Photos of the Mexican Revolution

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The Mexican Revolution in Photos

Young soldiers ready to mobilize Federal Troops in 1913
Young soldiers ready to mobilize Federal Troops in 1913. Photo by Agustin Casasola

The Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) broke out at the dawn of modern photography, and as such is one of the first conflicts to have been documented by photographers and photojournalists. One of Mexico's greatest photographers, Agustin Casasola, took some memorable images of the conflict, some of which are reproduced here.

By 1913, all order in Mexico had broken down. Former President Francisco Madero was dead, likely executed by orders of General Victoriano Huerta, who had assumed command of the nation. The federal army had its hands full with Pancho Villa in the north and Emiliano Zapata in the south. These young recruits were on their way to fight for what was left of the pre-revolutionary order. An alliance of Villa, Zapata, Venustiano Carranza and Alvaro Obregon would eventually destroy Huerta's regime, freeing the revolutionary warlords to battle one another.

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Emiliano Zapata

Idealist of the Mexican Revolution Emiliano Zapata. Photo by Agustin Casasola

Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919) was a revolutionary who operated south of Mexico City. He had a vision of a Mexico where the poor could get land and freedom.

When Francisco I. Madero called for a revolution to unseat longtime tyrant Porfirio Diaz, the poor peasants of Morelos were among the first to answer. They chose as their leader the young Emiliano Zapata, a local farmer and horse trainer. Before long, Zapata had a guerrilla army of dedicated peons who fought for his vision of "Justice, Land, and Liberty." When Madero ignored him, Zapata released his Plan of Ayala and took to the field again. He would be a thorn in the side of successive would-be presidents such as Victoriano Huerta and Venustiano Carranza, who finally managed to assassinate Zapata in 1919. Zapata is still considered by modern Mexicans as the moral voice of the Mexican Revolution.

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Venustiano Carranza

Mexico's Don Quixote Venustiano Carranza. Photo by Agustin Casasola

Venustiano Carranza (1859-1920) was one of the "Big Four" warlords. He became President in 1917 and served until his ouster and assassination in 1920.

Venustiano Carranza was an up-and-coming politician in 1910 when the Mexican Revolution broke out. Ambitious and charismatic, Carranza raised a small army and took to the field, uniting with fellow warlords Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa and Alvaro Obregon to drive usurper President Victoriano Huerta from Mexico in 1914. Carranza then allied himself with Obregon and turned on Villa and Zapata. He even orchestrated Zapata's 1919 assassination. Carranza made one big mistake: he double-crossed the ruthless Obregon, who drove him from power in 1920. Carranza was himself assassinated in 1920.

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The Death of Emiliano Zapata

The Death of Emiliano Zapata The Death of Emiliano Zapata. Photo by Agustin Casasola

On April 10, 1919, rebel warlord Emiliano Zapata was double-crossed, ambushed and killed by federal forces working with Coronel Jesus Guajardo.

Emiliano Zapata was greatly loved by the impoverished people of Morelos and southern Mexico. Zapata had proved to be a stone in the shoe of every man who would try and lead Mexico during this time because of his stubborn insistence on land, freedom, and justice for the poor of Mexico. He outlasted dictator Porfirio Diaz, President Francisco I. Madero, and usurper Victoriano Huerta, always taking to the field with his army of ragged peasant soldiers every time his demands were ignored.

In 1916, President Venustiano Carranza ordered his generals to get rid of Zapata by any means necessary, and on April 10, 1919, Zapata was betrayed, ambushed and killed. His supporters were devastated to learn that he had died, and many refused to believe it. Zapata was mourned by his distraught supporters.

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The Rebel Army of Pascual Orozco in 1912

The rebel army of Pascual Orozco in 1912. Photo by Agustin Casasola

Pascual Orozco was one of the most powerful men in the early part of the Mexican Revolution. Pascual Orozco joined the Mexican Revolution early. Once a muleteer from the State of Chihuahua, Orozco answered Francisco I. Madero's call to overthrow dictator Porfirio Diaz in 1910. When Madero triumphed, Orozco was made a General. The alliance of Madero and Orozco did not last long. By 1912, Orozco had turned on his former ally. 

During the 35-year reign of Porfirio Diaz, Mexico's train system was greatly expanded, and trains were of vital strategic importance during the Mexican Revolution as a means of transporting weapons, soldiers, and supplies. By the end of the revolution, the train system was in ruins.

