Posts filed under 'Mexico'

1916: Three in the Mexican Revolution

Add comment March 8th, 2011 Headsman

On an uncertain date — approximated only to “about the time of the Columbus affair,” which was Pancho Villa‘s famous (and otherwise unrelated) raid on Columbus, N.M. March 8-9, 1916 — a triple execution took place in Juarez, Mexico.

The who, why, and wherefore appear to be completely lost. Only the image remains:

These images were captured by C. Tucker Barrett, a lawyer and amateur photographer serving with the U.S. Army’s 16th Infantry Regiment then stationed right across the border from Juarez, in El Paso, Texas. (This regiment would be detailed for a punitive expedition into Mexico, which Barrett also photographed.)

The Mexican Revolution may be ancient history, but Juarez and extrajudicial executions are still very much in the news.

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1815: José María Morelos, Mexican revolutionary

3 comments December 22nd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1815, the Catholic priest turned revolutionary leader Jose Maria Morelos was shot for rebellion.

Morelos was born in New Spain — the town of his nativity was posthumously named in his honor — and entered adulthood a humble agricultural laborer* before engaging the career in letters necessary to undertake Holy Orders.

Designated to save his countrymen’s souls, he proposed instead to save their liberties and ungratefully joined up with fellow-priest Miguel Hidalgo when the latter sounded the tocsin for the Mexican War of Independence.

Morelos distinguished himself rapidly in the revolutionary army, and upon Hidalgo’s capture attained its leadership, complete with Generalissimo status.

Upon capture, he was handled first — and rather meticulously — by the Inquisition, which defrocked him in an auto de fe before relaxing him to the secular authority for the inevitable punishment.

Without a dissentient voice it [was] agreed that … [Morelos] be declared guilty of malicious and pertinacious imperfect confession, a formal heretic who denied his guilt, a disturber and persecutor of the hierarchy and a profaner of the sacraments; that he was guilty of high treason, divine and human, pontifical and royal … his property should be confiscated to the king … His three children were declared subject to infamy and the legal disabilities of descendants of heretics.

-Source

Nobody said being a national hero was easy.

* “His morals were those of his class,” remarks our source on the Inquisition. “He admitted to having three children, born of different mothers during his priesthood, but he added that his habits, though not edifying, had not been scandalous, and the tribunal seemed to think so, for little attention was paid to this during his trial.”

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1539: Don Carlos Ometochtzin, Aztec heretic

1 comment November 30th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1539, the Spanish Inquisition had Aztec noble Don Carlos Ometochtzin (or Don Carlos Chichimecatecuhi, or Don Carlos Ahuachpitzactzin) burned at the stake for reverting to the pre-Columbian indigenous religion.

Just another Mesoamerican depredation?

Surprisingly, this execution stands out as an exception in the first generations of its conquest. It even cost the first bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumarraga, a reprimand for his excess severity. Why?

Certainly any European Christian would have had trouble with the Inquisition if, like Don Carlos (Spanish Wikipedia entry | English), he had been caught with idols of Xipe Totec in his place.

But it was precisely the point that these weren’t Europeans. In 16th century “New Spain,” syncretisms of Christianity and the native Mexican cults still in living memory were the norm, a scenario recalling early Christianity co-opting the pagan rites it supplanted.*


Respect Xipe Totec’s authoritah!

And that created for the Spanish a problem: how stringently to insist upon an alien orthodoxy for its new subjects? The problem was pragmatic at least as much as it was theological, because the business of winning converts for Christ had to coexist with the business of running an empire. No sense provoking civil war just because the newest souls in the fold don’t have the Te Deum down; Cortes himself, in his initial conquest, had prohibited human sacrifice but not risked closing native temples.* That wasn’t done until 1525.

Over the 1530’s, a campaign unfolded to pare down the many holdover native behaviors — polygamy, idolatry — and cement Christianity. Of particular concern were the “converted” elites who had both means (their social position) and motive (privileges lost to the Spanish) to use nostalgia for the old ways to make trouble.

