Orozco: The Life and Death of a Mexican Revolutionary

Orozco: The Life and Death of a Mexican Revolutionary

by Raymond Caballero


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On August 31, 1915, a Texas posse lynched five “horse thieves.” One of them, it turned out, was General Pascual Orozco Jr., military hero of the Mexican Revolution. Was he a desperado or a hero? Orozco’s death proved as controversial as his storied life, a career of mysterious contradictions that Raymond Caballero puzzles out in this book.

A long-overdue biography of a significant but little-known and less understood figure of Mexican history, Orozco tells the full story of this revolutionary’s meteoric rise and ignominious descent, including the purposely obscured circumstances of his death at the hands of a lone, murderous lawman. That story—of an unknown muleteer of Northwest Chihuahua who became the revolution’s most important military leader, a national hero and idol, only to turn on his former revolutionary ally Francisco Madero—is one of the most compelling narratives of early-twentieth-century Mexican history. Without Orozco’s leadership, Madero would likely have never deposed dictator Porfirio Díaz. And yet Orozco soon joined Madero’s hated assassin, the new dictator, Victoriano Huerta, and espoused progressive reforms while fighting on behalf of reactionaries.

Whereas other historians have struggled to make sense of this contradictory record, Caballero brings to light Orozco’s bizarre appointment of an unknown con man to administer his rebellion, a man whose background and character, once revealed, explain many of Orozco’s previously baffling actions. The book also delves into the peculiar history of Orozco’s homeland, offering new insight into why Northwest Chihuahua, of all places in Mexico, produced the revolution’s military leadership, in particular a champion like Pascual Orozco. From the circumstances of his ascent, to revelations about his treachery, to the true details of his death, Orozco at last emerges, through Caballero’s account, in all his complexity and significance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806161907
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 11/01/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.13(d)

About the Author

Raymond Caballero is an independent historian whose research has long focused on Mexico, especially the Mexican Revolution.

Read an Excerpt


The Colonial Era in Northwest Chihuahua

From near the United States–Mexico border, the Sierra Madre Occidental runs south for more than nine hundred miles along western Chihuahua and Durango and eastern Sonora and Sinaloa. The range is laced with canyons and gorges, some on par with the Grand Canyon in size and depth. The bases of its valleys have low desert or tropical climates, while its alpine highlands are fir, pine, and oak forests. Along its eastern flank and closely associated with the sierra's history and development is the adjacent foothill and highland grassland Chihuahua region, which is often referred to as the Northwest. The sierra's rugged, often impenetrable terrain prevented growth of large population centers in a mountain range that had few roads and no rail. Towns and cities provisioning and servicing the sierra arose in the adjacent highland plateau, around seven thousand feet in elevation, in places such as Guerrero, Basúchil, San Isidro, Namiquipa, and Casas Grandes. The Chihuahua portion of the sierra, called La Sierra Tarahumara after its indigenous residents, contains rich mineral deposits and forests, mined and harvested for centuries after gold and silver fever first attracted Spaniards to the area. For the Spanish, getting to the sierra and the Northwest was the easy part; staying there was a daunting challenge. Persistent labor shortages and scarce, difficult transportation impeded exploitation of resources. Even today, few roads traverse the range. Those factors, however, while significant, were not the greatest impediments to the region's development.

