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Jesús García – Mexican railroad brakeman who died while preventing a train loaded with dynamite from exploding near Nacozari, Sonora

Tijana Radeska
Jesus Garcia

How does one make a sudden decision to die and save the lives of others while moving on a full speed train? By being a hero. Jesús García is one of the few real heroes not only of Mexico but the wider world.

Jesús García Corona riding a horse days before his death. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Jesús García Corona riding a horse days before his death. Wikipedia/Public Domain

On November 7, 1907, García, a 23-year-old brakeman, was taking a break in the freight yard in Nacozari, Sonora, when he noticed smoke in the air. García then realized that sparks from his train’s chimney stack had blown back onto the first cars, igniting the hay on top. And the day’s cargo made all the difference: the train was transporting 70 boxes of dynamite, detonators, and fuses. That was bad enough on its own—but letting the train explode in the train yard amongst other gas tanks and dynamite stores would have been even worse.

The cause of the fire was that the locomotive’s firebox was failing, and sparks were going out from the smokestack. The wind blew them and got into the dynamite cars. García drove the train in reverse downhill at full-steam six kilometers out of the town before the dynamite exploded, killing him and sparing the population of the mining town.

Monument to Jesús García in Nacozari. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Monument to Jesús García in Nacozari. Wikipedia/Public Domain

In his honor, a statue was raised, and the name of the town of Nacozari was changed to Nacozari de García. He was declared Hero of Humanity by the American Red Cross, many streets in Mexico carry his name, and the Estadio Héroe de Nacozari sports stadium in Hermosillo is also named after him. García’s sacrifice is remembered in the corrido (ballad) “Máquina 501,” sung by Pancho “El Charro” Avitia, and Mexican railroad workers commemorate 7 November every year as the Día del Ferrocarrilero (Railroader’s Day). His heroism is also recounted in the ballad, “Jesus Garcia” sung by Arizona State’s official balladeer, Dolan Ellis, who wanted to let the world know of the “Casey Jones of Mexico” who saved the town.

The “Máquina 501” song in a free translation:
Engine 501
rolls through Sonora.

And the brakeman who

won’t sigh will cry.
One fine Sunday, gentlemen,
’round three o’clock,
Jesús Garcia sweetly
caressed his mother.
“Soon I must depart,
kind mother,
the train whistle
draws the future near.”
Arriving at the station
a whistle blew shrill.
The wagon with dynamite
menaced with its roof afire.
The fireman says,
“Jesús, let’s scram!
that wagon behind
will burn us to hell.”
Jesús replies,
“That I cannot own–
this conflagration
will kill the whole town!”
So he throws it in reverse
to escape downhill
and by the sixth mile
into God’s hands he’d arrived.
From that unforgettable day
you’ve earned the holy cross,
you’ve earned our applause.
Jesús, you’re our hero.
Engine 501
rolls through Sonora.
And the brakeman
who won’t sigh will cry.

Tijana Radeska

Tijana Radeska is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News