So, a powerful indigenous priest who “converted” and then went about preaching heretically was investigated by Zumarraga, wielding the Inquisitorial authority, in 1536.

But even that didn’t draw a death sentence.

In Zumarraga’s 19 Inquisitorial trials involving at least 75 suspects, the one and only instance of an Indian being “relaxed” to the secular authorities for execution came in 1539, when Zumarraga was tipped that the hereditary ruler of one of the Aztec Triple Alliance‘s principal city-states was a secret idolator, and a public declaimer of treasonable utterances like this:

Who are those that undo us and disturb us and live on us and we have them on our backs and they subjugate us? … no one shall equal us, that this is our land, and our treasure and our jewel, and our possession, and the Dominion is ours and belongs to us.

Don Carlos was ultimately acquitted of the idolatry stuff, but convicted of heretical dogmatizing.

So far, so good, right? Executions for heresy might be horrible in general, but if you live in a world where they’re routine, surely having your colonial satrap out there calling the empire parasitical, and telling the unwashed masses to go ahead and take multiple wives (Aztec elites seem to have been especially piqued by the lifestyle austerity preached by Franciscan missionaries) is the sort of thing that’ll get you burned at the stake.** And there were plenty more like him out there.

But though the Christianizing campaign of the 1530’s would continue in many forms for decades still to come, the bloodletting which Don Carlos figured to presage was abruptly canceled.

According to Patricia Lopes Don’s “Franciscans, Indian Sorcerers, and the Inquisition in New Spain, 1536–1543,” in Journal of World History, Vol. 17, No. 1,

[a] holocaust was most probably at hand in the spring of 1540. However, when the Council of the Indies in Spain learned of Don Carlos’s execution, they reprimanded Zumárraga, sent a visitador, an inspector-auditor, to New Spain to take away the bishop’s inquisitorial powers, and left him in a state of some humiliation until his death in 1548. All indications were that they feared further such executions would lead to widespread indigenous rebellion in New Spain. As was the case with the Muslims in the Old World, although orthodox Christianity was central to the concept of Spain and the monarchy, when the imperial Spanish needed to choose between religious orthodoxy and the security of the state, they could learn very quickly to be flexible and politique, yet express their concerns in judicious language. In a letter of 22 November 1540, Francisco de Nava, bishop of Seville, explained to Zumárraga that while he understood that he had executed Don Carlos “in the belief that burning would put fear into others and make an example of him,” the Indians, he suggested, “might be more persuaded with love than with rigor.”

When the Inquisition was formally instituted in New Spain in 1571, the native populace was explicitly outside its jurisdiction: its job was to monitor the European population for covert Protestants, Muslims, and Jews.

Although this development has to count as a break for the locals, it’s interesting to note that the theological superstructure of the Spanish policy tension between religious conformity and practical colonialism turned at least in part on a condescending dispute over the “capacity” of Indians to truly become Christian. In that dispute, Zumarraga and his Franciscan order were the ones who thought more highly of the indigenous “capacity”, as against the more skeptical Dominicans; the logical consequence of the Franciscan position was to impose upon those capacious natives the fullest severity of God’s law.

* Though not to be underestimated is the persistence within the citadel of Christendom of everyday folk beliefs, and occasional social movements, at odds with ecclesiastical dogma.

** Treasonous quote and details about the investigation and trial from Richard E. Greenleaf, “Persistence of Native Values: The Inquisition and the Indians of Colonial Mexico”, The Americas, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Jan., 1994)

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1927: Martyrdom of Five Christeros

Add comment October 8th, 2010 Headsman

Artist unknown. The inscription reads:

Execution of Cristeros by federal soldiers on the outskirts of San Gabriel, Jalisco, October 8, 1927. On the same site, the soldiers were ambushed, suffering the same fate.

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1903: Hilario Hidalgo and Francisco Renteria

Add comment July 31st, 2010 Headsman

Border-related violence and crime due to illegal immigration are critically important issues to the people of our state, to my Administration and to me, as your Governor and as a citizen.

