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5: Naco

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   The Saturday afternoon before Christmas in 1983, the first time that I had crossed the border since returning to Arizona. Naco was the closest port of entry to Sierra Vista. If Naco had anything, I would pick it up and be done with my shopping.

   I first entered the Farmacia Naco, the Naco Pharmacy. I noticed a sign in both English and Spanish saying that the federal government reserved the right to limit sales of basic goods. Nothing in the pharmacy. I then crossed the main street, Madero. The cross streets were paved for only one block in each direction from the main street which I visited. Nothing but groceries. I went back across Madero, and walked into the CONASUPO grocery store.

   CONASUPO is a chain of stores, started by the government to sell staples at the lowest prices possible. I was not going to find any Christmas presents in Naco. Back across the border, I needed sugar. Sugar was about half the price per pound, or kilogram, that it was back home. But, there was none on the shelf.

  Soon, a truckload of sugar came. It was not in the highly-refined forms that C&H and even store brands here are; there was some brown mixed with the white. Should I buy some, and take it away from people who might need it?

   I remembered newspaper articles I had seen earlier. Mexico was in a state of depression, and needed hard currency to pay for medicines to distribute all through the country. I revived the Spanish I had not used for four years. Aceptan ustedes dolares, would the store accept dollars? Yes, and I left the store with sugar, in two clear 1-kilogram plastic bags.

   Crossing the border to go back home, I stopped at customs. I had the bags next to me in the car, so the inspectors could see them clearly. But, something got them excited. Maybe it was because there had been nothing much happen all day, and they had a chance to make something out of the day by seizing 2 kilos of cocaine. Maybe they became more excited because I started to pull out without closing my trunk after they had me open it. At any rate, I had to wait 15 minutes while they ran a check on my license.

  But, a lot more happened in the past. Maybe Naco deserved to cool down, after all that happened in it in a short period of time.

   Some say that Naco is a combination of the last two letters of "Arizona" and "Mexico". Others say that it is from "prickly pear cactus" in the Opata language. Possibly both origins were thought of, when the twin towns on the border were started in 1897. They were founded as ports of entry between Bisbee and the new mines at Cananea. By 1901, the railroad was completed between Naco and Cananea. Miners and mining equipment bound for Cananea went through the two towns, and copper from Cananea went through them in the other direction. On both sides of the border, there were customs buildings and adobe houses. Electricity was supplied by windmills on buildings.

   In 1906, volunteers who crossed and did not cross the border successfully, the governor of Sonora, and American troops assembled in Naco, Arizona for the strike at Cananea. When the strike was over, refugees crossed through Naco, Sonora. The mines in Cananea stayed active, so Naco, Sonora remained a large source of customs revenues. In the Revolution, Naco became a point of interest for every rebel movement: the initial rebels of 1911, rebels supporting Pascual Orozco against Madero in 1912, and Obregón against the federal armies of Huerta in 1913. Naco, Sonora changed hands so much that Americans who crossed to its saloons and dance halls did not know if the side they had cheered for when they entered would be the same side to cheer for when they left. Soon, the hotel on the American side plated the windows of its rooms facing Mexico, and advertised itself as a "bulletproof hotel". The plating did not stop every stray bullet across the border, though.

  When Obregón split from Sonora Governor José Maytorena late in 1914, his supporter in the Constitutionalists, Plutarco Elías Calles, held control of Agua Prieta. Another of his supporters, from southern Sonora with the English name of Benjamin Hill, brought 2,000 troops to Naco on September 26. They were hemmed in on three sides by the United States to the north, by Pancho Villa to the east, and by Villa's ally Maytorena to the west and south. The Constitutionalists had just lost at Cananea. They burned the railroad bridges between Cananea and Naco, to try to stop Maytorena's advance. Four days later, Maytorena reached the outskirts of Naco, and demanded its surrender. Hill refused.

   For a week, Maytorena probed the defenses of Hill. Afterwards, a brief truce gave an opportunity for Maytorena to bring in more Yaquis, and for more American troops to come from Ft. Huachuca to the border. Spectators started to come from Bisbee to watch the action. Some were turned away from the border by American troops, while others stayed.

   Soon, the truce ended. Some of the Yaquis tried to attack Hill from the north, and were met by American troops. Stray bullets killed two and wounded three north of the border. As the shooting went on, Americans supposedly tried to end it by dynamiting one of Maytorena's troop trains, and trying to steal his personal airplane. The Cochise County sheriff threatened to end the fighting with a posse of 500 volunteers. On October 11, the Constitutionalists tried to break out of Naco, and join their garrison in Agua Prieta. This attempt failed, and they retreated back into their trenches.

