repulsed.  He tried attacking all four sectors, at 10 P.M.  This failed, also.  Villa renewed his attack 3 hours later on November 2.  This time, the searchlights were turned on, so the attackers outside were easily identified and mowed down. 

Villa’s attacks ceased at 3 A.M.  The troops of Calles recovered 223 of the attackers dead, and 376 wounded.  This does not include the number wounded that stayed with Villa’s force, who died later, or deserted.  Francisco Almada estimates that Villa took 1,000 casualties overall.



By November 5, Villa had retreated to Naco.  Blaming the United States for his defeats, he issued a manifesto from there alleging that Carranza would accept a $500,000,000 loan from the United States, reimburse Americans for all losses suffered in the Revolution, and accept American control of the railroads in Mexico until the loan was paid.  With the troops that he had left, he headed to Fronteras, south of Agua Prieta.  He was defeated near there.  He turned south and went to Hermosillo, which the Constitutionalists under Manuel Diéguez of Cananea had taken from Maytorena on November 17.  Five days later, he was repelled from Hermosillo.  After that, Villa added that the United States would get oil and port concessions from Carranza, and approve his treasury, foreign, and interior ministers.  He returned to the state of Chihuahua, but not before killing 77 civilians in the town of San Pedro de la Cueva, east of Hermosillo.

The allies of Carranza, Obregón, and Calles rapidly took Nogales. Cananea, Naco, and the other towns of Sonora.  They also took the city of Chihuahua, so Villa could not stay in the house of 50 rooms that he had built just a year and a half earlier.  Looking for arms and revenge against the United States for his defeats, he raided Columbus, New Mexico on the border on March 9, 1916, an action much more publicized in both the United States and Mexico than the battle of Agua Prieta.  Eighteen Americans died, but the raiders lost at least 162 of their number.  Villa remained a guerilla in north central Mexico until 1920.

Obregón was Carranza’s secretary of war, until he resigned in 1918 to run for president of Mexico in the elections of 1920.  After he was summoned to Mexico City to testify in the treason trial of an ally, it became obvious that Carranza was not going to let him win against the man he had picked.  Calles and other generals met and issued the Plan of Agua Prieta, formally the Organic Plan of the Movement for Revindication of Democracy and the Law, in April 1920.  Obregón escaped the capital.  Commanders supported him, and removed Carranza.  They were not so generous to him as Díaz and Huerta earlier, for Carranza’s train to Veracruz and exile was ambushed, and Carranza was killed.  Obregón’s provisional president uder the Plan of Agua Prieta, Adolfo de la Huerta, made peace with Pancho Villa in 1920.  When Obregón himself became president, he made peace with the successors of Zapata in the south.  Obregón remained president of Mexico until 1924, when he was succeeded by Calles.  Obregón was assassinated in 1928, before he could begin a second term.  No president has died in office, and no president-elect has died waiting to take office, in Mexico since then.

After Obregón’s death, Calles did not assume the presidency again, but he tried to rule through handpicked successors.  The fourth of these was Cárdenas, one of his seconds in command at Agua Prieta, who took office in 1934.  Cárdenas was much more liberal in his politics than Calles.  When he got enough support in 1935, he forced Calles onto an airplane in Sinaloa, and eventually into exile in California.  Cárdenas is best known for nationalizing the Mexican oil industry in 1938.  Today, all oil in Mexico is produced, and all gasoline distributed, by Petroleos Mexicanos, or PEMEX.



The area of Agua Prieta became a municipality of its own in 1916, separating from Fronteras.  AP was the last town that José Escobar tried to take in his rebellion of 1929, before he crossed the border.  Agriculture in the area includes wheat, beans, corn, and forage crops.  There is raising of both dairy and beef cattle, poultry, and beekeeping.  Factories make clothing, furniture, machinery, automotive equipment and parts, tools. Gypsum, and electrical equipment and accessories.  Compared to Nogales, there is little shopping.  There are some pharmacies, restaurants, and bars near the border.  There are some stores that sell Western wear (in Mexico, norteño), and a fairly large tile store near the city complex. 

