Today Costa Ricans honor a very unique hero from history. On this day in 1856 a 12 year old drummer boy from Alajuela made the ultimate act of bravery to help ensure freedom for his country.
William Walker, a mercenary from Tennessee, organized a private military to enter Latin America, conquer and enslave its Spanish-speaking citizens and implant a English-speaking colony with Walker as its President. In 1853, Walker succeeded to take over Baja, Mexico for a matter of about 3 months before being deposed by the Mexican army and sent back to the US to stand trial for filibustering.
In 1855 Civil War was raging in Nicaragua (between the Legitimist Party & the Democratic Party) and Walker returned to Central America at the behest of the Democratic Party leader, Francisco Castellón. Walker's army of mercenaries defeated the Legitimist Army, conquered the capital city of Granada and won the civil war for the Democrats. Walker allowed Castellón to rule for a period time before declaring himself President of Nicaragua and beginning plans to move his regime further south into Costa Rica.
Meanwhile in Costa Rica...President Juan Rafael Mora declared war on the usurping government and began the Campaign of 1856-1857. While Walker was busy sending troops to invade Costa Rica, Mora had the Costa Rican army, composed of about 9,000 volunteers, defend the Nicoya Peninsula and push the invaders back into Nicaragua.
Which brings us to Juan Santamaria & The Battle of Rivas. Both armies were back in Nicaragua and had been fighting for days. The Costa Rican army had thus far been unsuccessful in driving Walker's army out of a wooden fort in which they had taken shelter. After several attempts from soldiers to burn down the fort and force the invading troops out into the open, twelve year old Juan Santamaria volunteered to try with the understanding that should he not return from his mission, someone would take care of his mother. The drummer boy took a torch and ran towards the fort, enduring gunfire and mortal wounds but managing to throw the torch to burn down the fort. His heroism, helped to clinch victory and ensure continued independence for Costa Rica.