-Statement (pdf) by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on signing the anti-immigration law, which went into effect July 29, 2010

Some stories are just plain classics.

In February 1903, two Mexicans shot up Goddard Station stagecoach stop, for motivations that were never plain. (There was no robbery, but it might have been revenge.)

The shooters got away, but law enforcement soon enough decided that a couple of railroad workers on the Mexican side of the border matched their description, and contrived to lure them into Arizona where they could be arrested.

Hilario Hidalgo and Francisco Renteria, were put on trial for their lives in Prescott, Ariz., in June 1903, where they were doomed to hang on the strength of eyewitness testimony and thirty minutes of the jurymen’s time. Appeals forbidden, the sentence was executed on this date — not six months after the crime.

With feelings of profound regret and sorrow, I hereby invite you to attend and witness the private and decent and humane execution of two human beings, namely: Richard Roe and John Doe. Crime — Murder.

Said men will be executed on July 31, 1903 at 12 noon. You are expected to deport yourself in a respectful manner and any flippant or unseemly language or conduct on your part will not be allowed. Conduct on anyone’s part bordering on ribaldry and tending to mar the solemnity of the occasion will not be tolerated.

-Sheriff’s invitation to the hanging, quoted in Frontier Justice in the Wild West: Bungled, Bizarre, and Fascinating Executions

The men cracked wise at the reading of their death warrant — “I have heard that repeated so often that if it was a song I would sing it to you,” reported the Los Angeles Times (Aug. 1, 1903) — and with “perfect nerve” checked out, calling only “Adios! Adios!” from the scaffold.

It was the last hanging in Prescott, Ariz.

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1824: Agustin de Iturbide, Emperor of Mexico

Add comment July 19th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1824, the Mexican officer who had made himself emperor was shot at the village of Padilla.

Iturbide‘s military acumen saw him through a meteoric rise in the service of what was then New Spain.

Iturbide rejected an early offer of generalship from the pro-independence leader Hidalgo in favor of spending the 1810s ably quashing the insurgency.

In a bizarre twist of fate, however, it would be Iturbide who would himself cement Mexican independence.

En route to try to finish off the last major rebel leader, Vicente Guerrero, Iturbide caught wind of the recent del Riego liberal revolt back in the mother country,* which had triggered civil war in Spain.

For the conservative royalist general, heir himself to a Basque noble lineage, the potential collapse of Bourbon authority in Spain raised the frightening specter of social upheaval.

All Iturbide’s work killing guerrillas for the sake of public order could come to naught if the Spanish monarchy collapsed or ceased projecting its power overseas … and then who knew what would emerge from the resulting power vacuum in Mexico?

So Iturbide cut a deal with Guerrero to consummate the Mexican War of Independence by separating from Madrid on an essentially conservative basis — a political breakaway without a social revolution. Independent Mexico would make nice with the Spaniards already living there, keep Catholicism as the official state religion, and get itself a constitutional monarchy of its own to insulate itself from the chance outcomes of continental politics across the ocean.

And when Iturbide marched into Mexico City and encountered a crowd conveniently imploring him to take the throne, well, who was he to deny them?

And so Iturbide transitioned smoothly from scourge of the revolution to its man on horseback,** immediately splintering the coalition that lifted him to power.


Contrary to this allegorical take on Iturbide’s coronation, he crowned himself — Bonaparte-like.

Only months after his July 1822 coronation, Iturbide shuttered Congress and began arresting the opposition. Meanwhile, Ferdinand VII had emerged from the Spanish fray as the (momentary) winner, leaving his upstart former subjects without international support.

A general that the freshly-minted emperor had himself had promoted, one Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna — yes, the Alamo guy — declared against Iturbide by the end of 1822, and come the following spring, Agustin I was a European exile, in the paradoxical position of drawing a pension from Mexico while also officially considered a traitor and outlaw.

In Tuscany and then England, Iturbide published an autobiographical justification — Statement of Some of the Principal Events in the Public Life of Agustín de Iturbide — then finally took up a much-asked-for invitation from Mexican conservatives to return and become the savior of his country against internal breakdown and a potential Spanish attack.