Maps first showed Highway 2 as paved east to Janos, Chihuahua, in 1984.  During the 1980s, Agua Prieta suffered much gang, election, and drug violence.  A tunnel for smuggling drugs across the border was found in May 1990.  The bodies of 12 were found in a well, possibly killed in an unsuccessful attempt to keep them from disclosing the location of the tunnel after they had built it.  The Mexican federal government had the entire city police force fired, and replaced it with police from the interior until the force could be staffed locally again.

The population of Agua Prieta was counted as 40,769 in 1986.  Most estimates place the number of people in the city today at 85,000.  As Nogales and Naco, people keep coming to Agua Prieta from places in the interior of Mexico that are unable to support them.






























Chapter 7

Other Towns


A Sunday afternoon in the desert of north central Sonora, at 2:33.  According to the sign at the station, I had come 1,612 kilometers since boarding the train from Guadalajara the morning before.  It was 534 kilometers to Mexicali to the west, but only 148 kilometers, or 92 miles, north to Nogales.  Soon, my journey of 3 weeks would be over.  First, I went for the cars bound for Mexicali to be separated from the car I was on, and the others making the run for the border.  Actually, it had been a slow crawl.  Even the first-class trains had to keep moving slowly, to watch for obstacles on the tracks caused by the rains, which had been larger than normal in the summer and fall of 1990.  To the right of my car, the town of Benjamín Hill.

Why was this place named after a gringo?  Was he the person who had built the railroad in the 1800s, and managed to stay above politics?  Then, I remembered who Benjamín Hill was.  Did his name spur him to do the military heroics that he did?  For that matter, what was I doing here?  The storefronts and fronts of some homes in the town, which has about 2,500 people.  The small water tower.

The separation of the train was very efficient.  In 14 minutes, the trains were reassembled.  While those going west would still have a long crossing of the desert, those going north with me would start the climb into the highlands of the border with southeastern Arizona.  By 5:11, we were in Nogales, and my journey was over.  Or was it just getting started?




Before getting to Nogales, the train passed through the towns of Santa Ana, Magdalena de Kino, and Imuris.  Santa Ana, with about 17,000 people, is about 25 miles north of Benjamín Hill.  Its main purpose is as the junction of the highways going west to Mexicali and Tijuana, and north to Nogales, as Benjamín Hill is to the railroads.

Late in his life in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Father Francisco Kino settled in Magdalena.  No matter what one may think of Spanish authority or the Catholic church of the time, one must acknowledge what a tireless explorer, mapper, and agriculurist Father Kino was, and how much he did in the brief time he was in the area.  The mission he founded still hosts the festival of St. Francis of Assisi in early October each year.When his remains were found in the mission recently, the town took the name Magdalena de Kino.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Emilio Kozterlitzky made Magdalena his home.  Magdalena de Kino was also the home of Luís Donaldo Colosio, who was the PRI’s candidate for president of Mexico in the elections of 1994 until he was assassinated in March.  Today, Magdalena de Kino has about 25,000 people.

North of Magdalena 15 miles, and about 40 miles south of Nogales is the town of Imuris, with about 8,000 people.  At Imuris, Highway 2 divides from Highway 15 and goes eastward to Cananea.  For a major highway junction, there is very little activity in Imuris, compared to Santa Ana.  Imuris is a service center for the area’s farms and ranches.  Santa Ana, Magdalena de Kino, and Imuris are all separate municipalities in the state of Sonora.

West of Nogales is Sasabe.  Sasabe is the closest port of entry to Tucson, after Nogales.  There are 800 to 1,000 people south of the border, and 45 north.  The American side in in Pima County, while the side across the border is in the municipality of Sáric.  Ranching and the making of adobe blocks are some of the main activities of the settlers in Sasabe.  Other activities include customs, and the activities which customs on both sides may stop or control.

