Return to site


Tom Miller

Where Was I? A Travel Writer's Memoir

Tom Miller is far more than what is commonly thought of as a "travel writer." With an almost uncanny ability to observe his surroundings and the intellectual heft to choose the telling detail, Miller's understated writing places the reader inside history. Here, in his recent memoir, Miller talks about a story that he couldn't quit. 

My local Tucson daily told of three Mexican campesinos who were robbed, beaten, and tortured on August 18, 1976 as they crossed a ranch just west of Douglas, Arizona. The ranch was owned by George Hanigan, a local businessman who, along with his two teen-aged sons, pistol-whipped the Mexicans, stripped them down, singed their feet with a hot poker, and tossed nooses around their necks. One victim had his hands and feet bound behind his back “like when you tie a calf,” he later said. The ranchers rolled the bloodied campesinos over with their boots on the 135º desert floor, and after freeing the Mexicans’ limbs, fired buckshot in their backs as they ran naked toward Mexico through the blistering hot ranchland.

I found my story.

Most writers, freelance or employed, can look back and point to one work—a chapter, an essay, an expanded piece of reportage, an entire book—that defined his or her ability, growth, and strength. For me it was “Hanigan’s Grave,” the chapter from my eventual border book that focused on the ordeal of the three campesinos.

I stuck with the story from the day after the incident to the morning of the final judicial verdict more than four years later. I spent weeks—months—in Cochise County and northern Sonora passing time with veteran Border Patrolmen, sympathetic cowboys, third-generation ranchers, friendly farmers, and helpful Mexicans. 

The Hanigan trial drew human rights groups demonstrating at the county courthouse, coverage in the international press, and theatrical reenactments in southern Arizona community centers. Singers Pedro Flores and Los Alegres de Terán recorded songs about the case.

Some in the ranching community supported the sadists. It was their way of declaring their attitude toward Mexicans illegally crossing their property. “If Adolph Hitler were running for office,” the Douglas High School dean of students confided, “he’d be George’s man.” Glancing at the all-white jury in Cochise County Superior Court prior to his opening argument, the prosecutor whispered to his partner: “If we win, we vacation in Mexico. If we lose, we vacation in Texas.”

The Hanigan brothers were charged with assault with a deadly weapon, conspiracy to assault, kidnapping, and conspiracy to kidnap, as well as armed robbery. (Their father died of a heart attack shortly before the trial began.) At the trial the three victims clearly identified the location, the attackers, and their brutality.  

Yet the Hanigan lawyers, a good-ole boy and his son, completely confused and manipulated the uneducated victims with their judicial vocabulary and poor official translations. By trial’s end the Mexicans were made to feel that they were the guilty parties.

The jury found the brothers innocent of all charges. The prosecutors could vacation in Texas.  

A schism erupted between the supporters of the victorious brothers and backers of the Mexican campesinos. David Duke came to town. A petition drive to reopen the case began. The evidence was so overwhelming and the incompetence of the investigating sheriff’s deputies was so staggering that international public opinion compelled President Carter’s Justice Department to bring the case to federal court. The circumstance of torture was the same—rifle butt slammed in Manuel’s shoulder, Eleazar almost strangled to death by hanging, Bernabé dragged by a rope next to a mesquite fire lit for the occasion. This time, however, the charge was different. The Justice Department brought up the Hanigan brothers on the Hobbs Act, a law that prohibited interference with interstate commerce. The campesinos were considered interstate commerce, so to attack them was a violation of the Hobbs Act.

The jury in Tucson federal court, which heard the same testimony about the atrocity as before, was hung for both brothers. The Justice Department renewed the Hobbs Act charges again. Finally, four-and-a-half years and three trials after the campesinos’ feet were branded, a jury reached a conclusion: one brother was imprisoned, the other walked. The campesinos blended back into the Mexican population. One, last I heard, worked for a traveling circus. Another operated a tortilla factory. I never learned about the third.   

