Colonel Emilio Kosterlitzky

Published March 20, 2018


I have been asked if Colonel Emilio Kosterlitzky is a true historical figure or just a fictional character who appears in my novel of the Arizona Rangers, “Rio Sonora.”

Col. Kosterlitzky did, in fact exist, and did lead the Mexican Rurales in the Mexican state of Sonora during the late 1800s and early 1900s as depicted in my novel.  You will find his surname spelled several ways but he was a native of Russia who found his way to Mexico as a young sailor in the Imperial Russian Navy.

I wrote the following article for “True West Magazine” when they did a feature article on the Arizona Rangers in the March 2013 edition.

“The relationship between the Arizona Rangers and Col. Emilio Kosterlitzky’s Mexican Rurales from 1901 to 1909 was a natural progression of the co-operation that had existed between the colonel and Arizona law enforcement since 1885.  The Rurales handed over fugitives wanted in Arizona Territory, and Arizona returned the favor.

Although the Rangers and Rurales used this working agreement to accomplish a common mission, their methods were a study in contrast.  Criminals in Mexico did not enjoy the habeas corpus or jury trial rights of American criminals.  In a typical case, the Rurales would capture a Mexican criminal, question witnesses to the crime, decide the criminal’s fate and, if warranted, carry out the execution.  The Rurales also operated under “El ley de fuego,” which allowed them to shoot prisoners “trying to escape.”  That policy extended across the border: the Rurales once tracked a Mexican fugitive into Arizona, found the fugitive hiding in a field of tall grass and set the field afire; the fugitive burned to death.

Captain Thomas Rynning and Col. Kosterlitzky’s relationship endured after their respective careers ended as Ranger, (1907) and Rurale, (1913).  At the Mexican Revolution battle of Nogales, Kosterlitzky, fighting for the Federals under President Francisco Madero, was outnumbered six to one, by the Constitutionalists under Alvaro Obregon.  Rather than face execution, he marched his men to the border and surrendered to the U.S. Army.  In 1917, after Kosterlitzky was released from California’s Fort Rosecrans, Rynning helped him gain employment as a “special employee” for the Department of Justice.”

In my novel, an Arizona Ranger is sent to Mexico by the chief of the Rangers, Captain Harry Wheeler.  The Ranger is assigned to work with the Rurales in a matter of mutual interest.  I used this fictionalized mission to illustrate the different methods of the Rangers and Rurales.