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The brief article below began with materials unearthed during research on the impressive Commandant Emilio Kosterlitzky, to which was gradually added organizational and uniform information from various sources.


Emilio Kosterlitzky appears repeatedly as an intriguing supporting character in Mexican History. Sources on the Yaqui Indians credit him with what might be euphemistically described as an 'overly enthusiastic' implementation of his government's policy towards that tribe. In Mexico's Great Revolution he is cast as an 'honorable villain'. His role in U.S. History seems to have been forgotten altogether. But enough of the notable commandant, let us move on to the men he commanded.

The RURALES, or Gendarmeria Fiscal "Rurales," or state police delegated to law enforcement in the
countryside, had existed in Mexico since the 1840's. However, these country police were sort of re-founded as the "Gendarmeria Fiscal" in 1885 by the then president of Mexico Porifirio Diaz. He promoted it as an elite unit of military police controlled directly by the Ministry of Finance. However, in reality the Gendarmeria Fiscal answered only to President Diaz. It was the 'Great Dictator', and only he, who had the authority to appoint or promote officers of the gendarmeria. This was because he needed to insure the complete loyalty of an organization that also served as his unofficial secret police force. The gendarmeria provided him with very complete reports on just about everything and everyone in Mexico. Furthermore, under the guise of law enforcement, and with very little encouragement necessary from the president, the gendarmeria permanently disposed of troublesome dissidents. They appear to have been a really handy group for a dictator like Diaz to have around.

The gendarmeria's official job was to protect payrolls, chase Indians, catch smugglers, and defend banks along the national frontier. Or to quote from their foundation charter of 1885, "The exclusive purpose of the Rurale Police is to maintain security on the highways, assist the city police, protect the safety of all citizens, prevent transgressions of the law, pursue apprehend and place at the disposal of the authorities all criminals." Troopers served four year enlistments, were considered to be "perpetually on duty," and were to remain constantly armed. The minimum weaponry permitted was describe as "at least a saber." Their nickname 'Rurales' was later justified because they were always patrolling the countryside and never in garrison. A second nickname for the gendarmeria was the 'Cordada'. This title has never been fully explained, although it probably has something to do with the verb cordar to rope. Kosterlitzky was sometimes referred to as 'Juez de Cordada' (Judge of the roped ones). Suggestions that the name grew out of the rurales affinity for hanging suspects founders on their actual preference for the 'El ley de fugo' (shot while trying to escape). Much hearty laughter was enjoyed by the enlisted men over this practice at suspects' expense. The most common joke being, "He got away, but just a little away."


If the officers of the gendarmeria were a hand-picked elite the enlisted men were, well, they were the scum of the earth, as their previously described taste in humor might suggest. Official documents stressed the high standards required of al recruits, however, the theory amongst most civilians was that a conscious effort was made by all gendarmeria officers to recruit men of the most horrifying, abysmally low character possible. Kosterlitzky had a personal preference for convicted murderers. The plan seems to have been to form a nation wide organization along the lines of the 'Dirty Dozen'. New recruits were issued with a light grey undress uniform and a large grey sombrero unless, as the story goes, they had been serving a murder sentence in which case they were given a black sombrero. A quick scan through photos of the rurales on campaign reveals black hats showing up with what contemporaries called a terrifying frequency. A more mundane explanation for the mixture of grey and black sombreros can be found in the section on uniform colors.

Unit Organization:
Administration of the Rurales was divided into Corps by state.
Each Corps Headquarters consisted of;

1 Commandant - whose rank was equivalent to that of a cavalry colonel
1 Quartermaster
1 Paymaster
1 "Second Corporal," or "2nd Cabo"

At this point it might be helpful to comment on the nature of 'rank' in the Gendarmaria Fiscal. First, most of the officers in the corps held multiple ranks in the Mexican armed forces. Promotion in the Rurales was slow when compared to the regular armed forces, so promising candidates would be promoted at one rate in the army - while moving up the ladder at a slower rate in the Rurales. Kosterlitzky himself was already a colonel in the regular army when he was still only a corporal in the Rurales.

Besides the matter of multiple ranks, the Rurales also placed their ranks in a slightly different order from that of the regular army. NCO ranks were in descending order of seniority; 1st Corporal, 2nd Corporal, Sergeant. On top of that, both corporals and sergeants were considered to be officers by the Rurales.

Each Rurale Company consisted of; one 1st Cabo, three 2nd Cabos, and 72 troopers or 'guards' (displaying the influence of police/prison work on nomenclature). Twelve of the troopers were 'honorary' sergeants serving at private's pay. I suspect that these 12 sergeants were somehow outside the normal table of organization, because the manpower totals of subunits listed below equals only 60 troopers and not the 72 listed on the company strength.

Each company was divided into 3 platoons. Each platoon divided into 4 sections, or "Fracciones," and each section consisted of 4 troopers and 1 sergeant. If necessary a section could be divided into two subsections of 2 men each to perform smaller functions.

Uniforms
At the time of the Mexican American war, 1846-1848, Rurale 'uniforms' were considered rather flamboyant and apparently not too uniform. Hats were invariably black, but coats could be red, green, or blue. Buttons were silver and the decorative piping was white. The coveralls worn were black, tan, or green. Lance pennons were either red, or red over white. With regard to shades of color, the red in the lance pennons was probably a brighter red than that sometimes used for the coat, and all colors not used on the pennon would probably be in darker shades. And by that I mean 'darker shades, faded by the sun and rain into more muted tones.'

By 1900 the uniform supplied to a new recruit consisted of; 1 blouse of course linen or cotton drill, 2 cotton calico shirts, 2 underpants of unbleached linen, 1 black wool neck tie (some units wore red ties), 1 grey kersey (a type of wool) jacket with a vest and pants of the same material, 1 dark red blanket, and 1 set of boots described as 'bay, chestnut,or natural.' The large hat (sombrero Jarano) was described as 'lead grey' and came with an oilcloth rain cover that could be either grey or black, whichever color was currently in supply. (So much for the mythology of 'black hatted murderers.') Horse furniture was of the same 'natural' color as the boots, and of the two saddle blankets provided one was grey and the other dark red.

All men wore uniforms of the same color, but officers - and remember, that includes corporals - had theirs made of better quality material. Rank insignia consisted of silver lace 10mm wide, spaced 2mm apart on the jacket sleeves. Commandant's had 4 rows of lace, Quartermasters 3 rows, Paymasters and 1st Corporals 2 rows, 2nd Corporals 1 row, and Sergeants 1 row of a 'more narrow tape.'


Pay rates for rurales were low and units were expected to augment their income through the seizure of criminal's property. Thus the practice of shooting suspects while they tried to escape was economically advantageous in addition to being a source of cheap entertainment. Officers received half the value of seized property, the remainder being divided amongst the men. Kosterlitzky always refused his share of booty dividing all seizures equally amongst his men. Consequently he may have commanded an unruly, murderous band of cutthroats, but they were all intensely loyal to Emilio Kosterlitzky.

Two Rurale troopers, with sergeant at right.
Close up of sergeant from above photo.
Rurale uniform and equipment: 1880-1900
Rurale Corporal, circa 1910
 
Rurale equipment, with date of introduction
Rurale rank insignia, described in text.
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