In the mid-sixteenth century, when only a handful of soldier-explorers had entered the region, Spain defiantly claimed ownership of Chihuahua, forcibly taking the land and willfully disregarding rights of the territory's indigenous residents. The indigenous may not have held title to the property in the manner of the Europeans, but they occupied the land and felt that it was theirs. Many Natives refused to recognize Spain's title, but with a perfect record of subjugating aboriginal people, the crown had no doubt about its entitlement and that it would be the Natives who would cede their lands and often their liberty to Spain. For its rule to prevail, however, Spain recognized the necessity of occupying the land. Therefore, along the high plains on the eastern foothills of the sierra, the Spanish crown devised strategies to attract permanent colonists. The Spanish built missions and settlements to pacify the sedentary indigenous population and to attract pioneers, but the settlers soon fled in the face of occasional violent Indian rebellions and raids, abandoning entire towns, mines, missions, and haciendas. Over and again, the Spanish rebuilt and repopulated what they had forsaken only to flee once more. Between the seventeenth and late nineteenth centuries, the crown and Mexico routinely failed to secure the area's disperse and isolated settlements from Native insurgencies and, later, from raids by nomadic tribes, especially by several mounted Apache groups, particularly the Chiricahuas based to the north in what today is southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona. The Eastern and Western Apaches, along with the Navahos, had long before migrated from Alberta's Lake Athabasca area. The Western Apaches consisted of six tribes, the White Mountain Apaches, Pinals, Coyoteros, Arivaipas, Mescaleros, and Chiricahuas. Of those, the Chiricahuas were the principal raiders into Mexico, and they were divided into four bands, the Chihennes or Warmsprings, the Bedonkohes, the Nednhis, and the Chokonens. The Chiricahuas were the only Apache tribe that did not plant. They were raiders and hunter-gatherers. Raiding was not only a part of their culture; it was their livelihood. It was inconceivable that they would stop raiding. The only question would be where they would raid.

In seventeenth-century Chihuahua, the mostly sedentary Tepehuans, Conchos, Tarahumaras, and other Natives, by then supposedly Christian and loyal to the crown, rebelled several times, destroying missions and pueblos and occasionally sacrificing the missionaries, not only in the sierra region but throughout the province. Spain brutally repressed uprisings of sedentary tribes, driving many of the indigenous permanently into the sierra, which ultimately became their refuge. While Spanish rule experienced periodic indigenous resistance throughout Mexico, only in the Sierra Madre region and the North was it so persistent. The Spanish experienced some relief in the lull of rebellions from the last Tarahumara uprising in 1694 until the time Apache raids became a major problem in the mid-eighteenth century, when the mounted raiders harassed and killed Spaniards and the sedentary Natives alike.

A century after Spain's importation of the horse, feral mustang herds dramatically proliferated and spread far into western North America. The Apaches and Comanches seized the opportunity, retamed the mustangs, and became talented and superior equestrians, the Comanches especially so. Their mobility allowed them to hunt and raid, as well as seize livestock, goods, weapons, and people. The sparse, isolated Spanish settlements were easy targets for Apache warriors, for whom the sierra and the Northwest had become a happy hunting ground. The Apaches and Comanches soon developed a society living beyond the edge of "civilization" with the ability to seize its resources through their raiding parties. Attracted south by Spanish booty and pressured there by superior Comanche warriors and increased western American settlement, Apache raiding parties increasingly rode into Chihuahua. Mexican Jesuits and Franciscans sent by the crown to pacify and convert sedentary tribes built missions, but those endeavors had no effect on the Apache threat. Presidios became the more effective Spanish response. They were manned by cavalry, but those garrisons were too few and scattered to hold such a vast, untamed territory.

In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the first Spanish settlers began trickling into the Río Papigochi area, then under the jurisdiction of the mining boomtown Cusihuiriáchi. Among the early settlers were the Domínguez de Mendoza and Orozco families. Capitán Andrés Orozco y Villaseñor was the deputy alcalde (magistrate) for the area after 1710. In the next decades, other families of future revolutionaries arrived in Basúchil and San Isidro.

The region's unreliable security restricted not only the population but also the exploitation of timber, ore, and agriculture. The Spanish were convinced of the area's potential by its peacetime productivity, and they determined to solve the Sierra Madre puzzle. To do so, Spain invested substantial resources to promote the territory's habitation and development, but the devastation continued. In 1758, the indefatigable sixty-three-year-old Pedro Tamarón y Romeral became bishop of the Durango-based Nueva Vizcaya diocese. During his ten years in office, the bishop conducted five remarkable tours and censuses of his vast province, visiting the most remote areas, including villages of Chihuahua's Northwest. In town after town, the bishop recorded the devastating path of death, destruction, and abandonment wrought by Apache raiders.