Founded on vainglory, this expedition was destined for fiasco; within five days of touching Mexican soil, Iturbide was serenading a firing squad with the last words, “Mexicans! I die with honor, not as a traitor; do not leave this stain on my children and my legacy. I am not a traitor, no.” Apparently they were serious about that injunction never to return.

When in Mexico City, relive happier times for our day’s subject at the Palace of Iturbide where he briefly maintained himself in the purple.


Iturbide’s palace. Creative Commons image from patricio00.

And do think twice about styling yourself Emperor of Mexico, since the only other person to claim that title also ended his reign in front of a firing squad.

* Ironically, it was a body of soldiers assembled for a reconquista of Spain’s independence-minded New World possessions that enabled del Riego to mutiny.

** Iturbide paused in the revolution’s good graces just long enough to design the Mexican flag.

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1843: 17 who drew the black beans

2 comments March 25th, 2010 Headsman

This date in 1843 was a good one to just stick with the guacamole.

Though the Republic of Texas (it would join the United States in 1846) had won its independence from Mexico a few years before, hostilities between the two continued.

Skirmishes in the frontierlands at length triggered a Texan reprisal-slash-plundering expedition.

The officially independent Somervell Expedition of volunteer Texan militiamen captured a couple of Mexican towns, then disbanded to go home. Those members of it optimistic about their chances for more raiding set off for Ciudad Mier* — the Mier Expedition.

Their optimism was misplaced.

The Mier Expedition was a flop, and the irate Mexican President Santa Anna ordered the entire band shot to make an example. Anglo diplomatic wrangling got him to go down to shooting one tenth of the band.

Well, you’ve gotta pick that tenth somehow.

The Black Bean Lottery

So on this day, 176 potentially condemned men were made to draw a bean from a pot containing 159 white ones and 17 fatal black ones.

For the lucky 159, there was no rush quite like winning your life from a legume, as this survivors’ account describes:

I knew then that I was safe, and the revulsion of feeling was so great and rapid that I can compare it to nothing except the sudden lifting of an immense weight from off one’s shoulders. I felt as light as a feather.

The 17 for whom the cosmos had ordained frijoles negros took a quick leave of their companions, and were shot in two batches. (Here is a thorough discussion of the entire affair.)

It was a typically dicey death by musketry, with lots of people requiring multiple volleys. One of the 17, one James Shepherd, even survived the execution altogether by playing dead. (He fled during the night, but was later recaptured and [successfully] re-shot.)

The most hated man (by the Mexicans), Ewen Cameron, drew white, but Santa Anna thought better of letting him draw air and had him separately executed a month later. The rest of the lottery’s “winners” languished in prisons and work camps for more than a year of continued Texas-Mexico hostility, until they were amnestied and released in September 1844 — many destined to renew hostilities in the imminent Mexican-American War.

That survivor quoted above, William “Bigfoot” Wallace, was one of those re-enlistees. His colorful career with the Texas Rangers earned him a minor star in the firmament of Americana; he appears in Larry McMurty’s Lonesome Dove prequel Dead Man’s Walk … only in that version, he gets cinematically black-beaned at the big moment, as in this clip from the miniseries of the same title.

* The town is latterly famous as a key transit point for arms smuggling to Fidel Castro to supply the Cuban Revolution.

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1865: Mexican Republican officers, under the Black Decree

2 comments October 21st, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1865, two Republican generals, four colonels, and various other officers captured earlier in the month were executed on the authority of Mexico’s notorious Bando Negro — the “Black Decree.”

Halfway into his ill-fated three-year reign as “Emperor,” Maximilian I was in a bad way against Mexican president-turned-guerrilla Benito Juarez.

On October 3, 1865, he authorized summary execution for captured Republicans … and for anyone else who ran afoul of a nearby military official without having speedy proof of his or her political bona fides.

