The Mexican state of Coahuila presents an excellent opportunity for analyzing why certain factions failed and others triumphed during the first decade of the Mexican Revolution. Because followers of Francisco Madero, Victoriano Huerta, Francisco Villa, and Venustiano Carranza overran and administered the northern state from 1910 to 1920, Coahuila’s experiences also raise fundamental questions concerning the regional aspects of the Mexican Revolution.

It can surely be argued that Carranza held a decided advantage over his rivals since Coahuila was a state with which he was intimately familiar. But decisiveness, careful organization, and popular reforms were the crucial factors which enabled the Carrancistas to contest and ultimately defeat other factions. In essence, it appears that Madero endured in Coahuila because Carranza (1911-1913) was an effective governor. Huerta’s administration (1913-1914) failed mainly because of excessive taxation and unpopular centralization. The Villistas seem to have been interested in effecting changes, but their administration (1915) was woefully weak at the top. Carranza succeeded in overturning his rivals in part because he too benefited from an excellent governor, Gustavo Espinosa Mireles (1915-1920). National events certainly affected the outcome of factional competition in Coahuila. This study, however, focuses upon rival administrations in Coahuila in order to understand how the interior conditioned the fortunes of victory during the Revolution.

The political strife that characterized Coahuila during the Revolution actually began during the Porfiriato. The elites nominally pledged loyalty to Porfirio Díaz but had fought among themselves since the 1870s. In the nineteen years from 1870 to 1889, the state government changed hands on thirty-three occasions until an unconditional Díaz supporter took over as governor in 1889. The political infighting represented both traditional and new issues. Politicians on the state and local level distributed water rights until Díaz federalized water and municipal politics in the 1890s beginning with the rule of pro-científico governor, José María Garza Galán, in 1886. The imposition of jefes políticos on the village and municipal level meant that Saltillo authorities usurped power from the ranchers and hacendados of the interior.

Coahuila also became a model of Porfirian economic activity as large, foreign interests began to monopolize land, water, and the mines. It was the most rapidly urbanized state in Mexico during the Porfiriato. Few regions equaled the pace of development that occurred in the Torreón-Laguna area. But a local faction more sensitive to Coahuilan interests emerged to challenge the increasingly unpopular científico centralization inaugurated by Garza Galán.1

The 1893 revolt was the first major challenge to Díaz. It symbolized the growing unrest of ranchers as well as the frustrated petty bourgeoisie. Since Coahuila had few communal lands and only a small indigenous population, agrarian unrest had a middle-class tone unlike states such as Morelos. Moreover, ranchers and the urban middle class paid a disproportionate amount of the taxes and yearned for political change. They despised the increasing wealth of foreign investors and the arrogant Díaz cronies.

The politician who articulated opposition to the monopolistic científico policies of Díaz was General Bernardo Reyes, governor of neighboring Nuevo León. As Reyes quietly considered replacing Díaz, he gained the sympathy of Carranza and others who wanted to reform the system. Thus it is not surprising that supporters of Reyes toppled Garza Galán in Coahuila and installed Miguel Cárdenas in his place. The Carranza brothers led the 1893 revolt which Reyes terminated by negotiating an agreement with Díaz that enabled a favorable settlement for the insurgents. Because Coahuila was one of the more restless states during the late Porfiriato, Díaz asked Reyes to keep a lid on the Cárdenas administration which ruled from 1894 to 1909.2

Full-scale revolt against Díaz was not long in coming, particularly because recession and unemployment seriously plagued northern Mexico after 1907. Wages and the availability of food declined. Díaz considered both Carranza and Madero dangerous opportunists and assigned agents to monitor their activities. Díaz feared Madero for his wealth and resented Carranza’s growing popularity. Both Carranza and Madero were ambitious but were wise in biding their time before striking out in a bolder uprising. Because a portion of the Coahuilan elite forced Díaz to remove Garza Galán, a serious political clash was inevitable.

The old order, however, could not endure when the científicos ousted Cárdenas from office and denied Carranza official backing for the governorship in 1908. Díaz then imposed the unpopular Jesús del Valle, a move that caused bad feelings and, in conjunction with other factors, encouraged both Madero and Carranza to revolt in 1910. Therefore the question of modest reforms precipitated a quarrel among the Coahuilan elites and helped to bring about the Revolution in 1910. When Madero toppled Díaz in May 1911, Coahuila entered into a period of intensified factional conflict.

The Carranza Governorship

As Madero’s governor in Coahuila, Carranza exhibited many of the unique characteristics that enabled him to gradually dominate politics throughout the 1910-1920 period. Already experienced in the dynamics of Porfirian rule, Carranza understood political organization and the sources of power. Nonetheless, he was never accepted as a member of the upper elite and decided to embark upon a populist but still moderate political tack. In terms of class interests, Carranza’s movement appealed mostly to the frustrated middle class but was sufficiently populist to attract miners and other workers who could be organized. In this respect, Coahuila closely resembled Sonora’s middle-class rebels who challenged José María Maytorena and later became Carranza’s generals during the struggles against Huerta and Villa.3

Although the Maderistas assumed power with a mandate for democratic procedures and decentralized power, Governor Carranza soon decided that only a strong state executive could make such a system operate effectively. Reforms would be enacted only with careful gubernatorial oversight. Madero himself believed that effective governors would best ensure social, political, and economic progress and thus he did not interfere with Carranza’s plans. Lacking comprehensive political linkage with the interior, this was perhaps the only course Madero could accept since he himself generally failed to understand mass grievances.4

As governor, Carranza attempted to broaden the base of his political support through fiscal reforms. Carranza streamlined the tax system by establishing new tax assessments on urban and rural landholdings. The results were sharply increased taxes and an end to many exemptions. Because Carranza especially hoped to revive municipal power, the municipalities were to collect these taxes and apply them to local reforms and social services. Since most local governments had little tax revenue, the new governor personally applied pressure on many of them to prepare new tax lists.5 When the municipalities could not pay their debts or raise enough revenue, Carranza often granted them loans or simply cancelled ayuntamiento debts.6 He also routinely rejected appeals for exemptions and removal of these taxes.7 Humble local officials were now taxing the great landowners and merchants, an impressive change from the days of the Porfiriato.

