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Mexican revolution and the role played by Tijuana

The Union and the Tribune adopted a hostile attitude toward the border rebellion

Tijuana guards
Tijuana guards

Consider first a fiery Mexican revolutionist who refused to travel a mere hundred miles to be at the scene of his greatest victory. Add an army of several hundred men, mostly American and European revolutionists and adventurers, fighting under his banner. Then toss in an American promoter who viewed war and revolution as an opportunity to pull off a great publicity coup. These constituted the strange ingredients that were stirred together in Tijuana in May and June of 1911, against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution.

"Disheartened, Pryce washed his hands of the whole affair and never returned to Mexico."

Jose de la Cruz Porfirio Dfaz, the de facto dictator of Mexico, had been in office almost continually since 1877. In 1887 and 1892, the legislature — under Diaz’s direction — amended the constitution to allow the president to stand for successive re-election. His regime brought industrialization and modernization to Mexico, but at the cost of repressive centralization and, in the view of some, the surrendering of the country to foreign capitalists.

"Probably a dozen Liberals were killed, and the federal dead were twice that many."

From the early 1890s down to the beginning of the revolution in 1910, Diaz’s countrymen reacted against his rule with strikes, agrarian rebellions, and political protests. Diaz responded by jailing and assassinating political opponents and independent journalists and by crushing strikes with bloody ferocity.

"Mosby staged a Wild West show, but due to inadequate publicity, the event flopped."

In 1905 Francisco Madero, a wealthy Mexican landowner who had been educated at the University of California, came out openly against Diaz during the gubernatorial elections in the northern state of Coahuila. Three years later, Madero authored a book opposing presidential re-election and thereby assumed leadership of the liberal Mexican opposition to the ruling government. The book was suppressed, and shortly thereafter Madero was imprisoned on a charge of libeling the government. After being released, he fled to San Antonio, Texas, founded the Anti-Reelectionist Party, and in October of 1910, issued a call for revolution.

On February 14, 1911, Madero crossed from Texas into Chihuahua, the only state in which his revolution had had any significant success. One by one, the other Mexican states rose against the government, and after months of fighting, Porfirio Diaz resigned from office on May 25. Madero took over as provisional president until new elections could be held.

The Maderistas never fought a battle in Baja California. The struggle against Diaz in this state was left to another revolutionist, Ricardo Flores Magon, one of the most enigmatic characters in Mexican history. His name still stirs controversy among Mexican historians, mostly because of the events that transpired in Tijuana in 1911.

Flores Magon was born in Oaxaca in 1873 to a family of political rebels. While attending law school in Mexico City, he developed both a love of journalism and a hatred of Porfirio Diaz. To Flores Magon, Mexico’s supreme ruler represented everything urban and unnatural in the country, in sharp contrast to the simple communalism practiced by the Indians in his home state.

Flores Magon began his long propaganda war against the Diaz government in 1892, leading demonstrations and writing articles for short-lived newspapers. After joining the newly formed Liberal Party in 1900 and establishing the newspaper La Regeneration, he became known throughout Mexico as the most articulate and vociferous foe of Porfirismo. But he was arrested and spent some months in Mexico City’s worst prison, so after his release in 1904 he moved his party and his paper to the United States, where he hoped to be able to attack Diaz in print without being harassed and arrested by the Mexican security police. A year later, he and a number of followers formed the “Organizing Junta of the Liberal Party,” conceived as a revolutionary spearhead to overthrow the government of Diaz and to establish social justice in Mexico.

In 1905 a widely circulated manifesto defined the goals of the Liberal Party, which included a one-term presidency, universal civil liberties, land reform, and a minimum wage. However, Flores Magon himself was not a liberal in the traditional sense of that word; by 1900 he had been converted to revolutionary anarchism, and he used the Liberal Party to camouflage his true ideology, so as “not to frighten imbeciles,” as he wrote to a friend from prison.

In 1907, under pressure from the Diaz regime to put a stop to the vitriolic attacks, the American government arrested Flores Magon and a few of his close associates. They served three years in various prisons for violating American neutrality laws. Upon their release they immediately moved to Los Angeles, where they received some support from socialists and liberals in that city.

La Regeneration resumed publication from an office on East Fourth Street in Los Angeles, where the eight-man junta of the Liberal Party now made its headquarters. At this time, Flores Magon began to show more openly his true ideology — the paper now used the well-known anarchist slogan “Tierra y Libertad” (Land and Liberty).

Madero’s success in Chihuahua and elsewhere posed problems for the Magonista Liberal Party.

Some members were pressing for a confederation of the forces of Flores Magon and Madero, but the former would have none of it. Also, tensions between anarchists and others less radical in the Liberal Party began to worsen. Nevertheless, in late 1910 and early 1911 small and scattered units of Magonistas were fighting in a dozen Mexican states. In many instances they served alongside the forces of Madero, although Flores Magon had instructed his followers to maintain correct but cool relations with the Maderistas, cooperating with them to win converts to anarchism but not allowing themselves to be absorbed into the larger army of the Anti-Reelectionists.

The Liberal Junta in Los Angeles at this time decided to open a campaign in Baja. Maderistas were scarce in this part of Mexico, and the Liberals felt they could hold the state and use it as a recruiting base. They chose to strike first at Mexicali, and La Regeneration promised its readers that the junta would soon be operating on Mexican soil.

This promise was never fulfilled.

Guns and ammunition were purchased in Los Angeles and smuggled into Mexicali, at that time an isolated village of a few hundred people. Two Magonista lieutenants journeyed to Holtville, met with six more members of the Liberal Party, and crossed the border on January 27, 1911.

Outside Mexicali a dozen Mexican recruits joined the band, and together they took the village with ease. The only casualty was the town jailer, who was killed after refusing to release several Magonista political prisoners.

The sparse population of the Baja peninsula did not rally to the cause of the Mexicali rebels, so Flores Magon was obliged to use the pages of La Regeneration to appeal to revolutionists wherever they might be. On February 5, the Magonistas, with the help of their American sympathizers, held a mass meeting in Los Angeles to raise money and men for Mexicali. Radicals and adventurers began to drift into Los Angeles and Imperial County. None, however, were more galvanized into action by events in Mexicali than were the members of the anarcho-syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World, known as “Wobblies.” The IWW had been founded a few years before as a counter to what its organizers considered to be the reformist and “collaborationist” tendencies of the older American Federation of Labor. The Wobblies advocated a revolutionary unionism and class struggle; despite their name, they were strongest among agricultural workers, merchant seamen, and miners. Their members tended to be more aggressive and individualistic, and less settled, than was the average trade unionist.

By early February, the ranks of the Mexicali rebels had swelled to more than one hundred, consisting of Magonistas living in the area, Cocopah Indians used mainly for scouting, Wobblies sent across the border from their union local in Holtville, and a few soldiers of fortune. They were soon to have a taste of war.

Governor of Baja, Colonel Celso Vega, a Diaz functionary, had departed from Ensenada (at that time the state capital) on January 30 with a force of ninety, in hopes of crushing the rebellion at Mexicali and preventing its further spread. After pausing for a week at Tecate where some reinforcements arrived from Tijuana, they advanced eastward about twenty miles and won a short, fierce battle in the Cocopah Mountains against advance elements of the Liberal army. However, on February 15, just outside Mexicali, the bulk of the Liberal force waited in entrenched positions along a canal and ambushed the federates with a hail of gunfire. Government casualties were high, and Vega himself was wounded. The federal army trooped forlornly back to Ensenada.

The Liberal victory over the federales electrified the radical movement in the United States and elsewhere, and more volunteers flowed in to take up arms for the revolution. These were mostly Americans and included idealistic college students eager for adventure, Wobblies, and veterans of the Spanish-American War nostalgically yearning for battle on foreign soil. There were also men from Canada, England, Germany, Australia, South Africa, France, and Austria.

