Art imitates life, Mexican Revolution style

Recently I started rereading a novel of the Mexican Revolution, which opened with a scene that was a bit overblown in detail. Or so I had thought the first time through, until I had come across a real event in my research for a book for this series that encompasses how the Revolution impacted our area.

Mariano Azuela is best known for his novel “The Underdogs,” (Los de Abajo), which chronicled the gritty, dismal life of soldiers in Pancho Villa’s army. A physician who had served with Villa, Azuela wrote most authentically of that turbulent time in Mexico’s history.

Tents at Naco

These are tents of the 10th Cavalry, pitched at Naco near the time of the incident at Tintown.

He also wrote a pair of novellas on the same theme, “The Flies” (Las Moscas) and “The Bosses” (Los Caciques.) “The Flies” opens with a family trying to escape from a war-threatened city: “Mama, my canary!” shouts the quite spoiled and obnoxious (my opinion) elder daughter, Matilde.

Marta [the mother] trotted after her, puffing, lugging a heavy valise and the bird cage. . . .

Matilde put her lips to the cage.

“Darling, lover, give me a kiss.”

The little creature was beating its wings nervously against the bars.

Would people escaping imminent battle worry about a caged canary? I thought not. Bring your valuables, yes, and that which you needed to survive the next indefinite period. But a bird? Hardly. Not there. Not then.

How wrong I was!

It was as if Azuela had read an article in the Bisbee Daily Review from back in September 1914. Naco already had been the site of battles between the various forces of the Mexican Revolution. Because of the battles’ proximity, U.S. troops, both in the form of National Guard units and regulars from Fort Huachuca, had taken up post along the border at Naco.

But at a time during which it was quiet south of the border, one of the U.S. commanders decided to put his troops through a realistic drill. So on Sept. 25, he took three companies of the 10th Cavalry, along with two machine gun units, and “attacked” Tintown.

At this time, Tintown was a community of about 500 people (see article about population), mostly of Mexican heritage.

Machine guns apparently started the stampede

As the cavalry approached the town, the machine guns units simulated an unlimbering, and that’s when the panic started.

“Mexican residents of the city thought they were unlimbering,” the Review reported. “Women, children, girls and a few men who were about the town became panic stricken. There was a wild rush. Cries of danger were issued.”

And here’s where art met life.

“Then appeared crowds carrying bird cages, dogs and anything else handy, rushing to the edge of the town and into the hills opposite the approach of the soldiers.”

Officers observing the exercise quickly noticed the panic and withdrew the troops. “They immediately dispelled the siege and the fears of the withdrawing hordes.”

The troops went back to the border, “where drill was resumed under less trying circumstances.”

So to bird-lovers everywhere, I admit to being oh, so wrong! Who knows, Azuela may have been recounting an actual scene he witnessed, somewhere in Mexico. If it could happen here, it could have happened there as well.


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