In October 1915, 18-year-old Jesus Martinez was arrested by an Army guard at the Brownsville train station on—well there was no reason to arrest him other than he was suspected of being a bandit, perhaps involved in recent attacks against innocent “Americans”. He was a Mexican, afterall. Martinez carried with him a letter that raised suspicions even more. The investigation into the contents of the letter led authorities to a surprising conclusion. Continue reading 1915 “bandit” investigation led to surprise finding
Late in the evening of Oct, 19, 1915, men believed to be rebels fighting under the flag of the Plan of San Diego attacked the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico passenger train at Olmitos, Texas six miles south of San Benito. When the smoke cleared, three people—three “Americans” as the newspapers pointed out—were dead. Continue reading Plan of San Diego raids prompted suspension of civil liberties
Scholars have found the Plan de San Diego (PSD) of great interest and for decades have produced a large body of works on the incident, in doing so expanding on fields such as Tejano history, Borderlands history, or Mexican history. Most recently, historians Charles H. Harris and Louis R. Sadler published the episode’s most comprehensive scholarly study under the title of The Plan de San Diego: Tejano Rebellion, Mexican Intrigue (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013). What lacks at this point, however, is a source that fills the needs of the reading public and instructs it on the dimensions of this struggle that burst forth in South Texas in the year 1915. Alfredo E. Cárdenas’s Balo’s War: A Novel About the Plan of San Diego (Corpus Christi: MCM Books, 2015) addresses that call.
The Houston Post reported on Aug. 21, 1915 that U.S. Army officers in automobiles, infantrymen on foot and cavalry were chasing a group of Carrancista soldiers that had crossed the Rio Grande River with intentions of joining up with supporters of the Plan of San Diego near Falfurrias in Brooks County, Texas. The Corpus Christi Caller & Daily Herald headlined
“Bandits Gathering Near Falfurrias.”
Attorneys attending sessions at the 79th District Court in Rio Grande City in 1915 reported that they carried books in one hand and pistols in the other. Such were the times in the Rio Grande Valley as a result of the guerrilla war underway in connection with the Plan of San Diego.
In June 1915, the Houston Post reported that U.S. infantry stationed at Mission rushed to Fort Ringgold in Rio Grande City upon hearing that Mexican “bandits” were threatening the town. “Mexican and American farmers in that section are moving into Rio Grande City for protection,” the Post reported.
A vivid description of the Plan of San Diego will be discussed at the Kelsey-Bass Museum and Event Center on March 10 by Alfredo E. Cardenas author of the recently published historical novel “Balo’s War, A Novel About the Plan of San Diego”. Cardenas will discuss his book at 6 p.m. as part of an event sponsored by the Starr County Historical Foundation. The book will be available for purchase for $15, including sales tax.
Most of the fighting related to the Plan of San Diego took place in the Rio Grande Valley. While Starr County was in the periphery of most of the more violent action, citizens still lived under fear, Cardenas said. On Aug. 15, 1915, the Laredo Weekly Times reported that “bandits are near Rio Grande City.” In its June 7, 1915 edition, the El Paso Herald ran a story that “a body of Mexicans [intended]…raiding the country somewhere west of Rio Grande City.”
The Plan of San Diego 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 and the Rio Grande Valley that gave rise to the Plan of San Diego.
“I chose to tell the story in the historical fiction genre, 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.”
In September 1915, Ben Felton, an African American porter at the Austin American newspaper was approached by several Mexicans who asked him to join an effort to take Texas from the United States. George Washington, Nelson Sneed, J. “Luck” Prosser, “General” Marion Jackson, and African Americans living in the small community of Creedmoor in southern Travis County, had similar experiences.