The large number of gringos among the rebels played into the hands of the Diaz propagandists, who began to label the Baja Liberal army as “filibusters,” which in that era referred to armed civilian foreigners eager to seize Mexican territory. (In the Nineteenth Century, Baja and Sonora were invaded several times by such filibusters, with the intention of detaching these states from Mexico.) Some of the newspapers in California routinely repeated the charge. Magonista leaders in Mexicali further confused the matter when they spoke of their wish to establish a “cooperative commonwealth.”

The press, by and large, chose to assume that the rebels were referring only to Baja rather than to the whole of Mexico.

To fund the army, the self-named insurrectos had also, at the direction of the junta, placed a tax on all commercial transactions in Mexicali. Because ninety percent of the Mexicali businesses were owned by Americans, who contributed to the insurrection only at gunpoint, it was interpreted by some as an indication of American capitalist support for a filibustering expedition.

In Los Angeles, Flores Magon’s refusal to cooperate with Madero, along with Madero’s increasingly open anarchist objectives, were precipitating splits in his ranks. Also, he was forced to defend the foreign composition of his Liberal army in Baja, the only state where his forces had had any signal success. “In the ranks of the Liberals,” he wrote, “are men who are not of our nationality but are our ideological brothers... they sacrifice themselves to destroy the chains of slavery.”

A similar threat to the perceived integrity of the Liberal Party issued from the antics of Richard Wells Ferris, an actor and public relations specialist of peculiarly American type. Ferris was born in Washington, D.C., in 1867. He performed on the stage all over the United States before moving to Los Angeles in 1905 with his second wife, an actress.

In California, Ferris also promoted automobile races, and in 1910 he entered the political arena to run for lieutenant governor, losing the election by only 6000 votes of 100,000 cast.

Early in 1911 Ferris used his political connections to obtain the job of publicity director of the groundbreaking carnival and celebration for the upcoming Panama-California Exposition, to be held in San Diego’s Balboa Park. “You can count on me to dream up some live publicity stunts which will hold the public’s attention indefinitely,” he promised the expo’s commissioners. The promotional pranks of a press agent who viewed politics as large-scale outdoor stage show were to enter into the history of Mexico and damage posthumously the reputation of one of her most unyielding revolutionists.

Shortly after the government defeat at Mexicali, “Ferris the Fearless,” as he was sometimes called by admirers, held a press conference in San Francisco to announce a scheme to purchase Baja California from Mexico and to turn it into a “sporting republic,” complete with casinos. A group of American businessmen were supposedly behind the idea (Ferris, a compulsive name-dropper, mentioned J.P. Morgan and J.J. Hill). The new state was to be called “The Republic of Diaz”; it would later be sold to the U.S., netting “a neat profit to the sponsors of the transaction.”

Ferris also threatened to lead a filibustering expedition to Baja should Diaz refused to sell. To give credence to the threat, Ferris shortly thereafter placed ads in the New York and Los Angeles papers seeking a thousand men with military experience to join “General Dick Ferris” in his grand crusade. Although an investigation by U.S. agents determined that Ferris placed the ads solely for the purpose of “seeking notoriety,” Diaz took the bait and angrily issued a public refusal, thereby giving stature to Ferris the Fearless as a man who negotiated with heads of state.

The English-language page of La Regeneracion ridiculed Ferris in a brief mention, but Flores Magon himself did not take the publicist seriously and declined to comment.

Ferris was soon back in San Diego, after reportedly making a quick trip to Mexicali to survey the situation firsthand. On March 12 a Los Angeles horsewoman rode over the border into Tijuana to plant a flag featuring the scales of justice against the background of a rising sun. She then read a proclamation: “Lower California, I claim you in the name of equal suffrage and of model government, which I hereby christen as the future ‘Republic of Diaz.’ May the Great Ruler of all things nourish the little plant typified in this flag that I raise over this troubled land and in His goodness bring to fruition the hopes and dreams of my sex for fullest liberty, symbolized in the scales of equality and justice.” Because this woman was known to be a friend of Ferris’s wife, who was active in the suffragette movement, the San Diego Union saw in this escapade “the fine Italian hand of Richard Ferris.”

Meanwhile, the insurrectos in Mexicali had failed to pursue Vega to Ensenada and thus lay claim to the entire state. They were short of ammunition (President Taft had sent 20,000 soldiers to the border area to help control the smuggling of arms into Mexico) and were locked in leadership struggles. After several inconclusive skirmishes with a Diaz army sent to protect the waterworks east of Mexicali, the foreign contingent — and most of the Mexicans in the Liberal army — rebelled against the leadership of the Mexican field commanders. They elected as their military chief Caryl Ap Rhys Pryce, a Scot in his mid-thirties who had served with the British forces in the Boer War.

While serving as a policeman in Western Canada, Pryce had been moved by a book written by an American journalist denouncing the depredations of the Diaz government; when the rebellion broke out, he journeyed to Los Angeles to offer his services to the junta. Upon assuming command in Mexicali, Pryce staffed the officer positions with fellow adventurers and soldiers of fortune, and he began the task of instilling discipline into the ragtag Liberal army.

Realizing that the restlessness of his troops could best be cured by action against the federates, Pryce decided, near the end of April, to move on Tijuana. In doing so, he ignored a message from Flores Magon in Los Angeles to attack the Diaz army at the Mexicali dikes. With approximately 220 men — less than ten percent of them Mexicans — Pryce advanced on Tijuana, which was being held by a federal force of about 100 soldiers and civilian volunteers.

On May 8, the insurrectos reached the outskirts of Tijuana, at that time a village of about 1000 inhabitants. The commander of the government troops refused Pryce’s demand for surrender, and the fighting began the same evening.

While hundreds of San Diegans watched the flash of rifle fire from the hills on the American side of the border, Pryce had his troops first surround the town, using their ammunition sparingly to gain strategic positions for an assault at dawn. After the insurrectos achieved this objective and settled in for the evening, a party of federates mounted a surprise midnight sortie on rebel positions and succeeded in getting close to Pryce’s headquarters. Several insurrectos were killed, including Pryce’s second in command, but the attack was quickly repulsed.

At daybreak Pryce assigned 140 soldiers to guard the approaches east and south of the village, to prevent the arrival of any government reinforcements. He then led the assault on the federal lines, with eighty of his best men.

By this time, the federal force had dwindled by a third, mostly because a number of deserters had crossed the border to safety on the U.S. side. (Earlier, Tijuana’s women and children had taken refuge in the Little Landers colony, now the town of San Ysidro.) Those federates remaining, as short on ammunition as were the rebels, fell back to the center of town and took up positions near the bullring, which was then the village’s principal tourist attraction. (At that time it was located on Calle Primero, First Street — now Avenida Revolucion — approximately across the street from where the Jai Alai Palace now stands.)

Three federal sharpshooters had also stationed themselves in the bell tower of an adobe church in an effort to pin down the besiegers. (This church was also on First Street, near the corner of Fifth.)

Pryce ordered the burning of both the bullring and the church. The smoke from the blaze could be seen for miles, an engrossing sight to the spectators and photographers on the American side. Two of the federal soldiers in the church managed to escape, but the third was killed near the treated at San Diego hospitals.

The dead federates were buried in San Diego; the killed insurrectos, mostly Americans, in Tijuana. Seven of the Liberal dead were interred in a deep trench in front of the Mexican Customs House, approximately on what is now the corner of Revolucidn and Third.

On the American side of the border, the arrival of the insurrectos had caused great excitement and curiosity. Most of the citizenry looked favorably on the Liberal victory, but the Union and the Tribune, the two dailies owned by well-known San Diego businessman John D. Spreckels, adopted a generally hostile attitude toward the border revolutionists. A Union editorialist wrote that the Tijuana battle was “simply another effort by the dare-devil citizens of the United States to wrest that territory from Mexico” and that the insurrectos were “adventurers and fellows who have the best reason for remaining on the south side of the boundary line.” The Union's condemnation of filibustering seemed ironic in retrospect, considering the enormous amount of publicity and encouragement they were shortly to give to the opera bouffe schemes of Dick Ferris.