I spent the better part of my thirties covering the Hanigan drama. The story of ranchland cruelty evolved into regional legend. Even when I’m not looking it continues to preoccupy me. Earlier this week as I write this, I chatted with a man in his thirties who was raised in Agua Prieta. I asked him if he knew about the case, now almost fifty years old. “Oh, yes,” he said. “My nana always said, ‘If you don’t behave, I’m going to take you up to the Hanigan ranch.’”

This piece is excerpted from Where Was I? A Travel Writer’s Memoir. Tom Mller is the author of 10 books about conflict and culture in the American Southwest and Latin America. Where was I? is his most recent.

The Hanigan Case

Excerpted from On the Border: Portraits of America's Southwestern Frontier.

broken image

Manuel, Bernabé, and Eleazar felt confident Wednesday morning August 18, 1976, as they crossed the fence separating Mexico from the United States. Bernabé knew where they could find work in the Sulphur Springs Valley and Manuel was anxious to locate his last employer, who still owed him money. The three walked through mesquite and scrub brush, resting occasionally and sipping from their plastic water jug. As they circled around the smelter stacks west of Douglas, Arizona, Bernabé, who kew the countryside best, spotted Highway 80, the first major landmark of the journey. Just then a plane flew overhead and the three dove into the hip-high Johnson grass nearby. La migra is everywhere, they knew, even in the air. Eleazar pointed to a man on a tractor in the distance, but his two companions shrugged. They were busy refilling the jug at a windmill.   

As they sipped some water a yellow pickup with a white camper shell headed toward them, and the three jumped back into the grass. The truck passed them - then stopped, backed up, and came to a halt. An Anglo with a black mustache, wearing work clothes and a baseball cap with an H on it, hopped out brandishing a pistol. He was the same man Eleazar had seen on the tractor.   

“OK, mojados, pa’arriba,” the Anglo commanded. OK, wetbacks, get up. Slowly the three came out from the brush as the armed man demanded in Spanish: "Where are you going?" "We're going to Elfrida to work," Bernabé replied.   

The man pointed to a paper bag they were carrying. “What's in there?”  

"Just food and clothing," Eleazar answered.  

"All right, you fucking wetbacks," the young rancher con­tinued in Spanish. ''You're not going anywhere. All you wets do is come here to rob and then you go back to Mexico."  

Manuel protested. "No. We're not here to do any damage, we're here to work. There's no work in Mexico.”

"There's lots of work in Mexico," the man countered angrily as he motioned them into the camper with his gun and shut the door.  

"I guess he's going to turn us over to la migra," Manuel said, recalling his previous departure from the United States a few weeks earlier. "Well," added Bernabé, "we'll just have to start all over again tomorrow.”

The truck carried them to Highway 80 where it turned west, then into a driveway leading to a ranch house north of the highway. The driver got out and went into the house.  

The mustachioed man returned fifteen minutes later and opened the camper door. "Are you hot?" he asked. The temperature hovered just under ninety degrees, and the three nodded quickly. The gunman led them over to some shade next to the house. Again he asked why they were in the United States. "We can't find any work back home," Bernabé replied.  

A blue pickup, also with a white camper shell, pulled into the driveway and a well-dressed elderly businessman carrying a rifle emerged. He glared at the three. "Wetbacks?" he asked the gunman. The young man nodded and the two talked in English. The old man, a stocky fellow with· a weather-beaten face, went into the house. When he came out a short time later he wore denim pants, a plaid shirt, a red kerchief, and a straw cowboy hat. "Entienden ingles?" he asked the apprehensive Mexicans. Do you understand English? They did not. Just then a third pickup arrived, hauling a cow in a trailer behind it. A tall baby-faced cowboy hopped out, a handgun tucked in his waistband; His right wrist was wrapped in a white bandage.  

"Ah, mojados!" the newcomer smiled. He turned his atten­tion to Manuel. "I know you..You stole three rifles and a pistol from me.”  

Manuel furrowed his' forehead. "No, that's not true. I've never been here before.”  

