The Devil’s Highway


Luis Alberto Urrea

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The Devil’s Highway Characters

Luís Alberto Urrea

The author of The Devil’s Highway, Luís Alberto Urrea was himself born along the U.S.-Mexico border in 1955. In writing The Devil’s Highway—originally a project given to him on assignment by an editor—Urrea… (read full character analysis)

Don Moi García

A recruiter for the notorious Cercas gang. Born Moises García, he earned the Spanish-language honorific “Don”—equivalent to “sir”—through his reputation in Veracruz and southern Mexico as a kind of benevolent Robin Hood figure who helped… (read full character analysis)

Reymundo Barreda, Sr.

The member of the Yuma 14 whose death inspired, for Urrea, “the most sorrow and conversation” of any of the walkers. Reymundo and his son, Reymundo Jr., set out together into the desert… (read full character analysis)

Nahum Landa

One of the surviving Wellton 26, described by Urrea as a “natural leader.” Nahum’s testimony is frequently invoked throughout the pages of The Devil’s Highway, and, as a survivor, he was instrumental in helping… (read full character analysis)

Daniel Cercas/“El Chespiro”

The Hidalgo-based head of the criminal gang which smuggled the Wellton 26 over the border. His nickname was derived from a “cloying little red cricket” which was a popular character on Mexican childrens’ TV. All… (read full character analysis)
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“El Moreno”

El Negro’s driver. El Moreno—Spanish for “The Dark Man”—lived together “in criminal bliss” with El Negro, and was the driver who picked up the Wellton 26 on the U.S. side of the border in order… (read full character analysis)

Jesús Antonio Lopez Ramos/“Mendez”

The “pollero,” or smuggler, of the Wellton 26, Jesús was just nineteen at the time of the ordeal, and had been swept up in the “gangster” lifestyle of border smuggling by his close… (read full character analysis)

Rodrigo Maradona

Maradona and Jesús met while working in a brickyard in San Antonio. Frustrated with the minimal pay and the long, backbreaking hours, Jesús was intrigued by Maradona’s side hustle, moonlighting as a pollero. Maradona… (read full character analysis)

Rita Vargas

The Mexican consul in Calexico, Vargas was called to Yuma on the day the Wellton 26 were found. Because Yuma had no consulate at that time, Calexico was responsible for the Yuma sector. Vargas, a… (read full character analysis)

Santos and Lauro

Santos and Lauro are two Sonoita-based polleros in the Cercas gang. When Jesús arrives in Sonoita, they teach him the treacherous new route he will take across the border. On the morning when the Wellton… (read full character analysis)

Reymundo Jr.

The son of Reymundo Sr., and one of the Wellton 26 who dies in the desert. Reymundo Jr. and his father were planning to make their way to Florida to spend the summer picking… (read full character analysis)
Minor Characters
Melchior Díaz
A Spanish conquistador who perished in Sonoita in the winter of 1541. Díaz’s story serves as a cautionary tale for those who would try to conquer the “haunted” desert.
Luis Cercas
The Phoenix-based head of the criminal operation which was responsible for smuggling the Wellton 26 across the U.S.-Mexico border. A well-connected criminal and the brother of the Hidalgo-based Daniel Cercas, or “El Chespiro.”
Evodio Manilla/“El Negro”
Allegedly the brother-in-law of Luis Cercas, “El Negro” worked his way up through the Cercas gang from his role as a former guide. He was a Coyote—above the polleros in the gang’s pecking order, he was a “dreaded enforcer and manipulator” in the border town of Sonora.
Mike F.
The Border Patrol, or Migra, agent who spotted the first five of the Wellton 26 to be rescued, and reported the situation to the Wellton station, thus kicking off the massive search party.