Other aspects of Carranza’s fiscal policies indicate that his staunchly nationalist outlook was developing long before he became president. Carranza resented bitterly the rapid monopolization of Mexican wealth by foreign investors, a common occurrence in Coahuila by the turn of the century. Therefore, he decided to regulate foreign concessions with greater care than Don Porfirio’s men. To accomplish this task, Carranza negotiated the concessions personally instead of relying upon the Fomento ministry in Mexico City.8 In awarding contracts for mines and railroads, Carranza insisted upon greater investment, shorter completion dates, and more opportunities for Mexican nationals. Carranza also continued to grant tax exemptions for newly established industries, albeit without great enthusiasm. He tried, unsuccessfully, to reduce from ten to five the number of years which such industries would not have to pay taxes.9

Convinced that education was vital for general progress, Carranza also embarked upon a highly successful expansion of the state’s educational system. This program was very popular for it responded to pleas for local control. Executive circulars and the governor’s personal intervention continually insisted that educational costs, particularly payment of teacher salaries, be given top priority.10 Students received large numbers of scholarships for advanced studies, some in foreign countries. When schools could not be constructed for lack of legislative appropriations, Carranza personally intervened with the legislature and other agencies to arrange financial support.11 In building schools, municipal governments received the right to draft budgets as well as to hire and discharge educational personnel.

Carranza’s response to social problems was prudent but innovative. He created agencies designed to attend to the needs of the poor. Particularly important was an expansion of health services, generally considered insufficient during the Porfiriato.12 The new governor’s attempt to legislate moral conduct met with strong approval from most Coahuilans. Carranza taxed the sale of alcoholic beverages mercilessly, regulated cantinas to the extent that he specified that drinking glasses be made of crystal, rooted out gambling as much as possible, and forbade the smoking of opium because of the depression that it supposedly caused.13 A similar campaign against vice took place in Chihuahua under Maderista Governor Abraham González. To a society increasingly anxious to achieve more regeneration, Carranza’s measures seemed necessary as well as justifiable.14

Carranza also instituted some interesting but usually modest land reforms. No longer would the great hacendados have things entirely to their liking. Specific policies included making water available on a fairer and more equitable basis.15 When rural workers protested labor conditions and abuses on several haciendas, Carranza demanded that the guilty hacendados treat workers decently and ordered that several managers be discharged immediately. Hacendados also lost the old privilege of charging tolls on their roads after numerous complaints by traveling vendors and merchants. As a representative of the landowners, Carranza was hardly disposed to legislate against their interests. He considered ranchers and medium-sized hacendados the backbone of Coahuilan society and never threatened them. To Carranza and other reformers of his kind, the major error that landowners could commit was failure to use all of their land efficiently. Even the powerful Madero family could not avoid Carranza’s tax collectors and gradually lost much of their influence by challenging the stem governor.16 Carranza hoped to discourage unproductive land by taxing it at a higher rate so that such property would pass to more industrious owners. Although the government permitted rural workers to organize and make their demands known, strikers on haciendas received little sympathy.17 As an example of how undeveloped his land policies were at this time, Carranza also permitted entrepreneurs to purchase unused, municipal ejido lands so that they could establish industries.18

Carranza’s response to growing working-class demands was somewhat ambivalent. Although legislators and aides supported working-class groups, Carranza did not offer consistent help from the governor’s office. While he was eager to enlist worker support as part of his populist stance, Carranza generally favored employers. At the same time he was not reluctant to demand that foreign-owned mining companies attend to complaints voiced to him by their workers. On at least one occasion, Carranza went so far as to threaten one mining company with state intervention if reported abuses were true.19 Such incidents occurred because miners often wrote to their governor with the hope that he would intervene to correct particular outrages. Indicative of his incipient nationalism, Carranza lashed out at foreign concessions far more than Coahuilan interests when labor disputes became heated.

Certainly Coahuila was not a workers’ paradise but Carranza’s initiatives were far superior to the past policies of Coahuilan governors and much better than Madero’s efforts at the national level. Working with Madero often led to frustration because attempts to hire additional mining inspectors, at the request of workers, were refused in Mexico City. Congress, responding to growing worker involvement in politics, closed all retail and manufacturing outlets on Sunday. The deputies justified this act by arguing that seven days of work was unfair. With Carranza’s support, the legislature also passed a comprehensive accident bill in January 1913. Mining companies began sending their appeals to Madero authorities in the federal capital rather than to Carranza because the tough new governor could not be counted on for support.20

Finally, Carranza did introduce decentralization as a ruling concept, but only upon his terms. The municipal presidents obeyed Carranza’s requests for a number of reasons. Few of them were willing to turn down money for reforms that were popular as well as expensive. The combination of Carranza’s overall popularity, the weakness of traditional caciques, and the disappearance of the jefes politicos meant that old intermediaries no longer had much power with the masses. The local leaders no longer had ties to national leaders other than Carranza. Voting procedures and the consequent rigging of elections were nearly the same as during the Porfiriato even though candidates were more responsive to local needs.21 Moreover, outspoken political opponents were hushed up or jailed. In Carranza’s defense, a somewhat authoritarian government was necessary at a time when Reyistas plotted and the Orozco faction invaded Coahuila in 1912. Carranza regained total control of the state after crushing the Orozquistas, but as he assessed the national scene he had every reason to doubt the longevity of the Madero government. Fearing that a conservative army coup would overthrow Madero, Carranza formed an autonomous security force in the state. His apprehensions concerning Madero’s fate were not long in emerging as a harsh reality. On February 9, 1913, the army revolted and overthrew Madero after ten days of civil war in the Mexican capital. Madero was assassinated and Victoriano Huerta assumed power.