"I know you by the shoes you're wearing," the baby-faced cowboy charged. Manuel was wearing the only pair he owned, a black patent leather pair with platform heels.  

"These shoes were given to me by Don Antonio Hernandez of Agua Prieta," an old family friend at whose house Manuel had been living and in whose junkyard he had worked.  

"Liar," Baby-Face spat out. "All Mexicans are thieves."  

"You're crazy! I've never been here before.”  

"Shut up!" Baby-Face shouted back. 

"OK, back in the truck," their original abductor ordered. Manuel, Bernabé, and Eleazar sensed that the Border Patrol was not coming after all. 

broken image

Richard Misrach, Border Cantos

As the three Mexicans watched from the camper, Baby-Face took some rope from his pickup and got into the cab of the yellow pickup with el bigote, the mustachioed one. With the old man following in his truck, el bigote and Baby-Face drove the Mexicans to an arroyo near the original windmill site. They told Manuel to get out and lie down.

Manuel Garcia Loya resisted at first. The eldest of ten chil­dren, twenty-five-year-old Manuel had hitchhiked to the border seven weeks before from Ciudad Chihuahua, where his father worked on construction crews. He crossed near Naco and found a job at seventy-five cents an hour cleaning out tree wells at the Pride of· Cochise apple orchard near Willcox, Arizona. He figured to send some money home andwork his way north until he got to Chicago, where he had heard Mexicans could earn high wages. His dream ended abruptly when the Border Patrol raided the apple orchard twelve days later and shipped him back to Mexico before he even got paid.

The three were insistent. Manuel stub­bornly refused. As el bigote held him, Baby-Face took some rope and tied Manuel's wrists behind him. The two threw him to the ground while the old man stood guard with his shotgun and laughed. 

Eighteen-year-old Bernabé Herrera Mata was next. The el­dest of seven children, Bernabé had been on the road since leaving his home in Durango, Mexico two years earlier. The slight muchacho with Indian features had lived in Tijuana and occasionally crossed into Southern California, had crossed the Sonora-Arizona line many times, the Chihuahua-New Mexico border once, and had even slipped into the United States as far east as El Paso. Sometimes the Border Patrol picked him up, other times he returned to Mexico on his own. His most recent job at Mission Valley Farm near Elfrida, twenty-five miles away, had paid a dollar an hour, and his boss had told him he was welcome back to help with the peanuts, wheat, alfalfa, and corn.

That seemed unlikely now, as el bigote and Baby-Face beck­oned him to lie down next to Manuel. Bernabé’s hesitation ended quickly as he was grabbed, had his hands tied behind him, and was forced to the ground.

Eleazar watched in horror. Born twenty-four years earlier in Mocorito, Sinaloa, Eleazar Ruelas Zavala helped his family of fifteen by working in the fields near Culiacan. At twenty-one he decided to travel to the United States, but found a job instead at a limestone quarry in Sonora. Soon he moved to Agua Prieta, where he worked for two years at an American-owned textile plant. In early 1976 he lost his job and started crossing into the United States. Eleazar's last boss, for whom he weeded cotton, was particularly impressed with him. When he left his common­ law wife and their three-month-old son to travel with Manuel and Bernabé, Eleazar had been full of optimism.

Eleazar meekly complied with the Americans' orders, allow­ ing his wrists to be tied behind him, then lying down near the two others. Baby-Face knelt and tied Manuel's ankles together, and then tied them to his hands so all four limbs were immobile behind his back. Bernabé and Eleazar received the same treat­ment.

The three Americans talked in English, then the younger ones searched the Mexicans' clothing. "Oh, you have money!" the tall cowboy smiled as he pulled close to seven dollars from Manuel's pocket. His shoes yielded thirty dollars more. Bernabé had a dollar, which was taken from him. 

"Why are you coming to the United States?"

Manuel cried out that he had only come to find work, and that the money was to buy food. The armed Americans kept laugh­ing as their captives looked up in horror. 