East of Nogales is the municipality of Santa Cruz.  With about 1,500 people, Santa Cruz is the newer of the sister cities of Sierra Vista, Cananea is the older.  Ranching, farming, and maquiladoras are the main activities in Santa Cruz.  The port of entry to the municipality of Santa Cruz is La Noria, about 7 miles north of the town.  The port of entry on the American side, Lochiel, is now closed.

South of Agua Prieta is Fronteras.  Before AP, Cananea, and Nacozari existed, Fronteras was the largest town in the northern part of northeastern Sonora.  Today, Fronteras is still the municipal seat, but Esqueda has the PEMEX station.  (Now, in 2007, Fronteras and Esqueda are separate municipalities.)  Ranching and farming are the main activities.  Both towns have about 2,000 people.

After Luís G. Monzón left Nacozari, he tried his hand at miltary command in 1913, in Alamos in southern Sonora.  He did not do so well as he had in setting up school systems, and was rescued by Benjamín Hill when he took the town.  Monzón went back to Cumpas, about 40 miles south of Nacozari.  From there, he was elected to the constitutional convention of Mexico in 1916.  He contributed much to the constitution, which was issued early in 1917.  Today, Cumpas has about 7,000 people.

Going south and west from Cumpas, one completes the descent to the desert at Ures.  The population of Ures is about 30,000.  Before Hermosillo, 45 miles to the southwest, became the capital of Sonora in the middle of the 19th century, Ures was the capital of the state.

Before Ures, the capital of Sonora was in Arizpe, across the mountains west from Nacozari.  Arizpe was built by Spain, specifically to defend the region against Apache raids.  It became the center of the Spanish domains in what is now Arizona, Sonora, and Sinaloa.  When Mexico became independent, Arizpe became the capital of the state of Occidente, which included all the area.  Sonora separated from the state of Sinaloa to the south in 1830.  Today, ranching is the only major activity in this town of 5,000.  Buidings from Arizpe’s past are preseved.




In Cananea, would the march by the miners in the strike of 1906 have stayed peaceful if George Metcalf had not had his brother turn on his fire hose?  Would the Americans in Cananea have all been killed, if Thomas Rynning had not been able to cross the border with his volunteers?  What would have been the outcome if the two liberal clubs had been able to work together in other ways besides working on staging the Cinco de Mayo celebrations?

Would the accident at Nacozari happened if Albert Biel, the conductor, had been there at the loading of the train?  Did Jesús García feel that he really had the authority to order the workers in the railyard, younger than Biel but older than himself, to reload the dynamite into the rear cars of the train?  Would there have been sparks to trigger the dynamite, if the fire in the locomotive had not died down, and had to be rebuilt?

In Nogales, if Pedro Ojeda had been able to relieve Emilio Kozterlitzky, would the federal troops have repelled the state attackers under Alvaro Obregón?  Would Kozterlitzky have been killed by Obregón’s troops, as he feared when he decided to cross the border rather than surrender to him?  What if Kozterlitzky had chosen to fight to the bitter end?

What if José Maytorena had been able to dislodge the troops of Benjamín Hill from Naco quickly, in 1914?  What would have happened if Sheriff Henry Wheeler had gotten his 500 volunteers, and crossed the border?  Would the rebels of 1929 have taken Naco if they had a stste-of-the-art pilot and bombs, instead of a crop duster with suitcases loaded with homemade shrapnel?

If the diplomats had not come up with a way to allow Plutarco Elías Calles to be reinforced from across the border, would he have held Agua Prieta against Pancho Villa?  Had Calles lost, would he have crossed the border, surrendered to Villa, or fought to the bitter end?

We will never know for sure.  What we do know about is what the border is like now, at this time.