The more liberal San Diego Sun favored the Magonistas but occasionally followed the lead of the Diaz propagandists by suggesting that they were closet filibusters. One Sun editorial pointed out that though the victors

Tijuana, including several escapees from the county jail, among them a notorious East County cattle rustler; they stole bicycles and pedaled their way to Tijuana. Going the other way were four rebels who had taken part in the battle. They told reporters that they were disillusioned with Pryce and the Liberal Party and were heading for Chihuahua to join the Maderistas. (At about the same time as the battle of Tijuana, Madero won an important victory against federal troops in the border town of Juarez.)

Hardly had the battle in Tijuana ended when curious sightseers began to enter the town, first tentatively, then in droves. Wobblies stood outside the curio shops and allowed American shoppers to take whatever they could carry away, for fifty cents or a dollar. It was also discovered that some of the tourists had broken into the temporarily abandoned homes of the residents of Tijuana and had stolen family heirlooms. “That there was looting,” wrote the Union, “and that San Diego people took part in it, is the painful truth that is now apparent.” However, immediately after the battle, the insurrectos had invited all residents who had fled to San Ysidro to return to their homes, promising them safety and security. The son of a government volunteer who died in the fighting later recalled that not a single resident returned to Tijuana to live while the rebels held the town, although some went back to check on possible damage to their homes.

Less than a week after the victory, Pryce allowed gamblers to open poker and faro parlors in town, pleading that this was the only way the army could sustain itself. American shoppers were soon joined by American gamblers. Twenty-five percent of the take from these games was to go to the army, and some of the money was sent to the junta for the purpose of arms purchases. The appearance of gambling in Tijuana led to much newspaper speculation in California that the “sporting republic” envisioned by San Diegans watching the retaking of Tijuana entrance; his badly burned body was recovered after the battle.

After several hours of intense fighting, the federates were finally routed, and they fled either south to Ensenada or across the border to join their families. By ten in the morning on May 9, the insurrectos had control of Tijuana.

Because bodies kept turning up in the brush for weeks after the battle, the number of casualties suffered by either side was never precisely determined. Probably a dozen Liberals were killed, and the federal dead were twice that many. The large number of wounded on both sides were at Tijuana were “alight with the fire of revolution” and were sincere in their goals, they were nevertheless “lusty young Americans,” and if it happened that “Lower California should wake up some morning to find the Stars and Stripes floating over it, San Diego would suddenly become more than ever a City of Destiny.”

On the day following the fighting at Tijuana, Pryce destroyed all the hard liquor in town, probably to prevent his lusty young troops from disintegrating into a drunken mob. At this point, some residents of San Diego joined the revolution in Dick Ferris was becoming a reality.

A subject of much debate in later years was why Flores Magon did not enter Tijuana at this propitious time to take personal command of his heterogeneous army. The most likely answer is that the revolutionary propagandist was no Trotsky, equally adept at leading armies in the field as at writing stirring editorials, and that he was well aware of his limitations. This defect in his character would have been made clear to everyone had he placed himself in the midst of the action. Several leading experts in the Baja revolution argue that Flores Magon never entertained for a second any filibustering ambitions, but his failure at this moment of truth gave sufficient ammunition to his detractors. In this sense, Flores Magon was indirectly responsible for the Dick Ferris footnote in Mexican history and for the contempt his own name still engenders among some in Mexico, particularly residents of Baja California.

Pryce talked vaguely of mounting an attack on Ensenada, but he lacked sufficient weaponry to do so. The army had been sending significant sums to Los Angeles, both before and after the Tijuana victory, and Pryce had hopes that quality armaments would be purchased in the U.S. and sent south. However, the only thing to come from the junta was messages of congratulations and a number of the translated tomes of European anarchist theorists.

On the same day that Pryce let in the gamblers, one of his soldiers pointed out to a San Diego reporter the large number of American flags that waved over some of the buildings, side by side with the red-and-black anarchist banner of the Liberal Party. (Many of the Tijuana shops were owned by Americans, who hoped that by their display of the U.S. flag, their property would not be pilfered or damaged.) “I’ll gamble it won’t be three months,” said the insurrecto, “till the Stars and Stripes float there alone — and in the rest of Lower California, too.” The reporter asked Pryce what he thought of this statement. “It sounds good to me,” replied the Liberal field commander.

The junta representative in Tijuana heard of these remarks, and the next day Pryce was obediently distributing to the press a Liberal Party leaflet specifying the social aims of the revolution. The American flags also disappeared from the rooftops. On May 20, Flores Magon used his column in La Regeneration to correct the rumors of a separate republic that were receiving heavy play in the American press: “No, lackeys of Porfirio Diaz and Madero, the Liberals do not intend to separate Baja California from Mexico.... Baja California will be the principal base of our operations to carry the Social Revolution to the whole of Mexico and to the whole world.” While Flores Magon was penning his editorial, Pryce decided to augment the revenues from the gaming parlors by charging American tourists twenty-five cents to enter Tijuana.

Dick Ferris was now smelling the opportunity for a major publicity coup. Within a week of the battle, he got a Union reporter to introduce him to Pryce, and the rebel commander and the promoter seemed to hit it off. Ferris had his own uses for the soldier, and Pryce may have felt that Ferris could be used to procure the arms that the junta had consistently failed to deliver. However, Pryce told Ferris that his loyalties still lay with the junta, and Ferris replied that Pryce was just “too nice a fellow to be mixed up with that kind of bunch.” (Ferris later told a U.S. Senate Committee investigating the affair that the army in Tijuana was composed of “a lot of very decent fellows...; also a lot of cutthroats and outlaws, the most heterogeneous mass that could be assembled”)

The last week of May saw a number of events and movements flooding over the stalled Tijuana revolution. A San Diego physician of Mexican origin had formed the “Defenders of the National Integrity” movement, in league with the Mexican consulates in Los Angeles and San Diego. This group pledged to drive the “filibusters” from Baja; they succeeded in raising a considerable amount of money, some from wealthy Americans, which they used to ship Mexican volunteers, resident in California, south to Ensenada to reinforce the garrison there.

On May 25, Porfirio Diaz finally resigned. Madero, acting as provisional president, agreed to allow a transitional government of national reconciliation to run the country for a while.

The same day Diaz fled the country, the federal army at the Mexicali waterworks marched to Ensenada, and Pryce took out an eager force to do battle and capture some weapons. The federates eluded them. Returning to Tijuana, the rebel general discussed with his officers the possibility of disbanding the army. It now seemed clear to Pryce that while Ferris might be good for publicity, he could not bring in the arms required to launch a viable campaign against the Baja capital.

On May 30, Pryce decided to have a showdown with Flores Magon. Ferris and his wife drove Pryce and his aide to the San Diego railroad station to catch the train to Los Angeles. At junta headquarters, the soldier of fortune with the vague social conscience met the Mexican revolutionist who had spent the best part of his life behind bars. Flores Magon urged Pryce to retain command and to continue the fight, adding that in his opinion, Madero was worse than Diaz. Pryce told the junta leader that in order to continue, the rebels would need far more weapons than what they had and that the army had regularly remitted funds that should have been used to purchase these weapons. Flores Magon replied that the junta was broke.

The next day, the aide wrote to one of his friends still in Tijuana (the letter was intercepted by American authorities) that the junta has “been receiving contributions right along and never came through with a gun or a cartridge.... All they ever did was to write letters of congratulations.” Disheartened, Pryce washed his hands of the whole affair and never returned to Mexico.

Scores of men in Tijuana deserted when they heard that Pryce had left camp on some mysterious mission in a pessimistic frame of mind. Those who stayed behind split into acrimonious groups of Wobblies, adventurers, and Mexicans. On June 2, the junta dispatched a commission to Tijuana to establish new leadership, but before they arrived, Dick Ferris had rushed into the vacuum created by the defection of Pryce.

Immediately after Ferris had seen Pryce off on the train to Los Angeles, he returned to Tijuana and made a speech to the adventurers in the Liberal army: “You have got to haul down this red flag," he told them. “While that might be the symbol of the Liberal Party, so called, in Mexico, it means anarchy in America, and you have got to get that out of sight of every American who passes this border. You have got to cut out your socialism, your anarchism, and every other ism that you have got into and form a new government if you hope to do anything right.” Ferris also advised the soldiers that they had to appeal to the American press and also to “the better class of Mexicans.”

