¡Tierra y Libertad!: A Brief History of the Partido Liberal Mexicano in Douglas, Arizona

This article was published in the Fall–Winter 2020 edition of the Cochise County Historical Journal, a publication of the Cochise County Historical Society, POB 818, Douglas, Arizona 85608. Press here for a Spanish translation

¡Tierra y Libertad! A Brief History of the Partido Liberal Mexicano in Douglas, Arizona

by Elizabeth Henson*

I began this project when Hector Salinas showed me a binder of articles and asked me to research the Partido Liberal Mexicano (Mexican Liberal Party, PLM) in Douglas. It was 2016; I had just turned in my dissertation, later published as a book, which focuses on revolutionaries in Chihuahua in the 1960s.[1] I was looking for a project in Cochise County–Northeastern Sonora. Hector’s binder reflected the extensive research he had done some years earlier, including articles on the Bisbee Deportation, the Cananea strike, and enough to whet my curiosity about the Partido Liberal Mexicano, a precursor to the Mexican Revolution, who organized smelter and railway workers in Douglas in the early days. I read all of it and found an excellent unpublished dissertation—thank you, Ellen Howell Myers!—that gave me footnotes that led to more footnotes. I visited the Special Collections and law libraries at the University of Arizona and corresponded with librarians across the country. I received digital copies of the Phoenix Spanish-language Wobbly newspaper, La unión industrial, from an archive in Amsterdam. I am still seeking the PLM newspaper, El Demócrata, published in Douglas around 1906–1907.

I met frequently with Hector and Ginny Jordan in the office of the Wall of Faces in the Gadsden Hotel. We launched this website, revoltososindouglas.com, and on May 5, 2019, presented my research at the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas. Here is what we learned about the Partido Liberal Mexicano in Douglas.[2]

The Mexican Liberal Party

The Partido Liberal Mexicano was founded in Mexico in 1901 to oppose the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. The leaders of the PLM brought their newspaper Regeneracion with them when, in 1904, the Diaz regime retaliated by exiling them to the United States. They stayed in the borderlands where they organized among Mexican communities and continued to agitate against the dictatorship. They were harbingers of the Revolution of 1910 and inspired the most radical provisions of the Constitution of 1917.[3] They were exemplary internationalists, opposed to capital, the state, and the church.

The 1800s: Mexico’s Turbulent Past

The nineteenth century was one of widespread disorder: the war for independence from Spain left the country bankrupt and depleted. Mexico was invaded by Spain, the U.S., and France and lost its northern territories to the United States in 1848. There were civil wars that set the Conservatives, allied with big landowners and the Catholic Church, once the biggest landowner of all, against the Liberals, who accused the old regime of pillaging Mexico’s resources, especially its people, without developing production. The Conservatives favored a plantation economy. The Liberals favored the expansion of individual liberties and civil society to give capitalism room to grow. For the poor, liberalism meant the freedom to leave their rural communities and enter the work force under disadvantaged conditions and to exchange the traditions of village life for anonymous labor discipline.[4]    

Three hundred years of Spanish colonial rule failed to adequately develop the country’s productive forces; industries were shackled to prevent competition with Spain, and the economy was based on the extraction of resources. The Spanish imposed high taxes and attempted to enforce a monopoly on trade. The immense booty of silver and gold taken from New World mines was shipped overseas and spent on luxury consumption and wars against Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire. A tiny elite ruled vast haciendas, with a resident work force, known as peons, who produced both for internal consumption and for export. The Catholic Church was allied with the elite and was the chief moneylender and land owner.                                                            

The United States was settled largely by families escaping religious persecution and seeking new lives. When they were unable to harness the indigenous inhabitants to work, the settlers expelled and exterminated the original peoples. In the South, they imported African slaves to work vast plantations producing cash crops for market. In the North, they developed industries, some of them dependent on the products of southern slave labor such as cotton.                                    

The Spanish who conquered Mexico came to make their fortunes and return to their homeland; they frequently did not bring families and took Indian women as concubines. They converted the Indians to Christianity and put them to work. Their offspring are known as mestizos, which means “mixed,” and formed an intermediate and subordinate strata. Today the distinction between indigenous and mestizo is cultural and not biological; Indians who speak Spanish and live outside their homelands are considered mestizo.                                                       

Eventually Spaniards born in the New World, known as creoles, chafed against the colonial administration and its demand for taxes and began to conceive of themselves as Mexicans. They launched the movement for independence in 1810. The radical wing of that movement, led by José María Morelos, Vicente Guerrero, and the Father Miguel Hidalgo, included masses of the poor in their armies and fought for equality and an end to slavery. The conservative independentistas came to power, in 1821, and sought to retain the existing social hierarchy, including the hacienda system, without the Spanish overlords. Nineteenth century battles between liberals and conservatives continued that conflict, between the maintenance of a system of entrenched privilege and the opening up to capitalist development and an expanding middle class.

