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Born in Monterrey, Nuevo León on August 20, 1850 of a
Central American father and a Mexican mother, he had begun his legal studies
when the war over the French intervention began. At age 14, he quit school and
went to war. He was under the command of General Ramón Corona; as a
result of the battle against the cacique called "Tiger of Alicia," he
was promoted to commander. A little after, when Corona was named as ambassador
to Spain, Reyes turned down the offer to be his secretary to continue being a
soldier. He went to the command of General Donato Guerra. His successes as a
soldier earned him promotion to lieutenant colonel in 1876. When Porfirio
Díaz overthrew Sebastian
Lerdo de Tejada that year, he soon called upon Reyes to defeat General Pedro
Martínez, which he did. In 1878, he was promoted to colonel. His military
career was going well and he was a favorite of the man who would run Mexico
By age 30, he was a general, having dutifully served in various pacification campaigns. In 1885, he was named military commander in his native state, Nuevo León, to defeat local political bosses; he then fought in Coahuila and Tamaulipas states. He was a political advisor of Díaz who trusted his judgment regarding the opposition of Colonel Garza Galán who had the backing of the Secretary of Government, Manuel Romero Rubio. Romero Rubio was a leader of the Científicos who was going to run for president. Reyes had presidential ambitions as well. When Romero Rubio died, the group was headed by Yves Limantour. Limantour became minister of finance. Díaz patched up the quarrel between Limantour and Reyes and the latter was appointed undersecretary of War and Navy on February 12, 1901. When the secretary, General Felipe B. Berriozábal died, Reyes was elevated in 1902. As Secretary of War, Reyes he created the Second Army Reserve, preparatory to introducing obligatory military service. He was promoted to general of division.
In 1903, he resigned to run for governor of Nuevo León and won even though Díaz was not happy about the decision and the local strong man, Ramón Corral, who was a rival. Both wanted to be the vice presidential nominee in 1904 but Corral was chosen by Díaz. Since he was unpopular, he was no threat to Díaz. Reyes was very popular in Nuevo León, for the state prospered and Monterrey was becoming an industrial city.
He left for New York in 1909, partly because the Científicos thought he was going to be a presidential candidate. From there he went to Europe on a study mission" (Díaz sent his chief rivals, including Limantour and Reyes) out of the country while he was being re-elected.
Reyes returned to Mexico on July 12, 1911 after Díaz had fallen from power and Francisco León de la Barra had been named provisional president. Reyes lost the presidential contest to Francisco I. Madero who encouraged Reyes to leave the country. Reyes went to Texas and tried to start a revolt against Madero but US authorities stopped him temporarily. On December 13, 1911, he entered Mexico; his call for an uprising fell on deaf ears. A few days later he was arrested and moved to the federal prison, Santiago Tlatelolco, in Mexico City.
From the prison he would escape and be killed trying to overthrow the government. In prison, he met and started working with Félix Díaz, nephew of the dictator, who had also rebelled against Madero. General Ruiz and cadets from the Colegio Militar rescued him from prison. With troops, he went to the Ciudadela to rescue Félix Díaz who had been moved there. On February 9, 1913 he died while attacking the National Palace.
One of his legacies was his son Alfonso Reyes, who became a leading literary figure, having rejected his father's militarism.
Based, in part, on Juan López de Escalera, Diccionario Biográfico y de Historia de México. México, Editorial del Magisterio, 1964, pp. 927-8.