On an earlier trip to the Liberal camp, Ferris had made the acquaintance of one Louis James, an adventurer of violent temper who had been with the rebel army since Mexicali. James, who claimed to be a West Point graduate, represented the soldier-of-fortune element in Tijuana. He had once asked Ferris to take charge and use his influence to obtain support and weapons for the rebels. Ferris, trying to keep himself clear of the neutrality laws, suggested that James himself take the matter up with John D. Spreckels, to see if any help might possibly materialize from that quarter. James actually did obtain an interview with Spreckels, which ended abruptly when the young adventurer threatened violence if his demands were not met.

The day after Ferris visited the camp, James called a meeting of about one hundred disenchanted insurrectos and delivered his own exhortation. If non-Mexican rebels had not pinned down and kept occupied the large number of federal troops in Baja, he said, Madero would not have won the revolution, and now the white soldiers were likely to be coldly dismissed by the new rulers unless they proclaimed their own republic and lowered the red flag. “We profess to establish a new republic and to claim its recognition for the blood of the white men which has been spilled on the soil of Lower California and Mexico in bringing about the success of the revolution.” After James had finished, the adventurers murmured their agreement and cut the halyards of the flagpole, bringing down the Magonista flag.

James then recommended Ferris as president of this new republic, and the impresario who had narrowly lost his bid for public office in California was elected by acclamation. James immediately rushed to the San Diego Expo offices to relay the good news: “You have just been elected president of Baja California. Your people are awaiting you in Tijuana.”

Ferris, always eager to add fuel to the flames while taking care not to get burned by the fire, claimed that he was too busy to assume office on that particular day, but he did take the time to design a flag for his new state: two horizontal bars on a blue field with a white star in the center. He promised James that his tailor would have the flag ready for delivery the next day.

After James left, however, Ferris somehow found the time to call another press conference to announce the formation of the “Republic of Madero,” succeeding his earlier Republic of Diaz. Ferris was considering accepting the presidency, he said, and would see to it that the Mexican government would be paid $15 million for its military expenses in Baja during the revolution. In answer to a reporter’s question, Ferris stated that Madero “will just have to accept” the separation of Baja from Mexico, and as for Flores Magon, “we are severing all connections with the junta.” Nevertheless, the promoter concluded, General Pryce would be welcome back anytime as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

While Ferris held court in San Diego, the bulk of the IWW contingent in Tijuana learned of what had recently transpired. They raised the red flag again and court-martialed Pryce in absentia, convinced that their ex-leader had something to do with the Ferris filibuster. Another election was held, and the new general was chosen: Jack Mosby, an IWW member and Marine Corps deserter.

Mosby issued his own statement to the press, dated June 3. “Dick Ferris has absolutely nothing to do with the revolutionary movement and his presence in Tijuana is not desired,” Mosby wrote. “The fight is not being waged in the interest of Dick Ferris and the American capitalists, but solely in the interests of the working class. Lower California will not be separated from the rest of Mexico, but the revolution will be carried-on in all the states of Mexico until the Mexican people are freed from the present military despotism and slavery, peonage abolished, and the lands returned to the people, which have been stolen from them by Mexican and foreign capitalists.” The junta spokesman in Tijuana echoed the words of Mosby and further stated that a civil commission made up solely of Mexican citizens would henceforward be running affairs in Tijuana.

Unfazed by all this, Ferris departed for Los Angeles to join friends at the Alexandria Hotel in celebration of his “election.”

Louis James, however, had followed his leader to the city and

insisted that Ferris return to Tijuana to inspire his loyal subjects and to help defeat Mosby’s anti-filibuster stance.

Ferris at this point realized that the game was about up, but since he had just pulled off the greatest publicity coup of his career, with newspapers up and down the coast buzzing about his “presidency” and speculating on the kind of gown the glamorous Mrs. Ferris would wear at the Inaugural Ball, he couldn't resist milking every precious drop for the finale. In a widely publicized letter, he resigned his presidency and went on to inflate the rest of his notice with the hot air of the born press agent:

Soldiers and Citizens of the Republic of Lower California: I keenly and sincerely appreciate the great honor you have conferred upon me in electing me your first President, and sincerely do regret my inability to be with you at this moment to address you in person, but I am detained here on private business of the greatest importance.

1 hope that each and every one of you will allow nothing but the highest patriotic motives to lead you in your future military and governmental actions....

It affords me great pleasure to present to you the new flag of the Republic. The red stripe represents the blood that has been spilled for countless ages in the cause of liberty; the white stripe the purity of your motives, the blue field the staunchness of your purpose....

The American government was now talking of using the neutrality laws to prosecute those who were prominent actors in the Baja rebellion. Ferris wanted to distance himself from the tangle at Tijuana, but he couldn’t restrain himself from using one final time the enthusiastically gullible James as his foil. On June 5, James returned by train to San Diego carrying Ferris’s “resignation” letter. He picked up the Ferris-designed flag from the promoter’s tailor, rented a car and a chauffeur, and raced into Tijuana, the “Republic of Madero” banner fluttering from the hood.

A representative of the junta told the Union what happened next: James was dragged from his car and roughed up immediately upon reaching Tijuana. Some of the men were intent upon executing him. However, several of James’s old friends intervened, and he was kicked back across the border, with a warning never to return. Further, the Ferris flag was ripped from the car and burned in the streets. “We are trying to prevent race prejudice from becoming a factor in the revolution in Lower California,” the Magonista explained. “Ferris seems to have been trying to make a joke of the whole movement.”

In the week following, considerable apprehension and confusion swept the Liberal camp. Several dozen Mexican Magonistas who had fought alongside Madero’s army in Juarez had arrived in Tijuana, and frequent gunplay erupted between this group and some of the Americans. Also, rumors abounded that either the Maderistas or Vega in Ensenada would soon attack in force. To raise money and to divert the attention of his troops, Mosby staged a Wild West show, but due to inadequate publicity, the event flopped.

On June 14, the U.S. government in Los Angeles arrested Flores Magon and the junta leaders for violations of neutrality law. This so alarmed Dick Ferris that he issued another statement, finally killing off his “live publicity stunt.” “Tell the public that I have already denied any and all dealings with the insurrectos — past, present, and future, and if this is not enough I will arrange a schedule for further denials three times a day and at bedtime.” This did not prevent Ferris from being arrested the following day, also on the charge of neutrality law violation. He then complained to the Union that he couldn’t understand how his little practical joke had been taken seriously by everyone. Pryce was also picked up and charged additionally with murder and arson during the battle of Tijuana.

In Tijuana the embattled Liberal army received word that President Taft had granted the Maderistas permission to transport a large force by rail from Juarez over American soil to put down the border insurrection.

On June 13, Mosby sent a letter to the Spreckels company advising that if the story were true, the Liberals would, in their own interests of self-preservation, “abrogate your system,” which Spreckels and his lawyers took to mean that the rebels would blow up the Tijuana section of the Spreckels-owned San Diego and Arizona railroad.

Spreckels immediately cabled high-placed friends in Washington to convince Taft to send the soldiers posted in San Diego into Baja to protect his property. A Spreckels attorney vainly tried to persuade the local army commander to do the same. In a few days, all these maneuverings would become irrelevant.

For weeks Governor Vega had been putting together a new army in Ensenada, made up of elements of the federal army formerly guarding the dikes, his own troops who had seen action in Mexicali, and the Mexicans who were sent south out of California by the National Integrity organization. Vega had refused to observe the cease-fire that was part of the Madero armistice, and he marched to Tijuana with this well-armed force in mid-June.

On June 22 — six weeks after the rebels captured Tijuana — General Jack Mosby and 230 of his men, only a third of them Mexicans, boarded a train and chugged south of town to do battle with Vega. Superior equipment and manpower ended the intense three-hour fight with a total victory for Vega. Some thirty insurrectos were killed; Vega’s men were reported to be shooting the wounded and captured. The Mexican rebels fled to the hills, and 106 American and European survivors walked double file into San Diego to surrender to the U.S. army. Jack Mosby was crying like a child.

