1915: Wenseslao Moguel, “El Fusilado”, survives the firing squad

Add comment March 18th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1915, Wenseslao Moguel, a soldier of Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution, was captured and immediately stood in front of a firing squad.

Miraculously, Moguel survived their volley, and even survived the coup de grace shot to the head afterwards delivered by the squad’s commander.

Although badly disfigured, he managed to crawl away from the execution grounds and went on to live a full life with the nickname El Fusilado (“the executed one”). He died around 1975.


In 1937, Wenseslao Moguel appeared on the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! radio program.

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1922: Francisco Murguia

Add comment November 1st, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1922, Mexican General Francisco Murguia was shot at the Tepehuanes cemetery in Durango.

A photographer who found martial glory in the Mexican Revolution, Murguia (FindAGrave.com entry | Spanish Wikpiedia entry) was ally to revolutionary president Venustiano Carranza against rivals like Pancho Villa. He spent the late 1910s as Carranza’s military governor of Durango and Chihuahua where Jamie Bisher in The Intelligence War in Latin America, 1914-1922 denounces him “a brute” distinguished by “ruthlessness that stood out even in the Mexican Revolution … Murguila’s Chihuahua would be remembered for the corpses strung up in silent ranks along the roads.”

His loyalty to the Carranza cause after its namesake was deposed and assassinated in 1920 caused Murguia to flee to Texas for a time. He found his way into these dark pages by returning to lead a planned constitutionalist revolt against dictator Alvaro Obregon; anticipating the support of a coordinated rising, he was supported in the moment only by scanty fractions of the anticipated forces, leaving him nothing but the doomed bravado of a man before the muzzles.

“I have been granted the honor of directing my own execution, and I have sufficient fortitude to command it, but I shall not do it because I do not wish to commit suicide. For — and hear me well — they are not executing me; they are assassinating me. Viva Carranza!”

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1917: Otilio Montaño, Zapatista

Add comment May 18th, 2017 Headsman

One hundred years ago today, Otilio Montaño Sánchez was shot as a traitor to the Mexican Revolution.

Montaño was a rural schoolteacher who came to mentor Emiliano Zapata via Zapata’s cousin.

Montaño had the distinction of helping Zapata draw up his movement’s “sacred scripture,” the egalitarian Plan of Ayala, and rose with his protege to become Secretary of Public Instructions in the Zapatista governing junta.

This association was destined to be displaced by a different (ex-)revolutionary, Venustiano Carranza, who would break with Zapata and emerge from the Revolution as Mexico’s president. Montaño suffered the fate Carranza’s former allies would have wished to impose upon him: being accused of supporting a pro-Carranza revolt, a revolutionary tribunal had him shot (dishonorably, shot in the back) wearing a defamatory sign reading “So die all traitors to the fatherland.”

A small town in Morelos is named for Montaño.

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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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1927: Father Miguel Pro, “Viva Cristo Rey!”

4 comments November 23rd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1927, the anti-clerical Mexican government made the emblematic martyr of the Cristero War.

This video is in Spanish, but the storyline is pretty easy to follow — young man finds faith, lives faith, dies faith.

Miguel Pro‘s dying cry, “Viva Cristo Rey!” — “Long live Christ the King!” — was a refrain of Cristeros, anti-government guerrillas who in the late 1920’s fought the revolutionary Mexican government’s attempts to forcibly restrict the power of the Catholic Church.

That conflict had been brewing for years, an outgrowth of Mexico’s own complex history of colonization and development — measures to restrict the church’s size, wealth, and social reach had been mooted and sometimes implemented well back to the middle of the 19th century.

Early in the 20th, the confrontation was merely a twist on its classic form: liberal state-builders and the Catholic hierarchy were (or increasingly saw themselves as) diametrically opposed in their vision for Mexico.

That conflict came to a head under president Plutarco Elias Calles, an irreligious northerner with a project of national capital development for whom the church’s intransigence from its agrarian strongholds was most unwelcome … and who seemed to delight in provoking Rome with sport like mandatory physicals for priests, not neglecting to publicize the incidence of venereal disease thereby revealed.

Liberals had already brought about drastically reduced clerical privileges in the Mexican Constitution of 1917; its somewhat draconian measures were neither fully enforced nor fully resisted, but initiated a period where the two hostile institutions rudely grappled for their respective spheres of influence on the ground.

Calles was the rudest grappler of all, and his 1926 Calles Law pushed for anti-clericalism stricter than the letter of the constitution … and sparked armed resistance.

It was an exceptionally dirty war with routine summary executions on both sides and thousands of Catholic refugees — a dangerous environment for any priest with legal sanctions against basically every practice of the vocation. (Photos of Cristeros, some in heroic resistance and others in grisly martyrdom, can be eyeballed here.)

Pro, a Jesuit who like many was forced underground, was under state surveillance and got picked up in the aftermath of an assassination attempt against a prominent politician. He was chosen to make an example of — without an actual trial, possibly because there’s no actual reason to think he was involved in the bombing.

Looking at these pictures of Pro’s last moments, it’s hard to believe that they were taken and circulated at government direction to cow the Cristero movement. Fail.


Led out to execution in a police courtyard. The place of his death today is (bizarrely) Calle Loteria Nacional.


Calmly at prayer before his death, under the eye of the firing squad commander.


Pro himself refused a blindfold. But why state authorities carrying out the execution with an eye towards public relations would allow him to die in this pose is anyone’s guess.


He blessed and forgave the firing squad, of course.


Just beginning to topple at the moment the bullets struck him.


Like many firing squad executions, this one failed to kill its victim with the ceremonial volley. Pro was finished off with a coup de grace.