Porfirio Díaz: Progress and Order

Porfirio Díaz came to power in 1876 and imposed authoritarian rule, courted foreign investment, and presided over an era of economic expansion for the benefit of the elite. He ruled Mexico with an iron fist until 1911, when the Mexican Revolution brought him down. U.S. and European investors bought the concessions for most of Mexico’s natural resources, including petroleum, mining, and timbering, along with immense tracts of land, particularly in the arid North. Much of this land had been used by local folk as common pasture and woodland before it was privatized, surveyed, and sold. The enclosures of the commons and the appointment of outsiders as local political bosses aroused the communities against the regime.[5] Phelps Dodge developed a copper mine near Nacozari, Sonora, and Colonel William C. Greene bought the copper mine at Cananea, drawing workers from the borderlands and beyond.

Díaz ruled with an implacable hand. He imposed harsh penalties for protest and gagged the opposition press. He appointed governors and municipal authorities to positions that had previously been elected by the communities and sent his cronies to rule distant states. He brought foreign investors to build railways, and the trains took Mexico’s natural resources out of the country: timber, copper and other ore, cotton, sugar, henequen, and tropical hardwoods.[6] The transfer of wealth impoverished local economies and enriched the elite. The railroad connected Mexico City with El Paso, Texas, and brought an economic boom, facilitating mining and cattle exports to the United States and raising land values. Geronimo’s final defeat in 1886 meant the end of Apache raids, and Chihuahua’s population increased. The railroad brought in troops to subdue not only the Apaches but also strikes and village rebellions. It also offered villagers the means of escape and carried railway workers with radical ideas and newspapers, including Regeneración. [7]

Modernization allowed the poor to be more efficiently exploited. Eight thousand Yaqui of Sonora were rounded up and transported to the Yucatán to work as slaves in the henequen fields.[8] Other workers were enslaved by debts to the company store. When haciendas changed hands, the peons were listed on the bill of sale, along with livestock and equipment. The countryside was pillaged to supply industry and the cities, peasants were forced into wage labor and slavery, while others were press-ganged into a corrupt and officer-burdened army. The benefits of modern expansion went to the rich and the new urban middle class, while countryfolk starved.                           

The Partido Liberal Mexicano was founded in 1901 to oppose the dictatorship, with the newspaper Regeneración as its primary tool for agitating and organizing. Its central figure was Ricardo Flores Magón, who fled into exile in the U.S. in 1904 and brought the paper with him. Among other leaders were his brother, Enrique Flores Magón, Juan Sarabia, Librado Rivera, Antonio Villarreal, and Lázaro Gutiérrez de Lara. Regeneración promoted a positive ideal of society organized through cooperation, without bosses, priests, landlords, or politicians. Their slogan was Tierra y Libertad, Land and Liberty, which became the slogan of the Mexican Revolution. 

The magónistas organized liberal clubs and published newspapers on both sides of the border. Forced into exile, they brought their ideals with them and fought not only for a Mexican change of regime but for working people everywhere: “…the cause of the wage-slave against his master has no frontiers; it is not a national problem but a universal conflict; it is the cause of all the disinherited the world over, of every one who has to work with his hands and his brains to bring his family a loaf of bread.”[9] Particularly active among borderland miners, they suffered repression from the governments of the U.S. and Mexico. Agents of the two nations spied on, jailed, beat, and tortured them, and, time and again, destroyed their printing presses. The ferocity of the forces set against them deepened their commitment.[10] 

The PLM had an important chapter in Douglas, Arizona: Club Libertad, founded in August 1905 and accepted by the Junta, the PLM leadership, early in 1906.[11] By summer it had approximately 300 members. Who joined the club? When Phelps Dodge and Calumet & Arizona moved their copper smelters from Bisbee to Douglas and connected them to nearby mines with a railroad, a new town grew up overnight. Some three hundred workers followed their jobs and became the nucleus of the local Mexican community. They were clustered in the area closest to the border, south of the red light district on Sixth, or Green, Street; around Seventeenth Street in a neighborhood the Anglos called Ragtown; on Seventh Street near C Avenue; and in Pirtleville, or Pueblo Nuevo, an unincorporated settlement near the smelter.[12]

Although the founding document of the Club said not a word about workers, its members were laborers, artisans, and the owners of small businesses. They were part of an army of Mexican laborers who migrated throughout the borderlands, from Cananea and Nacozari to Clifton–Morenci, Bisbee, and Patagonia, and beyond. The turnover in mining and related industries was high; before 1910, most western miners kept their jobs for less than two years.[13] Vast community networks developed between mining camps and agricultural fields and from town to town. PLM organizers were part of these networks, bringing Regeneración with them as they moved from one camp to the next.[14]

Mining was once skilled work, with independent prospectors and gambusinos hunting gold and silver in the outback. Mexican miners from Sonora and Chihuahua brought their skills to Arizona and used traditional technology to build the first smelters. With the invention of electricity and the demand for copper wire, copper mining became industrialized, requiring huge amounts of capital to invest not only in mines but in concentrators, mills, smelters, and railroads,  and the necessary hordes of workers. Anglos, no matter their experience, were favored while Mexicans were considered “unskilled” labor. All miners were subject to discipline that calculated how to extract the maximum effort for the minimum reward, but industrial conditions also brought people together and made it easier for them to organize.[15]

The smelter and railway workers who formed the Club Libertad came together out of love for their homeland but also to fight for their rights as workers. They published their own newspaper, El Demócrata, and distributed Regeneración. They met once or twice a week. They had a meeting place, described as the Halfway House, probably a cantina on the poorly patrolled frontier between Douglas and Agua Prieta. Sometimes that area was described as “oro y plata,” or the place where U.S. gold-backed dollars met Mexican silver pesos. The Club’s official address was Ferrocarril number 9, the home of Lázaro Puente and Antonio de Pío Araujo, two of the founders. Their meetings, like those of the mutualista associations, fulfilled a variety of social, political, and economic functions, since Mexicans were excluded from Anglo institutions. Sometimes the police sent spies, so they turned their meetings into planning sessions to celebrate patriotic holidays.[16] The Club Libertad and others like it played an important role in educating and radicalizing all workers, Anglo as well as Mexican and other immigrants.