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Consider first a fiery Mexican revolutionist who refused to travel a mere hundred miles to be at the scene of his greatest victory. Add an army of several hundred men, mostly American and European revolutionists and adventurers, fighting under his banner. Then toss in an American promoter who viewed war and revolution as an opportunity to pull off a great publicity coup. These constituted the strange ingredients that were stirred together in Tijuana in May and June of 1911, against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution.

"Disheartened, Pryce washed his hands of the whole affair and never returned to Mexico."

Jose de la Cruz Porfirio Dfaz, the de facto dictator of Mexico, had been in office almost continually since 1877. In 1887 and 1892, the legislature — under Diaz’s direction — amended the constitution to allow the president to stand for successive re-election. His regime brought industrialization and modernization to Mexico, but at the cost of repressive centralization and, in the view of some, the surrendering of the country to foreign capitalists.

"Probably a dozen Liberals were killed, and the federal dead were twice that many."

From the early 1890s down to the beginning of the revolution in 1910, Diaz’s countrymen reacted against his rule with strikes, agrarian rebellions, and political protests. Diaz responded by jailing and assassinating political opponents and independent journalists and by crushing strikes with bloody ferocity.

"Mosby staged a Wild West show, but due to inadequate publicity, the event flopped."

In 1905 Francisco Madero, a wealthy Mexican landowner who had been educated at the University of California, came out openly against Diaz during the gubernatorial elections in the northern state of Coahuila. Three years later, Madero authored a book opposing presidential re-election and thereby assumed leadership of the liberal Mexican opposition to the ruling government. The book was suppressed, and shortly thereafter Madero was imprisoned on a charge of libeling the government. After being released, he fled to San Antonio, Texas, founded the Anti-Reelectionist Party, and in October of 1910, issued a call for revolution.

On February 14, 1911, Madero crossed from Texas into Chihuahua, the only state in which his revolution had had any significant success. One by one, the other Mexican states rose against the government, and after months of fighting, Porfirio Diaz resigned from office on May 25. Madero took over as provisional president until new elections could be held.

The Maderistas never fought a battle in Baja California. The struggle against Diaz in this state was left to another revolutionist, Ricardo Flores Magon, one of the most enigmatic characters in Mexican history. His name still stirs controversy among Mexican historians, mostly because of the events that transpired in Tijuana in 1911.

Flores Magon was born in Oaxaca in 1873 to a family of political rebels. While attending law school in Mexico City, he developed both a love of journalism and a hatred of Porfirio Diaz. To Flores Magon, Mexico’s supreme ruler represented everything urban and unnatural in the country, in sharp contrast to the simple communalism practiced by the Indians in his home state.

Flores Magon began his long propaganda war against the Diaz government in 1892, leading demonstrations and writing articles for short-lived newspapers. After joining the newly formed Liberal Party in 1900 and establishing the newspaper La Regeneration, he became known throughout Mexico as the most articulate and vociferous foe of Porfirismo. But he was arrested and spent some months in Mexico City’s worst prison, so after his release in 1904 he moved his party and his paper to the United States, where he hoped to be able to attack Diaz in print without being harassed and arrested by the Mexican security police. A year later, he and a number of followers formed the “Organizing Junta of the Liberal Party,” conceived as a revolutionary spearhead to overthrow the government of Diaz and to establish social justice in Mexico.

In 1905 a widely circulated manifesto defined the goals of the Liberal Party, which included a one-term presidency, universal civil liberties, land reform, and a minimum wage. However, Flores Magon himself was not a liberal in the traditional sense of that word; by 1900 he had been converted to revolutionary anarchism, and he used the Liberal Party to camouflage his true ideology, so as “not to frighten imbeciles,” as he wrote to a friend from prison.

In 1907, under pressure from the Diaz regime to put a stop to the vitriolic attacks, the American government arrested Flores Magon and a few of his close associates. They served three years in various prisons for violating American neutrality laws. Upon their release they immediately moved to Los Angeles, where they received some support from socialists and liberals in that city.

La Regeneration resumed publication from an office on East Fourth Street in Los Angeles, where the eight-man junta of the Liberal Party now made its headquarters. At this time, Flores Magon began to show more openly his true ideology — the paper now used the well-known anarchist slogan “Tierra y Libertad” (Land and Liberty).

Madero’s success in Chihuahua and elsewhere posed problems for the Magonista Liberal Party.

Some members were pressing for a confederation of the forces of Flores Magon and Madero, but the former would have none of it. Also, tensions between anarchists and others less radical in the Liberal Party began to worsen. Nevertheless, in late 1910 and early 1911 small and scattered units of Magonistas were fighting in a dozen Mexican states. In many instances they served alongside the forces of Madero, although Flores Magon had instructed his followers to maintain correct but cool relations with the Maderistas, cooperating with them to win converts to anarchism but not allowing themselves to be absorbed into the larger army of the Anti-Reelectionists.

The Liberal Junta in Los Angeles at this time decided to open a campaign in Baja. Maderistas were scarce in this part of Mexico, and the Liberals felt they could hold the state and use it as a recruiting base. They chose to strike first at Mexicali, and La Regeneration promised its readers that the junta would soon be operating on Mexican soil.

This promise was never fulfilled.

Guns and ammunition were purchased in Los Angeles and smuggled into Mexicali, at that time an isolated village of a few hundred people. Two Magonista lieutenants journeyed to Holtville, met with six more members of the Liberal Party, and crossed the border on January 27, 1911.

Outside Mexicali a dozen Mexican recruits joined the band, and together they took the village with ease. The only casualty was the town jailer, who was killed after refusing to release several Magonista political prisoners.

The sparse population of the Baja peninsula did not rally to the cause of the Mexicali rebels, so Flores Magon was obliged to use the pages of La Regeneration to appeal to revolutionists wherever they might be. On February 5, the Magonistas, with the help of their American sympathizers, held a mass meeting in Los Angeles to raise money and men for Mexicali. Radicals and adventurers began to drift into Los Angeles and Imperial County. None, however, were more galvanized into action by events in Mexicali than were the members of the anarcho-syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World, known as “Wobblies.” The IWW had been founded a few years before as a counter to what its organizers considered to be the reformist and “collaborationist” tendencies of the older American Federation of Labor. The Wobblies advocated a revolutionary unionism and class struggle; despite their name, they were strongest among agricultural workers, merchant seamen, and miners. Their members tended to be more aggressive and individualistic, and less settled, than was the average trade unionist.

By early February, the ranks of the Mexicali rebels had swelled to more than one hundred, consisting of Magonistas living in the area, Cocopah Indians used mainly for scouting, Wobblies sent across the border from their union local in Holtville, and a few soldiers of fortune. They were soon to have a taste of war.

Governor of Baja, Colonel Celso Vega, a Diaz functionary, had departed from Ensenada (at that time the state capital) on January 30 with a force of ninety, in hopes of crushing the rebellion at Mexicali and preventing its further spread. After pausing for a week at Tecate where some reinforcements arrived from Tijuana, they advanced eastward about twenty miles and won a short, fierce battle in the Cocopah Mountains against advance elements of the Liberal army. However, on February 15, just outside Mexicali, the bulk of the Liberal force waited in entrenched positions along a canal and ambushed the federates with a hail of gunfire. Government casualties were high, and Vega himself was wounded. The federal army trooped forlornly back to Ensenada.

The Liberal victory over the federales electrified the radical movement in the United States and elsewhere, and more volunteers flowed in to take up arms for the revolution. These were mostly Americans and included idealistic college students eager for adventure, Wobblies, and veterans of the Spanish-American War nostalgically yearning for battle on foreign soil. There were also men from Canada, England, Germany, Australia, South Africa, France, and Austria.

The large number of gringos among the rebels played into the hands of the Diaz propagandists, who began to label the Baja Liberal army as “filibusters,” which in that era referred to armed civilian foreigners eager to seize Mexican territory. (In the Nineteenth Century, Baja and Sonora were invaded several times by such filibusters, with the intention of detaching these states from Mexico.) Some of the newspapers in California routinely repeated the charge. Magonista leaders in Mexicali further confused the matter when they spoke of their wish to establish a “cooperative commonwealth.”

