According to the National Defense Archives in Mexico City, Petra Ruiz was born in Acapulco in December 1893 and died in Mexico City in February 1938. She was a poor orphan living in Guerrero when she was raped by military forces.
Petra is recorded as enlisting in the Constitutionalist Army in 1913 under the name Pedro Ruiz. The disguise, male clothing and short, cropped hair, was so perfect that no one was suspicious. Pedro Ruiz quickly rose to the rank of lieutenant, fighting for Venustiano Carranza against Victoriano Huerta’s forces.
Lieutenant Ruiz soon established a reputation as an accomplished fighter with a thirst for adventure and a violent temper. He competed fiercely for the love of women. It is said that his fellow soldiers feared him, earning him the nickname “El Echa Balas” or “Bullet Slinger” because of his sharp shooting skills and abilities with a knife.
On one occasion Lt. Ruiz’s battalion took control of a hacienda while fighting in Oaxaca, killing the owner. The soldiers argued over who would be the first to rape the owner’s seventeen year old daughter. Hearing her screams, Lt. Ruiz rode in “guns blazing” and said, “I’m taking this one, and if any of you don’t like it, you can tangle with me!” The soldiers backed off, and Lt. Ruiz rode off with the girl. Once they were far enough away, Lt. Ruiz opened her shirt to reassure the girl that she was safe, saying, “I’m also a woman like you.” Upon reaching the nearest town, she left the girl with a family who would keep her safe. She was later quoted as saying, “I joined the Constitutionalist Army as a way to survive, but above all, to avert whenever possible the rape of more women, such as the one I suffered.”
Toward the end of the war, newly instituted President Venustiano Carranza was reviewing the troops, and as he was walking past, Lt. Ruiz stepped forward and said, “Mr. President, since there’s no more fighting, I want to ask for my discharge from the army, but first I want you to know that a woman has served you as a soldier.” Those assembled were amazed, and Carranza immediately called for an investigation into the life of Lt. Ruiz.
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Thanks to Vicente Guzman-Orozco for translation and research assistance.