On this 10 May 1911, a little over one hundred years ago that immensely important city, Ciudad Juárez, fell to revolutionary troops under the command of Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa, two of the rock stars of the Mexican Revolution that would last ten bloody years. This broke the back of the Porfirio Diaz regime, a dictatorship that had endured for 34 years.
Pacual Orozco and Pancho Villa were themselves under the nominal command of Francisco I. Madero, the man whose words had started this revolution but who was himself no military strategist. For days Orozco’s troops and the beginnings of Villa’s famous División del Norte had had the city under siege and were ready to take it. They had waited impatiently for Madero’s order to do this. Madero had been busy attempting to negotiate the peaceful departure of Porfirio Diaz to avoid the necessity of any more bloodshed.
Pascual and Pancho must have been constantly looking over their shoulders watching for federal troops coming to the rescue of the city. They knew that Diaz, the brutal oppressor, was also a master manipulator and was only negotiating with Madero to gain time. Madero, however, was a man who could never pull the trigger. He never did issue the order to take Ciudad Juárez. Finally, Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa took the city anyway on this date in 1911 without any orders from Madero.
Orozco and Villa were not men who had any trouble pulling the trigger. Pancho, already legendary as a result of his youthful banditry, was perhaps the coldest hearted killer in the history of Mexico, a history that features an enormous number of cold hearted killers. During the course of the taking of the city, the federal general who had been in charge of its defense, General Navarro, fell into the hands of Orozco and Villa. They begged Madero for the order to shoot General Navarro. That gave rise to one of the anecdotes that so beautifully illustrates Madero’s character.
Madero became flustered and upset because he was convinced that Orozco and Villa would eventually shoot General Navarro regardless of whether he gave the order or not, just as they had taken the city without his order. Unbeknownst to Orozco and Villa, he got his own car and driver, loaded up Navarro and his guards, drove them to what we call the Rio Grande river, and allowed them to escape across it into the United States. The guards themselves would have been shot if they had allowed Navarro to escape and then remained behind.
Villa personally shot those of his own troops guilty of this or that infraction of discipline. His troops, his División del Norte, adored and venerated him in spite of this and perhaps in part because of it. They would go anywhere with him.
I can imagine Pancho Villa’s reaction when he found out about Madero’s rescue of the enemy general behind his back. You did what?
How had this all started? In early 1909 Francisco Madero’s book entitled La sucesión presidencial en 1910 had been published. It detailed the abuses of the Diaz regime in anticipation of Porfirio Diaz’s reelection yet again in 1910. Madero had written the book under the spell of one of his mystical trances. After sending it to the publisher in late 1908, he had gone alone into the desert near his home for forty days and forty nights of seclusion. Upon its publication the book was a phenomenal success.
Madero had then gone on a whistle stop speaking tour through Mexico. At each stop he was greeted by throngs anxious to hear him. The important thing to understand about Francisco Madero is that he was really no revolutionary at all. He wanted to return Mexico to the rule of law not of men, to the time of President Benito Juárez, the remarkable Indian President and reformer. He advocated for the liberal Constitution of 1857, the constitution that had simply been ignored under Diaz. He preached Freedom and Democracy. Always—always–he remained convinced that if only he explained those ideas well enough, then everything would peacefully fall into place simply by virtue of the weight of those ideas themselves.
During that time Porfirio Diaz dithered, perhaps befuddled in his old age as well as perplexed by the fact that Madero was a scion of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Mexico. Finally—finally–in June 1910 Madero was arrested and imprisoned in San Luis Potosí, the state capitol of the state immediately to the north of where I write this.
There is a perfectly Mexican touch to this part of the story. Madero’s wealthy father then secured a concession for the benefit of his son. Madero was allowed to take his exercise by riding around the city during the day. One day he simply rode off on his horse to the north and made it to the railroad.
After he reached the railroad, members of the railroad workers’ union, a union that Diaz had brutally suppressed many times, hid Madero amid the baggage on a train and shipped him across the border into Texas. He took up temporary residence in San Antonio. There in October 1910 he issued his Plan de San Luis, which he had written while in prison, his plan for the transition of Mexico to the rule of law, to Freedom and Democracy.
This header refers to “bicentennial” because 2010 was not only the centennial year of the Mexican Revolution. It was also the bicentennial year of the war for independence from Spain.
That brings me to the date of 20 November 1910 and the whole reason that I am writing about Fancisco I. Madero. Twenty November is riotously celebrated every year in Mexico as the anniversary date of the start of the Mexican Revolution. In late November 2010 the centennial celebration shut down the nation of Mexico for days. What exactly did happen on 20 November 1910?
On the morning of 20 November 1910, a Saturday, Madero along with ten men arrived back at the Mexican border. The plan was that Madero’s uncle would meet him there with four hundred additional men. This force would then begin a revolution. A problem quickly developed. Madero’s uncle did not show up.
Perhaps you would have had to have lived in Mexico for a time to appreciate how beautifully Mexican that is. Uncle Catarino did not show up where he was supposed to show up when he was supposed to show up there. This is poetic and symbolic. What happened on 20 November 1910? Absolutely nothing! I was astonished when I first learned the details of this non-event. Since then I have concluded that Uncle Catarino’s non-appearance is probably the reason the date is celebrated here every year with such delight.
In fairness to Uncle Catarino, I must add that he did eventually show up at the border a few days later . . . with ten men. Madero threw up his hands at the futility of the prospect of making revolution with Uncle Catarino and twenty other men. He left. And where did our mystical Francisco Madero go?
Madero then traveled to New Orleans in cognito. There he took to holing up every day in the New Orleans Public Library and writing his own commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu text. You need not reread that sentence a second time. I will write it for you again. There he took to holing up every day in the New Orleans Public Library and writing his own commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu text.
I have this vision of a day in February 1911 in the New Orleans Public Library. A dust-covered Mexican takes off his sombrero and enters the building. He searches among the study carrells, his big boots clomping on the wooden floor, his spurs jingling. Finally, he finds the man he is seeking.
Excuse me, Señor Madero. We have started a big revolution in Mexico inspired by your words. It has boiled up in many different states. We were wondering if you would care to join us in this revolution.
Oh, really? Why, yes, indeed I would. Give me another couple hours to finish this section of my commentaries on the god Krishna speaking to Prince Arjuna, and then we will be off.
In the next and last installment I will tell you the rest of the story–the bad part.