The press, by and large, chose to assume that the rebels were referring only to Baja rather than to the whole of Mexico.

To fund the army, the self-named insurrectos had also, at the direction of the junta, placed a tax on all commercial transactions in Mexicali. Because ninety percent of the Mexicali businesses were owned by Americans, who contributed to the insurrection only at gunpoint, it was interpreted by some as an indication of American capitalist support for a filibustering expedition.

In Los Angeles, Flores Magon’s refusal to cooperate with Madero, along with Madero’s increasingly open anarchist objectives, were precipitating splits in his ranks. Also, he was forced to defend the foreign composition of his Liberal army in Baja, the only state where his forces had had any signal success. “In the ranks of the Liberals,” he wrote, “are men who are not of our nationality but are our ideological brothers... they sacrifice themselves to destroy the chains of slavery.”

A similar threat to the perceived integrity of the Liberal Party issued from the antics of Richard Wells Ferris, an actor and public relations specialist of peculiarly American type. Ferris was born in Washington, D.C., in 1867. He performed on the stage all over the United States before moving to Los Angeles in 1905 with his second wife, an actress.

In California, Ferris also promoted automobile races, and in 1910 he entered the political arena to run for lieutenant governor, losing the election by only 6000 votes of 100,000 cast.

Early in 1911 Ferris used his political connections to obtain the job of publicity director of the groundbreaking carnival and celebration for the upcoming Panama-California Exposition, to be held in San Diego’s Balboa Park. “You can count on me to dream up some live publicity stunts which will hold the public’s attention indefinitely,” he promised the expo’s commissioners. The promotional pranks of a press agent who viewed politics as large-scale outdoor stage show were to enter into the history of Mexico and damage posthumously the reputation of one of her most unyielding revolutionists.

Shortly after the government defeat at Mexicali, “Ferris the Fearless,” as he was sometimes called by admirers, held a press conference in San Francisco to announce a scheme to purchase Baja California from Mexico and to turn it into a “sporting republic,” complete with casinos. A group of American businessmen were supposedly behind the idea (Ferris, a compulsive name-dropper, mentioned J.P. Morgan and J.J. Hill). The new state was to be called “The Republic of Diaz”; it would later be sold to the U.S., netting “a neat profit to the sponsors of the transaction.”

Ferris also threatened to lead a filibustering expedition to Baja should Diaz refused to sell. To give credence to the threat, Ferris shortly thereafter placed ads in the New York and Los Angeles papers seeking a thousand men with military experience to join “General Dick Ferris” in his grand crusade. Although an investigation by U.S. agents determined that Ferris placed the ads solely for the purpose of “seeking notoriety,” Diaz took the bait and angrily issued a public refusal, thereby giving stature to Ferris the Fearless as a man who negotiated with heads of state.

The English-language page of La Regeneracion ridiculed Ferris in a brief mention, but Flores Magon himself did not take the publicist seriously and declined to comment.

Ferris was soon back in San Diego, after reportedly making a quick trip to Mexicali to survey the situation firsthand. On March 12 a Los Angeles horsewoman rode over the border into Tijuana to plant a flag featuring the scales of justice against the background of a rising sun. She then read a proclamation: “Lower California, I claim you in the name of equal suffrage and of model government, which I hereby christen as the future ‘Republic of Diaz.’ May the Great Ruler of all things nourish the little plant typified in this flag that I raise over this troubled land and in His goodness bring to fruition the hopes and dreams of my sex for fullest liberty, symbolized in the scales of equality and justice.” Because this woman was known to be a friend of Ferris’s wife, who was active in the suffragette movement, the San Diego Union saw in this escapade “the fine Italian hand of Richard Ferris.”

Meanwhile, the insurrectos in Mexicali had failed to pursue Vega to Ensenada and thus lay claim to the entire state. They were short of ammunition (President Taft had sent 20,000 soldiers to the border area to help control the smuggling of arms into Mexico) and were locked in leadership struggles. After several inconclusive skirmishes with a Diaz army sent to protect the waterworks east of Mexicali, the foreign contingent — and most of the Mexicans in the Liberal army — rebelled against the leadership of the Mexican field commanders. They elected as their military chief Caryl Ap Rhys Pryce, a Scot in his mid-thirties who had served with the British forces in the Boer War.

While serving as a policeman in Western Canada, Pryce had been moved by a book written by an American journalist denouncing the depredations of the Diaz government; when the rebellion broke out, he journeyed to Los Angeles to offer his services to the junta. Upon assuming command in Mexicali, Pryce staffed the officer positions with fellow adventurers and soldiers of fortune, and he began the task of instilling discipline into the ragtag Liberal army.

Realizing that the restlessness of his troops could best be cured by action against the federates, Pryce decided, near the end of April, to move on Tijuana. In doing so, he ignored a message from Flores Magon in Los Angeles to attack the Diaz army at the Mexicali dikes. With approximately 220 men — less than ten percent of them Mexicans — Pryce advanced on Tijuana, which was being held by a federal force of about 100 soldiers and civilian volunteers.

On May 8, the insurrectos reached the outskirts of Tijuana, at that time a village of about 1000 inhabitants. The commander of the government troops refused Pryce’s demand for surrender, and the fighting began the same evening.

While hundreds of San Diegans watched the flash of rifle fire from the hills on the American side of the border, Pryce had his troops first surround the town, using their ammunition sparingly to gain strategic positions for an assault at dawn. After the insurrectos achieved this objective and settled in for the evening, a party of federates mounted a surprise midnight sortie on rebel positions and succeeded in getting close to Pryce’s headquarters. Several insurrectos were killed, including Pryce’s second in command, but the attack was quickly repulsed.

At daybreak Pryce assigned 140 soldiers to guard the approaches east and south of the village, to prevent the arrival of any government reinforcements. He then led the assault on the federal lines, with eighty of his best men.

By this time, the federal force had dwindled by a third, mostly because a number of deserters had crossed the border to safety on the U.S. side. (Earlier, Tijuana’s women and children had taken refuge in the Little Landers colony, now the town of San Ysidro.) Those federates remaining, as short on ammunition as were the rebels, fell back to the center of town and took up positions near the bullring, which was then the village’s principal tourist attraction. (At that time it was located on Calle Primero, First Street — now Avenida Revolucion — approximately across the street from where the Jai Alai Palace now stands.)

Three federal sharpshooters had also stationed themselves in the bell tower of an adobe church in an effort to pin down the besiegers. (This church was also on First Street, near the corner of Fifth.)

Pryce ordered the burning of both the bullring and the church. The smoke from the blaze could be seen for miles, an engrossing sight to the spectators and photographers on the American side. Two of the federal soldiers in the church managed to escape, but the third was killed near the treated at San Diego hospitals.

The dead federates were buried in San Diego; the killed insurrectos, mostly Americans, in Tijuana. Seven of the Liberal dead were interred in a deep trench in front of the Mexican Customs House, approximately on what is now the corner of Revolucidn and Third.

On the American side of the border, the arrival of the insurrectos had caused great excitement and curiosity. Most of the citizenry looked favorably on the Liberal victory, but the Union and the Tribune, the two dailies owned by well-known San Diego businessman John D. Spreckels, adopted a generally hostile attitude toward the border revolutionists. A Union editorialist wrote that the Tijuana battle was “simply another effort by the dare-devil citizens of the United States to wrest that territory from Mexico” and that the insurrectos were “adventurers and fellows who have the best reason for remaining on the south side of the boundary line.” The Union's condemnation of filibustering seemed ironic in retrospect, considering the enormous amount of publicity and encouragement they were shortly to give to the opera bouffe schemes of Dick Ferris.

