By JIM ZBICK
Yesterday, the city of Douglas, Ariz., marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Agua Prieta, Mexico, the first battle of the Mexican Revolution.
In some ways the revolution resembled the current unrest we see sweeping through the Arab countries in the Middle East. By the spring of 1911, a number of factions and shifting alliances threatened the long tenure of President Porfirio Díaz, who had ruled Mexico like a king since 1876.
In 1908 Diaz said that he embraced the democratization of Mexico, but many found that even some basic principles, such as freedom of speech, were not tolerated. Instead, they saw his policies favoring the wealthy landowners and industrialists.
The hacienda, or plantation owners, were allowed to bully, trick or blackmail the lower class out of their land and property. When the peasant population found itself backed into a corner with no where to turn, the government found itself ripe for revolution.
One of the most famous Mexican revolutionaries of the time was Pancho Villa. The bold commander, who also served as provisional governor of Chihuahua in 1913 and 1914, seized hacienda land for distribution to peasants and soldiers. He also robbed and commandeered trains, and, like the other revolutionary generals, printed money to pay for his cause.
In 1916 U.S. Army General John J. Pershing tried to capture Villa in a nine-month pursuit but the campaign ended when Pershing was called back because the United States was about to throw its military might into World War I. Villa retired in 1920. He was given a large estate which he turned into a "military colony" for his former soldiers. In 1923 he was assassinated after entering Mexican politics.
Today, Villa is heralded by Mexicans, U.S. citizens, and many people around the world. Numerous streets and neighborhoods in Mexico are named in his honor.
The revolution, which officially started on Nov. 20, 1910, involved all classes and just about every segment of the population. Men, women and children contributed to the fight for freedom in some way. The women were just as angry as the men about losing their homes and were eager to fight for their possessions.
In March and April 1911, Douglas, Ariz., which stands on the border with Mexico, had an American military presence. Captain Julien Edmond Victor Gaugot was the cavalry commander in charge of 45 troops.
Born in Keweenaw, Mich., on Oct. 22, 1874, he was the son of Rene Claude Ernest Gaugot, a French mining engineer, who for many years worked in the coalfields of Pennsylvania. His mother, the former Nellie McGalgan, was the daughter of the postmistress in Tamaqua.
His parents were married in the early 1870s and later moved to Williamson, W.Va., which is where son Julien was born and from where he launched his military career. As a young lieutenant he saw service in the Philippines before arriving in Douglas.
One reporter for the Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said Gaugot "had his hands full keeping impetuous Americans on their side of the line and preventing belligerents across the border from committing depredations on American soil."
Hostilities erupted across the border in Aqua Prieta on April 13 and some Americans on the Mexican side were caught in the middle of it.
"Americans in Douglas are in an angry mood because citizens who happened to be at the Nacozari Railway Station in Agua Prieta when the rebel train arrived yesterday were not given an opportunity to escape to a place of safety," a reporter stated. "They were caught in a corner by the suddenness of the attack, which was begun immediately with the pouring out of the rebel troopers from the coaches."
During the shelling of the town, 29 federal troops broke ranks and raced over the open field toward the American line, the rebels firing on them as they ran. At the line, they were stopped by Gaugot and surrendered.
While under heavy fire, Gaugot then crossed the international border to meet with the rebel commander to receive the surrender of a force of Mexican Federals, who were surrounded. Gaugot suggested that the federal garrison, with many of its troops wounded, surrender themselves to the Americans.
Gen. Arturo "Red" Lopez, commander of the revolutionary forces, permitted Gaugot to escort them – along with five Americans held prisoner – to the American line. Gaugot was thus credited with saving many lives on both sides of the border.
For his heroic action Gaugot was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award, by President Taft, on Nov. 23, 1912.
Currently, a campaign has been under way in Douglas to erect a public marker to commemorate the soldiers from the Mexican Revolution buried there and to honor Capt. Gaugot, who is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Gaugot's parents and grandparents are buried in Tamaqua's Odd Fellows cemetery.