Praxedis Gilberto Guerrero died one hundred and three years ago on the morning of December 30, 1910. He died a hero for the cause of revolution in his deeply troubled homeland, Mexico.
Mexico was collapsing under the oppressive weight of decades of the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, and of oligarchs who benefited immensely and disproportionately from his policies. In November 1910, Prax and a comrade rode the train east from Los Angeles, California, where they had established a base for their newspapers and the Partido Liberal Mexicano organization, the PLM, founded and led by Ricardo Flores Magón. Praxedis was a brilliant writer, journalist and newspaper editor, and Magón relied on him to run the PLM’s revolutionary activities in the U.S. and Mexico. This was necessary because Los Angeles and U.S. federal authorities found ways to keep Magón locked up in Los Angeles County prison. Before boarding the Southern Pacific train to El Paso, Texas, Prax took his personal things to his Los Angeles American friends, the socialists and journalists Ethel and John Kenneth Turner. There he said goodbye, adding that he knew he would never return, and that his things should be sent to his sister in Mexico. He was handsome, dashing and well educated; he was from a wealthy provincial family in Mexico. But he had taken up the cause of the poor and dispossessed since childhood. He was just 28 years old and would not live to see his next birthday.
El Paso, Texas, just over the border from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, was filling with refugees from the increasingly dangerous and chaotic country of Mexico. It was a hotbed of anti-Díaz revolutionaries, and of U.S. and Díaz’s secret agents seeking to apprehend them. In El Paso, Prax called upon men who were veterans of his failed previous attempt in 1908 to begin the insurrection against Díaz. On December 19, Guerrero led his force of twenty-two men on horses across the Río Grande into Mexico, hijacked a train, appropriated horses, arms and food, took in more rebels, and on December 29 confronted the authorities of Janos, Chihuahua. The mayor of Janos agreed to surrender the town to Prax’s forces on the morning of December 30. But when Praxedis learned that this presidente municipal had wired for federal troops, Prax launched a surprise attack at 10 P.M. the night of the 29th. By morning, after a long night of intense fighting, the rebels gained control of Janos. But federal troops arrived and during the barrage of bullets that ensued, Prax took to a rooftop and was shot through the eye. He died instantly. The eye that hemorrhaged blood had once looked out at a world of pain and suffering for the masses of Mexican people; but it also saw beyond that to a time of economic and social fairness, and justice for all. On January 1st, 1911, the voice that was now silent echoed in the minds of surviving companions retreating across the scorching Chihuahua desert, and in the coming years still stirred the hearts of those who had heard Praxedis speak with his strength of conviction and sincerity. His words and thoughts continue to live on through his powerful writings. By May 1911 Porfirio Díaz was forced into exile, and the ten year long Mexican Revolution had begun and there was no turning back. One out of five Mexicans died from the chaos and violence. Hundreds of thousands fled the country and most went to the U.S. Southwest, especially booming Los Angeles where safety and jobs could be found. Eventually, peace returned to Mexico and a new social order began to take shape.
No one knows for certain if the body inside the monument built to house his remains in the capital city of Chihuahua, in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico is actually that of Praxedis Gilberto Guerrero, but he is remembered and honored as one of Mexico’s national heroes. One hundred and three years after his death, however, violence and fear have returned to Mexico, and his impassioned call for a world of social and economic equality and justice awaits fulfillment.