A map appearing in the Aug. 12, 1915 issue of the San Antonio Express reported that “murders and raids have terrorized the people of he Lower Rio Grande Valley from Zapata County to the gulf and to the north beyond Norias.” These“murders and raids” were prompted by the Plan of San Diego that had been uncovered in January 1915 with the arrest of Basilio Ramos in McAllen.
Alfredo E. Cardenas author of the recently published historical novel “Balo’s War, A Novel About the Plan of San Diego” will provide vivid description of the Plan at the regular monthly meeting of the Nuevo Santander Genealogical Society, which will be held at the Zapata County Museum of History on April 2. Cardenas will discuss his book at 2 p.m. at the museum located at 805 N Main St/ US Hwy 83 in Zapata. Balo’s War will be available for purchase for $15, including sales tax, and the author will be available to sign it.
While most of the fighting took place in Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties, Zapata County was also affected by the Plan, which called for inciting a revolution in the American southwest. It is not an event found in history books, but has been extensively studied by scholars. Balo’s War takes a fresh look at the event to bring to life the conditions that existed in South Texas that gave rise to the Plan of San Diego.
Rumors in August 1915 of an eminent threat to Zapata County from 80 Mexican bandits operating between Rio Grande City and Zapata failed to materialize, likely because of the presence of the 14th Cavalry at Zapata. A year later, in June 1916, the San Antonio Express headlined “Mexican Bandits Threaten Zapata.” Major Alonzo Gray, in charge of the 14th Cavalry, went out with some 80 men to the area between Zapata and San Ignacio. Under earlier skirmishes between Army troops and sediciosos under Luis de la Rosa, at least nine bandits were killed as were three American soldiers. Another six soldiers were wounded.
“I chose to tell the story in a historical fiction book, because it afforded me more latitude to delve into the motives of those who were involved with the plan and those who contributed to conditions that gave rise to such an idea,” Cardenas said.
Balo’s War uses a variety of characters, real and imagined, to tell the story of a people who went from being Spaniard to Mexican to American in a short span of 30 years. They struggled to hold on to their land, their language, their culture and their history—against insurmountable odds. At times this struggle resorted to violence.
In the summer and fall of 1915, guerrilla-like attacks were launched against trains, public works projects and United States Army troops throughout the Rio Grande Valley. In retaliation, Texas Rangers, local law enforcement and citizen militias summarily executed hundreds of innocent Mexican Americans accused of being bandits without the benefit of jury trial. Hundreds of people lost their lives and the economic development of the Valley was shattered.
Historian Ben Johnson, one of the scholars who has written a nonfiction book about the Plan of San Diego entitled “Revolution in Texas: How a Forgotten Rebellion and Its Bloody Suppression Turned Mexicans Into Americans”, said of Balo’s War, “The main characters and plot work well to tell the story of the uprising and where it fits into the larger history of South Texas and the border.” John Knaggs, author of “The Bugles are Silent, A Novel of the Texas Revolution” said Cardenas’ book is “A fascinating story about events that influenced the development of South Texas.”