Strike at the Cananea Copper Mine, June 1906

On June 1, 1906, Mexican workers went on strike at Cananea mine, demanding an eight-hour day and equality with U.S. employees who were paid twice as much in U.S. dollars and had far better living and working conditions. The Sonoran elite insisted on low wages for Mexican labor, to keep peons available for agricultural work. Strike organizers were associated with the PLM and closely linked to the Douglas Club Libertad. The PLM in Cananea had two clubs and a newspaper, El Centenario.[17] 

Workers marched through town and gathered at the lumberyard, where the company turned fire hoses on them and shot several. The strikers set fire to the lumberyard, killed the managers and several employees, and set off to collect firearms from the pawnshops. Sporadic skirmishes continued through the afternoon and night. The company deputized U.S. employees and called on Phelps Dodge in Bisbee and the Sonoran governor for support. Phelps Dodge helped the Arizona Rangers organize a team of “volunteers” in Bisbee, and the Sonoran governor led them across the border at Naco. (The Arizona Rangers had been created in 1901 to deal with public “emergencies” such as strikes.) The Rangers arrived in Cananea the next morning on the train and stood guard around company installations. Mounted Mexican troops arrived that afternoon. Scattered shots and acts of sabotage continued until the miners sent PLM members to negotiate.The Sonoran governor imposed martial law and sent strike leaders to the prison at San Juan de Ulúa in the Veracruz harbor. Following the strike, the company introduced new technology to minimize the need for human labor.[18] The Rangers departed peacefully, but the damage had been done: American troops had been fielded against Mexican workers on Mexican soil.

Raid on Douglas PLM Headquarters in September 1906

The PLM published its Program in July, 1906, demanding radical reforms, including education, civil liberties, and the eight-hour day.[19] The demand for ejidos, or collective lands, to be taken from the idle lands of the large landowners, could not be met without threatening U.S. interests and igniting class war.

In September 1906, four years before the Mexican Revolution broke out, the PLM attempted a series of armed revolts against Porfirio Díaz. One was in Veracruz and the others were incursions from the U.S., showing the importance of the borderlands for transnational revolutionary organizing. Revolutionaries in Douglas, Cananea, and Patagonia planned to seize the Agua Prieta and Nogales custom houses, hoping the Cananea miners would rise up to avenge their recent defeat. On the U.S. side, they had long been engaged in smuggling arms to their comrades in Mexico. Douglas was a railroad hub to both south and north, and the Douglas club maintained dense connections with revolutionaries in Cananea, Clifton–Morenci–Metcalf, and beyond.[20] On September 4, 1906, mounted Arizona Rangers, led by the same Captain Thomas Rynning who had taken them to Cananea, raided the Club Libertad at the home of Luis García. They arrested 17 people. Raiders captured an assortment of arms, including bundles of dynamite, several pistols, and two red flags. Agents of both the U.S. and Sonoran governments had infiltrated the club. 

Among the articles seized in the raid were the club’s documents, including a letter written by Ricardo Flores Magón to Tomás Espinosa, appointing him chief of the revolution in Cananea, Douglas, and Nacozari, and instructing him to seize the two thousand rifles in the basement of the company store in Cananea.[21] That letter became evidence in Flores Magón’s Tombstone trial for violating U.S. neutrality laws in 1909. After the raid, the U.S. deported Luis García and his companions and the Mexican state sent them to San Juan de Ulúa, the notorious prison off the coast of Veracruz, where they joined leaders of the strike at Cananea. Most of what we know about that raid comes from the chapter García wrote in Las Tinajas de Ulúa, that describes the barbarous conditions in the colonial prison, once a fortress in the Veracruz harbor. The cells were so damp they were called tinajas, or tubs of water, and the harbor seawater that flooded the prison was contaminated by excrement from the city’s sewers.[22]

The revolts of 1906 failed, but revolution was coming. The Clifton authorities reported “… seventy five or one hundred Mexicans…left this district,” carrying guns, headed for the Revolution.[23]

Among the revoltosos who went on agitating was Práxedis Guerrero. The son of a Guanajuato landowner, he rejected the privilege he was born to and became a laborer and a radical, joining the PLM and moving to the U.S. at age 22, working as a journalist, longshoreman, lumberjack, and miner. In Morenci during the summer of 1906, he organized the Club Obreros Libres(Free Workers), which was infiltrated by a spy sent by the Mexican consul. When he was fired for organizing, he moved to Douglas to work with Club Libertad.[24] He later died in one of the first battles of the Mexican Revolution.

