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  • Orozco: The Life and Death of a Mexican Revolutionary by Raymond Caballero
  • Thomas Alter II
Orozco: The Life and Death of a Mexican Revolutionary. By Raymond Caballero. ( Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017. Pp. 352. Illustrations, maps, appendix, notes, glossary, bibliography, index.)

With Orozco: The Life and Death of a Mexican Revolutionary, Raymond Caballero provides a long overdue biography of Mexican Revolutionary [End Page 230] leader Pascual Orozco Jr. The last such biography appeared more than fifty years ago. Orozco secured his place in history by leading to victory the revolutionary armed forces at the First Battle of Ciudad Juárez in 1911, which brought about the downfall of Porfirio Díaz and the ascendancy of Francisco Madero to the presidency of Mexico. After the battle, according to Caballero, "Orozco evolved into a paradox for having promoted progressive political positions while simultaneously siding with notorious reactionaries and counterrevolutionaries" (217), the foremost of these reactionaries being the assassin of Madero, Victoriano Huerta. In this study, Caballero seeks to unravel these seeming contradictions as well as the cloudy circumstances of Orozco's death in the West Texas borderlands in 1915 as a supposed horse thief. In the end, he concludes "Orozco was… motivated more by his desire to settle scores and personal slights than by policy" (218).

Orozco is more than a biography. Orozco does not appear, outside of the introduction, until a third of the way into the book. To gain an understanding of Orozco's roots, Caballero begins by examining his home province of Chihuahua from the periods of Spanish colonization through Mexican independence, the reform era of Benito Juárez, and the rise of the region's premier oligarchs, the Terrazas and Creel families. Caballero shows how the highland settlers of Chihuahua, including the Orozco family, "became virtually autonomous, fiercely independent, and aggressive in defense of their territory and way of life" (17) due to decades of conflict with the Apaches and strained relations with Mexico City. Much of this history of Chihuahua is not new to scholars of Mexican history. However, Caballero provides a service by compiling it into a single source.

By the time of the revolution, Orozco "was a man of some means" (69) from his family's land, pack mule business, and store. Like many wealthy Mexicans left out of Díaz's inner circle, the Orozco family grew frustrated with the dictator's continued rule and joined Madero in opposition to Díaz. In examining Orozco's reasons for joining the revolution, Caballero states, "his motivation was not so much animus against Díaz, [Luis] Terrazas, or [Enrique] Creel, as it was his personal hatred of local political jefe Joaquín Chávez, his bitter foe" (73), with whom he vied for lucrative mining transportation contracts. Chávez's political rule was marked by "abusive conduct toward area residents" (77), including murder, and Orozco sought revenge by joining the anti-Díaz forces. When Madero wavered in advancing on Ciudad Juárez, Orozco did not. As stated by Caballero, "the spark of revolution in Chihuahua was not Madero's; it was mainly Pascual Orozco" (83). Once in power, however, Madero slighted Orozco for any national leadership posts. Orozco's bitterness eventually lead him to revolt against Madero.

In Orozco's revolt against Madero, Caballero makes much of the contradiction of Orozco's progressive rhetoric and oligarchical financing, as [End Page 231] if he might be a progressive reformer despite this support. This is needless speculation as historians and, more importantly, most contemporary participants in the Mexican Revolution have viewed Orozco as the counter-revolutionary he became.

Caballero's unique and most valuable contribution comes in his explanation of Orozco's death. He places it in the context of the aftermath of the Plan de San Diego, when amid "Bandit War" hysterics, white ranchers and lawmen engaged in the wanton killing of Mexicans along the border. Caballero concludes that Orozco and his posse, when attempting to reenter Mexico, were lynched, as were countless other victims. Once authorities realized Orozco's identity they labeled him a horse thief and conducted a sham trial to exonerate his murderers and quell any possible reprisals from Mexican...


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