Barbarous Mexico/Chapter 2

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My real purpose in journeying to Yucatan was to find out what became of the Yaqui Indians of Sonora. In common with thousands of other Americans who have lived for years in our Southwest and near the border line of Mexico, I knew something of the sufferings of the Yaquis in their native state, of the means which had been taken to stir them to revolt, of the confiscation of their lands, of the methods of extermination employed by the army, of the indignation voiced by the decent element of Sonora, finally of President Diaz's sweeping order of deportation.

I knew that the order of deportation was being carried out, that hundreds of families were being gathered up monthly and sent away into exile. But what fate was awaiting them there at the end of that exile road? The answer was always vague, indefinite, unsatisfactory. Even well-informed Mexicans of their country's metropolis could not tell me. After the Yaqui exiles sailed from the port of Veracruz the curtain dropped upon them. I went to Yucatan in order to witness, if possible, the final act in the life drama of the Yaqui nation. And I witnessed it.

The Yaquis are being exterminated and exterminated fast. There is no room for controversy as to that; the only controversy relates to whether or not the Yaquis deserve to be exterminated. It is undoubtedly true that a portion of their number have persistently refused to accept the destiny that the government has marked out for them. On the other hand, there are those who assert that the Yaquis are as worthy as other Mexicans and deserve as much consideration at the hands of their rulers.

The extermination of the Yaquis began in war; its finish is being accomplished in deportation and slavery.

The Yaquis are called Indians. Like the Mayas of Yucatan, they are Indians and yet they are not Indians. In the United States we would not call them Indians, for they are workers. As far back as their history can be traced they have never been savages. They have been an agricultural people. They tilled the soil, discovered and developed mines, constructed systems of irrigation, built adobe towns, maintained public schools, had an organized government and their own mint. When the Spanish missionaries came among them they were in possession of practically the whole of that vast territory south of Arizona which today comprises the state of Sonora.

"They are the best workers in Sonora," Colonel Francisco B. Cruz, the very man who has charge of their deportation to Yucatan, and of whom I will have more to say later, told me. "One Yaqui laborer is worth two ordinary Americans and three ordinary Mexicans," E. F. Trout, a Sonora mine foreman told me. "They are the strongest, soberest and most reliable people in Mexico," another one told me. "The government is taking our best workmen away from us and destroying the prosperity of the state," said another. "The government says it wants to open up the Yaqui country for settlers," S. R. DeLong, secretary of the Arizona Historical Society and an old resident of Sonora, told me, "but it is my opinion that the Yaquis themselves are the best settlers that can possible be found."

Such expressions are heard very frequently in Sonora, in the border states and in border publications. The Yaqui certainly has an admirable physical development. During my journeys in Mexico I learned to pick him out at a glance, by his broad shoulders, his deep chest, his sinewy legs, his rugged face. The typical Yaqui is almost a giant, the race a race of athletes. Perhaps that is just the reason why he has not bent his head in submission to the will of the masters of Mexico.

American mine-owners and railroad men of Sonora are repeatedly complaining against the deportation of the Yaquis, and it is because they are such good workmen. Another matter which I have heard much remarked about by border Americans is the regard of the so-called renegade, or fighting Yaquis, for the property of Americans and other foreigners. When the Yaquis first took up arms against the present government some twenty-five years ago they did so because of a definite grievance. Usually they fought on the defensive. Driven to the mountains, they have been compelled at times to sally forth and plunder for their stomachs' sake. But for many years it was known to all men that they seldom attacked Americans or any people but Mexicans. And for a long time they never committed any depredations on railroads or railroad property, which in Sonora has always been American.

The origin of the Yaqui troubles is generally attributed to a plot on the part of a number of politicians, the purpose being to get possession of the rich lands in Southern Sonora which the Yaquis had held for hundreds of years. For twenty-four years past the only governors Sonora has had have been Ramon Corral, now Diaz's vice-president, Rafael Yzabal and Luis Torres. These three have rotated in office, as it were, for more than a generation. As no popular elections were held at all, these three friends had absolutely no one to answer to except President Diaz, and their authority in Sonora has been practically absolute.

