During the Mexican presidential campaign of 1909-1910 and the Maderista revolution, local heroes suddenly became figures of national prominence. Pascual Orozco, Jr., was typical of many. In 1910 he was a lanky 28-year-old transporter, merchant, and small mine owner from Guerrero district in western Chihuahua; in 1911 he became commander of Maderista military operations in that strategic state and was then appointed chief of the rurales there. Four years later men like Orozco established exclusive control of the country; but Orozco himself languished in exile in the United States, where he plotted counterrevolution and soon died in vain. His is one of several key careers in the great revolution of 1910-1920. Until historians can tell why it diverged from the others, they cannot distinguish the driving forces of the revolution or the nature of the regime prevailing in Mexico for the next generation.
In 1963 Michael C. Meyer contributed a doctoral dissertation to the still skimpy knowledge about Orozco. With revisions it now appears as a book. The aim is partly biographical, generally “to shed new light upon . . . the revolutionary process . . . at the grass-roots level.” Seven chapters contain an explanation of discontent in Chihuahua, a narrative of Orozco’s Maderista operations, an analysis of Orozco’s relations with Madero and his revolt against him, a study of the Orozquista movement and its alliance with Huerta, and an account of Orozco’s fatal attempts to come back. Also included are translations of the Plan Orozquista and Orozco’s resignation from the rurales, sixteen photographs, a map of Chihuahua, and end-maps of Mexico. Though the style is not vivid or moving, it is clear.
The book is most useful as a sketch of Orozco’s life, especially his campaigns for Huerta and his activities in exile. But in its general aim it falls short. The trouble is not in the sources. To be sure, Meyer uses no científico archives, no newspapers before 1910, and only one newspaper from Chihuahua. Also he thinks that the Senate hearings of 1919-1920 are more pertinent than those of 1912-1913, which he does not cite. Nevertheless, he has admirably consulted more diverse documents than most previous historians of the revolution. Nor does he fail to ask interesting questions.
The basic trouble is rather a weakness of historical conception. Meyer takes the revolution as a mere episode in Mexican history, slighting its origins in the nineteenth century and ignoring both its regional variations and its meaning for the whole country. In short, he does not press his sources or his questions hard enough. The resulting errors in fact are not so important as those in judgment— for example, his critical neglect of Orozco’s secretaries or his bizarre notions that Orozco’s political problem was “intellectual incompetence,” that Orozco and Huerta might have had “considerable support” in Mexico in 1915, or that the Plan Orozquista influenced the Constitutional Convention of 1916-1917.
Meyer’s book is a welcome addition to revolutionary studies, but it should be consulted in conjunction with Almada’s recent volumes on Chihuahua from 1867 to 1921.