Coahuila Politics during the Huerta Regime

The Huerta government in Coahuila confronted problems which it could not resolve. Carranza’s general appeal meant that the odds were weighted against success. Huerta appointed four successive governors, two of whom were outsiders, and in the process weakened political legitimacy. Ignacio Alcocer, Joaquín Maass, José Refugio Velasco, and Práxedis de la Peña did their best to restore order from May 1913 to May 1914. But because Huerta was determined to fight a bitter civil war, his attempt to centralize government completely and impose unpopular taxes proved his undoing.22 The subordination of local needs to national strategy proved disastrous in this instance.

Huerta’s tax measures succeeded in alienating all the economic classes in Coahuila after the federal army forced Carranza out of the state in early 1913. The new government taxed foreign concessionaires and persecuted grafters. But it also angered many by demanding new tax payments even after people had paid Carranza’s Constitutionalist forces the same assessments shortly beforehand. Many claimed that the bitter fighting against the Carrancistas entitled them to exemptions because the government did not afford them adequate protection. Huerta’s executives denied all such appeals.23 Cattlemen and merchants protested the customs administrator’s ruling that they had to pay a ten-peso tax for each head of cattle exported, adding that such a tax would turn the grazing lands into a “true desert.” Later reports indicated that cattlemen reduced the size of the herds. Customs officials lamented the poor quality of the dwindling quantity of stringy cattle sent north for export.24 The export tax undoubtedly aggravated the serious food shortages in the north even though it probably represented an attempt to conserve the local food supply.

Imposts did not fall any lighter upon urban dwellers. Governor Alcocer instructed municipal presidents to demand payment from delinquent taxpayers. In a period of unemployment as well as paralysis of industry and agriculture, this policy prompted increasing bitterness.25 Increased taxes decreed upon the falling volume of merchandise sales resulted in more protests, even from the normally acquiescent Saltillo ayuntamiento.26 Saltillo homeowners were bitter about having to pay for street repairs when the government taxed their property. Nearly every conceivable tax rose sharply in all the municipalities, sometimes by as much as five times the original assessment.

Mining interests also chafed under Huerta rule. Like others, mine-owners resented the government’s inability to protect rail lines and communication networks, not to mention the mines themselves. But the mines suffered from skyrocketing taxes as decreed by the governors. Mineowners particularly objected when assessors “reformed” the title tax so that the fee increased to ten pesos on January 7, 1914. This huit local pride since the revenue went directly to the Fomento ministry in Mexico City instead of Saltillo.

As the civil war’s financial effort accelerated, opposition increased. Huerta himself ordered one of his Coahuilan governors to seize food and merchandise worth 45,000 pesos and send it to other areas. A Huerta circular in December 1913 ordered hacendados to hand over all their horses except those animals “absolutely necessary.” Ranchers also discovered that the government wanted to seize their cattle and feed in return for worthless promissory notes.27 The political results of such measures were disastrous.

The final blow to Coahuilan taxpayers was an extraordinary war tax decreed on April 22, 1914. Huerta officials expected to haul in so much revenue that state treasury officials asked permission to hire two or three extra tax collectors. But this tax was even too much for the governor, who could not stomach it. He wrote back to Huerta stating that such a tax would be difficult to collect and would not benefit the state’s interests. Moreover, he added, “abnormal circumstances” ruled out much success in obtaining the desired funds.28 This was a perfect illustration of how fiscal brutality alienated political support.

Huerta’s authoritarian rule seemed even more arbitrary than Porfirian political policies. The new dictatorship alienated Coahuilans, convinced that they had been entering a period of greater political freedom under Carranza. Coahuilans never did accept Huerta’s re-introduction of the hated jefes políticos. When Torreón residents wrote to ask for the retention of the municipal president, they justified such a request on the basis that the jefes políticos knew little about their needs and problems.29 Just as at the national level, state elections were carried out, but they were as farcical as those of Porfirian times—the winning slate receiving the same uniform vote totals. Naturally, the candidates, in the words of state officials, were carefully selected “friends of the regime.”30 By 1913, money was a fundamental political cement to reforms. But Huerta representatives, contrary to Carranza, demanded that municipal presidents not overspend their budgets because they could not expect any funds from the state treasury— exactly the opposite policy they had become accustomed to under Carranza.31

Not surprisingly, the government found few people willing to step forward and serve the Huerta order. One example underlines this problem. At one point, the state Gobernación secretary ordered a jefe politico to hold elections in the Monclova area because the potential candidates had all fled to Texas or had joined Carranza. A month later, this jefe político reported that elections would be “counter-productive” because no one could be trusted to support Huerta policies. Therefore, he simply named officials and employees on an interim basis, ruling out balloting as an impossibility.32 Such a mechanical attitude toward recruiting new followers was doomed to defeat whereas an attempt at popular reforms along class lines had seemed a step forward only the year before.

In addition to the tax measures which alienated so many, the Huertistas were never sensitive to local attitudes. Countless people complained of being roughed up by rurales or having their goods seized, charges which the government could not deny. The government also received countless reports that many residents were angry about the eased sale of alcoholic beverages and the renewal of gambling throughout the state. Despite popular protests throughout Coahuila, Huerta officials relaxed restrictions on the sale of alcoholic drinks and encouraged the gambling houses to reopen in order to secure needed government revenue.33 Saltillo’s hospital service declined because old budgets could not cope with added work. Although unusual numbers of executions are not reported in the state archives, the jails nearly overflowed with political prisoners. Carranza earlier refused to use convict labor, but Huerta’s governors drafted prisoners for military service or put them to work digging fresh graves and cleaning up the Saltillo alameda.34 In line with Huerta’s heightened vigilance over the general population, police in Coahuila were active as never before. They arrested unfortunate victims routinely for such petty offenses as selling marijuana, holding dances without permits, and driving autos with the lights out. To the credit of the Huertistas, they did arrest Saltillo wife beaters for the first time in the city’s history.35