Spain also sent civil inspectors to review the area and devise defense and development strategies. In 1778, intent on finding a permanent solution, Spaincreated the Internal Provinces, a new government for north-central Mexico, removing the area from vice-regal control and instituting a new system of land tenure. That new government, no longer based in Chihuahua or Durango but in Sonora, established a series of military villages to augment and support the presidios in places such as Namiquipa, Janos, and Casas Grandes, situated as pickets to intercept Apache raiders descending on Chihuahua.

To attract settlers, the Spanish crown allocated a 277,000-acre parcel of land to each community, a square with each side 21 miles long, an area of 432 square miles to be held by each community as municipal land. In some cases, private hacendados had previously owned part of that land but had abandoned the properties in the face of Apache raids. In addition to the communal land share, the crown gave settlers a sizable house lot large enough for a vegetable garden and orchard, as well as a larger, separate irrigated agricultural land grant with water rights and a pasture for domestic animals. The settlers were exempted from most taxes. The crown paid each family two reales per day for their first year, giving families support while they settled and planted crops. That was the bait for the new residents. In return, the homesteaders had to live on and work the land for ten years, be armed, participate in the defense of the community, and resist Apache attacks. The nearby garrisons reserved the right to conscript the town's men to fight the Apaches whenever necessary. These semi-military colonies became the backbone of Northwest Chihuahua colonial life, and over time the isolated and independent people of the Northwest evolved their unique society and community. They also became the buffer zone, insulating the rest of Chihuahua from the scourge of Apache raids. They were the Mexican equivalent of Jefferson's yeoman farmers, working land and defending territory in cooperation with nearby forts.

Unlike the United States, which welcomed and absorbed people from many nations and of all faiths, Spain severely limited its pool of potential settlers by continuing to require that all immigrants be Spanish, have impeccable Catholic credentials, and have no Jewish or Moorish ancestry. That policy was a monumental strategic mistake that would make it impossible for Spain to colonize vast reaches of New Spain, especially areas that became California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The number of qualified Spaniards willing to emigrate and resettle was miniscule in relation to the area's size. Thus, Spain could not defend territory that it claimed but did not inhabit. Its national policies of blind faith and intolerance would be its undoing in the Americas, especially North America, where the United States would easily invade and take Spanish territory and where nomadic tribes could plunder scattered settlements at will. Nevertheless, when it came to the sierra, Spain actively worked to colonize the region and relaxed some of its normal practices to attract settlers.

In granting northwestern homesteads, Spain ignored the usual societal and racial castes and offered communal land shares, irrigated plots, and town residential lots to all takers, regardless of race or economic background. Unlike the hacendados, these highland settlers did not hire labor; rather, with their large and extended family relations and neighbors, they jointly worked communal and personal plots. They married within their communities, often with cousins or close neighbors, forging tight-knit social circles. They frequently took up arms as a community to fight the Apaches. Over many decades, these egalitarian, racially mixed communities developed close family, community, and economic bonds. They also became virtually autonomous, fiercely independent, and aggressive in defense of their territory and way of life.

Many presidio soldiers remained after their service to live in those communities as well. Generations later, the region's armed inhabitants were largely independent of state government and close to the land they worked. So long as the Apache threat remained existential to Chihuahua, Serrano settlerswere free to work their lands in return for fighting the Indian raiders and creating a protective barrier for the rest of the state. Unfortunately, the land that Serranos resided on, tilled, and ran livestock on was not as much theirs as they had believed it to be, a doubtful tenure having its own, troubled history.

Many residents of the military towns never obtained individual, documented titles to their plots or communal shares. In many cases, the government either never issued individual titles or else placed title only in the community's name. Generation after generation, these Serranos lived on their town lots in homes their families built, worked their own farms and communal lands, grazed their cattle on common pastures, and jointly harvested the common plots and forests. These families would pay a high price after the 1880s for their lack of land titles when land grabs by Chihuahua's politically powerful elite took their municipal and communal plots, seizures that became precursors to the revolution.