The Yaquis seem to have had a pretty good title to their lands when Corral, Yzabal and Torres came upon the scene. At the time of the Spanish conquest they were a nation of from one to two hundred thousand people, supposed by some authorities to have been offshoots from the Aztecs. The Spanish were never able to subdue them completely, and after two hundred and fifty troublous years a peace was entered into whereby the Yaquis gave up a part of their territory and, as acknowledgment of their rightful ownership of the rest of it, the King of Spain gave them a patent signed by his own hand. This was nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, but the royal patent was honored by every ruler and chief executive of Mexico down to Diaz. During all that time the Yaquis were at peace with the world. Their reputation as a naturally peaceful nation was established. It remained for the government of Diaz to stir them into war.

During these years of peace the Yaquis became part and parcel of the Mexican nation. They lived like other Mexicans. They had their own personal farms, their own homes, and they paid taxes on their property like other Mexicans. During the war against Maximilian they sent soldiers to help Mexico, and many of them distinguished themselves by brilliant service.

But the Yaquis were goaded into war. The men at the head of the government of Sonora wanted the Yaqui lands. Moreover, they saw an opportunity for graft in bringing a large body of soldiers into the state. So they harassed the Yaquis. They, sent bogus surveyors through the Yaqui valley to mark out the land and tell the people that the government had decided to give it to foreigners. They confiscated $80,000 in a bank belonging to Chief Cajeme. Finally, they sent armed men to arrest Cajeme, and when the latter could not find him they set fire to his house and to those of his neighbors, and assaulted the women of the village, even Cajeme's wife not being respected. Finally, the victims were goaded into war.

Since that day twenty-five years ago the Mexican government has maintained an army almost perpetually in the field against the Yaquis, an army ranging in numbers from 2,000 to 6,000 men. Thousands of soldiers and tens of thousands of Yaquis have been killed in battle and many hundreds of the latter have been executed after being taken prisoners. After a few years Chief Cajeme was captured and publicly executed in the presence of a large body of his people who had been taken prisoner with him. Tetabiate, another Yaqui, was promptly elected to Cajeme's place, and the fight went on. Finally, in 1894, at one fell swoop, as it were, the ground was literally taken from under the feet of the rebels. By act of the federal government the best of their lands were taken from them and handed over to one man. General Lorenzo Torres, who is at this writing chief of the army in Sonora, then second in command.

The government is credited with having been guilty of the most horrible atrocities. Two examples are cited by Santa de Cabora, a Mexican writer, as follows:

"On May 17, 1892, General Otero, of the Mexican army, ordered the imprisonment of the Yaquis, men, women and children, in the town of Navajoa, and hung so many of these people that the supply of rope in the town was exhausted, it being necessary to use each rope five or six times." "A colonel in the army, Antonio Rincon, in July, of 1892, took two hundred Yaquis men. women and children, prisoners,
and carried them in the gunboat El Democrata and dropped them in the ocean between the mouth of the Yaqui river and the seaport of Guaymas, all of them perishing."

A report was circulated along our Mexican border that an incident similar to the last mentioned happened in February, 1908. Colonel Francisco B. Cruz, who was in charge of the exiles and who claims to have been on board of the gunboat and witnessed the incident, declared to me, however, that this report was not true. The Yaquis were drowned, he declared, but not by the authorities, and, since at that time the government was not killing any Yaquis whom it could catch and sell, I accept the version of Colonel Cruz as the correct one.

"Suicide—nothing but suicide," asseverated the Colonel. "Those Indians wanted to cheat me out of my commission money and so they threw their children into the sea and jumped in after them. I was on board myself and saw it all. I heard a loud cry, and looking, saw some of the crew running to the starboard side of the vessel. I saw the Yaquis in the water. Then there was a cry from the port side and I saw the Yaquis jumping overboard on that side. We lowered boats, but it was no use; they all went down before we got to them."

"Every soldier who kills a Yaqui," an army physician who served two years with the troops against the Yaquis and whom I met in Mexico City, told me, "is paid a reward of one hundred dollars. To prove his feat the soldier must show the ears of his victim. 'Bring in the ears,' is the standing order of the officers. Often I have seen a company of soldiers drawn up in a square and one of their number receiving one hundred dollars for a pair of ears.