   By October 14, the Convention of Aguascalientes, an attempt by political leaders to end the splits among them and end the fighting throughout Mexico, ordered the two sides to stop fighting. Both sides welcomed this cease-fire. The convention itself broke down by November 1, and the fighting resumed. Villa's forces mounted a cavalry charge. As many of Villa's charges in other places would end later, it was cut to pieces by the defenders in the trenches.

   Five Americans had died, and 47 had been wounded, by stray bullets and shells falling across the border. More American troops came to the border, until their number reached 5,000. By December 23, American General Hugh Scott came to Naco, and conferred with Hill, Calles, Pancho Villa, and Maytorena. Villa said that he could remove Hill in 8 hours if given the chance, but, with the way the fighting had gone, Scott did not agree with him. On January 11, 1915, everyone reached an agreement for all troops to evacuate Naco. Villa and Maytorena could keep Cananea, while Calles could remain in Agua Prieta. An official named Acosta was named mayor, and allowed to keep five men to exercise police functions. Forces supporting Villa returned to Naco in late January. By July, the Constitutionalist forces of Venustiano Carranza came back to Naco. After Villa retreated there from Agua Prieta on his way south in November, Carranza's forces came back, and held Naco for good.

   In 1915, Arizona established Prohibition, before it went into effect in the United States in general. Many in Mexico wanted to ban alcoholic beverages. Calles banned them from Agua Prieta, while he held control there. However, many groups who fought for the winning commanders in the Revolution, and many which the winners did not care to fight again, made tequila, vino mezcal, and other liquors. The framers of the Constitution of 1917 opted to keep liquor legal, under federal control. Therefore, Naco, Sonora became an active watering hole. After it was completely rebuilt, Naco again became a large source of customs revenues. After a few years of peace, rebellions broke out in Mexico again. Most notable was the Cristero Rebellion of 1926 to 1929, which took place in most of Mexico except the north. Governors and generals in the north, led by José Escobar, developed the Plan of Hermosillo, and started to rebel in 1928. Early the next spring, having taken Cananea, the rebels came to Naco. They knew from experience that if they could take and hold Naco and Agua Prieta, they would have enough money to keep fighting for a long time. As a goodwill gesture to American customers of Naco's bars, they waited to start their siege until 8 in the evening. Their initial attempts to break the defenses of the federal troops failed.

Quickly, the rebels took the offer of a crop duster from north of the border, Patrick Murphy, to bomb Naco from the air. The bombs were made of dynamite, scrap iron, nails, and bolts stuffed into suitcases. His first two attempts on March 31 were duds. The third attempt hit the customhouse, but it also sprayed spectators watching the battle from the other side of the border on railroad cars. After lunch, he loaded four more bombs. The first bomb landed in a federal trench, killing two soldiers, but the other three landed north of the border. They landed on a garage, on the local Phelps Dodge office, and near the United States Post Office. The following day, the government troops disabled Murphy's plane before he could drop any more bombs. He landed safely behind rebel lines. He crossed the border when the rebellion ended, and was immediately arrested.

   On April 5, the federals brought in an airplane to bomb rebel positions. It was immediately shot down, and both airmen were killed. On April 6, the rebels tried to come into Naco behind three tanks. This assault failed. Large numbers of American troops came to the border to make sure that they did not come back.

   As the mines in Cananea were gradually nationalized, Naco dried up as a source of customs revenues. Its other source of revenue dried up when Prohibition ended in the United States in 1933. Naco became a separate municipality from Cananea in 1937, but this did not revive the town. In 1967, the railroad from Naco to Agua Prieta was completed. Now, goods could move by rail from Nogales to Cananea, through Naco to Agua Prieta and Nacozari without having to pass through American territory. The railroad was a first step in the reopening of Nacozari's mines.

   Today, Naco itself has about 8,000 people. It is growing fast, for 4,578 people were counted there in 1986. There is railroad and maquiladora activity in town, as well as the distribution of mining supplies. Elsewhere in the municipality, there is agriculture, ranching, and mining. In 1993, Naco is much more lively than it was ten years earlier. There are stoplights at the corners of Madero with Juárez and Hidalgo. But, it is not completely lively--residents still go to Cananea or Agua Prieta to shop, or go across to Bisbee, Sierra Vista, and Douglas.

   Naco is the closest port of entry into Mexico from Sierra Vista, about 35 miles. Before crossing the border, one goes through Naco, Arizona, with about 800 people. Naco is about 95 miles from Tucson.

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