More serious was the centralization and eventual collapse of the Coahuilan schools. Education had been a source of pride to middle and upper-class Coahuilans since the nineteenth century. Huerta rule, however, turned the clock back. In November 1913, the government began cutting scholarships for students enrolled at the Escuela Normal. By April 1914, Governor Maass stopped payment on all scholarships, justifying this decision as a means of cutting down a burdensome expense and because of the U.S. invasion of Veracruz.36 It was not long until the Director of Primary Instruction informed the governor bluntly that the present state of education was “little more than lamentable,” that his office had received reports of disorganization and lack of competent inspectors, and that the school system suffered from “notorious irregularities.”37 After stating that school attendance had dropped from 32,272 students enrolled in 225 schools by 1912 to barely 25,000 pupils in 198 schools by early 1914, the Public Instruction Bureau recommended a return to the centralized system. Under the new law, which the state government foolishly approved, state bureaucrats in the capital appointed all teachers and administrators in the interior. Collapse of the educational system was inevitable. On May 4, 1914, the Director of Primary Instruction notified the governor that all state schools were closed. Apparently he received such orders from the governor.38

Bungling social and financial policies could not win the war for Huerta in Coahuila. In addition to alienating ranchers, merchants, bureaucrats, and urban dwellers, the government could not or did not seem to have any interest in formulating land and labor policies. Unless the Carrancistas burned any such evidence, the only information contained in the Archivo General del Estado de Coahuila is a circular to hacendados asking if they would be interested in hiring agricultural students free of charge during school vacations. Bickering between military commanders such as General Velasco and the governor’s office only made matters worse. In the end, frantic efforts toward military victory only resulted in defeat. Harassed by the intervention of Woodrow Wilson into Mexican affairs and unable to stop the southern advance of Carranza’s Constitutionalist forces, Huerta resigned on July 8, 1914. Carranza occupied Mexico City the following month, but soon became locked in further civil war with Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata.

Coahuila under the Villistas

After the collapse of Huerta, Villista rule in Coahuila resulted in a very different atmosphere. Although blessed with good intentions toward instituting needed socioeconomic reforms, the Villista administration was notable for its indecisiveness. None of the four Villista generals who ruled the state from January 1915 to September 1915 were as impressive as their contemporaries in other states. Aside from a few innovations in the state health program, Felipe Angeles, Santiago Ramírez, Raúl Madero, and Orestes Pereyra formulated little in the way of original legislation. Villista governors usually resorted to asking for copies of decrees enacted in Chihuahua, Durango, or Nuevo León. When this was not sufficient, they simply tried to implement Villa’s general decrees.39 The best example of the administrative confusion that beset Coahuila under the Villistas was an order issued by the jefe of military operations on March 20, 1915. This command informed Governor Santiago Ramírez to move the state capital to Torreón. Local authorities carried out exhaustive preparations since the command was issued on Villa’s instructions. One can only imagine their reaction when the order was suspended a week later.40

The Villistas did mount a determined effort to win over mass support by means of elections. This maneuver seemed to attract initial interest. Several villages filled schoolrooms to nominate the various electoral commissions which would preside over voting and ascertain the winners. In other areas, local Villistas simply wrote to the governor to announce that they had been elected by means of loosely conducted “popular elections.” This often amounted to asking village residents to raise their hands if they supported the new leaders. Elections, however, were not widespread under the Villistas despite a strong electoral tradition in heavily federalist Coahuila.41

Like the Huertistas, the Villistas found it difficult to destroy the Carrancista roots in the countryside. They were often unable to attract active supporters into their government on the lowest levels. The Villistas discovered that local administration continued to be exercised by many Carrancistas. Surprisingly, they were reluctant to remove Don Venustiano’s followers, possibly out of fear of local protests. Moreover, there was a decided reluctance on the part of many to accept Villista appointments. Such people refused offers for “health reasons” or some other excuse. Moreover, there was a high turnover among those who did agree to work for Villa. In areas such as Múzquiz, local military commanders lamented that no one of confidence could be named as municipal president or even to minor offices.42

The government could never deal effectively with the pressing need for food brought on by the ravages of warfare. Although local officials demanded foodstuffs from those who had them, the state government was not able to provide enough to feed hungry Coahuilans during a period that could best be characterized as near starvation. Instead of using tough measures, the Villistas tried to provide incentives and privileges for those merchants willing to market their produce at fair prices. This rarely happened. Simple inefficiency accounted for many failures to provide food from those areas which could have sent it. More than once, angry villages demanded food supplies from the governors who had earlier promised them but could not deliver. One governor even reprimanded a general who sent troops to seize wheat from landowners—on lands already administered by the state.43

Inflation and currency problems were another source of worry for the Villistas. A widespread aversion to accept Villista currency prevailed in part because counterfeiters falsified bills in circulation. Efforts to apprehend the culprits failed consistently. Decrees prohibiting the use of Carrancista notes seemed to cause even more anxiety. This is proven by the numerous requests from municipal presidents who appealed for exceptions and clarifications concerning the future use of Carrancista currency. Local authorities pleaded for toleration by referring to pressure exerted on them from merchants and the poor. They continued to refuse Villista bills despite decrees issued by February 1915 which outlined Draconian penalties for those guilty of having done so.44 Continual lack of confidence and counterfeiting combined to bring on a wave of galloping inflation. A typical case of the widespread resignation to financial doldrums occurred when regulatory officials blandly estimated that freight charges would rise ninety percent within a year.45

Deteriorating financial conditions led to unrest in the mines. Workers complained that the Villista rule often meant lack of pay and poor working conditions. Many subsisted on nuts gathered from the Sabinas River and lived in dilapidated housing. Like others, miners complained that Villista currency was worth far less than the old Carrancista bills. Other workers noted that they had to accept company scrip in exchange for Villa notes that were worth only a sixth of the value that was owed them.46 Requests for pay raises received no response from the various Saltillo executives although they did decree an end to company stores in June 1915. Other miners were even less fortunate since many mines closed. Unemployment was rampant. The government asked for a detailed report on labor conditions but could never decide what to do. Such indecision weakened any chance of substantial working-class support for the Villistas.

