The Story of Mexico/Chapter 25

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XXV.

HIDALGO.

Miguel Hidalgo was born in the rancho of San Vicente, between the eastern shore of the river Turbio and the hacienda of Cuitzeo de los Naranjos, in the jurisdiction of Penjamo in Guanajuato, on the 8th of May, 1753, the day of the archangel Miguel, whom we call Saint Michael. His father was a well-to-do farmer, Christobal Hidalgo y Costilla, and his mother, Ana Maria Gallega. Miguel was baptized on the 16th of the same month of the year, in the chapel of Cuitzeo de los Naranjos, and passed his childhood at home with his parents. At a proper age he was sent to school in Valladolid, at the Colegio de San Nicholas, where he pursued his studies until he came to be head of the institution. This school was founded by the good Bishop Quiroga, at the time the Cathedral was transferred from Tzintzuntzan, and was therefore one of the first in the country. This fact, and the greater one, that the Benemérito cura Hidalgo not only taught but lived within the walls, where no doubt he first formed his ideas of independence, makes Morelia very proud of its seminary.

Miguel went to Mexico in 1779 to take sacerdotal TSOM D271 Cactus hedge.pngCACTUS HEDGE.

orders and the degree of bachelor in theology. This was but three years after the declaration of independence in the United States. He served as curate in several places, and on the death of his brother Joaquin received the curacy of the little pueblo of Dolores.

He was a man of intellectual gifts, and good instruction. He knew French, which was uncommon at that time in his class, and his opinions on all subjects were advanced beyond the average of the period.

His predilection was the pursuit of agriculture, and at Dolores it was his pleasure to cultivate the vine and the mulberry. He established a manufacture of bricks and earthenware in the place, and made himself generally beloved by his gentle and affable deportment, notwithstanding his radical ideas, which were regarded as extreme by his people. In the year 1800, he was denounced before the Committee of the Inquisition for maintaining dangerous opinions, without, however, any serious result. Bold schemes he formed for the rescue of his country from the bondage in which she was held by Spain. In the solitude of his pueblo his strong, well-trained glance fixed itself upon the light which was flooding the world from the rising republic on his own continent. This man, sprung from the people, dared to think of a government by the people. He longed to throw off the yoke, not only of an alien government, but of a haughty class. He wanted Mexico to be Mexico, and not a helpless dependency of a rapidly deteriorating Spain. Such dreams and ideas Hidalgo imparted to a few other persons, and they became plans. Those who talked these things fell under suspicion, and in Querétaro, an attempt was made to seize a small knot of such men. They were warned, and fled or concealed themselves. Hidalgo, hearing of this, instead of following their example, determined to delay no longer, but to declare independence at once. In this resolve he was supported by another patriotic spirit.

Ignacio Allende was born in San Miguel el Grande the 20th of January, 1779. His father was a Spaniard, Narciso Allende, his mother, Mariana Uraga. Of a noble family, with wealth and good position, he was destined for a soldier, and reached the grade of captain of dragoons.

Fired by the ideas of independence which were smouldering everywhere, Allende made frequent visits to Hidalgo, and with him planned the details for the important step they were meditating. Two officers in the regiment of Allende were of his opinion, and became confidants of the plan.

On the night of the 15th of September, 1810, roused by Allende or Aldama, another of the plotters, Hidalgo rose from his bed, dressed himself quietly, and calling his brother to his aid, with ten armed men, besides their few friends, went straight to the prison and liberated certain men, arming them with swords. This was Saturday night, or rather the dawn of Sunday. At early mass, all the parish were informed of what had happened, and every countryman in the neighborhood took the side of Hidalgo, who thus became the leader, if not of an army, at least of a respectable force of Mexicans. The little band hastened to San Miguel el Grande, which they reached before nightfall the same day.

This movement, started by Hidalgo, is called the Grito de Dolores. The little body of eighty men, which soon increased to three hundred, bore for a banner a picture of the Holy Virgin of Guadalupe, belonging to a little village church. Their cry, the Grito, was "Up with True Religion, and Down with False Government."

Nothing like this had happened ever before in Mexico. That common men, not appointed by the court of Spain, should dare to have an opinion about letters, religion, or government was a thing unheard of. For a while amazement prevented any vigorous steps against them. At San Miguel, the regiment of Allende joined the little band, and a crowd of laborers from the field, armed with slings, sticks, and spades. Out of this raw material Hidalgo organized an army, with himself at its head under the title of general, and Allende as his lieutenant.