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Francisco Madero Enters Cuernavaca in 1911

The brief promise of peace and change Francisco Madero enters Cuernavaca. Photo by Agustin Casasola

Things were looking up for Mexico in June of 1911. Dictator Porfirio Diaz had fled the country in May, and energetic young Francisco I. Madero was poised to take over as president. Madero had enlisted the aid of men such as Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata with the promise of reform, and with his victory, it looked like the fighting would stop.

It was not to be, however. Madero was deposed and murdered in February of 1913, and the Mexican Revolution would rage across the nation for years until finally drawing to a close in 1920.

In June 1911, Madero triumphantly rode into the city of Cuernavaca on his way to Mexico City. Porfirio Diaz had already left, and new elections were planned, even though it was a foregone conclusion that Madero would win. Madero waved to a jubilant crowd cheering and holding flags. Their optimism would not last. None of them could know that their country was in store for nine more horrible years of war and bloodshed.

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Francisco Madero Heads to Mexico City in 1911

Francisco I. Madero and his personal assistant in 1911. Photographer Unknown

In May of 1911, Francisco Madero and his personal secretary were on their way to the capital to organize new elections and try and stop the violence of the nascent Mexican Revolution. Longtime dictator Porfirio Diaz was heading into exile.

Madero went to the city and was duly elected in November, but he could not rein in the forces of discontent that he had unleashed. Revolutionaries such as Emiliano Zapata and Pascual Orozco, who had once supported Madero, returned to the field and fought to bring him down when reforms did not come quickly enough. By 1913, Madero was murdered and the nation returned to the chaos of the Mexican Revolution.

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Federal Troops in Action

Federal Soldiers fighting in the Mexican Revolution Federal Troops firing from a trench. Photo By Agustin Casasola

The Mexican federal army was a force to be reckoned with during the Mexican Revolution. In 1910, when the Mexican Revolution broke out, there was already a formidable standing federal army in Mexico. They were fairly well-trained and armed for the time. During the early part of the revolution, they answered to Porfirio Diaz, followed by Francisco Madero and then General Victoriano Huerta. In 1914 the federal army was badly beaten by Pancho Villa at the Battle of Zacatecas.

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Felipe Angeles and Other Commanders of the Division del Norte

Pancho Villa's Top Generals Felipe Angeles and other commanders of the Division del Norte. Photo by Agustin Casasola

Felipe Angeles was one of Pancho Villa's best generals and a consistent voice for decency and sanity in the Mexican Revolution.

Felipe Angeles (1868-1919) was one of the most competent military minds of the Mexican Revolution. Nevertheless, he was a consistent voice for peace in a chaotic time. Angeles studied at the Mexican military academy and was an early supporter of President Francisco I. Madero. He was arrested along with Madero in 1913 and exiled, but he soon returned and allied himself first with Venustiano Carranza and then with Pancho Villa in the violent years that followed. He soon became one of Villa's best generals and most trusted advisers.

He consistently supported amnesty programs for defeated soldiers and attended the Aguascalientes conference in 1914, which sought to bring peace to Mexico. He was eventually captured, tried and executed in 1919 by forces loyal to Carranza.

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Pancho Villa Cries at the Tomb of Francisco I. Madero

He knew that years of chaos lay ahead Pancho Villa cries at the tomb of Francisco I. Madero. Photo by Agustin Casasola

In December of 1914, Pancho Villa paid an emotional visit to the tomb of former president Francisco I. Madero.

When Francisco I. Madero called for a revolution in 1910, Pancho Villa was one of the first to answer. The former bandit and his army were Madero's greatest supporters. Even when Madero alienated other warlords like Pascual Orozco and Emiliano Zapata, Villa stood by his side.

Why was Villa so steadfast in his support of Madero? Villa knew that the rule of Mexico had to be done by politicians and leaders, not generals, rebels and men of war. Unlike rivals such as Alvaro Obregon and Venustiano Carranza, Villa had no presidential ambitions of his own. He knew he wasn't cut out for it.

In February of 1913, Madero was arrested under orders of General Victoriano Huerta and "killed trying to escape." Villa was devastated because he knew that without Madero, the conflict and violence would continue for years to come.

