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A flyer posted on a store on June 11 in 1993 said that the mining
festival was going to be from June 15-20. Tours of the mine were going to be conducted on
Friday, June 18, and Saturday, June 19. The branch of the library in the Casa de la
Cultura was open in the afternoon on Fridays.
One week from when I was there before, I was back. After I fumbled
my question in Spanish, the guide told me in English that tours were being done in the
brown buses belonging to the mine. With five other people, the bus I got on pulled away
from the cultural center. Before going to the mine, the bus went in the opposite
direction, and climbed the hill to the primary school near the downtown area. It picked up
30 children, who appeared to be in the sixth grade, and a teacher.
The tour went through every part of the mine accessible from the
main road. It stopped at the old open pit now being used as a tailings pond. As children
in Globe, Kearney, and Morenci would do when they tour the mines there, they oohed and
aahed when they saw the old open pit, and again when they saw the ore trucks with tires 13
feet in diameter.
One thing was missing from the tour. There was no narration or
printed guide of any kind in Spanish, English, or any other language. Nothing said by the
tour guide, except for a few words in English to me when we stopped at the pond. Nothing
said by the teacher.
There were many signs along the road in the mine. One said that it
was Mexico's largest mine. I had a Spanish-English dictionary, so I could look up the
words I did not know. I had driven past most of the mines in Arizona in years of going
around the state, so I had an idea of what the copper mining process is.
After the tour, I walked up the hill past the school, and visited
the historical sites that had been closed the week before. Close to them was the other
library branch, which I revisited. Nearby, children were starting to swim in the municipal
pool, operated by the local Lions Club. The library branch in the Casa de la Cultura was
closed for the day of the festival. I left town earlier than I had expected to. At the
east end along Highway 2, there was an ore truck, as the ones that had awed the children
at the mine. It was parked there, to entice motorists to stop in town for the festival.
As I stopped along the highway between Cananea and Naco on the way
back, I wondered who would be more lost on the tour, me, for whom Spanish was distinctly a
second language, or a motorist coming from somewhere like Mexicali or Chihuahua, who did
not know anything about the copper mining process.
Certainly, the motorists had heard about Cananea's history, in
classes as the ones the children had been in before going on the tour. Down the hill
before leaving town, a man was wearing a cap saying, Cananea--Cuna de la Revolución
This is a look at what Cananea is like, and why it is called the Cradle of
the Mexican Revolution.
The origin of the name Cananea is unclear. Some say that the origin is
unknown, but it is not from the land of Canaan in the Bible. Others say that it comes from
the Apache words "can", for meat, and "enta", for horse. Other than
mining, the predominant activity in the area of Cananea is ranching. In 1986, the number
of people in the municipality of Cananea was counted as 29,509. The population was
estimated to be 35,000 in 1989.
When Coronado visited in 1540, and Father Kino visited in 1696, the site
of Cananea was inhabited by Pima people. Spanish authority first came in 1760. For reasons
given as "lack of security" and "benefits not certain", Cananea was
abandoned in 1762. In this brief time, mining activity was attempted.
Various other people endured Apache raids, and tried to work the mines
through 1860, when General Ignacio Pesqueira acquired a controlling interest in them.
Pesqueira, the strongman of Sonora, held power in the state for as long as he could
against Porfirio Díaz. In 1883, control of mines in the area passed to Americans George
Perkins and B. Benham.
By 1896, William Greene had taken control of the mines in Cananea. He had
just been acquitted of killing a neighboring rancher in revenge in Tombstone, after his
daughter drowned in a flood caused when his dam near the San Pedro River was blown up in
an explosion. He established the Cananea Consolidated Copper Company, or 4 Cs. Once Greene
became an honorary colonel, he used the title frequently. The camp rapidly grew, and
temporary buildings became permanent. By 1906, there were 21,000 Mexicans, and 2,000
Americans, in town.
To attract Americans with the mining experience that he needed, Greene
paid them $5.00 for a day of 8 hours. Mexicans were paid 3 pesos and 50 centavos, or $1.75
at the exchange rate of the day, for a day of 10 hours. This was much more than the 50
centavos a day, which ranches and industries in nearby cities and the surrounding area
were paying their workers. As people left them for Cananea, these employers complained to
the governor of Sonora, Rafael Izabal. Greene cut Mexican wages to 3 pesos a day.
