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Pancho Villa and the Multinationals: United States Mining Interests in Villista Mexico, 1913–1915*

  • William K. Meyers (a1)

Extract

Pancho Villa is an intriguing figure of the Mexican Revolution. His popular movement dominated northern Mexico from 1913 to 1915, greatly influencing the revolution's course and the character of modern Mexican politics. As a revolutionary, Villa remains immortalised as a bold and charismatic military leader who rose from poverty to attack the wealthy and powerful while championing peasants' and workers' rights. He also stands as a prominent symbol of national pride, a leader who fought against foreign domination and dared to attack the United States directly. But how ‘revolutionary’ were Villa and the Villista movement? What did they actually accomplish? If Francisco Madero stands for political rights and democracy, Emiliano Zapata for land reform, and Venustiano Carranza for nationalism and the 1917 Constitution, whatdoes Villa represent?

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1 Terrazas, Silvestre, El Verdadero Pancho Villa (Mexico, 1985), p. 11. Basic to this study are Katz, F., The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, The United States and the Mexican Revolution (Chicago, 1981); ‘Agrarian changes in northern Mexico in the period of Villista rule, 1913–1915’, in Wilkie, James W., Meyer, Michael C., and Wilkie, Edna Mozon de (eds.), Contemporary Mexico: Papers of the Fourth International Congress of Mexican History (Berkeley, 1976); ‘A Dónde Ibamos con Pancho Villa: Un Diálogo con Friedrich Katz Sobre Política y Administración’, in La Cultura en México: Suplemento de Siempre, 26 01. 1977, pp. ixxii; and ‘Volvámonos con Pancho Villa’, Nexos, no. 87, pp. 3748.

2 The most important, reliable, and complete sources for this study are articles in The Engineering and Mining Journal (EMJ), the mouthpiece for US mining interests. EMJ followed events in Mexico very carefully and also accurately reported the behaviour and opinions of the US mine owners. This is corroborated by Bernstein's, Marvin D. pioneering work, The Mexican Mining Industry (Yellow Springs, Ohio, 1965), ch. 8. The more formal and legal communications and records of the Villistas and mining interests are the US diplomatic archives and the United States Department of State, Records Relating to the Internal Affairs of Mexico, 1910–1929, Microfilm Roll 210, 812.63 (USDS, 812.63). This file contains a wealth of information concerning US mining interests and their dealings with Mexico.

3 US sources sometimes refer to Mexico's northern states as the ‘Guggenheim States’. For an overview and statistics on mining in Mexico during this period see The Mexican Year Book, 1912–1916, ‘The Mining Industry in 1911–1915’ (London, 1912–16). Concerning the importance of mining to Villa, see Clendenen, Clarence C., The United States and Pancho Villa (Ithaca, 1961), pp. 61–2; Bernstein, , Mexican Mining, chs. 5, 6, 9, and p. 107; Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the U.S., 1911 (Washington, D. C), pp. 720–30; EMJ, vol. 103, 6 Jan. 1917, p. 77; Gómez, Marte R., La Reforma Agraria en las Filas Villistas (Mexico, 1966); Almada, Francisco R., La Revolución en el estado de Chibuabua (Mexico, 1964); Katz, ‘Agrarian Changes’.

4 Bernstein, , Mexican Mining, pp. 30–2. On 25 March 1905 Limantour extensively amended the Porfirian tax laws of 1892 and 1897. This further reduced tax rates for mining companies from 1887 levels. Despite this reduction, mining interests complained that taxes were still too high. Bernstein cites the tax rates that applied to mining companies, although the precise amount paid by each company is difficult to determine. Bernstein does note that reduced taxes caused government collections to drop from 9½ to 5½million pesos.