The more liberal San Diego Sun favored the Magonistas but occasionally followed the lead of the Diaz propagandists by suggesting that they were closet filibusters. One Sun editorial pointed out that though the victors

Tijuana, including several escapees from the county jail, among them a notorious East County cattle rustler; they stole bicycles and pedaled their way to Tijuana. Going the other way were four rebels who had taken part in the battle. They told reporters that they were disillusioned with Pryce and the Liberal Party and were heading for Chihuahua to join the Maderistas. (At about the same time as the battle of Tijuana, Madero won an important victory against federal troops in the border town of Juarez.)

Hardly had the battle in Tijuana ended when curious sightseers began to enter the town, first tentatively, then in droves. Wobblies stood outside the curio shops and allowed American shoppers to take whatever they could carry away, for fifty cents or a dollar. It was also discovered that some of the tourists had broken into the temporarily abandoned homes of the residents of Tijuana and had stolen family heirlooms. “That there was looting,” wrote the Union, “and that San Diego people took part in it, is the painful truth that is now apparent.” However, immediately after the battle, the insurrectos had invited all residents who had fled to San Ysidro to return to their homes, promising them safety and security. The son of a government volunteer who died in the fighting later recalled that not a single resident returned to Tijuana to live while the rebels held the town, although some went back to check on possible damage to their homes.

Less than a week after the victory, Pryce allowed gamblers to open poker and faro parlors in town, pleading that this was the only way the army could sustain itself. American shoppers were soon joined by American gamblers. Twenty-five percent of the take from these games was to go to the army, and some of the money was sent to the junta for the purpose of arms purchases. The appearance of gambling in Tijuana led to much newspaper speculation in California that the “sporting republic” envisioned by San Diegans watching the retaking of Tijuana entrance; his badly burned body was recovered after the battle.

After several hours of intense fighting, the federates were finally routed, and they fled either south to Ensenada or across the border to join their families. By ten in the morning on May 9, the insurrectos had control of Tijuana.

Because bodies kept turning up in the brush for weeks after the battle, the number of casualties suffered by either side was never precisely determined. Probably a dozen Liberals were killed, and the federal dead were twice that many. The large number of wounded on both sides were at Tijuana were “alight with the fire of revolution” and were sincere in their goals, they were nevertheless “lusty young Americans,” and if it happened that “Lower California should wake up some morning to find the Stars and Stripes floating over it, San Diego would suddenly become more than ever a City of Destiny.”

On the day following the fighting at Tijuana, Pryce destroyed all the hard liquor in town, probably to prevent his lusty young troops from disintegrating into a drunken mob. At this point, some residents of San Diego joined the revolution in Dick Ferris was becoming a reality.

A subject of much debate in later years was why Flores Magon did not enter Tijuana at this propitious time to take personal command of his heterogeneous army. The most likely answer is that the revolutionary propagandist was no Trotsky, equally adept at leading armies in the field as at writing stirring editorials, and that he was well aware of his limitations. This defect in his character would have been made clear to everyone had he placed himself in the midst of the action. Several leading experts in the Baja revolution argue that Flores Magon never entertained for a second any filibustering ambitions, but his failure at this moment of truth gave sufficient ammunition to his detractors. In this sense, Flores Magon was indirectly responsible for the Dick Ferris footnote in Mexican history and for the contempt his own name still engenders among some in Mexico, particularly residents of Baja California.

Pryce talked vaguely of mounting an attack on Ensenada, but he lacked sufficient weaponry to do so. The army had been sending significant sums to Los Angeles, both before and after the Tijuana victory, and Pryce had hopes that quality armaments would be purchased in the U.S. and sent south. However, the only thing to come from the junta was messages of congratulations and a number of the translated tomes of European anarchist theorists.

On the same day that Pryce let in the gamblers, one of his soldiers pointed out to a San Diego reporter the large number of American flags that waved over some of the buildings, side by side with the red-and-black anarchist banner of the Liberal Party. (Many of the Tijuana shops were owned by Americans, who hoped that by their display of the U.S. flag, their property would not be pilfered or damaged.) “I’ll gamble it won’t be three months,” said the insurrecto, “till the Stars and Stripes float there alone — and in the rest of Lower California, too.” The reporter asked Pryce what he thought of this statement. “It sounds good to me,” replied the Liberal field commander.

The junta representative in Tijuana heard of these remarks, and the next day Pryce was obediently distributing to the press a Liberal Party leaflet specifying the social aims of the revolution. The American flags also disappeared from the rooftops. On May 20, Flores Magon used his column in La Regeneration to correct the rumors of a separate republic that were receiving heavy play in the American press: “No, lackeys of Porfirio Diaz and Madero, the Liberals do not intend to separate Baja California from Mexico.... Baja California will be the principal base of our operations to carry the Social Revolution to the whole of Mexico and to the whole world.” While Flores Magon was penning his editorial, Pryce decided to augment the revenues from the gaming parlors by charging American tourists twenty-five cents to enter Tijuana.

Dick Ferris was now smelling the opportunity for a major publicity coup. Within a week of the battle, he got a Union reporter to introduce him to Pryce, and the rebel commander and the promoter seemed to hit it off. Ferris had his own uses for the soldier, and Pryce may have felt that Ferris could be used to procure the arms that the junta had consistently failed to deliver. However, Pryce told Ferris that his loyalties still lay with the junta, and Ferris replied that Pryce was just “too nice a fellow to be mixed up with that kind of bunch.” (Ferris later told a U.S. Senate Committee investigating the affair that the army in Tijuana was composed of “a lot of very decent fellows...; also a lot of cutthroats and outlaws, the most heterogeneous mass that could be assembled”)

The last week of May saw a number of events and movements flooding over the stalled Tijuana revolution. A San Diego physician of Mexican origin had formed the “Defenders of the National Integrity” movement, in league with the Mexican consulates in Los Angeles and San Diego. This group pledged to drive the “filibusters” from Baja; they succeeded in raising a considerable amount of money, some from wealthy Americans, which they used to ship Mexican volunteers, resident in California, south to Ensenada to reinforce the garrison there.

On May 25, Porfirio Diaz finally resigned. Madero, acting as provisional president, agreed to allow a transitional government of national reconciliation to run the country for a while.

The same day Diaz fled the country, the federal army at the Mexicali waterworks marched to Ensenada, and Pryce took out an eager force to do battle and capture some weapons. The federates eluded them. Returning to Tijuana, the rebel general discussed with his officers the possibility of disbanding the army. It now seemed clear to Pryce that while Ferris might be good for publicity, he could not bring in the arms required to launch a viable campaign against the Baja capital.

On May 30, Pryce decided to have a showdown with Flores Magon. Ferris and his wife drove Pryce and his aide to the San Diego railroad station to catch the train to Los Angeles. At junta headquarters, the soldier of fortune with the vague social conscience met the Mexican revolutionist who had spent the best part of his life behind bars. Flores Magon urged Pryce to retain command and to continue the fight, adding that in his opinion, Madero was worse than Diaz. Pryce told the junta leader that in order to continue, the rebels would need far more weapons than what they had and that the army had regularly remitted funds that should have been used to purchase these weapons. Flores Magon replied that the junta was broke.

The next day, the aide wrote to one of his friends still in Tijuana (the letter was intercepted by American authorities) that the junta has “been receiving contributions right along and never came through with a gun or a cartridge.... All they ever did was to write letters of congratulations.” Disheartened, Pryce washed his hands of the whole affair and never returned to Mexico.

Scores of men in Tijuana deserted when they heard that Pryce had left camp on some mysterious mission in a pessimistic frame of mind. Those who stayed behind split into acrimonious groups of Wobblies, adventurers, and Mexicans. On June 2, the junta dispatched a commission to Tijuana to establish new leadership, but before they arrived, Dick Ferris had rushed into the vacuum created by the defection of Pryce.

Immediately after Ferris had seen Pryce off on the train to Los Angeles, he returned to Tijuana and made a speech to the adventurers in the Liberal army: “You have got to haul down this red flag," he told them. “While that might be the symbol of the Liberal Party, so called, in Mexico, it means anarchy in America, and you have got to get that out of sight of every American who passes this border. You have got to cut out your socialism, your anarchism, and every other ism that you have got into and form a new government if you hope to do anything right.” Ferris also advised the soldiers that they had to appeal to the American press and also to “the better class of Mexicans.”