The Kidnapping of Manuel Sarabia, 1907

We know the Douglas club continued after the 1906 raid because in 1907, Manuel Sarabia, an important figure in the PLM, was in Douglas, working as a printer under the assumed name Sam Moret. On June 30, an Arizona Ranger arrested him at gunpoint and then held him at the City Hall. That night, the authorities bundled him into a car and drove him across the border, where he was tied to a mule for the ride to Naco, then taken to Hermosillo. He had managed to shout his name as he was first kidnapped, and word got out. He had many supporters in Douglas, and they formed a Citizens’ Committee that sent a telegram to President Theodore Roosevelt.[25] Labor leader Mother Jones was in Douglas at the time, supporting a strike in Bisbee and organizing smelter workers. She traveled to Phoenix and met with the governor of Arizona on Sarabia’s behalf while liberal clubs throughout the country appealed to federal authorities.[26]      

The Arizona and Sonora governors agreed to release Sarabia and eight days after the kidnapping, Harry Wheeler, who later commanded the Bisbee Deportation, traveled to Hermosillo to bring him home. The Mexican consul in Douglas was indicted for kidnapping, but the charge was dropped.[27] The case brought international attention to the persecution facing PLM members in the U.S. at the hands of the Mexican authorities.                                                                    

Why did the U.S. collude with the goons of Porfirio Díaz to kidnap a printer off the street? They collaborated because the PLM was stirring up protest along the border and because the Díaz regime made deals with the U.S. government to repress working people whenever and wherever they organized. Enrique Creel, ambassador to the U.S., governor of Chihuahua, and a member of one of Mexico’s wealthiest families—one with close ties with New York bankers—coordinated surveillance on Mexico’s northern border. He hired the Furlong and Pinkerton detective agencies to infiltrate, spy on, and harass members of the PLM in the U.S.; they did not give in but kept on publishing accounts of their troubles.[28]

Along with systematic surveillance by private detectives, government agents, and paid informers, the PLM had to contend with widespread support for the Díaz regime by major newspapers in the U.S. Two publishing magnates, William Randolph Hearst and Harrison Gray Otis, owned vast properties in Chihuahua and Baja California. Newspapers were an important means of communication and opinion-making; they were passed from hand to hand and read aloud. This is why the PLM put so much effort into publishing Regeneración year after year.

Why was Sarabia rescued so quickly? The U.S. labor movement mobilized in his support, and the kidnapping became an international incident. During the first years of the twentieth century, labor was industrialized and concentrated, organized by its own conditions and demanding change and even emancipation. The union organizer Eugene Debs ran for president as a Socialist Party candidate five times between 1900 and 1920.

In June 1908, the PLM organized another armed revolt against Díaz. Práxedis Guerrero commanded some 60 armed groups, but they had been infiltrated and the leaders were arrested. Three battles took place, two in Coahuila and another in Palomas, Chihuahua. Again, the federal army defeated PLM forces while their militants in the U.S. were detained before they could go into action.[29] 

The Industrial Workers of the World

When the PLM Junta went into exile, it did not hold itself aloof from its new homeland but struggled for the emancipation of working people everywhere. The PLM enjoyed long associations with both the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World, as well as smaller local groups.[30]

The story of their influence on the U.S. labor movement remains to be told. Centennial commemorations of the Bisbee Deportation of 1917 focused on the role of the IWW, a newcomer to Bisbee, and ignored the presence of PLM organizers and the contributions of Mexican miners radicalized in other regional mines, although a substantial number of the deportees were of Mexican descent and the PLM had organized a liberal club there.[31] 

The U.S. has a long history of separating working people according to race or national or ethnic origin. Employers favored workers descended from northern Europe, who were considered “American” or “white” or, in the Southwest, “Anglo,” and kept Mexican and migrant workers in separate jobs. The dual-wage system meant employers paid Anglo workers approximately twice what they paid Mexicans. Even in remote camps, living areas were segregated. All too often white workers preferred the privilege of relative favors and the illusion of racial superiority, as opposed to uniting with their fellow workers. During Arizona’s so-called progressive era, Governor Hunt, the American Federation of Labor, the Western Federation of Miners, and the Socialist Party, including Rosa McKay, supported the Eighty Percent Law, requiring large companies to hire eighty percent English-speaking or “American” labor. This law was passed but struck down by district courts.[32] The mining companies were against it, since they relied on immigrant labor.       

What do we mean by “Mexican?” Included are long-time residents of the borderlands, Hispanics from New Mexico, and people whose parents were born in what was once Mexico and later “became” the U.S., along with migrants from Sonora, Chihuahua, and central Mexico. Many folks moved seasonally across the border, going home for planting and harvest. Many were indigenous whose Spanish was a second language. It was the companies who regarded these distinct populations as generically Mexican, indicated with an “M” on payroll records, regardless of birthplace or citizenship. Even workers from Spain sometimes were considered Mexican.[33] 

Most Anglo labor leaders favored exclusion and the maintenance of relative privilege; others recognized the importance of inclusion and solidarity. Conservative unionism protected the few at the expense of the many. As long as white workers supported lower wages for Mexicans, the Mexicans could be forced to be strike breakers, but the threat of ethnic replacement could only be used against workers who saw each other as enemies. Some of the Anglo workers came from the California Gold Rush, where the more experienced Mexican miners had been lynched and driven from the fields. Others were from the former Confederate states of the South, including slave-owning Texans, who established the Democratic Party in Arizona as a vehicle for Jim Crow segregation and “white man’s camps,” such as Bisbee.[34] 

There was also the matter of historic justice. U.S. banks and corporations had been plundering Mexico’s natural resources, including its labor power, since 1848. In 1914, labor agitator Mother Jones visited El Paso and told the Anglo workers who complained that Mexicans were taking their jobs: “You voted for the pirates that went down into Mexico and took the land away from them. You gave the Mexicans hell, so they have a right to give you hell.”

