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THE RURALES OF MEXICO
BY EDWIN EMERSON
WITH PICTURES BY EDWARD BOREIN
ET a thief to catch a thief!" is supposed to be the principle underlying the creation of the rural police of Mexico. In other words it is understood that many of the men now enrolled among the rurales, were they not employed and kept under pay as policemen, would take to the road. Many of the best shots and hardiest riders among the rurales at the present time are reputed to have been notorious bandits.
In the public mind General Porfirio Diaz is credited with having devised the organization of a formidable force of rural police as a safety-valve for the warlike propensities of those of his adventurous subjects who, otherwise left to their own devices, would be likely to give trouble as poachers, smugglers, cattle-killers, horse-thieves, or outright highway robbers. Thus it is known that several celebrated bandits of the past were encouraged to "come in" under pledges of amnesty, and reappeared later in other parts of Mexico as loyal leaders of the rurales.
One of the most famous of them all, who as a bandit chief long terrorized the wild territory of Tepic between the Pacific coast and Guadalajara, I have been told by a rurale, was sworn in as a rurale leader by Porfirio Diaz himself. The general, while campaigning in that part of the country, had caught the outlaws in a tight
place and the bandit leader was delivered into his hands, helpless and expecting to be executed. In those days General Diaz carried a pearl-handled revolver of French make, capable of firing five shots. As the bandit was led before him, bound and with a lasso around his neck, the general slowly loaded all the chambers of his revolver and shifted the pistol to his left hand. Then he said shortly: "Now, which do you prefer? This hand with the five bullets, or that with the outstretched fingers?" The outlaw chose the right hand of fellowship, and has served Diaz ever since as one of his most zealous leaders of rurales. Such stories of Diaz abound and some of them are probably
As a matter of fact Porfirio Diaz is not the one who invented and first organized the rural police of Mexico. This was done some time before our own Civil War by President Comonfort, before the time of Maximilian and Juarez. In those days the first mounted rural police was organized to operate against the troublesome bands of mounted robbers of Mexico who, like the Manchurian mounted bandits of the present time, then infested all the wilder regions.
There is no doubt that many of the first rurales were recruited from the membership of various dispersed or pardoned
bands of outlaw riders. In those days these men were called cuerdados, "leatherclad," from their skin-tight buckskin clothes, worn by all Mexican vaqueros, or cow-boys. Then, even the vaqueros' hats were of leather, stout, stiff-brimmed, and low-crowned, for this was long before the latter-day Mexican fashion of huge sombreros with high, pointed crowns.
Under the Emperor Maximilian those of the cuerdados who remained loyal to the central government were reorganized into a force of native mounted sharpshooters known as cazaderos,-"hunters" -under the leadership of one of Marshal Bazaine's Crimean veterans who rejoiced in the nickname El Tigre, the "tiger." The majority of thecuerdados, however, cast their lot with Juarez and his "rebels." They did some sensational execution with their lassos while charging against solid squares of Zouaves bristling with bayonets.
On one famous occasion the cuerdados under Ramirez, who is now
the veteran chief of all the rurales, cut to pieces a whole battalion of Zouaves in the Sierra Madre mountains near Tepic. They accomplished this by stampeding a herd of wild mustangs and unbroken mules against the French soldiers at a point where a dizzy trail overhung a deep abyss, with barely foothold for one man at a time. Almost all the Zouaves were tumbled into the abyss by the galloping and kicking animals rendered frantic by being driven headlong down the steep trail. The place is still known in local tradition as El Salto Frances,-"The Frenchmen's Fall."
While Diaz was not the originator of the rurales, it was he who brought this unique fighting force of mounted men to its present high state of efficiency, excelling the native cavalry of all other lands, be they Cossacks, uhlans, hussars, Canadian mounted police, or even Texas rangers. The point wherein the Mexican rurales excel those horsemen of other
Drawn by Edward Borein
SADDLING A RESTIVE HORSE
of the wild mountain ranges and desert plains of northern Mexico. The fact that there are many notorious former outlaws and bandits among them only enhances the fighting efficiency of the force. Whatever else may be said against these gentry, they must be conceded to be handy with their firearms, to know the ins and outs of their country, and, having been hunted out of their lairs themselves, to be good, allaround judges of the man-hunting prowess of others.
No man ever gets into the rurales who cannot rope and straddle any horse, be it
amid winter blizzards or torrid sandstorms, when the people are friendly, or when every man's hand is lifted against the government's men. It means that intangible instinct for locality possessed by savages and wild animals, which is born only of the life in the open on the soil of their birth.
Thus a rurale who is sent out on some quest is not furnished with elaborate instructions or government maps. His captain simply tells him to ride to such and such a place and to get such and such a man. No questions are asked,