Viva Gonzalez! An American Story
John Britt-College Professor and Texas Historian
One of the joys of teaching is to discover in your class some student whose family has experienced a brush with one of history’s truly defining moments. And what a thrill it is to witness that student’s sudden recognition and appreciation of the role some family member played in that event. Several years ago, I lectured on the U.S. involvement in the Mexican Revolution in my American history class at Lee College. Even though this was a survey course, I went into some detail on the background of the Revolution and its relevance to the history of the United States as well as to that of Mexico.
At the end of the class, one of my students, Raquel Gonzalez, stopped me and exclaimed, “Oh, Mr. Britt, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed that. My father is always talking about it, and I have never really understood it.” Raquel was a teenager, so I asked her if her grandparents or perhaps great grandparents were refugees from the Revolution, as is the case with many of the older Hispanic families in our community. “No,” she said, “my father fought with Pancho Villa.”
Now I seldom question the veracity of students, but this was just a little difficult to accept considering Raquel’s youth, so no doubt a frown suggesting skepticism crossed my face. Raquel immediately responded, “It is true, Mr. Britt. Last year, the Mexican government brought my entire family to Mexico. There was a big ceremony, and they gave my dad several awards and a new captain’s uniform. Would you like to see the newspaper clippings?”
I replied that yes indeed I would. Sure enough, at the next class Raquel appeared with the clippings.
By now not only impressed but intrigued as well, I phoned a friend, Manuel Urbina, a respected authority on the Revolution who teaches at the College of the Mainland. “Manuel, I have run into the most incredible story up here in Baytown. Have you ever heard of a guy named Jesus Gonzales who supposedly fought with Pancho Villa?”
“Capitan Gonzales, of course I know Capitan Gonzalez!” Manuel shot back. “He not only was with Villa, but he was with Zapata as well.”
As the story unfolded, it seems that at the age of 9 or thereabouts, Mr. Gonzalez, who was an orphan, joined an uncle fighting with Zapata’s irregulars below Mexico City. Gonzalez’s job was to tend the horses when the men fought on foot. However, because of his horsemanship and skill with a rifle, he soon became a warrior himself. He met Villa during the brief period that Villa and Zapata occupied Mexico City and volunteered to join Villa in the north. Thus, the 11-year-old boy soldier became a captain in Villa’s army in command of a hundred men, doubtlessly the youngest such officer in Mexico. His youthful appearance also allowed him to serve Villa unobtrusively as a spy. Wounded three times in battles in the deserts of northern Mexico, the last when he attempted to lasso a machine gun still in the hands of the gunner, Gonzalez was released from duty by Villa.
The mercurial and unpredictable Villa thought so much of the boy soldier that he paid for Gonzalez’s care as he recovered from his wounds. Gonzalez eventually fled to Texas to escape the violence of the Revolution, later returning to Mexico where he met and married his wife, Ana Maria. The couple later settled in Baytown and raised a large family, Mr. Gonzalez worked as the mechanic at the local ice house retiring at the age of 80. His wife was a custodian at Carver Elementary School. Although the couple had little formal education and limited resources they were determined that their children would go to college.
The story does not end here. My colleague Dale Adams, chair of the Lee College English Department at the time and an authority on the history of film, and I decided to host a lyceum program at the college on the Mexican Revolution. With my friend Urbina serving as moderator, we did a series of lectures on the conflict, screened the Marlon Brando film Viva Zapata, and concluded the program with a question and answer session featuring Capitan Gonzalez who wore the new but 1916 style uniform given to him by the Mexican government. Capitan Gonzalez insisted that his daughter Raquel, the youngest of his children, sit with him on the stage. And, of course, the entire Gonzalez family was our honored guests. What a thrill it was for me to watch Raquel, a delightful young woman who was in many ways a typical American teenager, discover the role her father played in one of the Western Hemisphere’s most defining moments!
I might add that Capitan Gonzalez along with three other surviving veterans of the Revolution who lived in Texas was featured in a November 1988, article in Texas Monthly, “Compadres De La Revolucion.”
Accompanying the article was a marvelous photograph of the Capitan by famed photographer Dennis Darling. A copy of that autographed photo farmed with another given to me by the family of Capitan Gonzalez in his uniform, now hangs in my office. When Capitan Gonzalez died the family gave his uniform to the Baytown Historical Museum where it is currently on display along with his photograph.
Viva Lee College!Viva Texas! Viva Gonzalez!
Barb Wooster, Baytonian
Anna Yowell, Tourism Coordinator
Sheree Cardwell, Tourism Marketing Specialist
Grey Scott, City of Baytown Human Resources Manager
John Britt, Historian & College Professor