As mining industrialized, union activity percolated through western camps. In 1903, predominantly Mexican miners struck the copper mine and smelter at Clifton–Morenci with no support from any official labor group. They organized through mutualistas, flexible mutual aid societies that sprang up to perform a variety of educational, social, and political functions. Mutualistas flourished where social life and housing were segregated and Mexicans were excluded from schools, lodges, and churches. They offered women and families a way to participate beyond the church and the street.

The Territorial Governor sent troops and deputized employers into action against strikers. Torrential rains washed down the mountain and carried away downtown Clifton, ending the strike. No one arrested any of the Anglo strike leaders, but the courts sent ten Mexican and four Italian strike leaders to the territorial prison at Yuma, among them Abraham (Abrán) Salcido, who met PLM members and read Regeneración while incarcerated there and later became a PLM leader himself in Douglas and Cananea. The strike was lost, but the mostly Mexican miners had set an example of solidarity, tenacity, and discipline.[35]

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) was formed in 1905 and was not like other unions. The term “industrial” means it set out to organize all workers into One Big Union, not solely those of any particular trade or craft. During the years leading up to World War I, the IWW had a powerful impact among factory workers in the Northeast and mining, timbering, and field workers in the West. They advocated class war, including sabotage, and their constitution declared: “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.”[36]      

The IWW organized a Spanish-speaking local in Phoenix in 1906 where it published La Unión Industrial. The Phoenix group was led by the blacksmith Fernando Velarde, who was probably Pima, and who also joined the Socialist Party, the Socialist Labor Party, and the PLM. Many activists were members of both the IWW and the PLM; the two groups encouraged dual membership. The lives of organizers were precarious and continually mobile, they rode freight cars throughout the Southwest. Fernando Palomares, born in Sinaloa and an indigenous Mayo, was a trilingual organizer for IWW and PLM. He signed his name “El Proletario Mayo,” showing pride in both his indigenous heritage and his status as a worker. He participated in IWW free speech fights throughout the west.[37] Rosendo Dorame, born in Florence, Arizona, and possibly an Ópata Indian, also organized throughout the Southwest. In 1911, Dorame led an armed excursion into Mexico. He was arrested in 1912, convicted of violating the neutrality laws, and imprisoned in Leavenworth for one year. Then he and Palomares organized an IWW strike at the Asarco smelter in El Paso and turned up in Bisbee in 1917. In Bisbee, where the PLM organized the Club Ignacio Zaragoza, the IWW sold Regeneración and the sheriff called Mexican strikers “magónistas.”[38] In Los Angeles, the IWW formed an all Mexican branch. Regeneración frequently included articles in English and other languages.[39]    

Women formed all women’s PLM clubs, smuggled guns and newspapers, sang at rallies, raised money, and formed prisoner support groups. The two sisters of Junta member Antonio Villarreal were full-time activists and published La mujer modernaand later El Obrero.[40] The entire family of Josefina Amador belonged to both the IWW and the PLM. She ran guns south across the border to revolutionaries and sang the “Marsellesa Anarquista” to the tune of the French revolutionary anthem, La Marseillaise.[41] Ricardo Flores Magón’s compañera, María Brousse, and her daughter, Lucía Norman, were essential to the survival of Regeneración and the PLM in Los Angeles, particularly during Flores Magón’s years in prison.

The repression leveled against the PLM, the trials, the Sarabia kidnapping, and the exposé Barbarous Mexico, combined with the support of Mother Jones and other prominent leftists, made the PLM a popular cause among progressives in the U.S.

Later Years

Three traditions nourished the ideology of the PLM: Mexican liberalism, European anarchism, and indigenous communalism. After Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821, conservatives and liberals battled until Porfirio Díaz came to power in 1876. The conservatives fought for the old regime, the church, and the big landowners. The liberals fought to separate church and state and for an end to feudal privileges. There was a strong component of anti-imperialism within the liberal tradition, given the old regime’s ties to both Spain and France. This is the sense in which Ricardo Flores Magón and his comrades called themselves “liberals.”