Despite the pleas of subordinates and followers, the Villista governors were surprisingly conservative on the land question. This is curious in view of the fact that Villa distributed land to his soldiers in Chihuahua.47 In responding to one plea for a shake-up in the land system, the state government informed a jefe de armas in the Sierra Mojada district that ranchers should continue to enjoy their landholdings and that only those opposed to Villista rule could expect possible expropriation and distribution.48 The Saltillo executives even brushed aside requests for unused lands with vague qualifiers about the legality of these measures. Such indecisiveness carried over to relations with the hacendados. When a large landowner complained that local authorities encouraged land invasions, the government responded merely by stating that the situation would be resolved—a typical lapse into bureaucratic double-talk that the Villista leadership often resorted to.49

Minor officials or army commanders sometimes attacked traditional landowning privileges but the Villista governors’ role was always passive. In those cases where a change of landownership occurred, nothing was requested except the details of such affairs as they developed. A Villista governor’s usual advice during situations that threatened the established order was that the prevailing order should endure. When groups of peasants asked for uncultivated lands belonging to Huertistas, an opportunity arose to expand food production and reward loyal followers while persecuting enemies. But the governor’s reply was that private property must be respected whether the legal owners were present or not.50 A reluctance to seize the land held by real and potential opponents indicates a fatal passivity that sapped Villista land policies. The Villistas finally established an agency to administer seized lands, but it was ineffective. The officials spent most of their time arguing over such mundane issues as furniture inventories. Villista agrarian policy is another case of too little effort as well as tardy thinking.

The Carrancistas in Control

The final victor in Coahuila was once again Carranza. After the Carrancistas returned in September 1915, they carried out policies similar to those that the First Chief had initiated earlier. This time the reforms cut more deeply and had a stronger social content. More importantly, the means of reform coincided with Coahuilan sensitivities and traditions, matters that received little attention from 1913 to 1915. Unlike the experiences during the Huertista and Villista administrations in Coahuila, the national government played a beneficial rather than negative role.

Governor Gustavo Espinosa Mireles improved nearly every phase of government by enacting in Coahuila many of the national reforms decreed by Carranza. From a well-known Coahuilan family, and the recipient of lessons in administration while serving as Carranza’s personal secretary, Espinosa Mireles was an efficient administrator and a fine politician. Imposed as provisional governor in September 1915, Espinosa Mireles was elected to serve as the executive two years later. Once again, the Saltillo government attacked gambling and other vices with righteous fury. A fanatical concern for education prompted accelerated school construction. Schoolteachers, like many other middle-class groups, became Carranza supporters for tangible reasons. On October 1, 1915, the governor decreed a one hundred percent salary increase for all public teachers in Coahuila.51 Industrialists continued to receive tax exemptions as long as they invested minimal sums in new manufacturing outlets. Merchants and ranchers benefited from both political order and financial stability after 1916.

Social reforms continued to attract mass support. The first step involved a large-scale distribution of food to feed the hungry population until the impact of constant warfare subsided. With their farmland and herds devastated, the majority of Coahuila’s inhabitants lived in desperate conditions until the economy revived in 1917. Food distribution was such a vital necessity that the government often purchased supplies in the United States.52 Of all the administrations that ruled Coahuila from 1910-1920, that of Espinosa Mireles was the most successful in boosting food production. Agrarian policy consisted of seizing lands quickly from opponents, not disturbing the ranchers, and refereeing water disputes as fairly as possible. To gain campesino support, Espinosa Mireles distributed ejido land to at least twenty villages and seemed to tolerate land seizures.53 Urban workers received legislative protection as the governor identified himself with the aspirations of newly formed unions striving for better pay and working conditions.

Espinosa Mireles had a strong advantage over the previous three administrations if only because of the energetic support he derived from Carranza. Many times, Carranza intervened to make certain that Coahuila received federal funds, adequate military protection, and the president’s personal attention in political affairs.54 The Villistas were never a serious military threat in Coahuila after 1915. Peace was important to everyone, and only bandits and raiders crossing over from Texas disturbed a welcome tranquility. The president’s concern was a vital factor in terms of reviving the state’s market economy, particularly in the Laguna region. Carranza often arranged rail transport and supplies of coal and oil when fuel was lacking. The tense controversies with the United States along the frontera norte drew enthusiastic Coahuilans into the plazas of nearly every town. There they demonstrated solidarity with the national government in protesting the Pershing Expedition and other border disputes.55

A floating population of immigrants entering the United States in search of wartime salaries no doubt appreciated Carranza’s efforts in its behalf. Carranza attempted to secure protection of immigrant workers on a legal basis as well as through formal contracts. The Wilson government rejected these demands but at least accepted, in theory, the enforcement of decent working conditions for braceros. Since many immigrants experienced misery, Carranza discouraged them from leaving Mexico and repatriated thousands of these workers to either their homes or areas in Mexico that were short of labor. Espinosa Mireles and other state officials did what they could to ease the anguish suffered by refugees.56

Like Carranza, Espinosa Mireles believed in the sanctity of legalism and congressional legislation. In Coahuila, this was by no means a hollow tradition. The state was staunchly federalist since the early nineteenth century. The reconvened state congress did not disgrace itself and improved upon various proposals sent from the executive. The legislature, realizing the pressing need for some kind of land reform, formulated a bill enabling the municipal presidents to divide unused land among their constituents on a provisional basis. Although it is difficult to determine how many local authorities made use of the law, at least a few distributed land and water in time for the 1918 harvest.57 This Coahuilan congress was fairly sensitive to class needs on a broad scale and was probably the best that served the state for many years. Symbolic of its legislative labor was the new state constitution of 1918. Congress revised the 1882 version when it prohibited the ownership of great landed estates by a single person and reiterated the right of ayuntamientos to distribute land and water. The 1918 constitution also extended the labor and educational reforms of Mexico’s 1917 constitution recently formulated in Querétaro.58 To cap these efforts, Espinosa Mireles invited all Mexican labor unions to Saltillo in order to attend a national labor congress at the state’s expense.59 The result was the establishment of the country’s first national labor union, the Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana.