5 While acknowledging foreigners' privileged position within the mining sector and their exploitation of workers, French notes that companies such as ASARCO had initiated their own ‘internal’ changes or reforms in order to create a ‘reliable and suitable’ work force. This employment package included a bonus system of paying higher wages for regular attendance, along with offering housing, schools and hospitals. Consequently, French found that workers in the Hidalgo district, Chihuahua, ‘preferred work to revolution’. See French, William E., ‘Peaceful and Working People: The Inculcation of the Capitalist Work Ethic in a Mexican Mining District, 1880–1920’, unpubl. PhD. diss., University of Texas, Austin, 1990, pp. 320–1, 346–50. The question here, it seems, centres on the degree to which Villa offered the opportunity for both work and fundamental structural changes that would truly benefit mine workers.

6 For general overviews of Villa's participation in the Mexican Revolution, see Florescano, Enrique et al. (eds.), Así Fue la Revolutión Mexicana (Mexico, 1985), vol. 4, ‘La Lucha Constitucionalista’, pp. 511–17, 549–57, 579–86; vol. 5, ‘El Triunfo de la Revolutión’, pp. 763–6, 835–56, 891–6, 905–12; Ulloa, Berta, Historia de la Revolución Mexicana, 1914–1917, vol. 4, ‘La Revolución Escindida’; vol. 5, ‘La Encrucijada de 1915’ (Mexico, 1979); Gilly, Adolfo, La Revolución interrumpida (Mexico, 1971); Cumberland, Charles C., The Mexican Revolution: The Constitutionalist Years (Austin, 1972); Quirk, Robert E., The Mexican Revolution: The Convention of Aguascalientes (Bloomington, lnd., 1960); Knight, Alan, The Mexican Revolution: Counter-Revolution and Reconstruction (Cambrídge, 1986), vol. 2; and U.S.-Mexican Relations 1910–1940: An Interpretation, Monograph Series no. 28 (San Diego, 1987); Katz, , Secret War, pp. 119383; and Clendenen, , The United States, chs. 415.

7 Así Fue, pp. 549–57; Almada, La Revolución; Bernstein, , Mexican Mining, p. 107; Katz, , Secret War, pp. 136–45; ‘Agrarian Changes’.

8 Bernstein, , Mexican Mining, pp. 100, 102, 128–9; González Navarro, Moisés, ‘Xenofobia y Xenofilia en La Revolución Mexicana’, Historia Mexicana, pp. 569–79; O'Connor, Harvey, The Guggenheims (New York, 1937), p. 33; Knight, , Mexican Revolution, vol. 2, p. 429. For the relation between world mineral prices and company policy, see EMJ, vol. 98, no. 10 (5 Sept. 1914), p. 449.

9 Ulloa, , Historia, p. 223; USDS, 812.63, nos. 1–3 (Feb.–June 1914); EMJ, vol. 96, no. 9 (30 Aug. 1913). P. 418.

10 O'Connor, , Guggenheims, p. 337; Bernstein, , Mexican Mining, p. 105.French, , ‘Peaceful and working people’, pp. 30–4.

11 O'Connor, , Guggenheims, pp. 335–6; Clendenen, , United States, pp. 65, 73; French, , ‘Peaceful and working people’, pp. 352–3.

12 EMJ, vol. 97, no. 2 (10 Jan. 1914), p. 138; no. 18 (2 May 1914), p. 919.

13 Katz, , Secret War, p. 184; Cumberland, , Mexican Revolution, pp. 277–9; Clendenen, , United States, p. 59; Knight, , U.S.-Mexican Relations, pp. 95–6.

14 EMJ, vol. 97, no. 2 (10 Jan. 1914), p. 293; Bernstein, , Mexican Mining, pp. 104–5, 108; French, , ‘Peaceful and working people’, pp. 354–5. French notes that mining interests preferred to deal with Manuel Chao rather than face Tomás Urbina or Villa. Again, this reflects the various levels of negotiation, i.e., national, regional and local, which characterised policy toward property during the revolution. In general mine managers were willing to accommodate anyone who could preserve ‘order’ in their area.

15 O'Connor, , Guggenheims, p. 336; EMJ, vol. 97, no. 18 (2 May 1914), p. 919; Katz, , Secret War, pp. 195202; French quotes ASARCO's Santa Barbara superintendent telling Chao, ‘as a foreign company we have nothing to do with the present struggle’. ‘Peaceful and working people’, pp. 347–9.