"Sometimes small squads of the Indians are captured, and when I was with the army it was customary to offer the men freedom and money to lead the troops over the secret mountain trails to the fastnesses of their friends. The alternative was the rope, yet I never knew of one of these captives turning traitor. 'Give me the rope,' they would cry, and I have seen such a man run, put the rope round his own neck and demand that it be tightened quickly, that he might not again be subjected to so base an insult."

I have before me a letter signed by G. G. Lelevier, a former member of the Mexican Liberal Party and editor of one of their papers in the United States. Lelevier is said to have afterwards gone over to the cause of the government. Commenting on a photograph showing a lot of Yaquis hanging from a tree in Sonora, the letter says:

"This picture resembles very much another one that was taken at the Yaqui river when General Angel Martinez was in command of the Mexican army of occupation. It was the custom of this general to hang men because they could not tell him where the insurrecto Yaquis were at the time, and he went so far as to lasso the women of the Yaquis and to hang them also. It went on so until the chief of the geographical commission reported the facts to the City of Mexico and threatened to resign if the practice continued. Then this monster of a general was removed.

"But later on Governor Rafael Ysabal—it must have been in 1902—made a raid on Tiburon Island where some peaceful Yaquis had taken refuge, and then and there ordered the Seri Indians to bring to him the right hand of every Yaqui there, with the alternative of the Seris themselves being exterminated. Doctor Boido took a snapshot with a kodak, and you could see in it the governor laughing at the sight of a bunch of hands that had been brought to him and that were dangling from the end of a cane. This picture was even published in derision of the exploits of Governor Ysabal in the newspaper El Imparcial, of Mexico City."

In 1898 the government troops were armed for the first time with the improved Mauser rifle, and in that year they met and wiped out an army of Yaquis at Mazacoba, the killed numbering more than 1,000. This ended warfare on anything like an equal footing. There were no more large battles; the Yaqui warriors were merely hunted. Thousands of the Indians surrendered. Their leaders were executed, and they and their families were granted a new territory to the north, to which they journeyed as to a promised land. But it proved to be a barren desert, entirely waterless and one of the most uninhabitable spots in all America. Hence the peaceful Yaquis moved to other sections of the state, some of them becoming wage-workers in the mines, others finding employment on the railroads, and still others becoming peons on the farms. Then and there this portion of the Yaqui nation lost its identity and became merged with the peoples about it. But it is these Yaquis, the peaceful ones, who are sought out and deported to Yucatan.

A few Yaquis, perhaps four or five thousand, refused to give up the battle for their lands. The found inaccessible peaks and established a stronghold high up in the Bacetete mountains, which border upon their former home. Here flow never-ceasing springs of cold water. Here, on the almost perpendicular cliffs, they built their little homes, planted their corn, raised their families and sang, sometimes, of the fertile valleys which once were theirs. The army of several thousand soldiers still hunted them. The soldiers could not reach those mountain heights, but they could wait for the Indians in the gorges and shoot them as they came down in search of meat, of clothes, and of other comforts which they yearned to add to their existence.

Many small bands of these so-called renegades have been killed. Others have been captured and executed. Rumors of peace have traveled the rounds only to prove untrue a little later. Peace conferences with the government have been held, but have failed because the "renegades" could secure no guarantee that they would not be either executed or deported after they laid down their arms. In January, 1909, the report was officially sent out by Governor Torres that Chief Bule and several hundred of his warriors had surrendered on conditions. But later troubles showed this announcement to have been premature. There are at least a few hundred Yaquis among those Bacetete crags. They refuse to surrender. They are outlaws. They are cut off from the world. They have no connection with the peaceful element of their nation that is scattered all over the state of Sonora. Yet the existence of this handful of "renegades" is the only excuse the Mexican government has for gathering up peaceful Mexican families and deporting them—at the rate of 500 per month!

Why should a lot of women and children and old men be made to suffer because some of their fourth cousins are fighting away off there in the hills? The army physician with whom I talked in Mexico City answered the question in very energetic terms.