The work of Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist, and his ideal society based on mutual aid, and not on competitive individualism, also influenced the PLM. They followed Mikhail Bakunin and Pierre-Joseph Prudhomme, who stated, “Property is theft.” Their anarchism was close to the communal traditions of Mexico’s indigenous peoples, who worked the land in common, chose leaders among themselves, and rejected modernity.[42] The PLM’s ideology evolved over the years and by 1911, during the initial phases of the Revolution, Ricardo Flores Magón declared his anarchism openly.[43]                                                       

The PLM was against the three-headed hydra: private property, government authority, and the church. They believed in radical egalitarianism and rejected voting and the electoral system. They advocated women’s rights, birth control, and “free love”—free of marriage, that is. Being full-time revolutionaries, they lived and worked together, regardless of marital or blood ties, creating a new sort of family and exemplary cooperative association. For several years some of the leaders lived together in a farming commune outside Los Angeles.[44] According to Claudio Lomnitz, “communism was not a utopia but rather an everyday reality, created by the need to pool resources . . . to explode traditional family structures so as to admit perfect strangers to the most intimate situations, and . . . to build transcendental goals in the face of the breakdown of traditional morality, customs, and habits.”[45] 

In Los Angeles, where the Junta settled in 1906, they became close to members of the Socialist Party including John Kenneth Turner and Ethel Duffy Turner, who led a grassroots international solidarity campaign called the Mexican Cause.[46] In 1908, John Kenneth Turner traveled throughout the republic to report on conditions faced by Sonora’s Yaquis, who were being rounded up and deported to work as slaves in the henequen (agave) plantations of Yucatán in the South. On the great plains of Canada and the U.S., farm interests used henequen fibers to tie up bales of wheat. The state of Sonora had long been engaged in a war of extermination against the Yaquis, and this was one more front. Turner’s articles, published in the book Barbarous Mexico, sold millions of copies and evoked memories of both slavery and the Trail of Tears to the U.S. reading public. Barbarous Mexico was a powerful indictment of both the Porfirian regime and its U.S. investors and partners.[47] For several years, members of the group moved to Tucson and published The Border, a mix of glossy magazine and earnest political exhortations.[48]

The Tombstone trial of Ricardo Flores Magón, Librado Rivera, and Antonio Villarreal took place in May, 1909, while support for the PLM was at its height. However, the jury still ruled against them. Evidence consisted of dynamite, arms, correspondence seized in the Douglas raid of 1906, and a spy for the Sonoran government, who perjured himself on the stand. The three-day trial was a spectacle with verbal fireworks. At one point Teresa Villarreal shouted out in defense of her brother and was carried out of the courtroom. The mainstream press was against the PLM, the judge was prejudiced, and there were no Mexicans—nor workers—on the jury. The three were sentenced to eighteen months for conspiracy and violation of neutrality laws.[49]

When the Mexican Revolution finally broke out in November 1910, the PLM’s influence inside the republic was spent, although it had enduring impact on Emiliano Zapata and the Morelos Commune. Its slogan, Tierra y Libertad, has had a diffuse but durable influence on leftists of all kinds. It inspired the most radical provisions of the 1917 Constitution, particularly agrarian reform. The Constitution was drafted while forces on the ground were still fighting and was more radical than the regime that came to power.

In 1911, the PLM led a brief and chaotic foray into Baja California, holding Mexicali and Tijuana for months with a motley group of Wobblies, foreign opportunists, and soldiers of fortune. U.S.  participation in the adventure left the PLM vulnerable to charges of enabling Baja’s threatened annexation to the U.S.[50]              

Six months after the start of the Revolution, when Porfirio Díaz—who had been the PLM’s primary target—resigned, the PLM lost its focus. Francisco Madero, a wealthy landowner, came to power and offered to make Ricardo Flores Magón his vice-president, in recognition of his long agitation against Díaz, and Flores Magón refused. This split the PLM, since many in the Junta supported Madero’s reform platform which was close to the PLM’s 1906 program although the PLM’s actions had been far more radical. A number of longtime cadre joined Madero’s forces, prompting Flores Magón to curse them as traitors. The Manifesto of 1911 and its declaration of anarchist principals alienated many former allies in the Socialist Party. While the PLM enjoyed widespread support within Mexico from their long years of publishing Regeneración, they had no fighting force and were based in the U.S. They were eclipsed and sidelined by rushing events they had done so much to prepare for.[51]                

In 1918, Ricardo Flores Magón and Librado Rivera were arrested again and convicted of violating the 1917 Espionage Act. Flores Magón was sentenced to twenty years—a death sentence—and Librado Rivera to fifteen. The two were eventually transferred to the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. Flores Magón refused both a pension offered by the new Mexican government—because it came from the state—and a pardon, since he would have to admit guilt. In prison he sang the Internationale and La Marseillaise upon awakening each morning and continued his habitual day-long correspondence.[52]

On November 21, 1922, Ricardo Flores Magón died at age 48 from a heart attack compounded by medical neglect. He was diabetic, tubercular, almost blind, and had long suffered from malnutrition and overwork. He had spent more than half his exile years, from 1904 to 1922, in prison. His body was returned to Mexico City by the railway workers’ union and thronged at every stop. He was buried in the Rotunda of Illustrious Persons.[53]


The early twentieth century was a time of intense class polarization, along with vast migrations and uprootings. Most histories of social and workplace struggle have focused either on Mexico or on the United States. A focus on the Partido Liberal Mexicano as a revolutionary network engaged in a circular struggle in a transnational space knits the stories of the two countries together.

© Elizabeth Henson. Please request permission of author before reprinting.