16 EMJ, vol. 97, no. 2 (10 Jan. 1914), p. 138; no. 18 (2 May 1914), p. 919.

17 Archive Silvestre Terrazas, Berkeley, Calif., (AST), Box 84, file 1; Terrazas, , El Verdadero, pp. 1219; Knight, , Mexican Revolution, p. 44; Cumberland, , Mexican Revolution, pp. 188–90; Bernstein, , Mexican Mining, p. 107. French makes the point that popular resentment was often greatest when the mining companies had to close (private communication). This seems normal, especially since workers did not completely understand all of the ‘whys’ of mining operations. Once in power, Villa's goal was always to have the mines and smelters operating.

18 EMJ, vol. 98, no. 3 (18 July 1914), p. 126.

19 USDS, 812.69, nos. 391, 394, 396, 399 and 400. Villa is frequently accused of showing favouritism toward his generals by allowing them to nationalise properties. He used rewards to maintain their loyalty and to provide resources for their soldiers. This practice was not common in the mining sector as mines did not yield any immediate revenues and constituted a more complex problem than agricultural properties. Villa also did not wish to alienate the US mine owners. See Tobler, Hans-Werner, ‘La Paradoja del Ejército Revolucionario: su papel social en la reforma agraria Mexicana’, Historia Mexicana (Mexico, 1971), no. 81, p. 41; Almada, , La Revolución, p. 197; Katz, , Secret War, pp. 254, 264–5, 280; Clendenen, , United States, pp. 41, 63, 65; Knight, , Mexican Revolution, pp. 334–7.

20 USDS, 812.63 no. 1045; EMJ, vol. 98, no. 3(18 July 1914), p. 126. The USDS, 812.63 file is full of complaints from mining companies about the policies of local Villista leaders. French also emphasises that some smelters were so desperate for certain types of ores that they allowed gambusinos (miners stealing ore) to work their mines. French, , ‘Peaceful and working people’, pp. 350–1.

21 EMJ, vol. 97, no.5 (31 Jan. 1914), p. 293; Wagner, Henry R., Bullion to Books (Los Angeles, 1942), pp. 167–9; Clendenen, , United States, pp. 44–5, 5, 75, 105, 129; Katz, , Secret War, pp. 265–7.

22 Gilly, , La revolución, chs. 46; Katz, , Secret War, pp. 145–55, 258–65; Knight, , Mexican Revolution, ch. 2; Hart, John M., Revolutionary Mexico: The Coming and Process of the Mexican Revolution (Berkeley, 1987), ch. 9.

23 USDS, 812.63, nos. 433, 479; Foreign Relations U.S., 1914, pp. 720–3; Bernstein, , Mexican Mining, p. 107.

24 USDS, 812.63, no. 437, 433. A referee noted that Consul Marion Letcher so intensely disliked Villa from the beginning that he is ‘not a good barometer’ of opinion. While this may be true, Letcher's observations and reporting of events certainly played a significant role in shaping responses and strategies from US interests. Here again I would suggest that a thorough review of the USDS, 812.63 file provides an abundance of interpretations of events and a good understanding of the different needs and wide range of opinions expressed by foreign businessmen and diplomats during Villa's rule.

25 Ibid., no. 433, 399; Katz, , Secret War, p. 261.

26 USDS, 812.63, no. 704; Katz, , Secret War, pp. 119–55; Gilly, , La revolución, pp. 115–28.

27 EMJ, vol. 98, no. 5 (1 Aug. 1914), p. 231; Clendenen, , United States, pp. 44–5, 47, 55, 65, 105, 120.

28 EMJ, vol. 98, no. 20 (14 Nov. 1914), pp. 232, 890.

29 USDS, 812.63, no. 550; O'Connor, , Guggenheims, p. 336.

30 EMJ, vol. 98, no. 10 (5 Sept. 1914), p. 449.

31 EMJ, vol. 99, no. 21 (22 May 1915). P. 901.

33 USDS, 812.63, no. 579; Katz, , Secret War, pp. 264–5, 280.

34 USDS, 812.68, no. 1039, 1051, 1054, 914, 115a. MSOA was also known as the Committee of American and Foreign Owners of Mines and Smelters in Mexico. It formally represented virtually all US companies except the Greene-Cananea and Phelps-Dodge operations in Sonora and the Robert Towne interests in Chihuahua and Zacatecas. In contrast to other US interests, the Phelps-Dodge Corporation seems to have avoided any conflict with the Constitutionalists, was not closed down and made no protests to the State Department.