Aside from individual and municipal properties, there was another type of land, that owned by the Catholic Church, legally a corporation, including the immense properties possessed by the Jesuits. The viceroy had granted the Franciscans jurisdiction over the plains of Chihuahua and the Jesuits the highlands and the sierra. By 1767, the Jesuits had eighteen missions and various other properties under their control, including the one at Papigochi (Ciudad Guerrero's name before 1823). Jesuits, because of their independence, power, and alliance with the Vatican, were often in conflict with Spanish monarchs, who sought absolute power in their realms and a compliant Church establishment. In 1767, Carlos III, blaming Jesuits for internal Spanish disturbances, issued a dramatic retaliatory order to expel all 2,200 Jesuits from Spanish America. The crown handled the expulsion order as a top-secret assignment and executed it simultaneously throughout the Americas. The Papigochi mission was one such Jesuit property. It took the soldiers a month to gather the priests in the sierra and highlands missions. In July 1767, royal troops appeared at the Papigochi mission door and asked for resident Jesuit priests Manuel Vivanco and José Vega. Soldiers arrested the priests when they appeared. After officials and the priests made a complete inventory of the mission's properties, they marched the priests first to Parral, then, along with other Jesuits, to Zacatecas and then eventually to Veracruz where, between October of that year and January of the next, they were banished from the Americas and sent to Italy.

Once the Jesuits were gone, the crown replaced the order with either Franciscans or diocesan priests. The crown turned most Jesuit properties over to Franciscans but retained a substantial portion for the government, including the mission lands near Babícora and around Papigochi, which included the village of Labor de San Isidro, later to be the Orozco's family home. Over time, although they had no title, Spanish families settled on the former Jesuit land. On several occasions, the residents of San Isidro attempted to buy the land they had been working. When they could not, they simply continued to live there and work the land without title.


Mexican Independence and Chaos

Events in the first decade of the nineteenth century encouraged Mexican insurgents to launch their fight for independence from Spain. America's independence victory over Britain was one inspiration. Mexicans were also influenced by French enlightenment philosophers and by the French Revolution. Mexicans saw their opportunity in the massive confusion in Spain when Napoleon had imprisoned the battling Spanish monarchs and replaced the incumbent with his own brother, which left Spain with a divided government and no Spanish sovereign. In South America, Simón Bolívar had also seized the moment. Between 1810 and 1821, Mexico fought Spain for its independence. The movement's initial leadership was mostly lower-level clergy fighting under the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe, but the Church's Mexican hierarchy and the conservative establishment were uniformly royalist, forming a natural alliance that soon defeated the insurgents. In 1821, after Spain enacted liberal reforms, conservative Mexican Catholics, the Church hierarchy, and monarchists successfully fought for independence and established a new Mexican monarchy under Emperor Agustín de Iturbide. In the Northwest, independence soon converted what had been a Spanish-Apache problem into a Mexican headache.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations,
Part I. Northwest Chihuahua,
1. The Colonial Era in Northwest Chihuahua,
2. Mexican Independence and Chaos,
3. Benito Juárez and the Reform Era,
4. Porfiriato Governance,
5. Porfiriato Economic Policies,
6. Terrazas and Creel, Premier Chihuahua Oligarchs,
Part II. The Revolution,
7. Díaz Opposition Forms: The Liberal Party and Madero,
8. Namiquipa and Northwest Chihuahua,
9. The Orozco Family, Chihuahua Protestants,
10. The Short 1910 Campaign and a Call to Revolt,
11. Chihuahua on the Eve of Revolution,
12. Orozco and Joaquín Chávez,
13. The Start of the Mexican Revolution,
14. Orozco Heads to Ciudad Juárez,
15. New York Peace Talks,
16. The Road to Ciudad Juárez,
17. The Battle of Ciudad Juárez,
18. A Spoiled Victory Celebration,
19. The Treaty of Ciudad Juárez and Its Aftermath,
Part III. Orozco's Rebellions and Death,
20. Elections and Discord,
21. Run-Up to Orozco's Rebellion,
22. Orozco's Colorado Rebellion,
23. Orozco's Decline,
24. The End of Orozco's Rebellion,
25. Fall Committee Hearings,
26. La Decena Trágica,
27. A New Huerta Plot,
28. The Death of Pascual Orozco,
29. Controversy over Orozco's Death,
30. The Lynching of Pascual Orozco,
Conclusion: The Legacy of Pascual Orozco,

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