* Elizabeth Henson received a PhD in History from the University of Arizona in 2015. She is the author of Agrarian Revolt in the Sierra of Chihuahua, 1959–1965 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2019). She is currently working with the Douglas Oral History Project.

[1] ¡Tierra y Libertad!, “Land and Liberty!”; Elizabeth Henson, Agrarian Revolt in the Sierra of Chihuahua, 1959–1965 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2019).

[2] Note on Sources: This article is a broad outline of complex historical events and changes over time. There is an enormous amount of literature on the PLM on Mexican labor in the borderlands, miners, and Wobblies, and I could cite multiple sources for most paragraphs. I try to indicate the most rewarding options for a reader wishing to go further. The sources are in English, with the exception of http://www.archivomagon.net, available online, and some recommendations, available through interlibrary loan. For additional sources in Spanish, see archivomagon or write me in care of the Cochise County Historical Society.

[3] For a general history of the PLM in the United States, see Claudio Lomnitz, The Return of Ricardo Flores Magón (New York: Zone Books, 2014); Ward S. Albro, Always a Rebel: Ricardo Flores Magón and the Mexican Revolution (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1992); W. Dirk Raat, Revoltosos: Mexico’s Rebels in the United States, 1903–1923 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1981); Chaz Bufe and Mitchell Cowen Verter, Dreams of Freedom: A Ricardo Flores Magón Reader (Oakland: AK Press, 2005); and archivomagon.net (in Spanish).

[4] For the nineteenth century, see Colin M. MacLachlan and William H. Beezley, Mexico’s Crucial Century, 1810–1910 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010) and Paul J. Vanderwood, Disorder and Progress: Bandits, Police, and Mexican Development (Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarship Resources, 1992).

[5] See Mark Wasserman, Everyday Life and Politics in Nineteenth Century Mexico: Men, Women, and War (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000), Part III, “The Age of Order and Progress.”

[6] John Mason Hart, Empire and Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

[7] John H. Coatsworth, Growth Against Development: The Economic Impact of Railroads in Porfirian Mexico (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University, 1981).

[8] John Kenneth Turner, Barbarous Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1969, originally published 1910).

[9]  “The Mexican Liberal Party to the Workers of the United States of America, November 7, 1914,” Mother Earth, April, 1915, p. 86.

[10] Justin Akers Chacón, Radicals in the Barrio: Magonistas, Socialists, Wobblies, and Communists in the Mexican American Working Class (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2018), pp. 148-154.

[11] “Club Libertad of Douglas,” https://revoltososindouglas.com/additional-documents-2/, consulted August 6, 2020.

[12] Diana Hadley, “Border Boom Town: Douglas, Arizona, 1900–1920,” The Cochise Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 3, Fall 1987, pp. 3-47; Katherine Benton-Cohen, Borderline Americans: Racial Division and Labor War in the Arizona Borderlands (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 109; Josiah Heyman, “The Oral History of the Mexican American Community of Douglas, Arizona, 1901–1942,” Journal of the Southwest, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Summer, 1993), pp. 186206.

[13] Philip J. Mellinger, Race and Labor in Western Copper: The Fight for Equality, 1896–1918 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995), pp. 11 and 36.; Linda Gordon, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp. 44-52.

[14] Rodolfo Acuña, Corridors of Migration: The Odyssey of Mexican Laborers, 1600–1933 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007), Chapter 6, “Becoming Mexican” and Chapter 7, “Mexican Miners”; Devra Anne Weber, “Wobblies of the Partido Liberal Mexicano: Reenvisioning Internationalist and Transnational Movements through Mexican Lenses,” Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 211-224; Lomnitz, The Return of Ricardo Flores Magón, pp. 211-212 and 280-283.

[15] Josiah Heyman, Life and Labor on the Border: Working People of Northeastern Sonora, Mexico, 1886–1986 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991), pp. 54-55.

[16] Acuña, Corridors of Migration, pp. 125-127; Raat, Revoltosos, pp. 93-94; Teodoro Hernández, Las Tinajas de Ulúa (Mexico City: Editorial Hermida, 1943), Chapter 7, “Relato de Luis García sobre la captura y conducción de los precursores de Sonora,” available at http://archivomagon.net/biblioteca-digital/biblioteca-digital-ricardo-flores-magon/, consulted August 6, 2020; Ellen Howell Myers, “The Mexican Liberal Party, 1903–1910,” (University of Virginia, 1970), pp. 106-107.

[17] Acuña, Corridors of Migration, pp. 112-118; Raat, Revoltosos, Chapter 3, “A Specter Named Cananea.” 

[18] Samuel Truett, Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.–Mexico Borderlands (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), pp. 144-149; Raat, Revoltosos, Chapter 3.

[19] Bufe and Verter, Dreams of Freedom, pp. 131-134; Chacón, Radicals in the Barrio, pp. 131-143; http://archivomagon.net/obras-completas/manifiestos-y-circulares/manifiestos-1906/1906-20/1906-20/.

[20] Acuña, Corridors of Migration, pp. 124-137.

[21] “Letter from Ricardo Flores Magón to Tomás Espinosa planning the 1906 incursion,” https://revoltososindouglas.com/additional-documents-2/, consulted August 6, 2020.

[22] Hernández, Las Tinajas de Ulúa, Chapter 7.

