Mexico, 1910: Revolution breaks out across the nation against oppressive dictator, Porfirio Diaz, in the wake of yet another fraudulent election and the imprisonment of his vocal opponent, Francisco Madero. But the war gets off to a rough start. Rather than an organized movement against Diaz’s government - the root of the problems plaguing the Mexican people - there are instead a number of smaller forces that rise up with no clear direction or intent, attacking symbols of the regime as they see fit.
Up north in the state of Chihuahua, an army veteran turned bandit named Francisco “Pancho” Villa has taken up the fight with a band of insurgents. He raids haciendas, captures a train of Federal soldiers and goes on to fight toe-to-toe with the Federal Army, seizing several towns along his route. He quickly becomes famous for his relentless and fearless fighting style.
In the town of Guerrero, Chihuahua, Pascual Orozco - a businessman from a more respected background than that of Villa - is selected to lead the state’s regular revolutionary forces, and immediately goes after Federal Army units. He proves to be effective, but becomes known for his aggressive style of combat; in January 1911, he successfully ambushes federal soldiers at Cañón del Mal Paso, strips the dead of their uniforms, and has them shipped to Diaz’s palace with a note reading: “Ahí te van las hojas, mándame más tamales.” (translation: "Here are the wrappers, send me more tamales.")
Across the border, a young anarchist author & poet, Praxedis Guerrero, who is hiding in exile after years of vocal opposition to Diaz, raises a small army in El Paso, TX, crosses the border into Juarez where they begin capturing trains, looting supply houses and destroying railroad bridges.
To the west in Baja, the “Magonistas” - guerrilla fighters organized and led by activist Ricardo Flores Magon - have taken control of Tijuana as well as the many border towns in northern Baja, with the goal of separating the peninsula from Mexico entirely.
And in the south, a young village councilman and farmer named Emiliano Zapata has independently raised an army of peasants under the motto “¡Tierra y Libertad!” (Land and Liberty!) to harass Hacienda owners, ambush army units and seize disputed farmlands taken by the government.
It isn’t so much a revolution as it is chaos.
From his jail cell, Francisco Madero remains unbroken; he knows a spark is needed to unite Mexico in the cause against Diaz & his regime. After escaping from prison and fleeing north, he writes:
“The people, in their constant efforts for the triumph of liberty & justice, are forced, at precise historical moments, to make their greatest sacrifices. Our beloved country has reached one of those moments. With all honesty I declare that it would be a weakness on my part - and treason to the people - to not put myself at the front of my fellow citizens.”
Madero raises a small army of roughly 800 men, some of whom are Americans from Texas and New Mexico, and marches south from the border to a small Federal Army outpost at Casas Grandes, Chihuahua. His plan is to capture the garrison and its supplies to support future campaigns deeper into Mexico.
But as he leads his men into the attack at first light, they find themselves vastly outnumbered and outgunned. A machine gun pins them down while artillery batters their lines. Soon, Federal reinforcements arrive and overwhelm the rebels. They have no choice but to retreat.
As the sun sets on March 6, 1911, Madero finds himself both defeated & wounded following the Battle of Casas Grandes. Many of his men are killed, wounded or captured in the melee. Those within his ranks and beyond believe the revolution has been delivered a fatal blow.
Yet, in defeat he becomes what the people need: a leader. The many diverse revolutionary leaders from across the states develop an immediate respect for Madero and pledge their forces to him; a man of means who gave up all he had to fight alongside his fellow citizens.
Within weeks, his army more than doubles. With the help of Orozco, they take Chihuahua City and oust the Federales across the state. In Baja, the Magonistas defeat Federales in Mexicali and win the city, while Zapata secures the southern state of Morelos for Madero. By April, the revolution has spread to 18 states across Mexico as Madero - united alongside “Pancho” Villa - defeats the Federal Army stronghold at Juarez. Soon after, Diaz surrenders.
By year’s end, Mexico holds its first free election in decades, giving Madero the presidency in a landslide.
Control the situation or the situation will control you. There is no perfect moment to stage your revolt; seize the initiative and the right people will join your cause.