On an earlier trip to the Liberal camp, Ferris had made the acquaintance of one Louis James, an adventurer of violent temper who had been with the rebel army since Mexicali. James, who claimed to be a West Point graduate, represented the soldier-of-fortune element in Tijuana. He had once asked Ferris to take charge and use his influence to obtain support and weapons for the rebels. Ferris, trying to keep himself clear of the neutrality laws, suggested that James himself take the matter up with John D. Spreckels, to see if any help might possibly materialize from that quarter. James actually did obtain an interview with Spreckels, which ended abruptly when the young adventurer threatened violence if his demands were not met.

The day after Ferris visited the camp, James called a meeting of about one hundred disenchanted insurrectos and delivered his own exhortation. If non-Mexican rebels had not pinned down and kept occupied the large number of federal troops in Baja, he said, Madero would not have won the revolution, and now the white soldiers were likely to be coldly dismissed by the new rulers unless they proclaimed their own republic and lowered the red flag. “We profess to establish a new republic and to claim its recognition for the blood of the white men which has been spilled on the soil of Lower California and Mexico in bringing about the success of the revolution.” After James had finished, the adventurers murmured their agreement and cut the halyards of the flagpole, bringing down the Magonista flag.

James then recommended Ferris as president of this new republic, and the impresario who had narrowly lost his bid for public office in California was elected by acclamation. James immediately rushed to the San Diego Expo offices to relay the good news: “You have just been elected president of Baja California. Your people are awaiting you in Tijuana.”

Ferris, always eager to add fuel to the flames while taking care not to get burned by the fire, claimed that he was too busy to assume office on that particular day, but he did take the time to design a flag for his new state: two horizontal bars on a blue field with a white star in the center. He promised James that his tailor would have the flag ready for delivery the next day.

After James left, however, Ferris somehow found the time to call another press conference to announce the formation of the “Republic of Madero,” succeeding his earlier Republic of Diaz. Ferris was considering accepting the presidency, he said, and would see to it that the Mexican government would be paid $15 million for its military expenses in Baja during the revolution. In answer to a reporter’s question, Ferris stated that Madero “will just have to accept” the separation of Baja from Mexico, and as for Flores Magon, “we are severing all connections with the junta.” Nevertheless, the promoter concluded, General Pryce would be welcome back anytime as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

While Ferris held court in San Diego, the bulk of the IWW contingent in Tijuana learned of what had recently transpired. They raised the red flag again and court-martialed Pryce in absentia, convinced that their ex-leader had something to do with the Ferris filibuster. Another election was held, and the new general was chosen: Jack Mosby, an IWW member and Marine Corps deserter.

Mosby issued his own statement to the press, dated June 3. “Dick Ferris has absolutely nothing to do with the revolutionary movement and his presence in Tijuana is not desired,” Mosby wrote. “The fight is not being waged in the interest of Dick Ferris and the American capitalists, but solely in the interests of the working class. Lower California will not be separated from the rest of Mexico, but the revolution will be carried-on in all the states of Mexico until the Mexican people are freed from the present military despotism and slavery, peonage abolished, and the lands returned to the people, which have been stolen from them by Mexican and foreign capitalists.” The junta spokesman in Tijuana echoed the words of Mosby and further stated that a civil commission made up solely of Mexican citizens would henceforward be running affairs in Tijuana.

Unfazed by all this, Ferris departed for Los Angeles to join friends at the Alexandria Hotel in celebration of his “election.”

Louis James, however, had followed his leader to the city and

insisted that Ferris return to Tijuana to inspire his loyal subjects and to help defeat Mosby’s anti-filibuster stance.

Ferris at this point realized that the game was about up, but since he had just pulled off the greatest publicity coup of his career, with newspapers up and down the coast buzzing about his “presidency” and speculating on the kind of gown the glamorous Mrs. Ferris would wear at the Inaugural Ball, he couldn't resist milking every precious drop for the finale. In a widely publicized letter, he resigned his presidency and went on to inflate the rest of his notice with the hot air of the born press agent:

Soldiers and Citizens of the Republic of Lower California: I keenly and sincerely appreciate the great honor you have conferred upon me in electing me your first President, and sincerely do regret my inability to be with you at this moment to address you in person, but I am detained here on private business of the greatest importance.

1 hope that each and every one of you will allow nothing but the highest patriotic motives to lead you in your future military and governmental actions....

It affords me great pleasure to present to you the new flag of the Republic. The red stripe represents the blood that has been spilled for countless ages in the cause of liberty; the white stripe the purity of your motives, the blue field the staunchness of your purpose....

The American government was now talking of using the neutrality laws to prosecute those who were prominent actors in the Baja rebellion. Ferris wanted to distance himself from the tangle at Tijuana, but he couldn’t restrain himself from using one final time the enthusiastically gullible James as his foil. On June 5, James returned by train to San Diego carrying Ferris’s “resignation” letter. He picked up the Ferris-designed flag from the promoter’s tailor, rented a car and a chauffeur, and raced into Tijuana, the “Republic of Madero” banner fluttering from the hood.

A representative of the junta told the Union what happened next: James was dragged from his car and roughed up immediately upon reaching Tijuana. Some of the men were intent upon executing him. However, several of James’s old friends intervened, and he was kicked back across the border, with a warning never to return. Further, the Ferris flag was ripped from the car and burned in the streets. “We are trying to prevent race prejudice from becoming a factor in the revolution in Lower California,” the Magonista explained. “Ferris seems to have been trying to make a joke of the whole movement.”

In the week following, considerable apprehension and confusion swept the Liberal camp. Several dozen Mexican Magonistas who had fought alongside Madero’s army in Juarez had arrived in Tijuana, and frequent gunplay erupted between this group and some of the Americans. Also, rumors abounded that either the Maderistas or Vega in Ensenada would soon attack in force. To raise money and to divert the attention of his troops, Mosby staged a Wild West show, but due to inadequate publicity, the event flopped.

On June 14, the U.S. government in Los Angeles arrested Flores Magon and the junta leaders for violations of neutrality law. This so alarmed Dick Ferris that he issued another statement, finally killing off his “live publicity stunt.” “Tell the public that I have already denied any and all dealings with the insurrectos — past, present, and future, and if this is not enough I will arrange a schedule for further denials three times a day and at bedtime.” This did not prevent Ferris from being arrested the following day, also on the charge of neutrality law violation. He then complained to the Union that he couldn’t understand how his little practical joke had been taken seriously by everyone. Pryce was also picked up and charged additionally with murder and arson during the battle of Tijuana.

In Tijuana the embattled Liberal army received word that President Taft had granted the Maderistas permission to transport a large force by rail from Juarez over American soil to put down the border insurrection.

On June 13, Mosby sent a letter to the Spreckels company advising that if the story were true, the Liberals would, in their own interests of self-preservation, “abrogate your system,” which Spreckels and his lawyers took to mean that the rebels would blow up the Tijuana section of the Spreckels-owned San Diego and Arizona railroad.

Spreckels immediately cabled high-placed friends in Washington to convince Taft to send the soldiers posted in San Diego into Baja to protect his property. A Spreckels attorney vainly tried to persuade the local army commander to do the same. In a few days, all these maneuverings would become irrelevant.

For weeks Governor Vega had been putting together a new army in Ensenada, made up of elements of the federal army formerly guarding the dikes, his own troops who had seen action in Mexicali, and the Mexicans who were sent south out of California by the National Integrity organization. Vega had refused to observe the cease-fire that was part of the Madero armistice, and he marched to Tijuana with this well-armed force in mid-June.

On June 22 — six weeks after the rebels captured Tijuana — General Jack Mosby and 230 of his men, only a third of them Mexicans, boarded a train and chugged south of town to do battle with Vega. Superior equipment and manpower ended the intense three-hour fight with a total victory for Vega. Some thirty insurrectos were killed; Vega’s men were reported to be shooting the wounded and captured. The Mexican rebels fled to the hills, and 106 American and European survivors walked double file into San Diego to surrender to the U.S. army. Jack Mosby was crying like a child.

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