Baby-Face and el bigote methodically stripped each of the tied-up Mexicans, using a knife to slice off their clothes. Baby­ Face lit a mesquite wood fire some yards away and tossed strips of clothing into it. The paper bag with food and clothing the Mexicans had been clutching all morning was tossed toward the fire; bread and bologna scattered all over. While Manuel, Bernabé, and Eleazar were bound and naked, their heads were yanked back and a knife slashed through their hair. "Why are you coming here?" el bigote asked as he hacked at Eleazar's hair, tossing clumps of it into the fire. "Pinche Mexicans, we never go to your country. Why do you come to ours?”

Bernabé screamed: "Why are you doing this?” 

"Mexican crybabies," the old man said in disgust. He got a knife and threatened to cut the Mexicans' throats. Baby-Face put a pistol to Eleazar's head: "Let's see if your Virgin of Guadalupe can help you now," he laughed.

The young tormentors took turns dragging the Mexicans by the ropes close to the fire. "You're not going to live a minute longer," el bigote announced. "You're not going back to your damn Mexico. You're going to die here.” 

"Are you thirsty?" the old man asked. The three nodded their heads, tongues hanging out. Baby-Face approached them with their own water jug and, laughing, poured water on each of them. With his boot he turned each one over on the 135-degree desert floor. Dirt and pebbles and stickers clung to their bodies.

"We don't like Mexicans," Baby-Face said as he finished rolling the third one, "because all Mexicans are thieves.” 

Bernabé was dragged still closer to the fire but squirmed away enough so he didn't feel the worst of thre heat. El bigote took a long metal rod out of the fire and passed its hot end over the bodies of the three. The tall cowboy took the hot bar from el bigote and touched it to the bottoms of Eleazar's feet, burn­ing them again and again. The odor of his own burned flesh filled Eleazar's nostrils, and he could see the smoke rising from his soles. His scream began in his feet and worked its way up.

The old man had been looking at young Bernabé, particularly at his penis. He took a knife from el bigote and, grinning, grabbed Bernabé’s testicles in one hand and slowly drew the knife next to the sac with the other. "I like your balls,'' the old man said. “I want to cut them off.”

Bernabe screamed "No!" and started praying. He was con­vinced he was about to die. El bigote ran up and pulled the old man's arm away, pleading with him to stop. The old man relented.

Eleazar was dragged along the hard ground by the rope bind­ing his hands and feet until at last he was deposited at the bottom of the arroyo. One end of another rope was placed around his neck. The other end was thrown over the branch of a tree growing at the arroyo's edge. Baby-Face pulled on the rope and Eleazar's body lifted a little bit off the ground. To relieve the pressure around his neck Eleazar naneuvered him­ self to the bank of the arroyo and propped himself up on his elbows.

Bernabé could see Eleazar's shoulders and head above the arroyo wall. "Please let me loose," Bernabé begged. ''I'll never return to the United States again."

"Of course you won't,'' Baby-Face said. as he cut Bernabé’s ropes, "because in another minute you're going to die. Let's see how good you are at running." Bernabé froze.

"Run!" the norteamericanos yelled. Bernabé ran, heading in the general direction of Mexico, while Baby-Face climbed on the hood of the nearest pickup and fired after him. To Bernabé the shotgun pellets felt like a swarm of bees stuck to the backs of his arms and legs. He let out a screech and looked over his shoulders to see the Americans laughing. A second shot missed as the barefoot and naked Mexican zig-zagged through the brush.Eventually he reached the border fence. and threw him­self over it.

The noose around Eleazar's neck was cut and his hands and feet were untied. "You're next," the old man told him. "The same thing is going to happen to you as your partner. He's dead." Eleazar ran down the arroyo which slanted toward the border as Baby-Face charged after him, gun in hand. Dashing up one side of the arroyo, Eleazar tripped over a small gully. Shotgun pellets whizzed overhead as he fell. His hand hurt from the fall and a rock ground into his knee on impact. He hid behind some bushes. After a short silence he began crawling then walking, bent forward at the waist so he wouldn't be seen. Dirt and sharp rocks dug into the blisters covering the soles of his swollen feet. He paused twice to pull off dead skin before arriving back in Mexico. 