To the south are the thousands of people who have come to the border, just in the last 24 years.  Now, most end up crossing to work in the north, but there are still many who do not try to cross the border.  The land in the interior of Mexico could not support them, or they suffered discrimination at the hands of people in others of Mexico’s many groups of Spanish, native, and mixed groups, where they tried to live before.  Even after they remember that they are near the Cradle of the Mexican Revolution, they remember that winter is rougher than where they came from farther south, and that they must get food, clothing, and shelter for themselves and their families.  Most of the parts of Mexico where people live in notable numbers are tropical in climate.  They worry about if they will get back to their homes, or even if they want to go back.

In the north are the thousands of people who work in the armed forces of the United States, from San Diego to San Antonio.  Along with them are many people in the civil service, and contractors.  Particularly among them are the people transferred from Ft. Devens, Massachusetts, to Ft. Huachuca by Sierra Vista, as Ft. Devens has closed.  Ft. Devens was very close to Boston, which may arguably be called the Cradle of the American Revolution.  It was even closer to Lexington and Concord than the city of Boston.  Yet, even if they learn where they are, just about as close to Cananea as Boston, they soon turn to worrying about whether they can endure the desert.  They may wonder if they can get back to New England, or even if they want to go back there, with its higher housing prices and taxes.  They may wonder if there will be anything for them back there.

For the need of the military in the United States has decreased.  It is about the same distance from Ft. Devens to Ft. Huachuca as it is from London to Kazan, Russia, east of Moscow.  As the Soviet Union, where it was, dissolved in 1991, Ft. Devens is now no more.  Until people in this area got more involved in the political process, Ft. Huachuca was scheduled to decrease, and Ft. Devens was scheduled to increase, in size.

In Mexico, the checkpoints – as on Highway 15 near Benjamín Hill on the way from Nogales to Hermosillo, and at the junction between Highway 2 and Sonora Route 12 near Agua Prieta on the way to Nacozari, staffed by the lone soldier – are also not there anymore.





One event stands out, since I came to Sierra Vista in 1983 (10 years before the publication of the first edition, and almost 24 years ago now.)

On a Sunday in September 1985, the headine on the front page of Hermosillo’s El Imparcial said something like, “Sonora will not have its development suspended.”  The article went on to say that the state would receive billions of pesos from the federal government to continue its projects of public works, and they could resume construction right now.

The following Wednesday, the first of two earthquakes hit Mexico City.  Four billion dollars in damage, along with the 10,000 people killed, in Mexico City alone.  The money promised to Sonora was now needed to fix the damage.  The federal government could not even help the immediate needs of many people.  “We helped ourselves, no one helped us”, said victims.

For, Mexicans had become dependent on the federal government to solve their problems.  As long as there were fewer people and their needs were satisfied, and the desires of the leaders of all followings were satisfied, the system worked well, better than any other in Mexico’s history.  About 1972, the government annonced the discovery of large supplies of oil in Mexico’s east central area.  With oil, it could provide enough for everyone.  The government borrowed heavily, and incurred huge debts to American and other banks.  Surely, with the increase in the price of petroleum worldwide, Mexico would repay.  Then, in 1981, oil prices around the world fell.  Mexico was left with a large foreign debt.  The 10-15% who lived well, or fairly well, and everyone else, had to worry about making ends meet.  La crisis began.

Entrepeneurs of all types came out with projects.  Having nowhere else to turn, the many organizations of government in Mexico began to cosponsor these projects.  In Hermosillo in 1990, organizations came up with a program estimated to be worth 2.8 billion dollars to add sidewalks, build new parks and improve existing parks, and improve streets in the city.  Later in 1990, I traveled on three divided highways that were not on my map of two years before, including a toll road from Mexico City to Toluca that had been dedicated the day before.  The belief is that the improvements in infrastructure will lead to jobs and economic development as Mexico has never had in the country before.  Mexico has now revalued the peso by a factor of 1,000, so it now takes 3.11 pesos to buy a dollar.  (This was in 1995, the amount is now 10.80 pesos to buy a dollar.)  Distribution of new pesos to replace the old has gone slowly, though.  How much should go to the people, and how much should go to the leaders, both those who did well under the old system, and who stand to do well now?  All people who observe and do business with Mexico have their ideas about this question.  Soon after Carlos Salinas de Gortari took office as president in 1988, he forced the most odious leaders out of areas of the economy, including heads of the oil and port workers’ unions.  However, he had to make and keep allies who gained power under the old system to do so.