All individuals forming a part of armed bands or bodies existing without legal authority, whether or not proclaiming a political pretext, whatever the number of those forming such band, or its organization, character, and denomination, shall be judged militarily by the courts martial. If found guilty, even though only of the fact of belonging to an armed band, they shall be condemned to capital punishment, and the sentence shall be executed within twenty-four hours.*

In signing the Black Decree, said Mexican essayist Carlos Fuentes, Maximilian “signed his own death warrant.”

But more immediately, of course, he signed a lot of other people’s death warrants.

Republican General José María Arteaga Magallanes (Spanish link), a man of famous chivalry (once, recovering the body of the Belgian Foreign Minister’s son, he returned the boy’s watch home to dad), and fellow General Carlos Salazar Ruiz (Spanish again) were the biggest fish; they and the others are honored today as the Martyrs of Uruapan. (Spanish yet again)


The square in Uruapan where this day’s victims were shot … now known as Plaza Mártires.

* The excerpted text is Article I of the Black Decree, whose entire (taken from here) follows:

THE BANDO NEGRO (BLACK DECREE) PROCLAMATION
OF EMPEROR MAXIMILIAN, OCTOBER 3, 1865

MEXICANS: The cause sustained by D. Benito Juarez with so much valor and constancy had already succumbed, not only before the national will, but before the very law invoked by him in support of his claims. To-day this cause, having degenerated into a faction, is abandoned by the fact of the removal of its leaders from the country’s territory.

The national government has long been indulgent, and has lavished its clemency in order that men led astray or ignorant of the true condition of things might still unite with the majority of the nation and return to the path of duty. The desired result has been obtained. Men of honor have rallied around the flag and have accepted the just and liberal principles which guide its policy. Disorder is now only kept up by a few leaders swayed by their unpatriotic passions, by demoralized individuals unable to rise to the height of political principle, and by an unruly soldiery such as ever remains the last and sad vestige of civil wars.

Henceforth the struggle must be between the honorable men of the nation and bands of brigands and evil-doers. The time for indulgence has gone by: it would only encourage the despotism of bands of incendiaries, of thieves, of highwaymen, and of murderers of old men and defenseless women.

The government, strong in its power, will henceforth be inflexible in meting ont punishment when the laws of civilization, humanity, or morality demand it.

Mexico, October 2, 1865.

Maximilian, Emperor Of Mexico : Our Council of Ministers and our Council of State having been heard, we decree:

Article I. All individuals forming a part of armed bands or bodies existing without legal authority, whether or not proclaiming a political pretext, whatever the number of those forming such band, or its organization, character, and denomination, shall be judged militarily by the courts martial. If found guilty, even though only of the fact of belonging to an armed band, they shall be condemned to capital punishment, and the sentence shall be executed within twenty-four hours.

Article II. Those who, forming part of the bands mentioned in the above article, shall have been taken prisoners in combat shall be judged by the officer commanding the force into the power of which they have fallen. It shall become the duty of said officer within the twenty-four hours following to institute an inquest, hearing the accused in his own behalf. Upon this inquest a report shall be drawn and sentence shall be passed. The pain of death shall be pronounced against offenders even if only found guilty of belonging to an armed band. The chief shall have the sentence carried into execution within twenty-four hours,—being careful to secure to the condemned spiritual aid,—after which he will address the report to the Minister of War.

Article III. Sentence of death shall not be imposed upon those who, although forming part of a band, can prove that they were coerced into its ranks, or upon those who, without belonging to a band, are accidentally found there.

Article IV. If from the inquest mentioned in Article II facts should appear calculated to induce the chief to believe that the accused has been enrolled by force, or that, although forming part of the band, he was there accidentally, he shall abstain from pronouncing a sentence, and will consign the prisoner, with the corresponding report, to the court martial, to be judged in accordance with Article I.

Article V. There shall be judged and sentenced under the terms of Article I of the present law:

I. All individuals who voluntarily have procured money or any other succor to guerrilleros.

II. Those who have given them advice, news, or counsel.

III. Those who voluntarily and with knowledge of the position of said guerrilleros have sold them or procured for them arms, horses, ammunition, provisions, or any other materials of war.

