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For Villa and Zapata, the central issue was always land and whether those who worked it would get to own it, either individually or as part of a group. They distrusted Carranza because in their view, he could not be counted on to fight for land distribution because he had never known poverty, as they had. Zapata could not function much outside his small area of villages. Villa, the more cosmopolitan of the two, could envision himself as a national leader, but was slow to change his tactics in the face of Obregón.

Governor Villa Implements New Policies but Chihuahua’s Economy Suffers

General Villa felt inexperienced and not educated enough to serve as governor and asked local journalist, Silvestre Terrazas, no relation to the Terrazas family that had monopolized Chihuahua, to serve instead. Terrazas became Governor Villa’s assistant during his one month in office, December 1913 to January 1914. He prohibited his troops from alcohol use, reclaimed land from Spanish owners and other “enemies of the Revolution,” and began constructing approximately 100 schools for poor children to empower them through education. He also banished the Terrazas clan from Chihuahua gaining him support of both upper and lower classes.

At first Villa hoped that local areas would control Chihuahua, but instead he learned he would need a strong central government funded by the confiscated estates of the friends and family of the Terrazas clan and Spanish elites. He stabilized the city, but quickly realized that redistributing land was more complicated than he had imagined. He wondered whether his loyal soldiers or the poor who hadn’t fought deserved the land. Ultimately he postponed the decision. Yet after a month, Carranza forced him to resign. Although Carranza wanted to diminish Villa’s popularity, he could never win the trust of the people as Villa had. In addition, U.S. President Wilson supported Villa because of his flexibility and lack of political ambition, which he thought he saw in Carranza.

When General Manuel Chao replaced Villa as governor, the economy declined. Villa had not troubled to invest in Chihuahua’s cattle industry, the basis for local trade, and demand started to outrun supply. When he printed money to offset losses, the state suffered a drastic devaluation and a period of severe inflation.

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William Benton and Villa’s Damaged International Image

In February 1914, Villa reclaimed land and cattle from wealthy landowners, like William Benton, a Scottish man who had benefitted immensely during the Porfiriato. Benton had acquired a large portion of previously communal land, and Villa’s government seized it for redistribution. In response, Benton went to the governor’s office to insist that it be returned.

Benton was killed during the interview and there is no written documentation regarding who killed him or how, but his British citizenship complicated everything. Carranza stated that U.S. intervention would compromise Mexican sovereignty, and that the British ambassador could speak with him directly to resolve the issue. The British ambassador declined to take the matter further.

El Paso Herald, 20 February, 1914, HOME EDITION, Image 1 - “Benton Killed by the Rebels’ Firing Squad.” Newspaper and Current Periodical Division, Library of Congress

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The Convention of Aguascalientes and Zapata Allies with Pancho Villa

Zapata saw Carranza’s Plan of Guadalupe as worse than Madero’s Plan of San Luis Potosí with regard to land reform. Zapata insisted that every revolutionary adhere strictly to the Plan of Ayala and its promise of land redistribution. Once Huerta resigned, Carranza kept his eye on Zapata and stationed garrisons of troops south of Mexico City; he never acknowledged Zapata’s claims to leadership. During the Convention of Aguascalientes in November 1914, Zapata allied with Villa, rather than hacendado and former senator Carranza. Zapata hoped to see Roque González Garza as president because he supported land reform. Following the Convention the revolutionaries split into Conventionists, under Zapata and Villa, and the Constitutionalists, under Carranza and General Álvaro Obregón. Zapata and Villa met, on 4 December, in Mexico City in the Xochimilco Convention. The men took turns sitting in the presidential chair, but both decided that neither felt comfortable there. They also agreed that the federal government should handle international issues only leaving the states to decide internal matters. At the end of their meeting, they seemed united, but their unity dissolved quickly when Zapata refused to aid Villa.

Twelve days after he left Xochimilco on 16 December, Zapata captured Puebla, the biggest victory he would win during the entire Revolution. Since Zapatistas couldn’t carry out a full scale war without more troops, they adopted guerilla tactics rather than taking territories. Zapata himself returned to Morelos to begin land reform and create a short-lived utopia there, but Villa suffered disastrous defeats both in 1915 and 1916. By the end of February 1915, Villa, Eulalio Gutiérrez, and Roque González Garza realized that Zapata would not help them outside Morelos. His parochial allegiance meant that the United States would never recognize Zapata, and he became a more minor player in the Revolution.