Before saying anything more in detail about Mexico, one needs to examine what is happening in the United States.  For, while most Mexicans cannot afford to read information from across the border all of the time, much is available.  The level of literacy of Mexicans is less, but not much less these days, than the level of literacy of Americans.  A Mexican visiting Denver began his speech by briefly mentioning that people across the border knew about the marital and other personal problems of the candidates for president of the United States in 1992.  He then proceeded to talk at length about the things he thought were most important in relations between the United States and Mexico.

For, no matter what the administration, people in the United States have become more dependent on the government in the last decades of this century.  They expect the government to protect them, whether under the cover of civil rights if they are poor or professional associations if they are rich, if they get involved in violence or drugs, or to protect them from violent activity.  They expect the government to provide them luxuries as well as necessities, through the use and abuse of a variety of programs, like unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, and Social Security.  More and more people who bring actions in the courts, as well as their lawyers, see the system as a source for their personal gain.  Will it take a disaster as big as the twin earthquakes in Mexico City to begin to reverse this attitude?  The earthquake in San Francisco and hurricane Hugo in South Carolina in 1989, hurricane Andrew in Florida and Louisiana and tropical storm Lester which struck Sonora and Arizona on the same night in 1992, and the floods in the Midwest in 1993 are only hints of what could occur.

The last election for president of Mexico (before 2000) took place in August 1994.  Because his most ardent backers did not succeed in changing the Constitution of 1917, Salinas could not run for president again.  The presidents of the United States and Mexico are now different from those who negotiated NAFTA originally.  The The president of Mexico is now Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, who became the PRI’s candidate after Luís Donaldo Colosio was killed.  Salinas now lives in Canada, essentially in exile.  The prime minister of Canada is now Jean Chretien instead of Brian Mulroney.  Presidents and prime ministers cannot solve all the problems of their countries, even if they become dictators like Porfirio Díaz.

No matter who the people are, or what the system is, no people will make a business agreement unless they expect to benefit from it in some way.  As this was first written on August 25, 1993, these were a few of the people who were in a good position to benefit from a free trade agreement.  These people needed to be especially careful with what they did.

In Washington, President Bill Clinton had just named his point of contact to guide NAFTA through Congress.  The point of contact was the son of a former mayor of Chicago, and is the brother of the present mayor.  Chicago is in the same position as Mexico; the way it has conducted its politics in the past has become a point of jest around the country.

In a city along the border to the west, there is a cultural center which specializes in border art.  Border art in this city was featured on a national morning newscast.  I was looking forward to seeing it when I visited the city in 1993.  When I got to the center, the only art was impressions of the marriage of Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera 64 years ago on August 21, by beginning students in a nearby junior college.  There were no reprints, much less original paintings, by Kahlo or Rivera.  The center had a brochure which showed all the organizations in the city from which it receives funding.

To the east near the border, there is a small city which opened a new high school in 1992.  The city is not Nogales; the entire campus of its old high school is now Pierson Middle School.  The west campus of the old high school in this city is Apache Middle School.  One of the names of the real estate brokers who helped to sell the old high school was that of a former city councilman.  Remember that, formally, school boards are independent from governments in the United States, while school boards do not exist in the country of Mexico.

The son and brothers of mayors of Chicago, the directors of the cultural center, and the former city councilman have different political ideologies from each other.  When questioned, they all insisted that they did what they did as a public service.  All of them, or two, one, or none, may have hoped to benefit from their associations later.

There are many honest people who supported NAFTA.  In the area now, they sell products as home and automobile security systems, furniture, and agricultural and ranching supplies.  They may also be involved in more abstract areas, as university education.  There are many people who honestly opposed NAFTA,  They may have not been satisfied with its provisions on jobs and the environment as trade barriers with Mexico are to be dismantled over a period of 15 years, even with the side agreements that were announced just before its submission to Congress was approved.

