Biography of Pascual Orozco

Pascual Orozco
Pascual Orozco. Library of Congress

Pascual Orozco (1882-1915) was a Mexican muleteer, warlord, and revolutionary who participated in the early parts of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). More of an opportunist than an idealist, Orozco and his army fought in many key battles between 1910 and 1914 before he “backed the wrong horse:” General Victoriano Huerta, whose brief presidency lasted from 1913 to 1914. Exiled, Orozco was captured and executed by Texas Rangers.

Before the Revolution

Before the Mexican Revolution broke out, Pascual Orozco was a small-time entrepreneur, storekeeper, and muleteer. He came from a lower-middle class family in the northern state of Chihuahua and by working hard and saving he had been able to acquire a respectable amount of wealth. As a self-starter who had made his own fortune, he became disenchanted with the corrupt regime of Porfirio Díaz, who tended to favor old money and those with connections, neither of which Orozco had. Orozco became involved with the Flores Magón brothers, Mexican dissidents trying to stir up rebellion from safety in the United States.

Orozco and Madero

In 1910, opposition Presidential candidate Francisco I. Madero, who had lost due to flagrant fraud, called for revolution against the crooked Díaz. Orozco organized a small force in the Guerrero area of Chihuahua and quickly won a series of skirmishes against federal forces. With every victory, his force grew, swelled by local peasants who were drawn by patriotism, greed, or both. By the time Madero returned to Mexico from exile in the United States, Orozco commanded a force of several thousand men. Madero promoted him first to colonel and then general, even though Orozco had no military background whatsoever.

Early Victories

While Emiliano Zapata's army kept Díaz' federal forces busy in the south, Orozco and his armies took over the north. The uneasy alliance of Orozco, Madero and Pancho Villa captured several key towns in Northern Mexico, including Ciudad Juarez, which Madero made his provisional capital. Orozco maintained his businesses during his time as general: one time, his first action upon capturing a town was to sack the home of a business rival. Orozco was a cruel and ruthless commander. On one occasion, he sent the uniforms of dead federal soldiers back to Díaz with a note: “Here are the wrappers: send more tamales.”

Revolt Against Madero

The armies of the north drove Díaz from Mexico in May of 1911 and Madero took over. Madero saw Orozco as a violent bumpkin, useful to the war effort but out of his depth in government. Orozco, who was unlike Villa in that he was fighting not for idealism but under the assumption that he would be made at least a state governor, was outraged. Orozco had accepted the post of General, but resigned it when he refused to fight Zapata, who had rebelled against Madero for not implementing land reform. In March of 1912 Orozco and his men, called Orozquistas or Colorados, once again took to the field.

Orozco in 1912-1913

Fighting Zapata to the south and Orozco to the north, Madero turned to two generals: Victoriano Huerta, a relic left over from the days of Díaz, and Pancho Villa, who still supported him. Huerta and Villa were able to rout Orozco in several key battles. Orozco's poor control of his men contributed to his losses: he allowed them to sack and loot captured towns, which turned the locals against him. Orozco fled to the United States but returned when Huerta overthrew and assassinated Madero in February of 1913. President Huerta, in need of allies, offered him a generalship and Orozco accepted.

Downfall of Huerta

Orozco was once again fighting Pancho Villa, who was outraged by Huerta's murder of Madero. Two more generals appeared on the scene: Alvaro Obregón and Venustiano Carranza, both at the head of huge armies in Sonora. Villa, Zapata, Obregón and Carranza were united by their hatred of Huerta, and their combined might was far too much for the new president, even with Orozco and his colorados on his side. When Villa crushed the federals at the battle of Zacatecas in June of 1914, Huerta fled the country. Orozco fought on for a while but he was seriously outgunned and he, too, went into exile in 1914.

Death in Texas

After the fall of Huerta, Villa, Carranza, Obregón and Zapata began slugging it out amongst themselves. Seeing an opportunity, Orozco and Huerta met up in New Mexico and began planning a new revolt. They were captured by US forces and charged with conspiracy. Huerta died in prison, but Orozco escaped. He was shot and killed by Texas Rangers on August 30, 1915. According to the Texas version, he and his men tried to steal some horses and were tracked down and killed in the ensuing gunfight. According to the Mexicans, Orozco and his men were defending themselves from greedy Texas ranchers who wanted their horses.

Legacy of Pascual Orozco

Today, Orozco is considered a minor figure in the Revolution. He never reached the presidency and modern historians and readers prefer the flair of Villa or the idealism of Zapata. It should not be forgotten, however, that at the time of Madero's return to Mexico, Orozco commanded the largest and most powerful of the revolutionary armies and that he won several key battles in the early days of the revolution. Although it has been asserted by some that Orozco was an opportunist who coldly used the revolution to his own gain, that does not change the fact that if not for Orozco, Díaz may well have crushed Madero in 1911.

Orozco made a huge mistake when he supported the unpopular Huerta in 1913. Had he sided with his former ally Villa, he may have been able to stay in the game for a little longer.

Source: McLynn, Frank. Villa and Zapata: A History of the Mexican Revolution. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2000.