Published in 1918, this cartoon makes note of the discord between Zapata and Villa. In the cartoon Villa can be seen on the ground being attacked by Carranza while Zapata looks on with a bloody knife, possibly from stabbing Villa in the back.

“To the Victor Belongs -- ?” Gaar Williams, artist. Published in the Minneapolis News, [ca. 1918]. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

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Xochimilco Convention

By December 1914 Mexico was in a state of transition. Huerta had resigned the presidency five months before and fled the country. Rebel leaders Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, Venustiano Carranza and Álvaro Obregón met at Aguascalientes to discuss the nation’s future, but the talks went badly. On 4 December 1914, Villa and Zapata met in Xochimilco, a small town just outside of Mexico City, to settle their differences and form a more stable and cohesive alliance.

Villa and Zapata seemed to have little in common, but they disdained Carranza whom they saw as more interested in power than helping the people. Both leaders announced that they did not want the presidency after the Revolution; they wanted true political, economic and social reform, favoring decentralized federalism giving the states the right to act independently, and Zapata limiting national power to act in their states, restricting its role to international affairs. Lastly, both men agreed that Mexico needed drastic land reform. They did not discuss divisive issues such as labor reform and international relations - particularly with the U.S. Zapata considered land reform the priority and that his Plan of Ayala would be his agenda. He would not consider other matters until land reform was addressed. Villa considered that a state, not a national, matter. Zapata believed in regional autonomy and state militias that would fight for the people and for land reform. Villa wanted a strong, centrally coordinated national military. Zapata never joined Villa militarily and maintained his position as an independent actor. Although they never acted together, both men paraded with tens of thousands of soldiers through Mexico City. People cheered and sobbed, and school children threw flowers, all believing the Revolution would soon be over.

People say that Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata took turns sitting in the president’s chair and both agreed it was too ostentatious and uncomfortable. They announced that neither wanted the presidency for themselves, stating that a general makes a poor president. Still, photographer Agustín Víctor Casasola snapped a picture of Pancho Villa in the president’s chair with Zapata in the vice president’s chair and the image circled the globe.

C. General Álvaro Obregón, Ocho Mil Kilómetros en Campaña (Paris, Mexico, 1917). General Collections, Library of Congress. F1234 .O13

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Mariano Azuela’s Los de Abajo

Mariano Azuela was born in 1873 in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco. He studied medicine in Guadalajara in 1892. In 1907, he wrote his first novel. In 1914, Azuela served in Francisco “Pancho” Villa’s army as a medical officer. Also in that year, Azuela wrote Los de Abajo, a fictional account of the Mexican Revolution, published in 1915 in El Paso, Texas. Translated as The Underdogs, the novel highlights the experiences of the people, or the pueblo, as opposed to those of the ruling class. Los de Abajo offers insight into the Revolution, a movement that started with the working class and villagers.

Manuel Antonio Arango L., author of Aspectos Sociales en Ocho Escritores Hispánicos, uses a memorable quote from the protagonist of Los de Abajo, Luis Cervantes; the Revolution is to benefit the poor, the ignorant, the enslaved and the unfortunate who do not know who they are. The rich, he says, convert the blood, sweat and tears of the poor into gold for their own benefit. Anita Brenner claimed that while scenes may appear brutal to the average reader, every one of them was new to those who had no direct experience of the Revolution.

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The Disintegration of the Division of the North

The Battle of Celaya in April 1915 led to several more unsuccessful skirmishes. Villa’s men started to lose confidence as they unsuccessfully tried to overpower Obregón. Although Villa had a much smaller force, limited access to food and weapons, and significantly fewer allies than he had had at the beginning, he was not prepared to quit. With only a few of his most trusted generals and a complete loss of U.S. support, he continued to march forward.

Villa’s personality changed distinctly once he failed to defeat Obregón. Whereas he previously avoided damaging American-owned land, his newfound resentment towards the U.S. fueled a more radical policy. He demanded money and goods from civilians whose paths he crossed, regardless of nationality to fund his mission. Villa’s behavior led to public belief that he was a vicious bandit. Given Carranza’s growing support throughout the U.S. and Mexico, in October 1915, the U.S. officially recognized the Carrancista government.

