Mexican Revolution: The Big Four

Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, Alvaro Obregon and Venustiano Carranza

In 1911, Dictator Porfirio Díaz knew it was time to give up. The Mexican Revolution had broken out and he could no longer contain it. His place was taken by Francisco Madero, who was himself quickly deposed by an alliance of rebel leader Pascual Orozco and General Victoriano Huerta.

The "Big Four" leading warlords in the field -- Venustiano Carranza, Alvaro Obregon, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata -- were united in their hatred of Orozco and Huerta and together they crushed them. By 1914, Huerta and Orozco were gone, but without them to unite these four powerful men, they turned on one another. There were four mighty titans in Mexico...and only room for one.

of 04

Pancho Villa, Centaur of the North

Pancho Villa
US Library of Congress/Public Domain

After the crushing defeat of the Huerta/Orozco alliance, Pancho Villa was the strongest of the four. Nicknamed "the Centaur" for his horsemanship skills, he had the largest and best army, good weapons and an enviable base of support which included arms connections in the United States and a strong currency. His mighty cavalry, reckless attacks and ruthless officers made him and his army legendary. The alliance between the more rational and ambitious Obregón and Carranza would eventually defeat Villa and scatter his legendary Division of the North. Villa himself would be assassinated in 1923, under orders from Obregón.

of 04

Emiliano Zapata, the Tiger of Morelos

Emiliano Zapata
DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University/Public Domain

In the steamy lowlands south of Mexico City, Emiliano Zapata's peasant army was firmly in control. The first of the major players to take the field, Zapata had been campaigning since 1909, when he had led an uprising in protest of wealthy families stealing land from the poor. Zapata and Villa had worked together, but did not completely trust one another. Zapata rarely ventured out of Morelos, but in his native state his army was nearly invincible. Zapata was the Revolution's greatest idealist: his vision was of a fair and free Mexico where poor people could own and farm their own piece of land. Zapata took issue with anyone who did not believe in land reform as he did, and so he fought Díaz, Madero, Huerta and later Carranza and Obregón. Zapata was treacherously ambushed and killed in 1919 by agents of Carranza.

of 04

Venustiano Carranza, Mexico's Bearded Quixote

Venustiano Carranza
The World's Work, 1915/Public Domain

Venustiano Carranza had been a rising political star in 1910 when the regime of Porfirio Díaz came crashing down. As a former senator, Carranza was the only one of the "Big Four" with any government experience, and he felt that his made him the logical choice to lead the nation. He deeply despised Villa and Zapata, considering them riff-raff who had no business in politics. He was tall and stately, with a most impressive beard, which helped his cause greatly. He had keen political instincts: he knew just when to turn on Porfirio Díaz, joined in the fight against Huerta, and allied with Obregón against Villa. His instincts only failed him once: in 1920, when he turned on Obregón and was assassinated by his former ally.

of 04

Alvaro Obregon, the Last Man Standing

Alvaro Obregon
US Library of Congress/Public Domain

Alvaro Obregón was a chick pea farmer and inventor from the northern State of Sonora, where he was a successful self-made businessman when the war broke out. He excelled at everything he did, including warfare. In 1914 he fatefully decided to back Carranza instead of Villa, who he considered a loose cannon. Carranza sent Obregón after Villa, and he won a series of key engagements, including the Battle of Celaya. With Villa out of the way and Zapata holed up in Morelos, Obregón went back to his ranch...and waited for 1920, when he would become President, according to his arrangement with Carranza. Carranza double-crossed him, so he had his former ally assassinated. He went on to serve as President and was himself shot down in 1928.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Minster, Christopher. "Mexican Revolution: The Big Four." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Minster, Christopher. (2023, April 5). Mexican Revolution: The Big Four. Retrieved from Minster, Christopher. "Mexican Revolution: The Big Four." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).