The Niños Héroes ([ˈniɲos ˈeɾoes], Boy Heroes), also known as the Heroic Cadets or Boy Soldiers, were six Mexican teenage military cadets. These cadets died defending Mexico at Mexico City's Chapultepec Castle (then serving as the Mexican Army's military academy) from invading U.S. forces in the 13 September 1847 Battle of Chapultepec, during the Mexican–American War. According to legend, in an act of bravery, Juan Escutia wrapped the Mexican national flag around his body and jumped from the top of the castle in order to keep it from falling into the enemy's hands. The Niños Héroes are commemorated by a national holiday on September 13.
Chapultepec Castle was defended by Mexican troops under the command of Nicolás Bravo, including cadets from the military academy. The number of cadets present has been variously given, from 47 to a few hundred. The greatly outnumbered defenders battled General Scott's troops for about two hours before General Bravo ordered retreat, but the six cadets refused to fall back and fought to the death. Legend has it that the last of the six, Juan Escutia, leapt from Chapultepec Castle wrapped in the Mexican flag to prevent the flag from being taken by the enemy. According to the later account of an unidentified US officer, "about a hundred" cadets between the ages of 10 and 16 were among the "crowds" of prisoners taken after the Castle's capture.
The bodies of the six youths were buried on the grounds of Chapultepec Park. On March 5, 1947, a few months before the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Chapultepec, U.S. President Harry S. Truman placed a wreath at the monument and stood for a few moments of silent reverence. Asked by American reporters why he had gone to the monument, Truman said, "Brave men don't belong to any one country. I respect bravery wherever I see it." In 1947 their remains were found and identified and, on 27 September 1952, were re-interred at the Monument to the Heroic Cadets in Chapultepec.
Juan de la Barrera was born in 1828 in Mexico City, the son of Ignacio Mario de la Barrera, an army general, and Juana Inzárruaga. He enlisted at the age of 12 and was admitted to the Academy on 18 November 1843. During the attack on Chapultepec he was a lieutenant in the military engineers (sappers) and died defending a gun battery at the entrance to the park. Aged 19, he was the oldest of the six, and was also part of the school faculty as a volunteer teacher in engineering.
Juan Escutia was born between 1828 and 1832 in Tepic, today's capital of the state of Nayarit. Records show he was admitted to the Academy as a cadet on 8 September 1847, but his other papers were lost during the assault. He is believed to have been a second lieutenant in an artillery company. It is claimed that this cadet officer wrapped himself up in the flag and jumped from the roof to keep it from falling into enemy hands. His body was found on the east flank of the hill, alongside that of Francisco Márquez. A large mural above the stairway painted by muralist Gabriel Flores depicts his jump from the roof with the Mexican flag. This account has been regarded as a legend by several modern Mexican historians.
Francisco Márquez was born in 1834 in Guadalajara, Jalisco. Following the death of his father, his mother, Micaela Paniagua, remarried Francisco Ortiz, a cavalry captain. He applied to the Academy on 14 January 1847 and, at the time of the battle, belonged to the first company of cadets. A note included in his personnel record says his body was found on the east flank of the hill, alongside that of Juan Escutia. At 13 years old, he was the youngest of the six heroes.
Agustín Melgar was born between 1828 and 1832 in Chihuahua, Chihuahua. He was the son of Esteban Melgar, a lieutenant colonel in the army, and María de la Luz Sevilla, both of whom died while he was still young, leaving him the ward of his older sister. He applied to the Academy on 4 November 1846. A note in his personnel record explains that after finding himself alone, he tried to stop the enemy on the north side of the castle.
Fernando Montes de Oca was born between 1828 and 1832 in Azcapotzalco, then a town just to the north of Mexico City and now one of the boroughs of the Federal District. His parents were José María Montes de Oca and Josefa Rodríguez. He had applied to the Academy on 24 January 1847, and was one of the cadets who remained in the castle. His personnel record reads: "Died for his country on 13 September 1847."
Vicente Suárez was born in 1833 in Puebla, Puebla, the son of Miguel Suárez, a cavalry officer, and María de la Luz Ortega. He applied for admission to the Academy on 21 October 1845, and during his stay was an officer cadet.
In 1947 on the southern hillside of Chapultepec Hill a mass grave was located in which six bodies, officially identified as belonging to the six deceased cadets of 1847, were found. The bodies were exhumed and placed in urns on September 13 of the same year and a plaque was placed at the site.
On September 27, 1952, after many public ceremonies, the monument was inaugurated in the Plaza de la Constitución(Zócalo) with five cadets and an official from the several military academies of the Americas acting as guards of honor. The six cadets are honored by an imposing monument, Altar a la Patria, made of Carrara marble by architect Enrique Aragón and sculptor Ernesto Tamariz at the entrance to Chapultepec Park (1952). This semicircular monument with six columns, placed at what was the end of the old Walk of the Emperor (today known as the Paseo de la Reforma or the Walk of the Reformation), contains a niche in each of its columns with an urn holding the remains of one of the cadets. In addition, the remains of Colonel Felipe Santiago Xicoténcatl were placed in the center of the monument below the main statue.
The monument is dedicated to the combatants against the United States invasion of 1846-1848 with the phrase:
“To the Defenders of the Homeland 1846-1847”
With the official name of “Altar to the Homeland”, it is better known by the popular name “Monument to the Boy Heroes” and it is very common to find this mistake in official texts.
On the other hand, there exists a great controversy over the authenticity of the remains, since there appears to have been no identification based on forensic science or anthropology.
The name Niños Héroes, along with the cadets' individual names, are commonly given to streets, squares and schools across the country.
For many years they appeared on the MXP 5000 banknote.
The Mexico City Metro station Metro Niños Héroes is also named after them.
Streets in the Condesa neighborhood adjacent to Chapultepec Castle bear the names of each cadet. Many schools through Mexico are named after them with their complete names.