Trains Need Brakes
January 22, 1915: The Guadalajara train disaster takes place. The Mexican Revolution began in 1910 and lasted until 1920. Francisco I Madero led an uprising against Porfirio Diaz, the seven term President of Mexico and a controversial figure. Those who rose against him claim he was a villain while his supporters felt he was a hero. His 35 years of rule were a time of prosperity, modernization, and economic growth. It was also a time of repression and political stagnation. When he lost his eighth run for office, he fled to France and died in exile four years later at the age of 84.
As time went on, the Revolution turned from a simple revolt against the established order and morphed into a multi-sided civil war with frequent shifts in power. By this date, Madero had been assassinated and rule of the country had been taken by Victoriano Huerta. Revolutionary forces led by Venustiano Carranza and Pancho Villa had then wrested control from Huerta and Carranza became president in 1914. He and Villa had different visions for Mexico with Villa wanting to continue the revolutionary project. On January 18, 1915 Carranza’s troops captured Guadalajara. Troops stationed in Colima, on the Pacific coast and about 185 miles away, were to come to Guadalajara with their families.
A special train of twenty cars was grossly overloaded with troops and their families. It left Colima with people clinging to the roof and undercarriage. The terrain between the two cities is rugged and at some point between the cities, the engineer lost control of the train as it made a steep descent. With brakes lost, the train gathered speed. Some were thrown from the train as it careened around curves. Eventually the entire train left the tracks and plunged into the valley below. There were approximately 900 people aboard the train when it left Colima. Fewer than 300 survived the crash. Many of Carranza’s troops were Yaqui Indians and when they learned of the deaths of their families aboard the train, they committed suicide. Others swore vengeance against the crew, but they died in the crash.
The war drew on and eventually Carranza was able to produce the Mexican Constitution of 1917. Sporadic fighting continued even after this auspicious day and the war is generally considered to have lasted three more years or even longer. The Cristero War of 1926 to 1929 is sometimes considered to be part of the Revolutionary War. Carranza was assassinated near the end of his term as president under the instigation of a cabal of army generals because of his insistence that his successor be a civilian. Pancho Villa was gunned down on July 20, 1923 by a team of seven riflemen who fired more than 40 shots into his car.
My sole ambition is to rid Mexico of the class that has oppressed her and given the people a chance to know what real liberty means. And if I could bring that about today by giving up my life, I would do it gladly.
I am not an educated man. I never had an opportunity to learn anything except how to fight.
Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something. (apocryphal last words; although it is thought today he died instantly) – all from Pancho Villa
A force of tyranny which we Mexicans were not accustomed to suffer after we won our independence oppresses us in such a manner that it has become intolerable. In exchange for that tyranny we are offered peace, but peace full of shame for the Mexican nation. – Francisco Madero
Also on this day: Roe v. Wade – In 1973, the Supreme Court decided on the abortion issue, assuring all women a right to privacy.
Bloody Sunday – In 1905, a Russian uprising took place in St. Petersburg.
Pontifical Swiss Guards – In 1506, the first of the Swiss Guards come to protect the Pope.
Football – In 1927, an association football match was broadcast over the radio.
United Mine Workers – In 1890, the union was founded.