Calles was simultaneously — the key measures were also enacted in 1926 — involved in a confrontation with the United States over oil rights, a situation that came to the brink of war, with Washington saber-rattling about “Soviet Mexico”. It’s tempting to wonder whether the two situations weren’t related, especially since the new American ambassador* who had arrived only the month before Pro’s execution would ultimately negotiate both situations’ resolutions.

While the natural resource politics went their separate way, the Mexican Revolution’s anti-clerical strain didn’t so much disappear by negotiation as fade away over decades, with regular new outbreaks.

One thinks of Mexico today as such so staunch a Catholic country that it’s hard to imagine that some of these provisions were only officially repealed in 1998.

As for Pro, he’s welcome in Mexico by now — celebrated by Pope John Paul II who ultimately beatified him, and the inspirational source of this hymn whose refrain is his famous last cry.

There’s a faithful site in his honor here, and apparently a shrine to him in Houston, Texas run by a group pushing for his canonization.

* The American ambassador in question, Dwight Morrow, invited Charles Lindbergh on a goodwill tour to Mexico, where the aviator would meet the diplomat’s daughter not long after Miguel Pro’s martyrdom. Little could Lindbergh and Anne Morrow suspect that their love match would set them on the path to their own famous encounter with capital punishment.

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1913: Antonio Echazarreta, defending Matamoros

3 comments June 4th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1913, constitutionalist troops in the Mexican Revolution consolidating control over the border town of Matamoros shot a 23-year-old colonel who helped lead the city’s volunteer resistance.

Garrisoned by fewer than 50 regular soldiers, Matamoros put up only brief resistance to Gen. Lucio Blanco‘s June 3-4 attack, many of its government officials and wealthy denizens bolting over the Rio Grande to adjacent Brownsville, Texas.*

But some of the young guns in town had an overdeveloped sense of heroic machismo and sold their lives dearly to postpone the inevitable.

Groups of young Matamoros men, some of them fourteen and fifteen years old, volunteered for service under irregular huertista officers. They fought stubbornly until early in the morning of June 4. A number of them were captured and executed by Blanco’s men. (Source.)

Echazarreta’s leadership of these ill-fated guerrillas saw him up against the wall this day, but also saw him into the revolution folk song about the city’s conquest, “Corrido de la toma de Matamoros”. Nor was the revolution yet finished with Matamoros, or its martial prowess.

In 1915, as the rival revolutionary factions openly broke with one another, carrancistas loyal to President (and Villa rival) Venustiano Carranza inflicted a signal defeat on Villa at Matamoros that began Villa’s march into political and literal wilderness. It’s commemorated in yet another revolutionary corrido, here sung by Jose Suarez (via the U.S. Library of Congress):

[audio:Corrido_villesta_de_la_toma_de_Matamoros.mp3]

* An interesting photo album covering this battle is available here.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Mexico,No Formal Charge,Power,Public Executions,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1919: Felipe Angeles

12 comments November 26th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1919, Mexican hero General Felipe Angeles was shot at dawn in Chihuahua, hours after a military tribunal condemned him for rebellion.

Angeles, a humane and cosmopolitan socialist, had tacked a unique course through the dangerous Mexican Revolution. The career artillerist’s military counsel was a high card in the hands of the revolutionaries, and helped to make the coruscating career of Pancho Villa. Crucially, Angeles advised Villa to seize the mines of Zacatecas, dealing a mortal blow to the putschist Huerta government by throttling its currency at the source.

But that brilliant maneuver countermanded an order of the Revolution’s moderate political face, Venustiano Carranza, and both personality conflicts and support for more radically redistributionist measures soon sundered the Villa factions’ alliance with Carranza.

Angeles hitched his destiny to Pancho Villa and is historically recalled as the “angelic” opposite number to the famed guerrilla’s other top military henchman, the murderous Roberto Fierro. The three lend themselves almost implausibly to allegorical literature — “the decisive biographical proof of Villa’s duality … found in the two men closest to him, equidistant and extreme extensions of his nature.” (Enrique Krauze)

Angeles aimed, perhaps, at a statesmanship that might have remembered him the father of his country.

‘It was the recurrent dream of the impotent revolutionary intellectual: to play Plato to some powerful but pliant popular caudillo.’ This may well be an accurate analysis of Angeles, who probably had ambitions to be president of Mexico, with Villa as the power behind the throne but based in Chihuahua, allowing Angeles free rein to implement radical reforms in the capital

… Angeles probably saw Villa as a tabula rasa on which he could imprint his ideology. The problem was that Villa had no taste for abstract thought; as [John] Reed remarked ironically: ‘You had to be a philosopher to explain anything to Villa.’

To the grief of both, Villa neglected Angeles’ expertise when the Villists faced Carranzo at arms. Against advice, Villa abandoned Mexico City, failed to attack when the constitutionalists were tenuous, then spurned guerrilla operations for a frontal assault into the teeth of a foe with numerical superiority and lethal tactical advances culled from the slaughterhouse of World War I.

All was postscript after the Battle of Celaya — Villa maintaining for a few years as a bandit force and famously raiding New Mexico while his strategist drifted into exile in Texas before returning to Mexico on a quixotic peacemaking mission that led him instead to a show trial.

Angeles’ end came with the all the dignity of his romantic age. Before his judges — before all the world — he gave “full and clear expositions of his history and his ideas about everything from politics to ontology. It was clear that he knew this was his end, and he seems to have written a kind of intellectual memoir in the protracted answers … he was not defeated morally so much as physically.”

Angeles himself arranged particulars of his own execution with the Carranza men detailed to shoot him. He enjoys posthumous esteem commensurate with his qualities in life:

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