The rituals of Mexicans crossing the border to work are romanticized and lamented by songwriters and movie makers in Mexico, as the possibilities of Americans losing jobs to Mexico are discussed by comedians and politicians in the United States.  No person anywhere really wants to leave his or her home regularly to work in a strange area, much less a foreign land.

Large numbers of people from other parts of the United States and Mexico are meeting on the border now.  The decision on how to implement NAFTA needed to be based first on the needs of the people; now NAFTA has been in effect since the beginning of 1994.  Whatever the formal relations are, the people of the United States and Mexico must get to know each other better.  Up to now, friendship at the border has been celebrated through occasional family gatherings, tourist visits, civic events, and parades.  Now, we have much that we need to learn from each other’s experiences to survive.  The world has changed.  We should still celebrate, but we must also do more.















Notes and Acknowledgements


            The largest part of research for this writing was done at the main library of the University of Arizona in Tucson.  I was help by the staff in many areas of the library in finding materials.  Besides, I used the libraries at Arizona State University in Tempe, New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, and at the University of Texas at El Paso.  On this side of the border, I also used the libraries of the Tucson-Pima County system, the Pima College system, the Arizona Historical Society, Cochise College both at Sierra Vista and Douglas, Ft. Huachuca, and the cities of Sierra Vista, Nogales, and Douglas.

            I thank the staff in libraries and archives on the other side of the border, in 1992 and 1993, for their assistance.  What, they must have thought, was a gingo doing there, awy from the spots where tourists normally go?  Once they had an idea of what I was looking for, whther I knew or not, or I could say what I wanted in Spanish, all welcomed me very warmly.  Just across from southeastern Arizona are the library and archives in Nogales, the Padre Kino and Mexicana de Cananea branches in Cananea, and the libraries in Cananea and Naco.

            I thank Cochise College student Morgan Sharp for taking the sketch of the wall in Nogales, that is at the exact spot where my cousin in Naperville, Illinois, Steve Lee, drew it as a sketch of a hole in the fence east of the pedestrian border crossing.  I thank Cochise College art instructor Al Kogel for helping me arrange for Morgan to do the sketch.  Dave Labanow of CABACO of Sierra Vista continued with the map of Mexico and drew the map of southeastern Arizona and northeastern Sonora, when his commitments as a commercial artist in the Chicago area kept Steve from doing any more drawing for this writing.  Originally, other people in CABACO helped me in preparing photographs for use here.  My friend, well-versed in the culture of New Mexico and Arizona, who wishes to remain anonymous, allowed me to use his photograph of Pancho Villa.

            Last in this writing but first in time, I thank Diego Rivera for the mural in the National Palace in Mexico City mentioned at the beginning, and his wife, Frida Kahlo, for material near the end of this writing.  Diego Rivera began to paint History and Perspective of Mexico in the National Palace when he and she were first married in 1929, and probably painted the segment mentioning the Cananea strike near the time when he finished the mural, in 1935.

















Enciclopedia de México.  Mexico City: Secretaría de Educación Pública, 1987.


Fondo Editorial de la Plástica Mexicana, ed., La pintura mural de la Revolución Mexicana.  Mexico City: 1975.


Centro Estatal de Estudios Municipales, ed., Los Municpios de Sonora (volume in the Enciclopedia de los Municipios de México), Mexico City: Secretaría de Gobernación, 1987.  (The Centro Estatal is under the Secretariat of the Interior and Government of the State of Sonora.)


Maps: Arizona road maps, 1981 to present.  Guía Roji road map of Sonora, 1984.  Guía Roji, Primer Mapa Político de Sonora, 1990.  PEMEX map book of Mexico, 1988.  Rand McNally road atlases: 1983 to present.