"The reason?" he said. "There is no reason. It is only an excuse. The excuse is that the workers contribute to the support of the fighters. If it is true, it is true only in an infinitesimal minority of cases, for the vast majority of the Yaquis are entirely out of touch with the fighters. There may be a few guilty parties, but absolutely no attempt is made to find them out. For what a handful of patriotic Yaquis may possibly be doing tens of thousand are made to suffer and die. It is as if a whole town were put to the torch because one of its inhabitants had stolen a horse."

The deportation of Yaquis to Yucatan and other slave sections of Mexico began to assume noticeable proportions about 1905. It was carried out on a small scale at first, then on a larger one.

Finally, in the spring of 1908, a despatch was published in American and Mexican newspapers saying that President Diaz had issued a sweeping order decreeing that every Yaqui, wherever found, men women and children, should be gathered up by the War Department and deported to Yucatan.

During my journeys in Mexico I inquired many times as to the authenticity of this despatch, and the story was confirmed. It was confirmed by men in the public departments of Mexico City. It was confirmed by Colonel Cruz, chief deporter of Yaquis. And it is certain that such an order, wherever it may have come from, was carried out. Yaqui workingmen were taken daily from mines, railroads and farms, old workingmen who never owned a rifle in their lives, women, children, babes, the old and the young, the weak and the strong. Guarded by soldiers and rurales they traveled together over the exile road. And there are others besides Yaquis who traveled over that road. Pimas and Opatas, other Indians, Mexicans, and any dark people found who were poor and unable to protect themselves were taken, tagged as Yaquis, and sent away to the land of henequen. What becomes of them there? That is what I went to Yucatan to find out. The secret that lies at the roots of the whole Yaqui affair was revealed to me and the whole matter summed up in a few words by Colonel Francisco B. Cruz of the Mexican army, in one of the most remarkable interviews which I obtained during my entire trip to Mexico.

For the past four years this officer has been in immediate charge of transporting all the Yaqui exiles to Yucatan. I was fortunate enough to take passage on the same steamer with him returning from Progreso to Veracruz. He is a stout, comfortable, talkative old campaigner of about sixty years. The steamship people put us in the same stateroom, and, as the colonel had some government passes which he hoped to sell me, we were soon on the most confidential terms.

"In the past three and one-half years," he told me, "I have delivered just fifteen thousand seven hundred Yaquis in Yucatan—delivered, mind you, for you must remember that the government never allows me enough expense money to feed them properly, and from ten to twenty per cent die on the journey.

"These Yaquis," he said, "sell in Yucatan for $65 apiece—men, women and children. Who gets the money? Well, $10 goes to me for my services. The rest is turned over to the Secretary of War. This, however, is only a drop in the bucket, for I know this to be a fact, that every foot of land, every building, every cow, every burro, everything left behind by the Yaquis when they are carried away by the soldiers, is appropriated for the private use of authorities of the state of Sonora."

So according to this man, who has himself made at least $157,000 out of the business, the Yaquis are deported for the money there is in it—first, the money from the appropriation of their property, second, the money from the sale of their bodies. He declared to me that the deportations would never stop until the last possible dollar had been squeezed out of the business. The company of officials who have rotated in office in Sonora for the past twenty-five years would see to that, he said.

These little confidences of the colonel were given me merely as bits of interesting gossip to a harmless foreigner. He had no notion of exposing the officials and citizens whose names he mentioned. He expressed no objection whatever to the system, rather gloried in it.

"In the past six months," the fat colonel told me, "I have handled three thousand Yaquis—five hundred a month. That's the capacity of the government boats between Guaymas and San Blas, but I hope to see it increased before the end of the year. I have just been given orders to hurry 1,500 more to Yucatan as quickly as I can get them there. Ah, yes, I ought to have a comfortable little fortune for myself before this thing is over, for there are at least 100,000 more Yaquis to come!

"One hundred thousand more to come!" he repeated at my exclamation. "Yes, one hundred thousand, if one. Of course, they're not all really Yaquis, but—"

And President Diaz's chief deporter of Sonora working-people lolling there upon the deck of the freight steamer passed me a smile which was illuminating, exceedingly illuminating—yes, terribly illuminating!

BMEX D060 Scene in a Yaqui 'bull pen' on the exile road between Sonora and Yucatan.jpg