History Tidbit – A Revolution War Story

The Anniversary of the onset of the Mexican Revolution War is celebrated every year on November 20; started in 1910, it was a complicated conflict, which involved not only the deposition of a “long-term president” (read: dictator), but several conspiracies that led to a cruel civil war, with the rise and fall of many political and military characters for more than a decade, even after the promulgation on the Constitution of 1917.

One of the most prominent figures was Francisco “Pancho” Villa, born in 1878 in Río Grande, in the Mexican state of Durango with the name of José Doroteo Arango Arámbula.  After killing a man to defend his sister’s honour, he lived as a fugitive and bandit until the onset of the Mexican Revolution War.  He joined the forces against long-term president Porfirio Díaz Mori, who had his opponent Francisco I. Madero incarcerated in 1910, an act of fraudulent interference with the presidential election.  Madero escaped and called the nation to revolt with the motto:“Sufragio efectivo, no reelección” – “Effective Suffrage, No Re-election”, forming his army called the División del Norte (Northern Division).  Arango, along with Pascual Orozco and Victoriano Huerta, were instrumental in the success of this call for democracy, and Porfirio DÍaz was deposed in a matter of months, with Madero taking the presidency after a legitimate election.  However, conservative forces conspired against the new government, and Madero’s moderate policies infuriated even former supporters, who had been promised extensive work and land reforms.  Emiliano Zapata started a rebellion in the South; in the north, Arango remained loyal, but Pascual Orozco did not, and Victoriano Huerta led a coup d’état against Madero and had him assassinated, along with his vice-president José María Pino Suárez

This cowardly act triggered a great dudgeon, with the explosion of a second stage in the Revolution War: Orozco joined Huerta, but Zapata continued his fight, now against the government of Huerta; Arango (who changed his name to Pancho Villa at some point during the war), always loyal to Madero, took over the lead of the Northern Division and joined Venustiano Carranza, who had been appointed by Madero as governor of the Northern state of Coahuila.  Huerta was ousted in 1914, and Venustiano Carranza, as a legitimate governor, could have acted as interim president; Carranza declined because he wanted to run for president in the next elections, so he ruled in an “extra-legal” state, which was not approved by his generals Pancho Villa and Alvaro Obregón.  Obregón remained loyal to Carranza, but Villa and Zapata made an alliance against him.  Villa was defeated in the North and Zapata was forced to utilize guerrilla-style fight in the south (the so-called Zapatista movement).  With the promulgation of a new Mexican Constitution of 1917, Carranza was elected president; the constitution was a strong beacon of reform and democracy, but Carranza failed to carry on its principles, and instead, went after Zapata and Villa, getting the first murdered in 1919, and forcing Villa to retreat to the North again. 

Other prominent figures were in conflict with Carranza’s parting from the revolution and constitutional principles, particularly generals Alvaro ObregónPlutarco Elías Calles, and Adolfo de la Huerta, and by the end of his term in 1920, Carranza was engaged in an active fight that finished with the deposition of his faction, and his death.  De la Huerta acted as interim president, focusing on ending confrontations, and pardoning Mexicans in exile and Carranza supporters alike.  De la Huerta negotiated with Pancho Villa, granting him and his followers a villa in the state of Chihuahua with the condition of retiring from politics and the military for life.  Alvaro Obregón became president in 1920, and at the end of his term, he was still feeling threatened by Villa; although never proven, he probably was behind Villa’s assassination in 1923.  Elías Calles succeeded Obregón, then founding the PNR (National Revolutionary Party), in 1929; the party was renamed the PRM (Party of the Mexican Revolution) and eventually became the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) in 1946. The PRI remained in power for 71 years, until the turn of the millennium, in 2000.   

Pancho Villa was buried in Chihuahua, and in 1976, his remains were reburied in the Monument to the Mexican Revolution, in Mexico City:

Throughout his life, Pancho Villa also: 1) became governor of the state of Chihuahua (1913-1914); 2) had a contract to appear, along with his Northern Division army, in Hollywood news reels about the Mexican war (1914), and hence, the many photos of him in action, often riding his horse (as in the photo at the top of this post), for which he was called the Centauro del Norte – Centaur of the North; 3) gave numerous interviews, most famously to American journalist John Reed; 4) attacked an American detachment of the 13th Cavalry Regiment, in Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916, and subsequently was hunted unsuccessfully by the US army; 5) rarely drank alcohol, but enjoyed strawberry beverages; 6) is known for having married several women, and having children in and outside of wedlock. Below is a photo of Pancho Villa with Luz Corral, whom he married in 1911:

Photos of Pancho Villa in this post:  Taken by my sister and my brother in-law in August 2022, from photographs displayed at the Museo General Francisco Villa (Av. 5 de Febrero, Zaragoza y Bruno Martinez, Durango.)

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