The Caste War of Yucatan (1847-1901)

The 54-year long Caste War began with the revolt of the native Maya people in the Yucatan Peninsula. Native forces were pitted against the European-descended population, called Yucatecos, who controlled political and economic power in the region. A lengthy war ensued between the Yucateco forces in the northwest of the Yucatan and the independent Maya in the southeast.

During the 1850s the United Kingdom (UK) recognized the Maya state because of its value as a trading partner with British Honduras (present-day Belize). Growing investment in Mexico resulted in a change in United Kingdom policy toward the Mayas. In 1893, the UK signed a new treaty with the Mexican central government: (1) recognizing its control over all of the Yucatan; (2) formalizing the border with British Honduras and (3) closing British Honduras to trade with Chan Santa Cruz, the capital of the Maya. On December 27, 1899, Mexican General Ignacio A. Bravo was dispatched with a military force to finally subdue the Maya.

Initially, Maya soldiers opposed General Bravoâs attempt at subjugation of the native population. Although they outnumbered the Mexican army, the Maya found their dry-stone walls were no match for the Mexican artillery fire. The Mayan shotguns, ancient muzzle loaders, and machetes were no match for the Mexican modern weapons. The Maya were also short on ammunition for their single-shot Martini-Enfield rifles, which they bought from the British in the past. As shot for their muzzle-loaders, the Maya resorted to using bits of telegraph wire, which they had taken down and cut up. Bravoâs fortifications, clearings, and good communications precluded the ambush tactics, which the Maya had used effectively for so many years.

In four months, €™Bravoâs army had only advanced thirty miles toward Chan Santa Cruz, building a good wagon road and forts along the way. When the rainy season began in May 1900, the supply routes became impassable, a severe measles epidemic struck the Maya forces, and military action paused. Hostilities resumed in early 1901, with the Maya attacking in force but unable to stop the relentless advance of the Mexican forces. In previous decades, the Mexican army had twice managed to fight its way to Chan Santa Cruz, but was driven back both times. On May 4, 1901, Mexican General Bravo finally led his troops into the town to stay, occupying it with a large armed force. Over the next few years, he subdued surrounding villages and fought numerous skirmishes with small rebel bands. Bravo telegraphed the news to Mexican authorities that the war was over on May 5, 1901. While this is the date most frequently given for the end of the war, fighting continued, on a smaller scale for many more years.

With their capital lost, the Maya split into smaller groups, often hiding in small hamlets in the jungle. Their numbers were seriously reduced by deaths from epidemics of measles and smallpox and other endemic diseases introduced by General Bravo's troops. Inspired by the persistent Talking Cross sect, the Maya of Chan Santa Cruz remained actively hostile to the Mexican government well into the twentieth century. For many years, any non-Maya, who ventured into the jungles of what is now the Mexican State of Quintana Roo, was at risk of being killed. The combination of economic factors, such as the entry of the Wrigley Company's chicle (natural gum) hunters into the region, and the political and social changes resulting from the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), eventually reduced the hatred and hostility of the Maya. In one form or another, war and armed struggle had continued for more than 50 years, and an estimated 40,000–50,000 people died in the hostilities.

The war officially ended in 1901 when the Mexican army occupied the Maya capital of Chan Santa Cruz and subdued neighboring areas. Another formal end was made in 1915, when a General Salvador Alvarado Rubio was sent to oversee the territory. He introduced reforms, which ended some of the Maya grievances. Skirmishes, however, with small settlements that refused to acknowledge Mexican control continued until 1933.

The Cross of Yucatan (La Cruz de Yucatan)

The Cross of the Yucatan in Silvered Bronze

Instituted in 1902 by the State of Yucatan with authorization of the Mexican Federal Government, the cross with four white and blue enamel arms mounted on a laurel wreath was awarded in gold (to six generals), silver or bronze. The obverse has a white enamel center inscribed on five straight lines, PREMIO DEL ESTADO DE YUCATAN 1902. The reverse, without enamel, is inscribed on four straight lines, CAMPANA CONTRA LOS MAYAS on the central medallion, surrounded by a detailed laurel wreath. The Cross measures 42.67 mm x 47.12 mm. The Cross of Yucatán was instituted to award the military personnel who participated in the battle of Chan Santa Cruz and previous engagements aimed at the suppression of the Mayas between 1896-1902. It is suspended from a light blue ribbon. A total of more than 8,000 Crosses were awarded.

The Cross of the Yucatan in Bronze

There was a total of more than 8,000 awards as follows:

Generals (all in gold) 6
Chiefs & Officials of the Army & the State National Guard 812
Septimo Battalion 3
- First Company 115
- Second Company 105
- Third Company 85
- Fourth Company 36
Decimo Battalion 10
- First Company 69
- Second Company 82
- Third Company 40
- Fourth Company 4,486
National Guard 2,458
Total 8,357

There may have also been an additional 171 awards: (1) 31 soldiers of the Fourth Battalion Partido de Motul and (2) 140 to those Killed in Action. Critics of the award labeled it as the medal for the Maya Genocide. Many of these troops would have also qualified for the Medal of the Sonora 1885-1886 described below.

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