Article VI. There shall be judged and sentenced in accordance with Article I:

I. Those who have entertained with guerrilleros relations constituting the fact of connivance.

II. Those who of their own free will and knowingly have given them shelter in their houses or on their estate.

III. Those who have spread orally or in writing false or alarming news calculated to disturb order, or who have made any demonstration against the public peace.

IV. The owners or agents of rural property who have not at once given notice to the nearest authority of the passage of a band upon their estate.

The persons included in the first and second sections of this article shall be liable to an imprisonment of from six months to two years, or from one to three years’ hard labor, according to the gravity of the offense.

Those who, placed in the second category, are connected with the individual concealed by them by ties of relationship, whether as parents, consorts, or brothers, shall not be liable to the penalty above prescribed, but they shall be subject to surveillance by the authorities during such time as may be prescribed by the court martial.

Those included in the third category shall be sentenced to a fine of from twenty-five to one thousand piasters or to one year’s imprisonment, according to the gravity of the offense.

Article VII. When the authorities have not given notice to their immediate superior of the passage of an armed force in their locality, the superior authority shall inflict a fine of from two hundred to two thousand piasters or from three months’ to two years’ imprisonment.

Article VIII. Every inhabitant who, having knowledge of the passage of an armed band in a village or of its approach, has not notified the authorities shall be liable to a fine of from five to five hundred piasters.

Article IX. All inhabitants between the ages of eighteen and fifty-five years of age not physically incapacitated shall, when the locality inhabited by them is threatened by a band, take part in the defense of the place, under penalty of a fine of from five to two hundred piasters or of from fifteen days’ to four months’ imprisonment. If the authorities deem it proper to punish the village for nonresistance, they may impose a fine of from two hundred to two thousand piasters, which shall be payable by all those who have not taken part in the defense.

Article X. The owners or agents of country property who, being able to defend themselves, have not kept guerrillas and other evil-doers away from their estates or have not notified the nearest military authority of their presence, or who have received the tired or wounded horses of the guerrillas without advising the said authority, shall be punished by said authority by a fine of from one hundred to two thousand piasters, according to the gravity of the offense. In cases of extreme gravity they shall be arrested and brought before the court martial, to be judged in conformity with the rules laid down by the present law. The fine shall be paid to the principal administrator of the revenue of the district where the estate is situated. The provisions of the first part of the present article are applicable to the populations.

Article XI. All authorities, whether political, military, or municipal, who have not acted in accordance with the provisions of the present law against those who are suspected of or recognized as being guilty of the offenses with which it deals, shall be liable to a fine of from fifty to one thousand piasters; and when the omission implies acquaintance with the guilty, the delinquent shall be brought before the court martial, who shall judge him and inflict a penalty in proportion to the offense.

Article XTT. Plagiarios [kidnappers] shall be judged and sentenced under the provisions of Article I of the present law, without regard to the circumstances under which the abduction shall have been committed.

Article XIII. Sentence of death passed upon those guilty of the offenses enumerated by the present law shall be executed in the time fixed, and the benefit of appeal for mercy shall be refused to the condemned. When the accused has not been condemned to death, and is a stranger, the government, after he shall have undergone punishment, may make use with regard to him of its right to expel from its territory pernicious strangers.

i Kidnappers. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, intrusted with the Department

Article XIV. Amnesty is proclaimed in favor of all who, having belonged or still belonging to armed bands and having committed no other offense, shall present themselves to the authorities before the 15th of next November. The authorities shall take possession of the arms of those so surrendering themselves.

Akticle XV. The government reserves unto itself the right to fix the time when the provisions of the present law shall cease to be enforced. Each of our ministers is bound, as far as his department is concerned, to enforce the present law and to issue such orders as will secure its strict observance.

Issued in the Palace of Mexico, October 3, 1865.

Maximilian.

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1847: The San Patricios

7 comments September 13th, 2009 Headsman

At 9:30 a.m. this day, as the American army raised the Stars & Stripes over Chapultepec Castle during the Mexican-American War, it simultaneously carried out a mass hanging of 30 Irish deserters who had gone over to Santa Anna — the Saint Patrick’s Battalion, or the San Patricios.

