September 16, 2010

Los Insurgentes: The Guerilla Fighters Pt 2

Pedro Moreno

Lagos, in modern day Jalisco, was an important commercial hub, right in the heart of Mexico. In 1563, the area had merely been a crossroads, between two main highways, cutting through Guachichile Indian territory. These indigenious people so habitually attacked Spanish trading convoys, that the viceroy of the time, Luis de Velasco, ordered the area to be defended. It was decided that the best option would be the foundation of a trading town.

La Villa de Santa Maria de los Lagos was strategically settled by Spaniards, but, from its very inception, it had proved a hotbed of tension, between the settlers and the natives. Within 20 years, all but eight of the original settlers had fled or been killed. The viceroy responded by scattering land titles all over the town and its environs. The Spanish families, which took up this bounty, had to be fierce, desperate or downright foolhardy. Nevertheless, they came.


Lagos de Morenos, Jalisco.

By 1775, Lagos was a thriving town, on the eve of being reclassified as a city. Fortunes were made and lost here, as entrepeneurs rose from the masses and industries were created. This was in stark contrast to the hardships experienced by many of those living on its outskirts. In short, Lagos was like a microcosm of the country itself. Wealth in the hands of the few; poverty suffered by the exploited majority.

Born in the town, on January 18th, 1775, Pedro Moreno y González was one of the few. The Morenos of Lagos were not nobility; there were no fancy titles to be handed on. But there was land and money. Lots of it. His family owned several haciendas, dotting the Comanja foothills. This included Hacienda de La Daga, in Lagos itself, where the infant Moreno first saw the light of day. Moreover, he was the eldest son and heir. All of this would one day be his to command.


Hacienda de La Daga.

Moreno was well educated, as befit his future responsibilities. As a young teenager, he was sent away from home for further education in Jalisco's capital city, Guadalajara. Moreno entered Seminario de Guadalajara (Guadalajara Seminary), where he specialized in law studies. However, tragedy was to strike before he achieved his degree. In 1793, when Moreno was just 18 years old, his father, Manuel, died. School was over. Moreno had to now be a man. He was in charge of the family fortunes.

Back in Lagos, Moreno did what he was born to do. He managed his family's haciendas, with their huge herds of cattle. Lagos was the epicentre of a booming cattle trade, which stretched as far afield as the states of Guanajuato and San Luis Potosí. This was the source of the family wealth and Moreno oversaw that side of the business too. He too needed an heir now, to continue after he had gone. Moreno met and married Rita Pérez Franco. When his son, Juan, was born at Hacienda de La Daga, it must have seemed that the infant's life was destined to be a carbon-copy of his father's before him. However, Pedro Moreno was about to make decisions that would change everything.


Pedro Moreno.

It is hardly surprising that Lagos, with its history of aminosity between Spanish settlers and the local people, should have felt the quickening of the insurgent rising. Dolores was only a few miles to the east. As Hidalgo's Army of the Americas passed close by, it received an influx of new recruits from Lagos. The town's Spanish governors were nervous. The slightest suspicion of rebel sympathies could turn into intense scrutiny of the person involved. Actual participation was quickly punished.

Our Lady of La AsunciónA local man, nicknamed Camarena, briefly became a captain under Hidalgo. He was captured and executed, in 1811. His body was hung up, on the Camino Real a México highway, where it snaked through the center of town. It remained there, rotting away, as a deterrent to those who would follow in his footsteps.

Others did follow though; and their heads or bodies joined Camarena, in a grisly roadside display. At the end of the war, 305 insurgents were finally interred in the cemetery of Lago's main parish church, Our Lady of La Asunción.

As the owner of a wealthy network of haciendas, Moreno was one of the class of people against whom many of the insurgents railed. The policies, espoused by the like of Hidalgo, would cause a severe drop in profits, should they ever become law. Moreover, Moreno's family owed the acquisition of their land to the ancient generosity of an earlier viceroy. It might, therefore, have been expected that Moreno would be loyal to the crown. He was not. Moreno was convinced that Mexico's submission to a Napoleonic Spain was detrimental to his country.

At the start of the insurgency, Moreno had used his trading links to establish contact with its leaders. He offered support, in whichever way was deemed most useful. He was not called upon to fight. He was more valuable exactly where he was. With a busy commercial route comes information and Moreno was positioned at the crossroads of two of them. His own status, amongst the highest etchleon of Lagos society, also meant that he had the finger on the pulse of opinion and strategy there. Moreover, Moreno could easily smuggle supplies to wherever they needed to be. He had the money and the commercial contacts to deliver anything to anywhere.