Newspapers: Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, and Tucson Daily Citizen.  Douglas Daily Dispatch, Nogales International, and Sierra Vista Herald.  Arizona Republic, Phoenix.  El Paso Times; El Imparcial and El Sonorense, Hermosillo.  La Voz del Norte, Nogales, Sonora.


Television stations and networks: Channels 4, 6, 9, and 13, Tucson; Univisión, Miami, Florida.  Televisa, Imevisión: national networks of Mexico.



Chapter 1 – Beyond the Border


Durant, Will, and Ariel Durant, The Age of Napoleon.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975.


Mexican Constitution of 1917 (Article 4).


Miller, Robert Ryal, Mexico: A History.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.


Moreno Rivas, Yolanda, Historia de la música popular mexicana.  Mexico City: Alianza Editorial Mexicana, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1979.


Morrison, Samuel Elliot, H.S. Commager and W.E. Leuchtenberg, The Growth of the American Republic, New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.


Municipal museum of Alamos, Sonora: February 1990.


Robinson, Fayette, Mexico and Her Military Chieftains.  Glorieta, NM: Rio Grande Press, 1970.  (First published in 1847.)


Turner, John Kenneth, Barbarous Mexico.  Austin: University of Texas Press, 1969 (First published as sections in magazines in 1909.)


U.S. Department of Justice, United States History: 1600-1987.  Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1987 (Required reading for U.S. citizenship.)


Ward, Geoffrey C. , Ric Burns, and Ken Burns.  The Civil War.  New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.


Wexler, Sanford, Westward Expansion: An Eyewitness History.  New York: Facts on File, 1991.


Wilgus, A. Curtis, and Raul D’Eca, Latin American History.  New York: Barnes and Noble, 1963.



Chapter 2 – Cananea


Arizona Daily Star articles: Tucson, June 2-3, 1906 (June 2: “Terrible Riot Raging at Cananea”.)


Enciclopedia de México (articles: “Baca Calderón, Esteban”, “Cananea, Sonora”, “Gutiérrez de Lara, Lázaro”, “Huelgas”).


Gobierno del Estado de Sonora, Historia general de Sonora.  Hermosillo: 1985. 5 vols.  (Written as special project; Juan Antonio Ruibal Corella, coordinator).


Hall, Linda, Alvaro Obregón.  College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1981.


Meed, Douglas V., Bloody Border.  Tucson, Arizona: Westernlore Press, 1992.


National Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City: October 1990.


Obregón, Alvaro, Ocho mil kilómetros en la campaña.  Mexico City: Fondo de la Cultura Económica, 1959.  (First written about 1919.)


Proyección, June 12, 1993.  (Weekly newsmagazine of Cananea.)


Sonnichsen, C.L., Colonel Greene and the Copper Skyrocket.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1974.


Tucson Daily Citizen articles: June 2-3 and 5-6, 1906 (June 2: “Bloody Race Riot at Cananea”.)

Turner, John Kenneth, Barbarous Mexico.



Chapter 3 – Nacozari de García


Almada, Francisco R., La Revolución en el Estado de Sonora.  Hermosillo: Artes Gráficas y Editoriales Yescas, 1990.  (Sponsored by the Government of the State of Sonora, Secretariat of Educational and Culural Development and the Sonoran Institute of Culture.)


Arizona Daily Star articles, November 8-9, 1907.  (Title of November 9 article: “Engineer’s Bravery Saves Many Lives”.)


Botkin, B.A. and Alvin F. Harlow, eds., A Treasury of Railroad Folklore: The Stories, Tall Tales, Traditions, Ballads, and Songs of the American Railroad Man.  New York: Bonanza Books, 1953.


Dedera, Don, In Search of Jesús García.  Payson, AZ: Prickly Pear Press, 1989.


Enciclopedia de México (article: “García Corona, Jesús.)


Terán, Cuahtéhmoc, Jésus García, Heroe de Nacozari.  Hermosillo: Artes Gráficas y Editoriales Yescas, 1991.  (Sponsored by the Government of the State of Sonora, Secretariat of Educational and Cultural Development and the Sonoran Institute of Culture.)



