La leyenda del Pipila

Juan José de los Reyes Martínez was a modest miner from San Miguel el Grande, born on January 3, 1782.

Once he came of age, given the lack of options for someone from his modest background, he started work as a cleaner at the nearby mine in Mellado.

Little could he have imagined that an event - one so far removed from his mundane everyday life, would occur that would lead to his name being remembered for years to come: The Cry of Independence; the call to arms by Father Miguel Hidalgo who, on the discovery of his rebel conspiracy, gathered together a handful of local people to form the first Insurgent army and march on the city of Guanajuato.

His main aim was to take the Alhondiga de Granaditas, the grain store where city commander Juan Antonio de Riaño had garrisoned his army and stowed the city's gold.

The Alhondiga seemed to be impregnable, and as bullets rained down from it onto the insurgent army, it looked like their efforts were doomed to failure. Then, just as they were about to abandon their attack, el Pipila's moment had come: Pipila - man of the people, the humble cleaner at the Mellado mine, bringing honor to his name as the bravest of all the insurgents. Holding a flagstone across his shoulders as protection, he took a flaming torch and crawled towards the Alhondiga and, after smearing the heavy wooden door with pitch, he set light to it.

As the wood started to give way, the throng surged in, and now, fighting Spaniards hand to hand, gained a famous victory for the insurgency.

And this why, all these years later, el Pipila's name lives on: but for his heroic gesture, Hidalgo would never have taken the Alhondiga and the fate of the rebellion might have been very different.

El Pipila lived for another 53 years, dying on July 26, 1863, finally succumbing to the gas and dust he had breathed in the mines for so many years.