A rope was tied around Manuel's neck and he was dragged forty feet toward a pickup. Next his hands and feet were freed, and Baby-Face motioned toward Mexico. "Run in that direc­tion; because your friends are dead over there." The old man stood by and laughed some more.

"Why should I run?" Manuel asked the cowboy. "I haven't harmed you in any way.” His protestation ended quickly as a· rifle butt slammed into his shoulder. After running a few yards he felt a shotgun blast in his back. He thought his life was coming to an end. He picked up speed and another blast of pellets struck him. Finally, out of shotgun range, he shouted for his companions: "Muchachos! Muchachos!" In his terror he had forgotten their names. Manuel, like his friends, ran 1 and a half miles in a southeasterly direction until he too reached the fence. Exhausted, he stepped into Mexico and fainted on an anthill. 

broken image

"That was a dastardly thing George Hanigan did yesterday,'' Jerry Jones said, describing what he had learned of the torture incident to Bill Curtis on the streets of Douglas the next morn­ing. Douglas police had learned from Mexican authorities the night before that three badly injured Mexicans had been brought to Agua Prieta's Hospital Civil and reported that they had been tortured by three Americans west of Douglas. From the descriptions of the torturers and the location, police sus­pected sixty-seven-year-old George Hanigan, a stocky rancher­ businessman with a weather-beaten face, and his two sons, Pat, twenty-two, and.Tom, nineteen.

While news of the incident spread around town, officers from the city police and the county sheriff's department took Doug­las High School yearbooks from the previous spring, when Tom Hanigan graduated, and from 1972, when Pat graduated, to the Mexicans' hospital room in Agua Prieta. Pat Hanigan, a tall baby-faced cowboy, was identified by the victims as one of the younger tormentors. Tom, who sported a black mustache, was identified as the other.

The Hanigan land had been homesteaded by George's father in 1900, a year before Douglas was founded and twelve years before Arizona became a state. In Douglas' early years ranching and the copper industry thrived, and "the second Denver," as some called the town, grew to a population of twelve thousand. Soon after George was born, July 4, 1909, his father turned from vegetable farming to running a dairy. One of George’s chores as a youngster was to watch over the family cattle to make sure no Mexican herded them across the border into Sonora. In the mid-1930s George took over the ranch from his dad and continued supplying Douglas with bottled milk from Hanigan's Dairy. Fifteen years later the family dairy business faded out.

George maintained the 2,200 acres as a cattle ranch and started investing in Dairy Queen ice-cream shops, but his real prominence came from political activity. In 1956 he was a dele­gate to the Republican national convention; he was an alternate to the following two conventions, supporting Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater. George became known as "Mr. Republi­can of Cochise County" and started a chapter of Americans for Constitutional Action, a conservative organization.

"If Adolf Hitler were running for office," said the dean of students at Douglas High School, a Hanigan friend for twenty years, "he'd be George's man.”

George Hanigan’s attitude carried over to local fraternal lodges. "The Elk's Club has an unwritten law that 'no Mexican will ever cross these portals,'" the Douglas city attorney at the time of the torture incident explained. "Three NO votes are needed to blackball a prospective member, and Hanigan can always muster up two others to keep a Mexican out. A long time ago when Dr. Mike Gomez was in line to become president of our Kiwanis Club, George ran another candidate to make sure no Mexican became an official. He's got a mean temper. He's been ·known to turkey-tromp a few people.”

Born and raised on the family ranch, Tom and Pat grew up in an Anglo society surrounded by a Mexican majority. Toni's first awareness of border problems came at age seven when he was riding horseback near the Phelps-Dodge smelter and saw a group of Mexicans readying to steal some scrap iron and take it back to Agua Prieta to sell. For the campesino tipico, however, the family often left food and water at the windmill site, a resting spot well known among Mexicans hiking into the Sul­phur Springs Valley for jobs.