Irish had been migrating to the United States en masse even well before the Great Famine got rolling in 1845.

And for those of that great migration wave who wound up in the service fighting the Mexican-American War, there was a hint of deja vu — an Anglo and Protestant imperial power seizing land from a “black”* and Catholic neighbor?

Some of the Irish decided they were fighting for the bad guys, and switched sides.**

These were the plurality (though not necessarily the majority) of the couple hundred soldiers who comprised the Saint Patrick’s Battalion. German immigrants and other nationalities, along with American-born deserters (desertion during the Mexican-American War seems to have been rife), made up the balance.

Knowing full well the fate that would await them upon capture, the San Patricios were renowned for their ferocity in battle; at the hopeless Battle of Churubusco, they reputedly forced down a white flag that Mexican comrades were trying to hoist on three separate occasions.

Eventually, the ammunition ran out, and with it, the San Patricios’ luck.

Within days, courts-martial began handing out death sentences to almost the whole of the surviving unit. U.S. General Winfield Scott subsequently reduced a number of sentences, and those who had deserted before the war couldn’t legally be executed … but even the “lucky” ones suffered faint-inducing scourgings and branding on the cheeks with the letter “D”.

And 50 men more were still bound for the gallows.

Twenty hung in the days prior to this at two separate sites, but the Yanks’ piece de resistance was an orchestrated scene on the second day of the Battle of Chapultepec.

On September 13, 1847, at dawn, Harney ordered the thirty remaining prisoners to be brought forward. They stood on wagons with nooses placed around their necks. This included one man who had lost both legs and was unable to walk to his own execution. The site of these executions was within viewing distance of the site where the final battle — the outcome of which could not have been in doubt — was to be fought. There the sentenced soldiers watched until finally, at 9:30, the US victors raised the American flag atop Chapultepec Castle.† At that point the order was given, the wagons were pulled away and the men were all hanged.

It must be remembered that the San Patricios had been standing, bound hand and foot, each with his head in a noose, for nearly four hours in the burning Mexican sun. When Harney finally gave the order for the hangings to proceed, such was the relief that their sufferings were finally at an end that “some of the men actually cheered as the nooses tightened and the wagons pulled away.”

The cruelty of the punishments led a Mexican paper to spit,

these are the men that call us barbarians and tell us that they have come to civilize us … May they be damned by all Christians, as they are by God.

The San Patricios are still honored as heroes in Mexico.

They brand with hot irons the faces of the Irish deserters and then hang them from the gallows. The Saint Patrick Irish Battalion arrived with the invaders, but fought alongside the invaded.

From the north to Molino del Rey, the Irish made theirs the fate, ill fate, of the Mexicans. Many died defending the Churubusco monastery without ammunition. The prisoners, their faces burned, rock to and fro on the gallows. -Eduardo Galeano, Masks and Faces

* The “blackness” of the Irish and the process of their “becoming white” later in the 19th and 20th centuries is one of the more illustrative and well-documented case studies of race and racism as social rather than biological constructs.

** They weren’t alone in this opinion. Many hundreds of miles from the fighting, Henry David Thoreau famously landed in jail for tax resistance in 1846 largely because of his disgust with the war. From Civil Disobedience:

The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure.

Abraham Lincoln, then a young Whig delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, excoriated President James K. Polk for lying the nation into war.

† The capture of Chapultepec Castle, forgotten north of the Rio Grande, is still commemorated in Mexico for the heroism of six teenage cadets who died in its defense. The last of their number, Juan Escutia, leapt from the castle walls wrapped in the Mexican standard to prevent its capture.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Desertion,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Mexico,Military Crimes,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,Wartime Executions

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1859: Ormond Chase, casus belli not quite

2 comments August 7th, 2009 Headsman

Every foreign policy adventure needs its pretexts, even adventures that never happen.

Quite marvelously, this illustration appeared in the same issue of Harper’s as Sydney Carton’s beheading in the last installment of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities serial.