Colonial Lagos by RagefrostHidalgo and his fellow leaders were executed; Morelos took over, at the head of the insurgency. Moreno's role in it never changed. He was as valuable to Morelos, as he had been to Hidalgo. All of this was done under the very noses of Lagos's paranoid Spanish governors, but Moreno's luck held for four years.

In 1814, Moreno was tipped off that his hacienda was about to be raided. There had been the threat of it for years. He had had visits and quiet words in his ear. Some of the words had not been so quiet. He had been warned that, should proof of his activities be discovered, then he would be arrested. The decomposing bodies of insurgents, hanging in the town's center, spelt out very clearly what could happen next. The threats of imprisonment became stronger and more incessant. Sometimes, Moreno thought that they might arrest him anyway, proof or not. Now that time had come.

Moreno took his wife and children with him, when he fled. He would rather have them where he could protect them. He was determined that there would be no revenge executions upon his children; there would be no ransoming them, if they were to be captured to lure him in. Removed from his haciendas, and consequently his trading routes, Moreno was no longer useful as a supplier and informant. He took up arms instead.

The Moreno family went south, to the lowlands of central Mexico. They had a property there, Hacienda La Sauceda, in El Bajío. El Bajío was an important agricultural region. The sheer volume of crops, that were harvested and traded out of there, earned it the nickname 'the breadbasket of the country'. It was here, starting in the nearby village of Comanja de Corona, that Pedro Moreno recruited his own rebel army. It was made up entirely of farmers.

Filling the horizon to the north-east were the mountains, the Sierra de Comanja. Moreno knew that Morelos had a small force hidden there, because Moreno had been keeping them supplied with provisions for years. He marched his new army there now, so to join Morelo's men and establish communication with their leader.

Sierra de Comanja

Those fighting from there were all military thinkers. Moreno brought an extra dimension to their strategies. He looked down from the mountains and saw the economic importance of the land below. There was bustling Lagos, the beating heart of commerce, with its roads, snaking like arteries, carrying the lifeblood of trade out into the rest of Mexico. There was the quiet Bajío, with its fields blanketing the landscape, awaiting the harvest to feed the country. Its loss could cripple the Spanish government. Its control could consolidate the insurgency.

Moreno took the initiative in building a fort, from which the rebel army could operate. He chose Cerro El Sombero, an imposing hill, nestled within the mountain range. El Sombero was so called because its upper reaches resembled the hat. That unique shape also made it eminently defensible, as well as providing a panoramic view over the region.

El Fuerte del Sombrero (the fort of Sombrero) was constructed quickly, sturdily and professionally. Its closest neighbouring community was Comanja de Corona, in Guanajuato state; but the hill itself was three miles over the border, under Jalisco's jurisdiction. Local authority confusion, over whose problem it was, could only help Moreno's cause.

El Fuerte del Sombrero


It took three years for the Realistas (Spanish army in Mexico) to take El Fuerte del Sombrero. During this time, Moreno commanded his forces from it, even after Morelos was executed and the insurgency seemed doomed. Moreno was unable to actually take the whole region, but that was not for want of trying. His men rampaged across the landscape, disrupting trade and meeting the Realistas in battle. Guns and cannonfire rang out frequently from the fort's buttresses, as Realista regiments made unsuccessful attempts to overwhelm it.

Inside, El Fuerte del Sombrero also acted as a place of refuge for passing insurgent fighters. A primitive hospital was established, within its protection, for those needing somewhere to heal from their wounds. Personal disaster struck here for Moreno. His eldest son, Juan Moreno Pérez, was killed in battle at the fort. He was only 15 years old.

Shortly afterwards, there was more bad news. Moreno's daughter, Guadalupe Moreno Pérez, had been hidden with Padre Antonio Bravo. Realista soldiers broke into the Hacienda La Cañada, in La Cañada Grande de San Felipe, Guanajuato, where the two were living. Padre Bravo was arrested and sent to Aguascalientes prison, where he soon died. Moreno had no idea what had happened to Guadalupe. His young daughter had simply been seized by Realistas and nothing more was heard.

As the days of the insurgency darkened, El Fuerte del Sombrero also became known meeting place for those wanting to join it. On June 24th, 1817, it brought to Moreno's door one of the rebellions more colorful characters, Francisco Javier Mina.

Francisco Javier Mina

Francisco Xavier Mina
Francisco Javier Mina

Few revolutionaries have blazed a path quite as bright and fast as Francisco Javier Mina. He came like a comet, in April 1817, and was dead six months later. In the meantime, he caused havoc.