At Celaya, their numbers had increased to fifty thousand men—some say more. With such a force and supported by the enthusiasm which prevailed, Hidalgo resolved to march upon Guanajuato, an already rich and flourishing city, the capital of the second largest mining state in Mexico. It is built in a deep, narrow ravine, the houses crowded in steep streets like stairways. a mass of men advancing towards it, armed with strange weapons, but holding the order and discipline of an organized army. The Spaniards, that is the representatives of government, resolved to defend the town, and prepared for the attack.

The Independents were driven back several times. The besieged had entrenched themselves in the strong place, Alhóndiga de Grenaditas, used for storing grain, with the governor of the town at their head; and there defended themselves so well that things were going badly for their opponents, until a little boy, called Pipita, on all fours, with a lighted brand in his hand, shielding himself with a flat tile torn up from the pavement, succeeded in reaching the great gate and setting fire to it, in spite of the bullets which fell about him. Amidst the blaze, the insurgents seized the stronghold by force of arms, and killed or made prisoners all within it. The populace of Guanajuato rose, rushing about the streets and sacking houses and shops. Hidalgo, however, succeeded in restoring order by severe edicts. He established himself in this his first stronghold, to collect supplies of arms and money for his volunteer host. The whole province of Guanajuato declared in his favor, and three squadrons of the regiment del Principe swelled the numbers of his troops.

Just before, on the 13th of September, a new viceroy had arrived in the city of Mexico, little thinking what the nature of his new duties were to be, or that he should be so soon called upon to execute them. Don Francisco Javier Venegas, lieutenant-general of the Spanish forces, had distinguished himself in the war between the armies of Spain and Napoleon. He sailed away from confusion at home, and imagined, very likely, that he was going to settle down to the peaceable monotony of a life in the provinces. He began by calling a Junta of prominent persons in the capital, and among other things proclaimed to them that the Regency of Spain begged the aid of money from their loyal Americans to sustain the war against Napoleon.

Three days afterwards independence was declared in the Grito de Dolores. The viceroy learned that Mexico was not behind the age in revolutions, and that he must call upon his military skill to suppress a formidable rising in its cradle. He ordered all the troops then in garrison at Mexico to Querétaro, increased these forces with rural troops, and sent for marines to Vera Cruz, while he summoned forces from San Luis Potosi, at the north, and even those of Guadalajara, in the west, to hold themselves in readiness.

He further published a decree of the Regency, liberating all Indians from taxation, and put a price upon the heads of Hidalgo, Allende, and Aldama of ten thousand dollars, promising also indulgence to such Independents as should at once lay down arms.

The Mexican clergy allied themselves with the civil authorities on this issue; the bishops excommunicated Hidalgo and his companions, and furious sermons were preached against them in the churches. The Inquisition renewed all the charges against Hidalgo which they had found in 1800, and cited him to appear before them. Yet his cry was not against religion, but bad government. The Bishop of Michoacan also excommunicated him, and set at once upon preparing the defence of Valladolid as soon as he heard the echo of the Grito de Dolores.

In fact, excomunication from various dioceses rattled round the heads of the insurgents, who kept on their way little heeding so much mighty sound.

On the 17th of October the Independent troops entered Valladolid without resistance, the valiant bishop having fled to Mexico at the first sign of his approach, together with the civil and military authorities, and many Europeans settled in that hitherto peaceful town. Hidalgo compelled the canons in the absence of the bishop to remove the excommunication fulminated against him and his companions. He established his authority in the place, and in ten days, with his ever-swelling army, took the bold step of advancing upon the capital.

As this terrible band approached, the inhabitants of Mexico, remembering Guanajuato, were filled with fear. Some hid their plate in the convents; others hid themselves; many fled the city. The brave and military viceroy sent his army forward, commanded by Trujillo. Upon the Monte de la Cruces, outside of the city, the forces met, and a terrible battle ensued. The insurgents were swept by the fire of their opponents' artillery; but their immense numbers bore up against all resistance, inspired by enthusiasm in the cause, and triumphed completely, the soldiers of the viceroy abandoning the field with many losses. The commanding-general, Trujillo, owed his life to his excellent horse, which bore him swiftly back to Mexico. Had Hidalgo marched immediately upon Mexico, then in a state of panic and confusion most advantageous to his cause, it might have been for him the victorious end of the struggle. Unfortunately, he decided to withdraw towards Querétaro, fearing the approach of reinforcements from the capital.

