With warm beaches, cold cerveza, and a fantastic exchange rate, Mexico has been the obvious Spring Break choice for college students for at least a decade or two. In recent years, the ongoing war between drug cartels and the federal government has made California’s southern neighbor a dangerous place.
That was actually a terrible introduction to the story of the massacre of the Crabb Expedition, but the story that ends with the executions of seven California legislators is worth telling and the fact that it happened in Mexico during the height of the modern Spring Break just works.
The story starts in 1851, when the good people of Stockton elected Henry Crabb to the State Assembly. Crabb, a member of the Whig Party, was an active legislator and never shied away from controversial issues, introducing bills to allow authorizing the owners of slaves brought into California before statehood to remove them from the state (which failed) and to establish Vallejo as the state capital (which passed). At the conclusion of the 1852 Session, was elected to the State Senate.
In the State Senate, Crabb was assigned membership on the Judiciary, Elections, and “State Prison and Public Buildings” committees. After two years in the Senate (Senate terms lasted 2 years back then), Crabb left office and began looking for something to do.
His attention quickly turned to the filibustering of William Walker, who had a novel idea for a nation. In 1853, Walker led and expedition into northern Mexico with the intention of carving off a part of that nation for his own, to be named the Republic of Sonora. Sonora’s Vice President was to be Henry P. Watkins (Walker’s chief deputy).
After a three month occupation, Walker and his men were driven out of Mexico (and back to San Francisco). A short regrouping later, Walker and his men set off in 1855 for Nicaragua, where they successfully claimed nationhood with Walker as President (which, incidentally, included California Attorney General Edward J.C. Kewen and Assemblyman Parker H. French).
Suitably impressed, Senator Crabb set about creating a company (named the Gadsden Colonization Company) and selling stock in that company to raise funds for his private army of conquest. After several rounds of recruitment and fundraising, Crabb’s expedition numbered nearly 100 men, whose officers including more than a half-dozen California legislators (in addition to Crabb, the others were State Senator W. H. H. McCoun, and Assemblymembers Freeman S. McKinney, Thomas J. Oxley, Nathaniel R. Wood, and John C. Henry.
The men crossed the border in late March and arrived on the outskirts of the small town of Caborca on the morning of April 1st. Unfortunately for Crabb and his men, the local Mexicans were quickly reinforced by the arrival of the Mexican Army, who outnumbered Crabb and were armed with several cannon.
Outnumbered and outgunned and, unlike Walker (who had been able to retreat in a ship), unable to retreat, Crabb’s men found themselves without many options. After the Mexican General offered to let them return to the U.S. on the condition that they leave their weapons, Crabb surrendered his forces early on the night of April 6th.
At dawn on April 7th, they were all executed.
In 1948, the Mexican federal government recognized the role that the residents of Caborca had played in repelling the American invasion by designating the city a “heroic city”, which included formally renaming the city “Heroica Caborca”.
But the international relations haven’t been all bad: in 2012, Heroica Caborca became an “international sister city” of Upland, California.