Alone amidst the 14 Independence heroes, Mina wasn't Mexican. Some commentators try to make him seem so, by spelling his middle name Xavier, in the Mayan way, but Mina was Spanish. His parents, Juan Mina and Maria Lerrea, were affluent farmers, still living back home, in his native Oteo, Navarre. However, Mexico wasn't the only country fighting for its independence during this period of history. In fact, the whole point of the Mexican rebellion, at least inititally, was that Spain had been invaded by France.

In 1808, as Napoleon's troops appeared in his neighbourhood, 18 year old Mina had given up on his ambition to become a lawyer. He'd taken to the hills, with a group of ten like-minded friends, and formed a guerilla army in defense of his country. A natural born leader, Mina soon became their de facto officer. He organized raids upon the French.

Within a year, Mina was at the helm of 1,200 infantry men and 150 mounted cavalry. Their arms and horses had all been stolen from their enemies. For the next twelve months, Mina met Napoleon's men in open battle. He was reasonably successful. But, in March 1810, just two months after his 20th birthday, Mina was caught. For four years, he languished in Château de Vincennes, a state prison, situated just east of the French capital city, Paris.

Château de Vincennes
Château de Vincennes

Napoleon's government collapsed, in April 1814, which allowed Mina to go home. He was warmly welcomed in Spain. The newly reinstated King Ferdinand VII made him a colonel, in the Navarre Hussars. But all was not well. The monarch had returned from exile as a despot. One of his first acts had been to dismantle the democratically elected government, and all of their reforms, which had been established in Spain during Ferdinand's absense. Within weeks of finally being a legal soldier, Mina was a rebel again.

Unfortunately, the coup against the king failed and Mina was forced to flee Spain. He crossed the border into France, but that was hardly a country where he would be safe. Mina kept moving, eventually sailing to England. Here he could finally relax and try to work out what he was going to do with his life.

In England's capital city, London, Mina discovered other Spanish-speaking refugees. They weren't all from Spain. Some were from the New Spain colonies and circulating amongst them was a newspaper, 'El Español'. It was full of articles about all of the insurgency movements in the Caribbean, as countries there sought independence from Spain. Mina tracked down one of its editors, Mexican Roman Catholic priest, Fray Servando Teresa de Mier.Fray Servando Teresa de Mier Mina wanted to be brought up to date. He wanted to know if there was anything here that could help him bring down Ferdinand VII.

Fray Servando Teresa de Mier must have thought that all of his birthdays had come at once. He had spent years in a Seville prison, after writing an essay in support of Mexican independence. His newspaper now chiefly existed to further that cause. Now he had an experienced insurgent colonel asking for his advice. Mier wasted no time in replying. The best way to remove Ferdinand VII was to fight in the colonies. Might he suggest Mexico?

It wasn't difficult to acquire ships, men and arms in England. The British might have fought on the Spanish side against Napoleon, but they had also been locked out of the wealth of the Spanish New World for centuries. It had only been 34 years since Britain had also been kicked out of their own North American colonies. An independent Mexico, in which Britain had some interests, would suit her very well.

Mina took two ships across the Atlantic, and into the Gulf of Mexico, landing on Galveston Island, Texas, in April 1817. There he found the pirates, Jean LaFitte and Louis-Michel Aury, who had established a colony there. Texas was in Mexico at the time, which kept them safe from the American authorities. They were able to give Mina the latest information about the insurgency.

It may be assumed that LaFitte kept Mina's ships. Mina and his men set sail for the Mexican mainland, but they were ferried there in Louis-Michel Aury's fleet. (LaFitte used the diversion to gain overall control of Galveston, forcing Aury off it.) Landing in Soto la Marina, Tamaulipas, on April 15th, 1817, was the point of no return. Their ships gone, Mina led his army of 250 men into Veracruz. His plan was to find the rebel leader, Guadalupe Victoria. Their insurgency had begun.

Unfortunately, Victoria's had just been put on hold. No-one, in the Veracruz countryside, knew where he was. At least, if they did, they weren't about to share that information with a Spanish colonel. Mina looked like a Realista.

Hacienda del Cojo
Hacienda del Cojo

However, Mina knew how to play this game and the first thing he needed was horses. He raided Hacienda del Cojo, in González, Tamaulipas, making off with 700 horses. Then he headed into the Sierra de Tanchipa (Tanchipa Mountains). From there, he conducted a series of raids on Spanish properties, gathering intelligence along the way. It took him just over two months to learn about Pedro Moreno and El Fuerte del Sombrero. Mina immediately headed south.