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Zapatistas Fight in the South

Zapata's irregular army fought from the shadows Zapatistas entrenched in a cornfield. Photo by Agustin Casasola

During the Mexican Revolution, Emiliano Zapata's army dominated the south. The Mexican Revolution was different in northern and southern Mexico. In the north, bandit warlords like Pancho Villa fought week-long battles with huge armies which included infantry, artillery, and cavalry.

In the south, Emiliano Zapata's army, known as the "Zapatistas," was a much more shadowy presence, engaged in guerrilla warfare against larger enemies. With a word, Zapata could summon an army from the hungry peasants of the green jungles and hills of the south, and his soldiers could disappear back into the population just as easily. Zapata rarely took his army far from home, but any invading force was dealt with quickly and decisively. Zapata and his lofty ideals and grand vision of a free Mexico would be a thorn in the side of would-be Presidents for 10 years.

In 1915, Zapatistas fought forces loyal to Venustiano Carranza, who had seized the Presidential chair in 1914. Although the two men were allies long enough to defeat usurper Victoriano Huerta, Zapata despised Carranza and tried to drive him out of the presidency.

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The Second Battle of Rellano

Huerta Savors an Early Victory Generals Huerta, Rábago and Tellez after the Second Battle of Rellano. Photo by Agustin Casasola

On May 22, 1912, General Victoriano Huerta routed the forces of Pascual Orozco at the Second Battle of Rellano.

General Victoriano Huerta was initially loyal to incoming President Francisco I. Madero, who took office in 1911. In May of 1912, Madero sent Huerta to put down a rebellion led by former ally Pascual Orozco in the north. Huerta was a vicious alcoholic and had a nasty temper, but he was a skilled general and easily mopped up Orozco's ragged "Colorados" at the Second Battle of Rellano on May 22, 1912. Ironically, Huerta would eventually ally himself with Orozco after betraying and murdering Madero in 1913.

Generals Antonio Rábago and Joaquín Tellez were minor figures in the Mexican Revolution.

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Rodolfo Fierro

Pancho Villa's Hatchet Man Rodolfo Fierro. Photo by Agustin Casasola

Rodolfo Fierro was Pancho Villa's right-hand man during the Mexican Revolution. He was a dangerous man, capable of killing in cold blood.

Pancho Villa was not afraid of violence, and the blood of many men and women was directly or indirectly on his hands. Still, there were some jobs that even he found distasteful, and that's why he had Rodolfo Fierro around. Fiercely loyal to Villa, Fierro was fearsome in battle: during the Battle of Tierra Blanca, he rode after a fleeing train full of federal soldiers, leaped onto it from a horse, and stopped it by shooting the conductor dead where he stood.

Villa's soldiers and associates were terrified of Fierro: it is said that one day, he had an argument with another man about whether people who were shot while standing up would fall forward or backward. Fierro said forward, the other man said backward. Fierro solved the dilemma by shooting the man, who promptly fell forward.

On October 14, 1915, Villa's men were crossing some swampy ground when Fierro got stuck in quicksand. He ordered the other soldiers to pull him out, but they refused. The men he had terrorized finally got their revenge, watching Fierro drown. Villa himself was devastated and greatly missed Fierro in the years that followed.

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Mexican Revolutionaries Travel by Train

Revolutionaries on a Train. Photographer Unknown

During the Mexican Revolution, the combatants often traveled by train. Mexico's train system was greatly improved during the 35-year reign(1876-1911) of dictator Porfirio Diaz. During the Mexican Revolution, control of the trains and tracks became very important, as trains were the best way to transport large groups of soldiers and quantities of arms and ammunition. The trains themselves were even used as weapons, filled with explosives and then sent into enemy territory to explode.

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Soldadera of the Mexican Revolution

Soldadera of the Mexican Revolution. Photo by Agustin Casasola

The Mexican Revolution was not fought by men alone. Many women took up arms and went to war as well. This was common in the rebel armies, especially among the soldiers fighting for Emiliano Zapata.

These brave women were called "soldaderas" and had many duties besides fighting, including cooking meals and caring for the men while the armies were on the move. Sadly, the vital role of the soldaderas in the Revolution has often been overlooked.

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Zapata and Villa Hold Mexico City in 1914

A Rare Treat for Zapata's veterans Zapatista Officers enjoy lunch at Sanborns. Photo by Agustin Casasola

The armies of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa jointly held Mexico City in December ​1914. The fancy restaurant,​ Sanborns, was a preferred meeting place of Zapata and his men while they were in the city.