Thus Coahuila returned to the Carranza cycle after various interlopers failed to implement Coahuilan desires for clean living, good schools, municipal autonomy, greater access to the land, and a deep reverence for the legislative process. Neither Huerta nor Villa ever succeeded in pacifying the state. Perhaps the factional conflict was more a case of catering to rising expectations rather than of fighting a social revolution. Coahuila had always been more prosperous, urbanized, and reformist than most of Mexico since the 1880s. The significance is that Coahuilans articulated the reforms they wanted and when Carrancistas instituted their desires, Huerta and Villa never had much of a chance. It seems that Carranza’s orderly reformism had more in common with the Porfiriato rather than the Villista and Huertista policies. In the case of Coahuila, continuity rather than abrupt change explains ideological trends from 1910 to 1920. Finally, the failures of both the Huerta and Villa governments in Coahuila must be attributed in some degree to the chaotic conditions caused by civil war.

Carranza’s growing influence as a national leader can be traced to his Coahuilan background. He was always a reformist with a highly legal approach to problems of reform. Perpetually ambitious, he eventually convinced himself that he was capable of leading more than a state government. Exceptionally well organized, Carranza’s movement broadened its base of support considerably as can be seen in the quality of reforms enacted in Coahuila first by Carranza and later by Espinosa Mireles. Rewarding the urban and rural middle class with economic opportunities, political order, education, progressive legislation, and efficiency, Carrancista administration was always deft. The masses also experienced gains and could hope that evolutionary changes would also benefit their interests as much as others. Although his attitudes on social reforms were somewhat ambivalent both as governor and president, Carranza’s outlook and ties with general needs were enough to keep him in power during the Revolution.60

Coahuila had determined Carranza’s basic outlook during his formative years. Therefore, his triumph as a nationalist leader in 1915 signified that Coahuilans represented the sentiments of a majority of their countrymen. Carranza grasped the nature of unrest more clearly than Villa and Huerta at an early stage during the Revolution. His unquestioned skill in defending a fiercely nationalist diplomatic position against U.S. interests only fortified his claim as an emerging statesman. In contrast, Villa’s conspicuous regard for private property must be seen in the light of his desire to win the support of the North American business community for his faction. In terms of socioeconomic reforms, Carrancistas carefully balanced the interests, needs, and demands of various and conflicting segments of the population and responded skillfully, placating them by often effective measures. In this example, Coahuila joined most of the other regions in rejecting the heavy-handed, inconsistent policies of Don Porfirio, Huerta, and Villa.


For economic activity in Coahuila during the Porfiriato, see William K. Meyers, “Politics, Vested Rights, and Economic Growth in Porfirian Mexico: The Company Tlahualilo in the Comarca Lagunera, 1885-1911,” HAHR, 57 (Aug. 1977), 425-454; Harvey O’Connor, The Guggenheims: The Making of an American Dynasty (New York, 1937); and David M. Pletcher, Rails, Mines and Progress: Seven American Promoters in Mexico, 1867-1911 (Ithaca, 1958). Forthcoming dissertations by Stanley Langston, William K. Meyers, and William H. McNellie will provide specific studies of Porfirian changes in Coahuila.


An excellent overview of Coahuilan politics during the Porfiriato is contained in Ildefonso Villarello Velez, Historia de la Revolución Mexicana en Coahuila (México, 1970). The same author has also written Historia de Coahuila (Saltillo, n.d.). A fine account of Saltillo which focuses on the Porfiriato is Pablo M. Cuéllar Valdés, Historia de la ciudad de Saltillo (México, 1975). An official view is Oscar Flores Tapia, 4 Coahuilenses en el destino de México (Saltillo, 1977).


For a thoroughly excellent study of the regional aspects of the Revolution, consult Héctor Aguilar Camín, La frontera nómada: Sonora y la Revolución Méxicana (México, 1977).


A good overview of Carranza’s reforms is William H. Beezley, “Governor Carranza and the Revolution in Coahuila,” The Americas, 33 (Oct. 1976), 50-61. For a case study of Madero and his governors, see Beezley’s Insurgent Governor, Abraham González and the Mexican Revolution in Chihuahua (Lincoln, 1973). The same author outlines the concept of political linkage in “Madero: The ‘Unknown President’ and his Political Failure to Organize Rural Mexico” in George Wolfskill and Douglas W. Richmond, eds., Essays on the Mexican Revolution (Austin, 1979).


Presidente Municipal of Arteagas to Gov. Venustiano Carranza on July 8, 1911, Aug. 15, 1911, Sept. 11, 1911, and Nov. 16, 1911 in Archivo General del Estado de Coahuila, Saltillo (hereafter cited as AGEC), leg. 294, exp. 11,169 are good examples.


Presidente Municipal to Carranza, July 22, 1911, AGEC, leg. 294, exp. 11,169; Periódico oficial del Gobierno del estado libre y soberano de Coahuila de Zaragoza, Jan. 8, 1913.


Parras rancher’s complaint to Carranza and Coahuilan legislature, Aug. 24, 1912, Archivo Poder Legislativo de Coahuila, Saltillo (hereafter cited as APLC), Comisión de Hacienda, 1912, leg. 2, exp. 41. Rejection of Evaristo Madero’s tax complaint is contained in APLC, Primer Período de la Comisión Permanente, Comisión de Hacienda e Industria, leg. 2, exp. 27.