[23] Mellinger, Race and Labor, p. 71.

[24] Práxedis G. Guerrero, Javier Sethness-Castro, ed. and trans., I Am Action: Literary and Combat Articles, Thoughts, and Revolutionary Chronicles (Chico, California: AK Press, 2018); Ward S. Albro, To Die on Your Feet: The Life, Times, and Writings of Práxedis G. Guerrero (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1996).

[25] Raat, Revoltosos, pp. 142-145; Albro, Always a Rebel, pp. 81-84.

[26] Mother Jones, The Autobiography of Mother Jones (Chicago: Charles Kerr, 1990), pp. 136-141.

[27] Raat, Revoltosos, pp. 143-145; Mother Jones, The Autobiography;https://revoltososindouglashome.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/the-border-manuel-sarabia-3.pdf.

[28] Raat, Revoltosos, Chapter 7, “The Creel International Detective Agency.”

[29] John Mason Hart, Anarchism and the Mexican Working Class, 1860–1931 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987), pp. 100-101.

[30] Colin M. MacLachlan, Anarchism and the Mexican Revolution: The Political Trials of Ricardo Flores Magón in the United States(Berkeley, University of California Press, 1991), pp. 27-28; Weber, Wobblies”; Chacón, Radicals in the Barrio, pp. 255-262; Lomnitz, The Return of Ricardo Flores Magón, throughout.

[31] For the Bisbee Deportation, http://www.library.arizona.edu/exhibits/bisbee/index.html; Chacón, Radicals in the Barrio, pp. 292-297; Benton-Cohen, Borderline Americans, Chapter 7, “The Bisbee Deportation,” especially pp. 209-210, and the Cochise County Historical Journal, Vol. 47, No. 1, Spring-Summer 2017, Centennial of the Bisbee Deportation.

[32] Benton-Cohen, Borderline Americans, pp. 83-85 and 201-202; Mellinger, Race and Labor, p. 39.

[33] Josiah Heyman, “Oral History,” pp. 187-190.

[34] Chacón, Radicals in the Barrio, p. 82.

[35] Acuña, Corridors of Migration, pp. 112-118; Linda Gordon, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), Chapter 6, “The Strike”; Mellinger, Race and Labor, Chapter 2, “The First Big Strike.”

[37] Weber, Wobblies,” pp. 189-190; Alfonso Torúa Cienfuegos, Fernando Palomares, Indio Mayo, Epístolas libertarias y otros textos(Hermosillo: Universidad de Sonora, 2016).

[38] Benton-Cohen, Borderline Americans, p. 210; Devra Weber, “Keeping Community, Challenging Boundaries: Indigenous Migrants, Internationalist Workers, and Mexican Revolutionaries, 1900–1920,” in John Tutino, ed., Mexico and Mexicans in the Making of the United States (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012). The author found a reference to the Bisbee Club Ignacio Zaragoza on archivomagon.net in a section which has since been removed.

[39] Lomnitz, The Return of Ricardo Flores Magón, pp. 282-283.

[40] Chacón, Radicals in the Barrio, p. 195.

[41] Weber, Wobblies,” p. 190.

[42] Chacón, Radicals in the Barrio, pp. 143-147.

[43] Bufe and Verter, “Manifesto to the Workers of the World,”, pp. 134-144; Chacón, Radicals in the Barrio, pp. 154-157; http://archivomagon.net/obras-completas/manifiestos-y-circulares/ manifiestos-1911/1911-60/1911-60-2/.

[44] Lomnitz, The Return of Ricardo Flores Magón, pp. 441-443.

[45] Ibid, p. 220.

[46] Ethel Duffy Turner, Ricardo Flores Magón y el Partido Liberal Mexicano (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de la Revolución Mexicana, 2003).

[47] Ibid; Lomnitz, The Return of Ricardo Flores Magón, Chapter 10, “The People Were the Sacrifice.”

[48] The Border, Tucson, 1908–1909, Special Collections, University of Arizona; Lomnitz, The Return of Ricardo Flores Magón, Chapter 11, “The Border.”

[49] Acuña, Corridors of Migration, pp. 132-133; MacLachlan, Anarchism and the Mexican Revolution, Chapter 2, Arizona, 1909; Albro, Always a Rebel, pp. 97-98. In 1999, the Arizona Territorial Justice Program sponsored a reenactment of that trial: Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, Tombstone, Arizona: Forum in the Above Matter, May 7, 1999, Tombstone, Arizona. Available in Special Collections, University of Arizona Law Library.

[50] Lomnitz, The Return of Ricardo Flores Magón, pp. 319-329 and 335-342; Chacón, Radicals in the Barrio, pp. 262-269; Lowell L. Blaisdell, The Desert Revolution, Baja, California, 1911 (Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1962).

[51] Lomnitz, The Return of Ricardo Flores Magón, pp. 286-292; Chacón, Radicals in the Barrio, Chapter 13, “Socialists, the PLM, and the Mexican Revolution.”

[52]  Lomnitz, The Return of Ricardo Flores Magón, pp. 472-480.

[53]  Albro, Always a Rebel, pp. 149-150; Lomnitz, The Return of Ricardo Flores Magón, pp. 489-492.

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