Emiliano Zapata's army rarely made it out of his home state of Morelos and the area to the south of Mexico City. One notable exception was the last couple months of 1914 when Zapata and Pancho Villa jointly held the capital. Zapata and Villa had much in common, including a general vision of a new Mexico and a dislike for Venustiano Carranza and other revolutionary rivals. The last part of 1914 was very tense it the capital, as minor conflicts between the two armies became commonplace. Villa and Zapata were never really able to work out the terms of an agreement under which they could work together. If they had, the course of the Mexican Revolution might have been very different.

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Revolutionary Soldiers

The Infantry of the Revolution Revolutionary Soldiers. Photo by Agustin Casasola

The Mexican Revolution was a class struggle, as hardworking peasants who had been repeatedly exploited and abused during the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz took up arms against their oppressors. The revolutionaries did not have uniforms and used whatever weapons were available.

Once Diaz was gone, the revolution quickly disintegrated into a bloodbath as rival warlords fought each other over the carcass of Diaz' prosperous Mexico. For all the lofty ideology of men like Emiliano Zapata or governmental blather and ambition of men like Venustiano Carranza, the battles were still fought by simple men and women, most of them from the countryside and uneducated and untrained in warfare. Still, they understood what they were fighting for and to say that they blindly followed charismatic leaders is unfair.

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Porfirio Diaz Goes into Exile

A Dictator in Paris Porfirio Diaz goes into exile. Photo by Agustin Casasola

By May of 1911, the writing was on the wall for longtime dictator Porfirio Diaz, who had been in power since 1876. He could not defeat the massive bands of revolutionaries that had coalesced behind the ambitious Francisco I. Madero. He was allowed to go into exile, and at the end of May, he departed from the port of Veracruz. He spent the final years of his life in Paris, where he died on June 2, 1915.

Until the very end, sectors of Mexican society begged him to return and re-establish order, but Diaz, then in his eighties, always refused. He would never return to Mexico, even after death: he is buried in Paris.

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Villistas Fight for Madero

Madero Makes his way to Mexico City Villistas fighting for Madero in 1910. Photo by Agustin Casasola

In 1910, Francisco I. Madero needed the help of Pancho Villa to topple the crooked Porfirio Diaz regime. When exiled would-be presidential candidate Francisco I. Madero called for revolution, Pancho Villa was one of the first to answer. Madero was no warrior, but he impressed Villa and other revolutionaries by trying to fight anyway and for having a vision of a modern Mexico with more justice and freedom.

By 1911, bandit lords like Villa, Pascual Orozco, and Emiliano Zapata had defeated Diaz' army and handed Madero the presidency. Madero soon alienated Orozco and Zapata, but Villa remained his biggest supporter until the end.

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Madero Supporters in the Plaza de Armas

People in the Plaza de Armas awaiting the arrival of Francisco Madero. Photo by Agustin Casasola

On June 7, 1911, Francisco I. Madero entered Mexico City, where he was greeted by a massive crowd of supporters.

When he successfully challenged the 35-year rule of tyrant Porfirio Diaz, Francisco I. Madero immediately became a hero to Mexico's poor and downtrodden. After igniting the Mexican Revolution and securing Diaz' exile, Madero made his way to Mexico City. Thousands of supporters fill the Plaza de Armas to wait for Madero.

The support of the masses did not last long, however. Madero made enough reforms to turn the upper class against him but did not make enough reforms quickly enough to win over the lower classes. He also alienated his revolutionary allies like Pascual Orozco and Emiliano Zapata. By 1913, Madero was dead, betrayed, imprisoned and executed by Victoriano Huerta, one of his own generals.

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Federal Troops Practice with Machine Guns and Artillery

Federal troops practice with machine guns and artillery. Photo by Agustin Casasola

Heavy weapons such as machine guns, artillery, and cannons were important in the Mexican Revolution, particularly in the north, where battles were generally fought in open spaces.

In October 1911 federal forces fighting for the Francisco I. Madero administration prepared to go south and fight the persistent Zapatista rebels. Emiliano Zapata had originally supported President Madero, but quickly turned on him when it became apparent that Madero did not mean to institute any real land reform.

The federal troops had their hands full with the Zapatistas, and their machine guns and cannons did not help them very much: Zapata and his rebels liked to hit quick and then fade back into the countryside that they knew so well.