On this date in 1859, forces of Mexican General Miguel Miramon provided the United States such a pretext by executing American Ormond Chase in Tepic during the Mexican War of Reform.

This incident, said to have ensnared the luckless Portland (Me.)-born sawyer “for reasons entirely unknown,”* became elevated into the foreign policy calculation of U.S. President James Buchanan.

Buchanan rates as one of America’s worst chief executives for fiddling as the conflagration of Civil War began, but he kept himself busy eyeballing other dark-skinned folk in the hemisphere over whom America ought to claim suzerainty.**

So, in December of 1859, Ormond Chase was name-checked in a State of the Union address further to pressing Buchanan’s case for Mexico as a (to use a modern coinage) failed state — “a wreck upon the ocean, drifting about as she is impelled by different factions.”

“Little less shocking,” the Chief Executive intoned, crowning a litany of injuries “upon persons and property,” “was the recent fate of Ormond Chase, who was shot in Tepic, on the 7th August … not only without a trial, but without any conjecture by his friends of the cause of his arrest.”

And, of course, we know what happens to failed states.

Mexico ought to be a rich and prosperous and powerful Republic. She possesses an extensive territory, a fertile soil, and an incalculable store of mineral wealth. She occupies an important position between the Gulf and the ocean for transit routes and for commerce. … Can the United States especially, which ought to share most largely in its commercial intercourse, allow their immediate neighbor thus to destroy itself and injure them? Yet without support from some quarter it is impossible to perceive how Mexico can resume her position among nations and enter upon a career which promises any good results. The aid which she requires, and which the interests of all commercial countries require that she should have, it belongs to this Government to render, not only by virtue of our neighborhood to Mexico, along whose territory we have a continuous frontier of nearly a thousand miles, but by virtue also of our established policy, which is inconsistent with the intervention of any European power in the domestic concerns of that Republic.

The wrongs which we have suffered from Mexico are before the world and must deeply impress every American citizen. A government which is either unable or unwilling to redress such wrongs is derelict to its highest duties.

I recommend to Congress to pass a law authorizing the President under such conditions as they may deem expedient, to employ a sufficient military force to enter Mexico for the purpose of obtaining indemnity for the past and security for the future.

“The meaning of all this is clear enough,” observed the London Times, an ocean away and correspondingly less euphemistic.†

Before long another Mexican war will sever new provinces from the unhappy Spanish Republic, and give them to the Anglo-Saxon race. In one sense this is a gain to humanity. Beautiful and fertile regions, now desert, will pass under the hands of the cultivator, mines will be worked, harbours will be filled with shipping, and a new life will animate that vast region. It is not likely, however, that the Americans will seek to annex the whole Republic. The Mexicans are not the stuff to make citizens of, and another generation of discord and decay must elapse before their time comes to be improved off the face of the earth. Although we have not the slightest wish to interfere with the Americans, it is but right that an adequate force should be at hand to protect British interests in those quarters.

In the event, Congress actually turned down Buchanan’s use-of-force request — that actually used to happen! — and with Abraham Lincoln’s election the next year, poor Ormond Chase’s purchase on historical significance was dashed by the fierce urgency of the Civil War. His death was a wasted root of an intervention that never was.

As it happens, and as the London Times article’s closing allusion suggests, Buchanan’s suspicion of European interference in the New World was not without foundation. The Mexican Civil War that Buchanan here proposed to join evolved — while the Yankees were busy shooting one another — into a badly botched French‡ attempt to establish a foothold in Mexico.

We have met the most famous casualty of that affair in these pages before: imported Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I.

Shot along with him were two of his loyal generals: one of them was Miguel Miramon, whose men had put Ormond Chase to death eight years before.

* Per a deposition in the U.S. Consul’s investigation.

** More on Buchanan’s Mexican project in this 1883 biography.

† January 11, 1860

‡ Spain and Britain had made the initial foray with France to collect their own debts as well, but soon thought better of the project.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gibbeted,History,Lynching,Mexico,Shot,Summary Executions,USA,Wartime Executions

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