Revolts in Sonora and Chihuahua against Díaz in the 1890s had been
crushed. After their newspaper, Regeneración, was suppressed in 1905, the Flores
Magón brothers of the Mexican Liberal Party, Ricardo and Enrique, escaped to St. Louis
and printed it there. Copies were smuggled into Mexico, and Regeneración soon
became more popular than it had been when it was published south of the border.
Inspired by Regeneración and other liberal thought on both sides
of the border, miners in Cananea formed two secret clubs early in 1906. One was the
Liberal Humanity Union, whose president was Manuel Diéguez, and whose secretary was
Esteban Baca Calderón. The other was the Liberal Club of Cananea, led by Lázaro
Gutiérrez de Lara. Both groups came together to sponsor the Cinco de Mayo celebrations.
At the celebrations, Baca Calderón exhorted workers to stand up for their rights.
Excerpts from Baca Calderón's speech are printed in Mexican history books today.
On May 30, an American saloonkeeper was killed by the Cananea municipal
police, for no apparent reason. The incident was included by both the Arizona Daily
Star and Tucson Daily Citizen in their reports on the strike.
On May 31, workers were told in public that the 4 Cs could lay off "a
good part" of their number, and give more work to those who were left. Hastily, some
workers met in secret. An informer told Greene about this meeting. He immediately wired
the Copper Queen store in Bisbee. The store stayed open until Greene could get there and
purchase all available weapons. As word of possible trouble spread in Bisbee that night, a
crowd of 2,000 people gathered. It was not dispersed until the city of Bisbee ordered all
saloons to be closed. The stage was set for what both the Star and Citizen
called a race war.
By 5 A.M. on Friday, June 1, 400 miners blocked the entrance to the shaft
of the 4 Cs' Oversight Mine. Baca Calderón later reported that Diéguez had not wanted to
strike. Whether or not the Liberal Humanity Union had wanted to strike, it put together a
negotiating committee. Its four demands were: pay Mexican workers a minimum wage of 5
pesos for an 8-hour day, employ three Mexicans for every American, give Mexicans the right
to be promoted, and replace some supervisors with others who had "noble
sentiments"who would not degrade them for their national origin. Other miners
wanted half the supervisors to be Mexican, and complained of high prices at the company
By 10 A.M., a formal meeting was held between company and union
negotiators, in the Ronquillo district of the city. Greene was an amiable man, and was
cheered by some in the crowd of 2,000 that had gathered outside. Greene, citing Mexican
government pressure, refused all demands. He pointed out that wages were the highest of
any paid to miners in Mexico.
By 2 P.M., miners gathered in Ronquillo to march. All sources agreed that
they wore their best Sunday suits. They carried banners reading " Ocho horas,
cinco pesos", and carried Mexican flags. Two thousand joined them at the
Oversight mine and at Buenavista, another 200 joined them at the concentrator, and 1,000
more joined them at the smelter. The marchers then went to the lumberyard, run by the
brothers George and Will Metcalf. While George Metcalf had the responsibility of moving
miners from their temporary shacks to good company houses as they were built, he was still
disliked for his arrogance.
Leaders of the marchers demanded to talk to the workers at the lumberyard.
George had Will turn a firehose on the marchers, soaking them, as well as their banners,
suits, and flags. After initial surprise, miners with candlesticks for seeing as they
worked underground rushed and killed George Metcalf. Shots from the lumberyard drove off
miners who attempted to kill Will. The miners set fire to the lumberyard.
When Greene saw the smoke from the lumberyard, he rushed in a carriage to the Cananea
police station. Finding no one there, he rushed in an automobile to his home, hitting
people along the way. With those Americans who had not fled into the hills, Greene set up
a defense. After his general manager made a last-ditch attempt to calm the streets of
Cananea that almost cost him his life, he joined Greene at his house on the mesa. Four
Americans who had molten ladles of copper thrown at them in a mine, and 35 other
Americans, joined them. There, they were besieged by strikers who had 300 guns and
ammunition taken from the pawn shops of Ronquillo, and explosives that they had taken from
the mines a few days before.