Chapter 4 – Nogales


Beezley, William H., Insurgent Governor: Abraham González and the Mexican Revolution in Chihuahua.  Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1973.


Calvert, Peter, Mexico: Nation of the Modern World.  New York: Praeger, 1973.


Finley, James P., ed., Huachuca Illustrated magazine.  Fort Huachuca, Arizona: Ft. Huachuca Museum, 1993.


Hall, Linda, Alvaro Obregón.


Obregón, Alvaro, Ocho mil kilómetros en la campaña.


Smith, Cornelius C., Jr., Emiliano Kozterlitky: Eagle of Sonora and the Southwest Border.  Glendale, California:  Arthur H. Clark Co., 1970.




Chapter 5 – Naco


Bailey, David, Viva Cristo Rey!  Austin: University of Texas Press, 1974.


Enciclopedia de México (article: “Naco, Sonora”).


Finley, James P., ed., Huachuca Illustrated magazine.


Meed, Douglas V., Bloody Border.


Quirk, Robert E., The Mexican Revolution, 1914-1915: The Convention of Aguascalientes.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1960.



Chapter 6 – Agua Prieta


Almada, Francisco R., La Revolución en el Estado de Sonora.


Annual Report of the (U.S.) Secretary of War.  Washington: 1911 and 1916 issues.


Atkin, Ronald, Revolution! Mexico 1910-20.  New York: The John Day Co., 1970.


Calvert, Peter, The Mexican Revolution 1910-1914.  Cambridge, England, U.K.: University Press, 1968.


Columbus (New Mexico) Historical Society: brochure, April 1990.


Davis, Thomas B., and Amado Ricon Virulegio, The Political Plans of Mexico.  Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1967.


Enciclopedia de México (article “Agua Prieta, Son.”)


Gilly, Adolfo, tr. by Patrick Camillier, The Mexican Revolution, Thetford, England, U.K.: Thetford Press, 1963.


Guzmán, Martín Luís, ed., tr. by Virginia H. Taylor, Memoirs of Pancho Villa.  Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965.


Machado, Manuel A., Jr., Centaur of the North: Francisco Villa, the Mexican Revolution, and Northern Mexico.  Austin, Texas: Eakin Press, 1988.


Meed, Douglas V.,  Bloody Border.


Mexican Constitution of 1917 (Articles 3, 129).


National Museum of the Revolution.  Mexico City: October 1990.

Obregón, Alvaro, Ocho mil kilómetros en la campaña.


Ochoa Campos, Moises, Calles el estadista.  Mexico City: Editorial Trillas, 1976.


Pima Air and Space Museum.  Tucson, Arizona: July 1992.


Sonora State Historical Museum.  Hermosillo: March 1992.


State Museum of the Mexican Revolution.  Chihuahua, Chih.:  October 1990 (was Pancho Villa’s house).


Torres, Elías L., tr. by Sheila Ohlendorf, 20 Episodes in the Life of Pancho Villa.  Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972.


Townshend, William Cameron, Lázaro Cárdenas: Mexican Democrat.  Ann Arbor, Michigan: George Wahr Publishing Co., 1952.



Chapter 7 – Other Towns


Articles in the Sierra Vista Herald and other newspapers, and displays in the Sierra Vista Public Library.


Bojórquez, Juan de Dios, Crónica del Constituyente.  Mexico City: Yescas, 1981.


McClean’s magazine, November 7, 1985. (Weekly newsmagazine published in Canada.)


Niemeyer, E.V., Jr., Revolution at Queretaro: The Mexican Constitutional Convention of 1917.  Austin: University of Texas Press, 1974 (for the U. of TX Institute of Latin American Studies).


Telephone call answered by a clerk at Sasabe Store and Adobe, August 1993.


Television advertising, Taco Bell.  Taco Bell is a subsidiary and trademark of Pepsico, Inc. (in 1993.)