The Chihuahuan population started to favor Carranza because they were tired of ongoing battles and instability. Villa, however, continued to fight. To Villa, the purpose of the Revolution had more to do with the liberation of the poor than anything else.

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Decline of the Agrarian Movement

In November 1915, Carranza began to institute land reforms in certain areas, returning some of the land stolen by the Porfiriato. Nevertheless, since Carranza returned former communal lands Zapata claimed that Carranza stifled land reform. After Obregón defeated Villa, the Constitutionalists tried to stop Zapata in Morelos. Since Obregón became Carranza’s Secretary of the Army and Navy, the task of defeating Zapata went to General Pablo González. Carefully planned military offensives in 1916 and 1917 penetrated Zapata’s defenses in Morelos. Zapata mounted another guerrilla war and effectively drove the Constitutionalists out of Morelos by mid-1917, but the movement declined and several major leaders defected to the Constitutionalists. Many Zapatista generals also started killing one another. On 10 April 1919, Zapata rode to meet a supposed Carrancista turn-coat, when he was assassinated.

The newspaper article details the orders of General Pablo González to hunt down Zapata in 1916. The article also points out that several Zapatista generals had been recently killed on the orders of Zapata for suspected conspiracy against their leader.

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The Assassination of Emiliano Zapata

On 10 April 1919 General Pablo González ordered Colonel Jesús Guajardo to meet with Emiliano Zapata and others. The meeting was the culmination of an assassination plot that González had been working on.

Since Zapata was suspicious, he chose the meeting place. Zapata told the Colonel no more than ten federal troops could attend. Accounts differ, but in the end federal forces killed Zapata and three other high-ranking generals. According to Mexican federal forces, Zapata reached for his gun and the Colonel killed him in self-defense. Other accounts, however, dispute this, noting that when Zapata came to the farmhouse, a trumpet sounded and federal troops shot and killed him instantly.

The newspaper clipping is an announcement from a Washington DC paper breaking the news of the death of Zapata; it follows the official story of the Mexican federal troops.

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Villa’s Loss of Popularity, Offer of Amnesty, and Assassination

Villa’s popularity diminished after the end of the Pershing expedition. Although he captured the city of Chihuahua twice, his violent behavior intensified. During a visit to Camargo, he murdered about 90 women for seemingly no reason. Additionally, after a third and final battle in the city of Chihuahua that proved unsuccessful, Villa and his troops attacked the town of Namiquipa to retaliate against an officer who had betrayed him. There, Villa ordered his troops to rape every captured woman, and burn the town. Villa had received assistance from villagers before, but once he became more violent, he lost almost all his support. One article from the 18 August 1919 edition of the El Paso Herald recounts the words of the Department of State, “His activities are a constant threat against lives and properties.”

Yet, he still retained many of his supporters. After he tried to reunite his Division of the North with his steadfast ally General Felipe Ángeles, Carranza ordered Ángeles’s execution. Adolfo de la Huerta replaced Carranza as interim-President after Carranza’s assassination in May 1920 and initial talks regarding amnesty failed, so Villa threatened to continue his rebellion. De la Huerta, hoping to avoid a continuing conflict, awarded Villa a hacienda in Canutillo, Durango, where he resided until his death in 1923.

Although Villa signed an amnesty with former president de la Huerta, current President Obregón, and the new presidential candidate General Plutarco Elías Calles tried to assassinate him during his residence in Canutillo. One of the perpetrators was Jesús Herrera, the son of one of the traitors who Villa had so violently killed following his defeat by Carranza. In July 1923, Villa was shot by at least 40 bullets when leaving Parral. He had been visiting one of his girlfriends, Manuela Casas, and was traveling back to Canutillo with several bodyguards and his secretary. Villa, his secretary, and one of his bodyguards were killed instantly, while the others escaped. Following the assassination, Library of Congressal police arrived slowly. President Obregón received the news and ordered an unimpressive investigation. Villa’s body was buried in Parral, and several years later, his head was stolen from his grave.

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  • “John J. Pershing Papers, 1882-1971” 0541M (Shelving # in Manuscripts), General Correspondence, 1904-1948, Box 203, Folder “Villa, Francisco (A.C. 9714)”

  • Map. “John J. Pershing Papers, 1882-1971” 0541M (Shelving # in Manuscripts), General Correspondence, 1904-1948, Box 203, Folder “Villa, Francisco (A.C. 9714)”

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