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
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
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.
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 "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.
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.
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
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.
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.