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Rurales, Mexico's Rural Police Force. The Rurales gained notoriety as one of the world's finest constabularies during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz (1885–1911). Uniformed as dandies in bolero jackets, leg-hugging pants trimmed with silver buttons, and wide-brimmed sombreros, some 3,000 Rurales patrolled major transportation routes and symbolized the government's intention to impose public order. Their frequently slovenly and ill-disciplined field performance contrasted sharply with the image of the corps deliberately tailored to fit them by the government. In fact, relatively few Rurales were good horsemen or decent marksmen; they deserted in droves and often failed to catch their man. However, in police work, the image counts, and the Rurales were romanticized in the public's mind even beyond the myths associated with the Texas Rangers.

Using Spain's Guardia Civil as a model, Benito Juárez founded the constabulary in 1861. Initial recruits included some known bandits; their recruitment was one of the ways in which Juárez bought loyalty for his regime. Although Díaz nourished the legend of bandit-turned-lawman, he purged brigands from the constabulary. During his tenure, ten rural police corps of approximately 300 men each were periodically rotated to potential trouble spots, especially those most visible to foreign investors. As proletarians became organized in unions, more Rurales were stationed in factory towns. A sizable core remained close to the dictator in Mexico City.

When revolution erupted in 1910, the constabulary by and large remained loyal to Díaz. His successor, Francisco Madero, not only retained the Porfirian Rurales but also tripled the size of the organization with men who had joined his rebellion. When Victoriano Huerta assumed power in 1913, he reorganized and reformed the corps, but when his government fell, the constabulary was disbanded; many of its officers later turned up in the ranks of Venustiano Carranza. Throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, many states and municipalities, even private individuals, organized constabularies called "rurales." Hence the occasional overlap and confusion in the historical record and public mind concerning the deeds and image of the national police force and its regional and local counterparts.

See alsoJuárez, Benito .


Paul J. Vanderwood, Los rurales mexicanos (1982), and Disorder and Progress: Bandits, Police, and Mexican Development (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Hart, Paul. Bitter Harvest: The Social Transformation of Morelos, Mexico, and the Origins of the Zapatista Revolution, 1840–1910. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006.

Reina, Leticia. Las rebeliones campesinas en México, 1819–1906. México, D.F.: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1998.

                                      Paul J. Vanderwood