Col. Greene made a telephone call to Bisbee, asking for volunteers to
relieve him and the other Americans. During a lull in the fighting, he went to the nearby
railroad station and telegraphed Gov. Izabal in Hermosillo. The American consular official
sent one to the State Department in Washington, asking for help as "American citizens
are being murdered", and one to President Theodore Roosevelt.
The telegraphs to Washington brought Buffalo Soldiers from Ft. Huachuca to
Naco, where they awaited orders to cross the border that did not come. Izabal contacted
Díaz in Mexico City, and then took the train from Hermosillo to Nogales. Crossing the
border, he took the train to Naco. Díaz then ordered 1,500 of his regular army troops
from Arizpe to Cananea. He also ordered Emilio Kosterlitzky, the commander of the rurales
in northern Sonora, to take them from Magdalena to Cananea.
The call to Bisbee brought 30 volunteers led by the local YMCA physical
instructor, and 275 volunteers led by Arizona Ranger Captain Thomas Rynning, all acting on
their own initiative. The YMCA volunteers got to Naco first, and were repelled by Mexican
border guards. When Rynning's larger party arrived in Naco around 1 A.M. June 2, the mayor
tried to surrender Naco, Sonora to him. Rynning refused, and waited for Gov. Izabal.
Soon, the governor arrived. To get around the impression that his men were
an American force invading Mexican territory, Rynning persuaded Izabal to allow them to
march across the border as individuals. Izabal then swore Rynning into the Mexican army as
a colonel, and Rynning then formed the volunteers into ranks and swore them in as his
regiment. Rynning and the volunteers, with Izabal, then boarded the train to Cananea. They
relieved Greene after dawn. Izabal and Greene made speeches, in an attempt to calm the
town down. Miners attempted to make another march that day, and were met by gunfire. By
the time the afternoon's gunfire ended, six Americans and 35 Mexicans were counted as
At dusk, Kozterlitzky arrived from Magdalena with 75 rurales.
Kozterlitzky had jumped a Russian ship in Venezuela in 1872, and had become a lieutenant
in the Mexican cavalry by 1880. He gained respect and fear for his dealings with common
bandits, Yaquis in southern Sonora, the last of the Apache raiders in the north, and
opponents of Díaz. When he arrived, he put Cananea under martial law, and the rurales
killed 56 men in two groups. Then they seized and hanged 7 of the strikers' leaders, and
displayed their bodies in public. He ordered Rynning's volunteers to leave Mexico. After
delay, they took the train to Naco at 10 P.M.
The regular army troops arrived in the morning on Sunday, June 3.
Immediately, their commander, Luis Torres, assembled 2,000 of the miners. He told them
that anyone not at work the next day would be inducted into the army and sent to southern
Sonora to fight the Yaqui Indians. When Greene announced that he knew which American
miners had sympathized with the strike, and would begin dealing with them, 300 left
Greene stayed in Cananea until his death in a carriage accident in 1913,
two years after rebels led by Juan G. Cabral came to power. All other Americans left soon
afterwards, except for experts retained by Anaconda and Atlantic Richfield.
Dieguez, Baca Calderón, and six others were sentenced to 15 years'
imprisonment in the fortress of San Juan de Ulloa, in the port of Veracruz, about 250
miles east of Mexico City. They stayed there until they were released by Francisco Madero
after the Revolution replaced Díaz with him as president of Mexico in 1911. However, they
were not released immediately; Madero did not release them until he received political
pressure from leaders of Sonora. Gutiérrez de Lara escaped. Posing as a Spanish
interpreter for John Turner, who posed as a salesman of supplies to the henequen
plantations of southern Sonora, he secretly returned to help Turner compile material for
his book. Turner wrote Barbarous Mexico in an effort to counter the part of the
press in the United States that praised Díaz. Dieguez would become a capable general in
the Revolution in Sonora and its neighboring state of Sinaloa. He always fought for Alvaro
Obregón and his political leader, Venustiano Carranza. Baca Calderón fought for Obregón
and Carranza in Guadalajara against supporters of Pancho Villa in 1915. The next year, he
participated in the convention that wrote Mexico's Constitution. It is not known what
happened to Gutiérrez de Lara for certain, but the best guess is that he fell in the
mountains southwest of Nogales in 1918 fighting Carranza.