In fact, at Aculco he was vigorously attacked by the division of Calleja arriving from the north, and, after a hot combat, the insurgents were overcome, losing all their artillery and many men. The huge army melted, and Hidalgo went back to Valladolid with but a handful of men.

Calleja followed Allende to Guanajuato, where he attacked him with the same vigor, so that he was obliged to abandon the city and retreat to Zacatecas, which had already proclaimed independence. A cruel retaliation was taken by Calleja upon the inhabitants of Guanajuato.

Hidalgo again assembled an army, and went to Guadalajara, where the Independents had already declared themselves. No sooner had he left Valladolid than it was again occupied by royalist troops.

In Guadalajara Hidalgo organized a government, taking for himself the title of Generalissimo, and appointing ministers. He sent immediately a commissioner to the United States Government; but this emissary had not gone far before he was seized and made prisoner by the Spaniards. Hidalgo exerted himself vigorously to collect arms and means for reorganizing his army. But the royalists, with equal energy and resources far better, had their forces ready to advance under the orders of Calleja, while Hidalgo's army were still in the rough. Nevertheless he resolved to attack without waiting for the royalists, against the opinion of Allende and others, who thought the risk too great. He sallied from Guadalajara with his large but undisciplined force on the 16th of January, to the Puente de Calderon, whence at the fall of evening could be discerned the regular troops of Calleja, to the number of ten thousand men, in the best discipline, and perfectly armed and equipped. The next day was fought the battle of Calderon.

The result was a foregone conclusion. The insurgents fought bravely; the battle was undecided for some hours, but the rout was complete, the vanquished Independents retreating in all directions.

Calleja entered Guadalajara. The insurgents were put down in various places, and the revolution for the time was suppressed.

Hidalgo set forward towards Zacatecas. On the way, he encountered Allende, Jimenez, and other chiefs of the insurrection, who had escaped with many perils from the fatal Puente de Calderon. It is said that their differences of opinion concerning the plan of campaign caused dissatisfaction among them. They agreed, however, to hasten towards the United States with such troops and money as they had left, there to recruit and discipline an army with which to return and conquer.

With a large convoy of mules and baggage, some pieces of artillery, and a considerable escort, they were overtaken and surprised by the Spanish troops not far from the frontier they longed to cross, and were made prisoners in a dismal desert spot called Las Norias de Bajan, in the state of Coahuila which borders upon the Rio Grande. The chiefs of conspiracy were secured and conducted under a strong escort to Chihuahua, where they were tried and condemned to death.

On the 26th day of June, 1811, Allende, Aldama, and Jimenez were shot in Chihuahua, and upon the 31st of July perished Hidalgo, showing in his last moments great bravery and self-possession.

The heads of these four illustrious chiefs were carried to Guanajuato, and nailed upon the four corners of the Alhóndiga de Grenaditas, where they remained for ten years. Later the remains, as those of martyrs, received solemn burial beneath the altar of the sovereigns in the grand cathedral of Mexico.

The execution of these men closed the first period of the struggle for independence in Mexico. The royalist troops had everywhere triumphed; the voices which had uttered the Grito de Dolores were silent. Order might now resume its course, and Venegas, the viceroy, settle into that quiet living he had proposed for himself in the provinces.

It is interesting to wonder what would have happened if the insurgent chief had succeeded in crossing the frontier into the vague regions of the West, under the protection of the American flag. The Government of the United States in 1811 was scarcely in a condition to render efficient aid to straggling patriots from other countries. Moreover, the lands between the Rio Grande and the new republic were but a wilderness, in which a little handful of men, however brave, however independent, might easily have perished by starvation or cold. The death that came upon them was martyrdom to their cause, more efficient as an incentive to future patriotism than lives of prolonged incomplete effort.

The Alhóndiga de Grenaditas is now used for a prison. In its walls is still to be seen the spike from which for ten years hung the head of Hidalgo. Before the entrance stands a bronze statue of the first liberator of his country.

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