It was the escalation of the Mexican Revolution/Civil War (1911) that led to Camp Hearn in Imperial Beach (Palm City). With today’s political winds blowing towards our nearby U.S./Mexico border, a look back 100+ years tells of a time the border was strengthened. In that case, military border camps were established and manned with U.S. Troops.
Amid concern Mexico’s war may spill over into U.S. territory, President William Howard Taft ordered a string of border camps from Texas to Imperial Beach. Locally, he ordered the 3rd Oregon and San Diego’s favored 21st Infantries, and the First Cavalry (horse) to Camp Hearn, Camp San Ysidro (Little Landers), Campo’s Camp Lockett (1876–1946), Camp Tecate, and Camp Calexico.
The Army’s Camp Hearn was the southwesterly base of the US. There is question about its the location(s). Some documents place it south of the Estuary, others at Silver Strand and Palm, and also at 525 3rd Street, the site of West View Elementary (1949), the District’s 3rd school. Camp Hearn establishment dates vary as well, ranging 1911-1916-1917.
Named in honor of Colonel Lawrence J. Hearn, a veteran of the Indian Wars, the Philippine Insurrection, among others; and colleague of Pershing - Camp Hearn provided extra security to U.S. citizens and fleeing Mexican refugees north of the border.
Beginning November 1910 - the war “arguably spanned two decades” in which 1 to 2 million people lost their lives (historians disagree). During the first decade of the revolution, from 1910 to 1920, an estimated 400,000 Mexicanos fled to the U.S.: this, at a time when Tia Juana (Tijuana currently) had a population of around 100.
The catalyst that lit the spark of revolution in Mexico seemed to occur in 1908 after an American Journalist interviewed José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori (seven term president of Mexico), who announced he would support free elections and open trade. Though considered a dictator, Díaz had been a stabilizing force with the French after the Mexican American war in the 1800s.
Diaz’ capitalistic leanings encouraged President Taft to meet with him in 1909; in the first ever meeting between Mexico and U.S. leaders. The two met in disputed territory south of El Paso. It was declared neutral with flags of neither nation displayed. Key in the discussion was New Mexico’s Elephant Butte dam project. Taft and Diaz were both bilingual, so no one else attended that meeting and little is known of what they discussed.
Diaz went back on his promise to hold a free election, and instead jailed his opponent, Francisco Madera, declaring himself president. Diaz’ opponents held that capitalist policies would strip peasants of their land. Diaz insisted allowing foreigners to own Mexican land would modernize Mexico. Since few land owners could prove title, and risked losing their land, enraged rural and urban Mexicanos rose up. Diaz was overthrown and exiled to France and a series of opposed administrations followed.
Rebel leaders that included socialists, anarchists, and isolationists - began independent plans and constitutions. Contributing to the lengthy war were idealistic rebel factions including Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, who joined and abandoned various forces to overthrow government leaders. There were coups, betrayals, and executions. When disillusioned, rebels changed alliances and/or locations to reorganize.
Concurrently, the 1911 Border War/Campaign (first and second battles of Tia Juana) broke out in 1911. It was fueled by anarchist plans to take over Baja as a socialist state while rebels and federalists were distracted fighting elsewhere. Camp Hearn played a vital role in protecting the U.S. border, citizens, and refugees.
Residents of San Ysidro could watch the fighting from their rooftops - that lasted for days. The attempt to take Baja failed in many ways, but mainly, the anarchists could not garner Mexicano support because many of the leaders and fighters were non Mexicans and more money was spent on recruitment literature in Los Angeles and San Diego than on weapons.
It wasn’t until 1919 that Mexicanos became required to apply to enter the U.S. One reason was because intercepted World War I intel revealed Germany had discussed gaining access into the U.S. through Mexico. Camp Hearn closed in 1931.