Tom and Pat were worked hard by their dad from an early age, both around the ranch and at the Douglas Dairy Queen. Because they lived on a ranch and their dad owned a string of forty-two Dairy Queens throughout the state, the brothers' classmates thought of them as rich kids, a sentiment which sometimes provoked fights with Chicano boys. In high school Pat was a center on the football team but his heart was in the rodeo club. Students like Pat in the vocational-agriculture pro­gram and the Future Farmers of America were known as “stompers.'' Pat and the other stompers hung out at Silver Creek, Dawson's; and the Red Barn, drinking, shooting pool, and carrying on. Sometimes they’d cross over to drink at the Vegas Club, a bar in Agua Prieta's red-light district. Pat was an apprentice good-ol'-boy

Tom joined the band at Douglas High and, like Pat, Future Farmers of America and the rodeo club. A knee injury sidelined him from varsity football but he made spending money phoning game results to the Tucson and Phoenix newspapers. Growing up in Pat's shadow, Tom noticed a gap between himself and the Mexican-Americans at school and wondered if Pat had done something in prior years to cause it. He found that if he became too chummy with Mexican-American students his Anglo friends became stand-offish. When a Hispanic friend came to Tom's senior-year party, daddy George insisted the guest leave right away.

The family's attitude toward Mexicans coming across the fence changed in the early 1970s as an increasing number of their neighbors became the victims of burglaries. Sometimes footprints from the burglarized homes led back to the border, beyond which American police were powerless to hunt for sus­pects or stolen property. When Pat Hanigan's mobile home, down the highway from the family ranch house, was broken into on July 4, 1976, he and Pamela, his wife of two years, found the trailer in a shambles. Gone were his weapons and her jewelry, some cash, and other possessions. Footprints from the trailer led south.

Pat told Pam and Tom that the family had never bothered "wetbacks" crossing the property and in return none should bother them, either. But because of the burglary they would make it known that from that day forward Hanigan property was off-limits. The next night the brothers armed themselves and rode Tom's Kawasaki across the ranch patrolling for Mexi­cans. If they came across any, Pat threatened to "knock them around a little bit, steal their money, and turn them in to the Border Patrol.” Tom said anyone who would commit a burglary like Pat had suffered "deserved to be shot.”

The patrols continued almost every night for the next few weeks. A state trooper caught them once, but they said they were just hunting rabbits. A few days later, Pam, pregnant, left Pat; he beat her and she had had enough. The torture took place soon after.

broken image

Bernabe and Manuel were too injured to travel, but Eleazar, now in a wheelchair with his burned feet bandaged, was taken back into the United States by investigators and driven up Highway 80. Five miles west of Douglas, Eleazar pointed to a ranch house with a big sign out front reading HANIGAN's. The ranch house, he said, was the same one he and the others had been taken to the previous day. Two pickups were parked nearby, one yellow and the other blue. Both had white camper shells. A short distance east the car turned south and Eleazar pointed to a windmill on the Hanigan ranch as the spot where the previous day's ordeal had begun.

Cochise County sheriff's deputies drove to the Hanigan ranch house with a search warrant that afternoon, and Mildred Hani­gan answered the door. A Hanigan for twenty-six years, Mildred was a strong woman who kept busy with ranch work, a music club in town, and looking after the three men in her life. Tom was sick that day and awoke as Detective Ritchie Martinez approached his room. After reading Tom his Miranda rights, Martinez asked him if he had had contact with any Mexicans from across the line. "So what if I did?" Tom blurted out. His mother hushed him up.

Tom waited a few minutes and spoke again. Why, he asked Detective Martinez, was he being investigated when the Mexicans have no right to be in the United States? Tom tagged along as the deputies took three shotguns, ropes, clothes, and his baseball cap with an H on it from the house and dusted his camper for fingerprints. "There was a time," Tom told the investigators, "when you could employ someone from across the line and they'd be grateful and put in a hard day's work. But now you don't find any that are willing to work. All they want to do is rip you off.”

