In honor of International Women’s Day, and in light of Yalitza Aparicio Martínez’s moment in the sun at the Oscars, I’d like to talk about an illegitimate, indigenous girl from Cabora who inspired a revolution and became a saint.
Teresita Urrea was born on October 15, 1873. Her birth name was Niña García Noña María Rebecca Chávez. Her father, Tomás Urrea, was the hacienda owner of Rancho de Santana, Ocoroni in Sinaloa, Mexico and her mother, Cayetana Chávez, was a 14-year old Tehueco servant on the ranch.
In 1880, Urrea moved his ranch to Cabora, Sonora because of some issues he had with Porfirio Diaz. After arriving in Cabora, Teresita had some sort of fit and lapsed in and out of cataleptic states for several months.
She began to do healings as a curandera shortly after she recovered, mostly ministering to the poor, downtrodden indigenous people of the area. People came to her for healings which she performed in the name of the Virgin de Guadalupe.
The Mayo and Yaqui referred to her as La Santa de Cabora which angered the Catholic church officials. The press got wind of all this and started to include regular articles about Teresita in the Mexico City newspaper El Monitor Republicano. Her legend became intertwined with the events that led up to the Mexican Revolution of 1910 beginning around this time.
Drought prompted the Tarahumara village of Tomochic, Chihuahua to ask for her intervention with the powers that be. While she was there, the village inhabitants had a violent confrontation with federal officials after the auspicious battle cry ‘Viva la Santa de Cabora!” or so the story goes.
Teresita and her father were exiled from Mexico by Porfirio Diaz in May 1892 as the cause of the indigenous insurrections. They were escorted to the border by the Eleventh Regiment and Twelfth Battalion of the Mexican army led by General Abraham Bandala.
After she was exiled, Teresita’s name and sainthood continued to be the rallying call for the Tomochitecos. Federal troops finally destroyed the village and killed at least 300 villagers. The Mayo also united under her banner and attacked Navajoa, Sonora after their lands had been seized by the government.
Meanwhile, Teresita and her father settled in El Bosque near Nogales, Arizona. Teresita began practicing her healing arts again.
In 1895, she was living in Solomonville, Arizona where Lauro Aguirre and Flores Chapa were publishing an anti-government newspaper called El Independiente. In 1896, the two journalists published a pamphlet which referred to the Tomochic rebellion and called for the overthrow of the Mexican government. Flores and Chapa were arrested and tried by the United States government. During the trial, Teresita was named as an accomplice in the drafting of the pamphlet calling for equal rights for all. After the men were acquitted, Teresita moved to El Paso, Texas where again Aguirre was publishing newspapers. She was featured in newspapers in El Paso as “an apolitical spiritual healer.”
In 1896, a group of 60-70 Yaquis and Tomochis attacked the customs house in Nogales, Arizona under the protection of La Santa de Cabora calling themselves “Teresitas”. It was rumored that some carried a picture of Teresita over their hearts as protection.
The Mexican government demanded Teresita extradited back to Mexico, still blaming her for the uprisings. Teresa made a public statement in the El Paso Herald on September 11, 1896, denying she had anything to do with the attack in Nogales.
The Mexican government made at least 3 attempts on her life. Teresita married, Guadalupe Rodriguez, a Yaqui miner, in 1900. Guadalupe tried to kidnap her to return her to Mexico the morning after their marriage. He was arrested, declared insane, and sent to live in an asylum. They were divorced in 1904.
Teresita went on the road with her healing. She signed a contract with either a San Francisco publisher or pharmaceutical firm, sources are unclear which. She performed in public in several large cities, including St. Louis and New York. A conflict over charges the tour promoters had been exacting from those who came to see her ended her contract.
She had a daughter in 1902. In 1904 she had a second child. Not much is known about the father of these children. She died of tuberculosis on January 11, 1906, and was buried in Clifton, Arizona where her father is also buried.
Whether or not Teresita actively incited the indigenous to revolt against the oppressive regime of Porfirio Diaz, the idea she embodied was an inspiration to thousands. Just four years after her death, Mexico entered a long and bloody civil war.
If you are interested in reading more about Teresita’s life, you can read Teresita by William Curry Holden, La insólita historia de la Santa de Cabora by Brianda Domecq, The Astonishing Story of the Saint of Cabora, The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America written by Teresita’s relative Luis Alberto Urrea.
You can also read my review of The Hummingbird’s Daughter here.