Periódico oficial, Jan. 25, 1913; Carranza to Secretaries of Coahuila legislature, Aug. 9, 1912, AGEC, leg. 304, I, exp. 11,198; Periódico oficial, July 19, 1911; draft decree dated Nov. 9, 1912, in AGEC, leg. 304, II, exp. 10,283.


Various correspondence contained in APLC, Primer Período de la Comisión Permanente, 1912, Comisión de Hacienda, leg. 2, exp. 1; Periódico oficial, Mar. 2, 1912 and Apr. 3, 1912.


Circular of July 6, 1911, quoted in Presidente Municipal of Arteagas to Carranza, July 19, 1911, AGEC, leg. 294, exp. 11,169.


Presidente Municipal of Viesca to Carranza, Aug. 4, 1911, AGEC, leg. 294, exp. 11,169, sección 3a; correspondence between villagers of Boquillas and Carranza from Feb. to June 1912, contained in AGEC, leg. 304, I, exp. 11,205.


Secretario del Consejo de Salubridad e Higiene Pública to Carranza, Apr. 27, 1911, AGEC, leg. 302, Correspondencia Diversa; Inspector General health reports of May, June, and Oct. 1911, AGEC, leg. 293, exp. 11,134.


Periódico oficial of June 8, 1912 and June 22, 1912; Presidente Municipal of Torreón to Carranza, Oct. 11, 1911, AGEC, leg. 294, exp. Torreón.


For evidence that workers and the middle class supported a campaign against vice, see Presidente Municipal of Torreón to Carranza, ibid.; Presidente Municipal of San Pedro to Carranza, Aug. 23, 1911, AGEC, leg. 293, exp. 11,142; Directiva de Club Obreros to Carranza, Nov. 17, 1911, AGEC, leg. 302, exp. Solicitudes; nine Palau merchants to Carranza, Oct. 30, 1911, ibid.


Law of July 12, 1912, approved by Coahuilan legislature contained in APLC, Comisión de Gobernación y Justicia, 1912, leg. 1; Periódico oficial, Apr. 3, 1912.


For tax disputes with the Madero family, see APLC, Primer Período de la Comisión Permanente, 1912, Comisiones de Hacienda e Industria, leg. 2, exp. 27.


Presidente Municipal of San Pedro to Carranza, Dec. 20, 1911, AGEC, leg. 294, exp. 11,169.


Carranza’s legislative proposal and its approval by congress is in APLC, Comisión de Gobernación y Justicia, 1912, leg. 1, exp. 15; contract of Feb. 7, 1913, expedited by Carranza in APLC, Comisión de Gobernación y Justicia, Punt. Constitucionales, Trabajo y Punt. Social, leg. 1, exp. 25.


Secretario de Gobernación to New Sabinas Co. Ltd., Cloete Coal Mines, July 1911, AGEC, leg. 302, exp. Solicitudes.


Federal Subsecretario de Gobernación, México, to Carranza, July 15, 1911, AGEC, leg. 293, exp. 11,142 is a good example of opposition to Carranza’s demands for wage increases from the Madero government and the Agujita Coal Company.


For rigged voting patterns, see AGEC, leg. 305, exp. 11,288, 11,300, 11,305, and 11,313.


A fíne revisionist study of Huerta and his government is Michael C. Meyer, Huerta: A Political Portrait (Lincoln, 1972).


For numerous complaints in 1913, see AGEC, leg. 329, sección la, exp. 11,466.


Jefe Político of Ciudad Juárez to Secretario de Gobernación, Feb. 20, 1914, AGEC, leg. 329, sección la, exp. 11,459.


For conditions in Saltillo under the Huertistas, see Cuéllar Valdés, Historia de la ciudad de Saltillo, pp. 127-129; tax instructions are contained in AGEC, leg. 329, sección la, exp. 11,467.


Decree of Mar. 28, 1914, and Presidente Municipal of Saltillo to Secretario de Gobernación, Mar. 27, 1914, AGEC, leg. 329, sección la, exp. 11,457.


Ignacio Alcocer, federal Secretario de Gobernación, México, to Gov. Maass of Coahuila, Apr. 2, 22, 23, 27, 1914, AGEC, leg. 331, exp. 11,614. The order for the horses is in a circular dated Dec. 6, 1913, AGEC, leg. 331, exp. 11,618.


Memo dated May 1, 1914, and Tesorero General de Coahuila to Secretario de Gobernación, Apr. 27, 1914, AGEC, leg. 334, exp. 85.


Thirty-two Torreón residents to Gov. Maass, Feb. 18, 1914, AGEC, leg. 333, exp. 11,604.


Two good descriptions of cynical electoral proceedings are the “verified” report of Nov. 24, 1913, and Jefe Politico of Monclova to Gov. Maass, Nov. 11, 1913, AGEC, leg. 331, exp. 11,621.


Circular decree of Dec. 29, 1913, sent to all Presidentes Municipales, AGEC, leg. 329, sección la, exp. 11,455.


Jefe Politico of Ciudad Porfirio Díaz to Secretario de Gobernación, Jan. 10, 1914, AGEC, leg. 331, exp. 11,621; Secretario de Gobernación to Jefe Político of Ciudad Porfirio Díaz, Dec. 5, 1913, AGEC, leg. 331, exp. 11,624.


Presidente Municipal of San Pedro to Gov. Práxedis de la Peña, Jan. 17, 1914, AGEC, leg. 335, exp. 26; various circulars and protests in Jan. 1914, AGEC, leg. 331, exp. 11,625; memo dated Jan. 8, 1914 referring to gambling concessions granted in Ciudad Porfirio Díaz, AGEC, leg. 329, sección la, exp. 11,477.


The interesting prison reports are contained in AGEC, leg. 334, I and II.


AGEC, leg. 334, exp. 68 has many police reports.