The Metropolitan Cathedral in
Guadalajara. The main part was built in the 16th century; the tower was added in the 19th.
Kozterlitzky opposed Madero in late 1910 and early 1911, but did not fight
him. Díaz fell from power quickly after forces led by Villa and Pascual Orozco, swearing
allegiance to Madero, took Juárez in 1911. When Madero came to power, Kozterlitzky
resigned from the armed forces. Madero would recall him to service. After Madero was
overthrown by Victoriano Huerta in 1913 and killed, Kozterlitzky would meet Obregón in
Even though the federal congress in Mexico was handpicked by Díaz, it thought that the
actions of Izabal, particularly in letting Rynning and his volunteers go to Cananea, were
disrespectful enough to Mexican sovereignty to summon him to Mexico City. Izabal was
exonerated, and he returned to Sonora as governor. However, Torres soon took over for him.
Successes of the Revolution brought Pesqueira's grandson, also called Ignacio, to the
governor's chair in 1913.
The events of the strike in Cananea were highlighted in the next issues of
Regeneración. More strikes broke out in Mexico: textile mills in Río Blanco
near Veracruz and near Mexico City, and railroads based in the central Mexican city of San
Luis Potosí. The strike at Rio Blanco was suppressed more brutally than the one at
Cananea. Wealthier people, as Madero, began to think of ways they could run the country
better than Díaz.
Cananea endured many skirmishes in the Revolution: Orozco's failed
rebellion against Madero, Obregón's taking of the town from Huerta in 1913, and continual
fighting between Obregón and Villa in 1914 and 1915. Obregón's forces finally took
Cananea for good in 1915. The rebellion of José Escobar came to Cananea in 1928. For a
short time, Escobar held the town, but his forces left it quickly after he was defeated in
Naco. Soon after Greene died, Anaconda took control of the mines in Cananea. Even after
political pressure from many within Mexico, the Greene family's properties in the area
surrounding Cananea were not completely bought by the federal government until 1958. The
government did not buy Anaconda out completely until 1961.
With Atlantic Richfield as a minority partner, the mines of Cananea
remained nationalized as Compañia Minera de Cananea until 1989. At the time, they were
the second-largest producing copper mines in Latin America. In August, one week before the
union contract was supposed to expire, the government declared the mine bankrupt, and
closed it. The closure was backed by 3,000 army troops, all of whom remained inside the
mine, and did not come out except to go through town to take the road to Hermosillo. There
was a march by 6,000 in protest which blocked the road, but there was no violence. Miners
received food from Sierra Vista.
In December, the mines were reopened. Workers resumed getting $300-400 a
month in wages, plus benefits which were said to be the best in industry in Mexico. They
also got half the money they would have received if the mines had stayed open. By
September 1990, the mines were sold to a consortium led by Mexican investor Jorge Larrea,
known as Mexicana de Cananea. Despite the fears of workers, Section 65 of the National
Miners' Union still represents them at Cananea. However, 1,500 of them were let go, when
Mexicana de Cananea gained control.
The interior customs check was moved from northeast to southwest of
Cananea, so the city is now within Mexico's border zone. For Americans, this means that
they can now drive to Cananea without a car permit, and be there for a short period of
time without a tourist visa. Cananeans can now drive cars imported from the United States
and elsewhere legally, and use imported appliances and other goods, without paying duties
in addition to Mexico's value-added tax. Another purpose of bringing Cananea into the
border zone was to encourage it to diversify its industries by adding maquiladoras,
or twin plants.
There is no significant maquiladora activity today, though. There is still
soreness about the events of 1989 and 1990, and about economic conditions in general
today. This was demonstrated again by the events of 1999. Even so, there is still enough
activity in Cananea to support about 25,000 people, today in 2000.
Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari went to Cananea to speak about
NAFTA, the day after he, George Bush, and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney
simultaneously announced in their capitals that negotiations on the free trade agreement
had been completed, in August 1992. The visit by Salinas marked the deep significance
Cananea holds in the history of all of Mexico. With respect to its international
commercial relations, Cananea holds more significance to Mexico than any other spot there.
More people go to Cananea from Sierra Vista than ever before now, but
still, people from Sierra Vista go to Tucson more often than Cananea. Cananea is the same
distance as Tucson by road from Sierra Vista, 75 miles.
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