Sunday, March 26, 2017


By Juan Montoya
It was December of 1875 when future Mexican dictator Profirio Diaz came to Brownsville seeking financial and military help to overthrow democratically-elected President Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada.
Diaz had lost the election called for after the death of Benito Juarez in 1872 to Tejada and was still smarting from that defeat.

So he went north seeking aid to overthrow Lerdo with his Plan de Tuxtepec.
While in Brownsville, he was allowed to set up his military headquarters at the house owned by the James Stillman, the son of Brownsville "founder" Charles Stillman. With Stillman's aid, he met with a gaggle of the leading New York bankers in Kingsbury, Texas, about 40 miles east of San Antonio and about five miles east of Seguin. It was at the railhead of the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad (GH&SA).

The bankers represented the New York syndicate that was battling English interests who also wanted the rail and telegraph concessions in Mexico if Diaz was successful and eventually came to power. Historian John Mason Hart wrote that the men who met with Diaz and from whom he sought financial aid were some of the most powerful bankers of the time. They included such men as Thomas Wentworth Pierce, the president of the GH&SA , Andrew Pierce, his brother, James Griswold, Richard King, and John Solomon "Rip" Ford, among others.

The Pierces were the cousins of President Benjamin Franklin Pierce, the nation's 14th president who had left office in 1857 and were well connected in Washington and New York. The president had envisioned the United States to extend from Panama to the Arctic.  Thomas Wentworth Pierce wanted to direct the construction of the Pan American Railroad which was to stretch from Mexico's northern border to Panama. He has already built a section running from the Salina Cruz, a seaport on the Isthmus of  Tehuantepec to Tapachula, Chiapas on the Guatemal-Mexico border.

His brother Andrew Pierce was the new president of the Texas International Railroad which was constructing a line from the Texas-Arkansas border to Laredo. He was also the president of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad which provided connecting lines from north and east.

Griswold wanted the concession of the line that would stretch from El Paso to Guaymas. Griswold was interested in the manufacture of steel and he wanted the concession to supply the lines when Diaz came to power.

Thomas T, Buckley, the president, of Brooklyn, was also in attendance at the Kingsbury meeting. He was a vice president of the Bank of the Republic of New York and served as treasurer of the Cleveland, Youngstown and Pittsburgh Railroad in New York. He was also a director of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, the Metropolitan Gas Company of New York and the Home Insurance Company. His presence at the meeting is credited for Diaz granting of the concession of an ocean to ocean railroad that included 200,000 acres of land to the New York syndicate in 1879.

In his memoirs, Ford noted that Diaz met with "prominent Americans" and that King promised Diaz his financial support if he would rid South Texas of the troublesome Juan N. Cortina, who had waged a guerrilla war against Stillman, King and other land barons in South Texas since the Americans had arrived in 1848.

"Diaz asked if the Americans would loan him cash," Ford reported years later. "He was told 'you are no doubt fully aware of the trouble that General Cortina is causing on the frontier...If you will give your word that, if successful in the revolution you are about to inaugurate, you will order Cortina to be removed from this frontier, Americans will loan you money.' General Diaz gave his word. He obtained money from American citizens...General Cortina has been under surveillance for nearly twenty years. Can any gentleman dare say President Diaz has not fully redeemed his pledge?"

Hart wrote that Diaz received $40,000 in contributions in February 1876 soon followed by separate grants of $14,000, $20,000, $50,000, $60,000 and $320,000 forwarded to him by King and Sabas Cavazos (Cortina's half brother) through an
intermediary named Alberto Castillo. Diaz kept his part of the deal. He held Cortina in a military prison and under house arrest in Mexico city until his death in 1892. He died in 1894.

Using the Stillman Civil War facility in Puerto Bagdad, Diaz set about to arm his insurrection to invade northern Mexico starting with taking Matamoros. He received at least $500,000 in American contributions to aid his efforts. During the winter and spring of 1876 , arms from New York started to arrive at Bagdad. The merchants of Brownsville provided ordinance that included 500 rifles, 250,000 rounds of ammunition and 2,000,000 recharging cartridges from the Remington Arms Company. After a prolonged siege of the city made possible by continuous arms shipments from the Whitney Arms Company and the Wexel and De Gress Arms Company in New York, Diaz's forces took Matamoros in April.

The continuous fighting on the northern border by Diaz soon exhausted the financial resources of the the Lerdo government which could not procure loans from the Americans. Hart writes that the leading families of the northern Mexico elite defected to Diaz and allowed him room to operate in the region. He lists the BAlli family in Tamaulipas, the Treviños in Nuevo Leon, and the Maderos in Coahuila who mobilized their resources to support Diaz.

Despite this, Diaz was defeated on 20 May 1876 in Icamole, Nuevo León by General Carlos Fuero, loyal to the government of Lerdo and Diaz was forced to leave the region and withdraw to the south of the Republic. Díaz, however, continued his campaign against the lerdistas there.

On October 26, the Congress affirmed the re-election of Lerdo de Tejada, but the president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Jose Maria Iglesias, declared it illegal. In his role as vice-president, Iglesias pursued the interim presidency.

On 16 November 1876, Díaz defeated government forces in the Battle of Tecoac. and Lerdo de Tejada had no choice but to surrender the presidency. As the only  a candidate in the elections called in May 1877. Díaz assumed the presidency.

Had the New York bankers and South Texas land barons not backed Diaz, it is doubtful that Diaz would have been able to install his 30-year dictatorship in Mexico.


Anonymous said...

Juan, I guess you did get your hands on John Hart's book, Empire and Revolution. Don't forget to document your source. It is very interesting reading with loads of information and as I read it, most of the info are facts where Charles and James Stillman are noted as very highly intelligent businessman, regardless of how much they were able to attain ruthlessly, as quoted in the book.

Geronimo Pena said...

I remember when I swam across the Rio Grande, juan! Good story, bro.

Anonymous said...

The Gringos backed the winning horse. Good for them! A Mexican, is a Mexican, is a Mexican. Why not have the Mexican you bought! Works for me.

Anonymous said...

Bravo. Great historical article about persons and events in the Valley. Unfortunately, most locals will not take the time to read it; if they can read. Great history here, but no one cares except Tony Knopp and a few others. Too bad...but this public ignorance allows elected officials to go without a public watchdog. It allows Tony Martinez and his commission to waste millions of dollars. It allows Eddie Trevino and his band of Democrats to change banks in a political move to "kiss up" to Democratic money men in McAllen....even if it cost our tax payers $300,000 just to make the change. That's a lot of infrastructure repairs lost.

Anonymous said...

People in Mexico supported him when he got himself in power... Twice