Early awards are reported in AGEC, leg. 329, sección la, exp. 11,466 and 11,475. For cutoffs and suspensions, see AGEC, leg. 331, exp. 11,634 and AGEC, leg. 329, exp. 11,477, sección la.


Reports of the Dirección General de Instrucción Pública to Governors de la Peña and Maass, Jan. 16 and Feb. 18, 1914, AGEC, leg. 330, exp. 11,573.


Memoranda and reports from Dirección General de Instrucción Pública to Gov. Maass, Feb. to June 1914, AGEC, leg. 340, exp. 90.


Gov. Mena of Coahuila to Governor of Chihuahua, Mar. 4, 1915, and Gov. Mena to Governor of Durango, Mar. 19, 1915. Both items in AGEC, leg. 336, exp. 11,734.


AGEC, leg. 336, exp. 11,717 contains this incident in full.


Various correspondence concerning electoral proceedings, early 1915, AGEC, leg. 336, exp. 11,708.


Julian Esquivel Alvarez to Gov. Ramírez, May 14, 1915 and Captain Josafet Román to Gov. Ramírez, May 7, 1915, AGEC, leg. 338, exp. 11,776.


Various communications and memoranda of the Junta Inspectora de Comercio, AGEC, leg. 338, exp. 11,773; Gov. Orestes Pereyra to General Macrino Martínez, June 27, 1915, AGEC, leg. 338, exp. 11,782.


AGEC, leg. 336, exp. 11,706 contains various decrees and correspondence concerning this matter; Gov. Ramírez to Rodolfo Farias Flores, Mar. 6, 1915, AGEC, leg. 336, exp. 11,734.


Gaceta Oficial (Chihuahua), May 24, 1915.


Four miners to Gov. Gustavo Espinosa Mireles, Oct. 25, 1915, AGEC, leg. 339, exp. 11,870; Inspector to Gov. Espinosa Mireles, Sept. 26, 1915, AGEC, leg. 339, exp. 11,870.


For a detailed study of Villista policies in Chihuahua, see Friedrich Katz, “Agrarian Changes in Northern Mexico in the Period of Villista Rule, 1913-1915” in James Wilkie, Michael C. Meyer, and Edna Monzón de Wilkie, eds., Contemporary Mexico: Papers of the IV International Congress of Mexican History (Los Angeles, 1976), pp. 259-273.


Jefe de Armas in Sierra Mojada to Gov. Ramírez, Apr. 5, 1915, and Ramírez to Jefe de Armas in Sierra Mojada, Apr. 12, 1915, AGEC, leg. 336, exp. 11,721.


Pedro Cuéllar, San Buenaventura, to Gov. Ramírez, Feb. 19, 1915, AGEC, leg. 336, exp. 11,722.


Presidente Municipal of Piedras Negras to Gov. Ramírez, Jan. 6, 1915 and Gov. Ramírez’ reply of Feb. 9, 1915, AGEC, leg. 336, exp. 11,724.


Oficial Mayor del Estado to Director de Instrucción Pública, Oct. 7, 1915, AGEC, leg. 340, exp. 11,875.


Gov. Espinosa Mireles to Carranza, Feb. 27, 1916, Centro de Estudios de Historia de México, México Telegramas de Venustiano Carranza (hereafter cited as TVC), Coahuila, carpeta 3; Espinosa Mireles to Carranza, fan. 29, 1916, TVC, Coahuila, carpeta 3; Carranza to Espinosa Mireles, Feb. 29, 1916, TVC, Coahuila, carpeta 3; Carranza to Espinosa Mireles, Mar. 1, 1916, TVC, Coahuila, carpeta 3.


Mauricio Rodríguez, Jr., “El problema agrario en Coahuila,” law thesis presented at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Escuela Nacional de Jurisprudencia (México, 1951), pp. 75-76.


Cuéllar Valdés, Historia de la Ciudad de Saltillo, pp. 132–133; Carranza to Jefe de Hacienda de Coahuila, Jan. 27, 1916, TVC, Coahuila, carpeta 3.


Federico Garza to Carranza, June 22, 1916, TVC, Coahuila, carpeta 3; workers and teachers of Saltillo to Gov. Espinosa Mireles and Carranza, June 6, 1916, TVC, Coahuila, carpeta 3.


Excélsior, Mar. 2 and Mar. 5, 1919. For information on Carranza’s attempts to secure protection of Mexican immigrants in the United States, see Matt S. Meier and Feliciano Rivera, The Chicanos: A History of Mexican Americans (New York, 1972), pp. 147, 202-203; Mark Reisler, By the Sweat of their Brow: Mexican Immigrant Labor in the United States, 1900-1940 (Westport, Conn., 1976), pp. 3-48; Rodolfo Acuña, Occupied America: The Chicane’s Struggle toward Liberation (San Francisco, 1972), pp. 132-134.


Decree dated Nov. 26, 1917, and letter from Presidente Municipal of Jiménez to President of Coahuilan Congress, Mar. 1, 1918, APLC, 23rd Legislature, 1917–1919, Comisión de Agricultura e Industria, Peticiones, exp. 1.


For a summary of important considerations, see Villarello Velez, Historia de la Revolución en Coahuila, pp. 327-332. The 1918 constitution of Coahuila is reproduced in the same author’s Coahuila: 150 años de vida constitucional (Saltillo, 1977), pp. 173-227.


A copy of this decree is contained in APLC, Comisión de Gobernación, 1917-1918, exp. 24.


Douglas W. Richmond, “El nacionalismo de Carranza y los cambios socioeconómicos, 1915-1920,” Historia Mexicana, 26 (July-Sept. 1976), 107-131.

Author notes


The author is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Texas at Arlington. He wishes to acknowledge helpful comments and criticism from David C. Bailey, William H. Beezley, Linda Hall, Stanley Langston, David R. Maciel, and James A. Sandos. The University of Texas at Arlington Organized Research Fund awarded the author a travel grant which financed the research.