Legend Larger Than Life
by Jim Tuck
Men of mythic stature invariably in inspire legends, and there is no greater proof of that adage than the career of man who is still today a leading folk hero in the Los Altos sector of the Mexican state of Jalisco. During the 1926-1929 Cristero Rebellion, when the strongly Catholic population of West Central Mexico rose against the anticlerical decrees of President Plutarco Elias Calles, Los Altos was one of the main centers of resistance. One of the most charismatic rebel leaders was a ranch hand form the town of San Miguel el Alto named Victoriano Ramirez. Victoriano Ramirez. Vistoriano was know as El Catorce (The Fourteen).
Shortly before than rebellion started, Victoriano had been thrown in jail on orders of his uncle, the President Municipal of San Miguel. The two men heated each other. Jose Lopez, Victorianos uncle, was a collaborator who supported the government, while Victorianos sympathies were with the Catholic ranches in the countryside. Lopez had sent five gunmen a horse race in nearby Santa Maria de La Paz, which Victoriano was know to be attending. The orders were kill him. But Victoriano, famed for his marksmanship, dropped the first two and the other three fled in the terror. (Along with marksmanship, Victoriano was also know for his skill at ridding and roping and for his amatory exploits.)
Victoriano broke out of jail and his enraged uncle sent a 14-man posse to pursue him. Using his intimate knowledge of the country of the countryside, his skill at cover and concealment, and above all his incredible marksmanship, Victoriano picked off every member of the pursuing force. Then he sent a taunting message to his uncle, the town mayor: Next time dont come after with so few men. (Years later, the Mexico City pictorial IMPACTO suggested that the story might have been apocryphal . Yes it appears in Por Dios y Por la Patria, a best selling book on the rebellion written by a former Cristero officer.)
Whatever one In his first action, he led a force that captured San Miguel el Alto. Defending the town were federal troops, and a militia of local quislings whom had been recruited by his uncle, the mayor. In the course of the fighting sharp shooting Victoriano aimed at rifle barrel held by the mayors son (Victorianos cousin) and shot off his thumb and forefinger.
The Cristero rebellion began on New Years day of the 1927, but by June it was nearly over. Well-armed federal troops had conducted a thorough sweep pf Los Altos and several of the top rebel leaders had fled- some to the United States while other hid out with Cristero sympathizers in Mexico City. However, due largely to El Catorce, the rebellion came back to life and lastest two more years until it was finally ended by a negotiated peace. (The Cristeros were never defeated in the field.)
Though unable to read or writ, Victoriano was a an intelligent man who had complete devotion of his men. Operating in the sierra around San Miguel, the terrain he knew best, EL Catorce led the Cristeros to victory after victory.
But this story ha a sad ending. A federal spy named Mario Valdez was able to infiltrate the top levels of the rebel leadership and incite other Cristero chiefs against Victoriano. After a Kangaroo court martial- at which the illiterate Victoriano was accused of write treasonable letters of the federal commander - - he was executed at Tepatitlan on March 17, 1929.
In Los Altos, El Catorce remains as much of a hero as ever, and Valdes as much of a villain. One of the civil resistance leaders during the rebellion was Conception Alacala. In 1976, 90 years old and bedridden, the fierce old lady expressed the desire to burn Valdes alive ¨with green firewood.¨
Today a popular street ballad about Victoriano still circulates.
Written by a blind street singer named Jose Pedroza, it goes like this:
Voy a cantar un corrido
Me encomiendo a San Francisco
Que a Victoriano EL Catorce
Lo Queria todo Jalisco
Im going to sing a corrido
I commend myself to St. Francis
That Victoriano EL Catorce
Was loved by all Jalisco