Moreno and Mina

On June 24th, 1817, Mina was presented to Moreno. Devastated by the death of his son, and worried sick by the disappearance of his daughter, Moreno was only too happy to receive him. Here was a military man, who could bring his experience to bear on making the fort even more effective. Moreno immediately handed over control of it to the Spaniard.

francisco javier minaFor the next couple of months, Mina led raids and open battles from the fort. They were highly successful, refilling the storerooms and enflaming the morale of the insurgents stationed there. Sometimes it was personal. The Marquis Juan de Moncada had originally supported the insurgency, but had turned coat to join the Realistas. His Hacienda de Jaral de Berrios was in the area, so Mina led an attack on it. They returned with over 300,000 pesos for the fort's coffers.

Such intensified and, above all, markedly more professional activity did not go unnoticed by the viceroy. On August 1st, 1817, Colonel Pascual Liñán was sent, with a massive Realista force, to take the fort. Mina was good, but not that good. At first, they managed to repel the Realistas, but Liñán simply laid seige to the fort. As seiges go, it wasn't brilliant. Moreno was able to bring it up once, on August 15th, leading a column of men out into battle. The Realistas returned.

Mina was also able to sneak out. On August 8th, news had reached them that another insurgent, José Antonio Torres, was in trouble, at Fuerte de los Remedios, Pénjamo, Guanajuato. Mina and a small army rode to his rescue. He was able to defeat the Realistas there, before returning.

Mina wasn't in the fort when, on August 20th, Liñán began a renewed attack. At the 11th hour, Moreno fled, hiding in a ravine until the coast was clear. Those trapped inside weren't so lucky. These were mainly the injured and infirm, claiming sanctuary within the fort's makeshift hospital. Liñán gave no quarter. They were all executed where they lay.

The rebel army slowly regrouped in the mountains, where both Moreno and Mina joined them. With the fort lost, they decided to head towards Guanajuato. Here they could use Torres's fort as a base, from which they could attack the city of Guanajuato itself. They arrived there on October 25th, but the Realistas were too strong.

Rancho de El Venadito
Rancho de El Venadito

The insurgents were forced to flee again. This time, they met up at Hacienda de la Luz, where Mina ordered the army to disperse. They were to make their way home and await the call for further orders. Only a small band of 60 men stayed with Mina and Moreno, while they hid at Rancho de El Venadito. This ranch was on the road to Pénjamo, where Torres could help them. For now, it was time for a strategic rethink of the situation.

They didn't get chance to put any plans into action. At 6am, two days later, Colonel Francisco Orrantia descended upon the ranch, with a regiment of Realistas. Pedro Moreno was on the porch, drinking coffee, and he was taken by surprise. He was not about to be arrested without a fight. He was killed there.

Mina was taken prisoner and taken to Silao, where he saw Moreno's decapitated head on a stick. Orrantia waited for Colonel Liñán to join him, before Mina was given a farcical trial. The result was never in question. On November 11th, 1817, Mina was marched to within sight of Fuerte de los Remedios. At 27 years old, he was executed by firing squad.

Where to Visit:


* Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco. Once simply Lagos, this town is the birthplace of Pedro Moreno. It added the 'de Moreno' to its name in his honor. The Esplanade de La Merced (Church of La Merced) was where Moreno's head was displayed.

Plaza Rinconada de Capuchinas, in the city, contains beautiful gardens, surrounded by buildings dating to Moreno's time. A staircase links the gardens with the Temple de Señor San José. Upon the walls of this staircase is a mural, created by Gabriel Flores in 1962, which commemorates Pedro Moreno.

Padre Miguel Hidalgo once preached a sermon, from the balcony of an inn, in the city's Rinconada de la Merced. There is a plaque there to mark the place.

Casa de Don Pedro Moreno (The House of Pedro Moreno) is in Lagos's El Mesón de Jesús María district. It only technically belonged to Moreno, as he assumed the guardianship of its real owner, a deaf girl, when she was orphaned. There are murals, on its walls, depicting many members of the family, including Pedro, Rita and one of their sons, Luis.

In the El Paseo de la Rivera district, there is a bronze statue of Pedro Moreno. It is inscribed, 'Héroe del Fuerte del Sombrero' (Hero of Sombrero Fort).

* Comanja de Corona, Jalisco. There is a monument here to Pedro Moreno.

* Guadalajara, Jalisco. The Museo Regional De Guadalajara (Regional Museum of Guadalajara) is housed in the building of the original Guadalajara Seminary. In its former incarnation, Pedro Moreno was one of its students.

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