Five miles away at the Agua Prieta hospital the three victims were besieged by officials, reporters, investigators, lawyers, and nuns. In Mexico City the Ministry of Foreign Relations sent a note to Cochise County officials demanding punishment for the attackers, a sentiment also voiced by President Luis Echeverria. The Ministry of the Interior labeled the assault "racial sadism." 

"What was on the minds of those who tortured three Mexi­cans?" Excelsior asked in an editorial. "Was it to cause more friction on the border?" One columnist wrote in El Dia that the torture must be analyzed as part of a campaign to prevent Mexico from achieving complete independence, while a col­league at El Universal said the beating was motivated by U.S. allegations that American prisoners are mistreated in Mexico. A third columnist called the affair "barbarism in Yankee civili­zation." A Hermosillo, Sonora, newspaper reported that "a se­ries of diggings on the Hanigan property" would soon begin to look for secretly buried Mexicans. U.S. Ambassador Jova ex­pressed "regret" over the attack and assured Mexico that justice would be served. 

Others were not as quick to condemn. When three Chicano Douglas city councilmen asked other officials to join them in conveying "deepest sympathy" for the "vicious and sadistic acts of violence," without mentioning any suspects by name, Mayor Ray Willcox called the statement "rabble-rousing and scandal­ mongering." The Douglas Daily Dispatch refused to print photos of the hospitalized victims, fearing the effect upon pub­lic opinion. The Hanigan incident, as the events of August 18 soon became known, allowed Cochise County ranchers to vent their anger at Mexicans by supporting George, Pat, and Tom. The incident legitimized their frustration at a recent rash of unsolved burglaries in outlying areas.

"We have a backlash of the Anglo-Saxon baboon types here who want vigilante-style justice," explained County Attorney Richard J. Riley. "Many people feel the Hanigans are justified in what they did. I don't think George Hanigan was trying to kill the three Mexicans. He could've done that and buried them on the ranch. No, I think he was trying to say, 'Don't come this way.’" 

"The worst thing the Hanigans could have done was to tor­ture them and send them back to Mexico," said Douglas Police Chief Joe Borane. "My men have killed Mexicans - I’ve shot people too and spent many sleepless nights over it - but to torture them? I can't figure that out." 

Senior Border Patrol agent Drex Atkinson felt the same. "I can see shooting them, you know, blowing their heads off. But torturing them makes no sense.”

Among Douglas' 70 percent Mexican-American majority, the Hanigan incident provoked reflections of growing up in a polar­ized town. "In high school they used to seat us alphabetically so the teachers could learn our last names better," a native said one afternoon to some friends in Charm's Plumbing Shop on Eighth Street. "I could sit next to an Anglo kid for four years and I'd meet him on the street and I didn't exist. In forty years I have been invited into an Anglo's house once-and that was just last year.” 

Charro, who sat on the Douglas city council, was irate. "I don't care if it was three Mexicans who tortured three gringos. Those motherfuckers ought to be hung.” 

Pat Hanigan bragged of the episode. "We fixed those son-of-a­ bitchin' wetbacks," he boasted one night at the Gadsen Hotel coffee shop. "We horsewhipped 'em."

"Did you read about the Border Patrolman who got five to life for shooting a wetback?" a friend asked. "They said his gun went off accidentally. Twice!" Everybody laughed.

broken image

© copyright Tom Miller 1981, 2022. Used by permission. See Tom Miller's books at Bookshop.

Brian's Borderland Playlist

Cucurrucucu Paloma ::: Perla Battala

Across The Borderline ::: Ry Cooder

Lágrimas Mexicana ::: Bill Frissell & Vinicius Cantuária

Everybody Ought To Treat A Stranger Right ::: Ry Cooder

The Hills of Mexico ::: Bob Dylan & The Band

Disgraceland ::: Mark Bingham

Ultima Lagrima ::: Pedro Flores

Lila Downs ::: The Demagogue

Lila Downs ::: Las Marmotas