35 Ibid., nos. 914–23, 1039; Clendenen, , United States, pp. 184, 186.

36 USDS, 812.63, nos. 1045, 1048, 1051, 1054.

38 Ibid., no. 1060. French, , ‘Peaceful and working people’, pp. 320–1, 354–5.

39 EMJ, vol. 98, no. 7 (15 Aug. 1914), p. 327; O'Connor, , Guggenheims, p. 335; Bernstein, , Mexican Mining, p. 108.

40 EMJ, vol. 98, no. 7 (15 Aug. 1914), p. 327.

41 El Diario oficial del Estado de Jalisco (Guadalajara, 3 April 1915), pp. 190–2; United States Department of State, Records Relating to the Internal Affairs of Mexico: 1910–1929, Record Group 59, Decimal Files, includes Series 812.00, 312.00, 512.00 (SDR, 812.00), no. 15582, Roll 47, exp. 3; SDR, 812.512, no. 764, Roll. 176, exp. 1045; USDS, 812.63, nos. 582–3, 588, 1049; EMJ, vol. 99, no. 15 (10 April 1915), pp. 687–9.

42 EMJ, vol. 99, no. 15 (10 April 1915), p. 670; USDS, 812.63, nos. 582–3, 618.

43 USDS, 812.63, no. 99 (15 May 1915).

44 USDS, 812.63, nos. 49 (10 April 1915), 51 (12 April 1915), 57 (27 March 1915), 44–5 (27 March 1915, 3 April 1915); EMJ, vol. 99, no. 15 (10 April 1915), p. 670.

45 Foreign Relations of U.S., 1915, pp. 908, 912; USDS, 812.63, nos. 58 (14 April 1915, 17 April 1915, 22 April 1915), 61 (25 April 1915), 74 (27 April 1915), 75 (22 April 1915), 113 (31 March 1915, 15 April 1915), 114 (14 April 1915). These files contain numerous other reports, protests and requests from mine owners concerning Villista policy.

46 Foreign Relations of U.S., 1915, p. 917; USDS, 812.63, PP. 845–6 (4 May 1915); Katz, , Secret War, p. 264.

47 USDS, 812.63, nos. 91 (17 and 20 May 1915), 96 (20 May 1915), 123 (20 May 1915), 51 (12 April 1915); SDR, 312.11. no. 6066 (n.d.)

48 SDR, 812.00, no. 15490 (19 July 1915); Quirk, , Mexican Revolution, p. 262.

49 USDS, 812.63, nos. 91 (15 May 1915), 99 (15 May 1915), 100 (24 May 1915), 135, 143 (26 July 1915).

50 USDS, 812.63, nos. 121 (16 June 1915), 125 (29 June 1915), 129 (15 July 1915), 135, 143 (26 July 1915); Foreign Relations of U.S., 1915, pp. 926–40.

51 O'Connor, , Guggenheims, p. 336.

52 Bernstein, , Mexican Mining, p. 10; Ulloa, , Historia, pp. 203–6; SDR, 812.00, no. 14622 (18 March 1915), ‘Report of Duval West’ (Feb. 1915).

53 Fue, Así, ‘La Revolución día a día’, vol. 7, pp. 1481–2, 1484.

54 Katz, , Secret War, pp. 298307; Katz, , private communication; Knight, U.S.-Mexican Relations, ch. 7, ‘Wilson and Mexico, 1913–1921’.

55 SDR, 812.00, no. 14622 (18 March 191.5), ‘Report of Duval West’ (Feb. 1915); Katz, , Secret War, p. 278; Katz, private communication.

56 Katz, , Secret War, pp. 298307; ‘Agrarian changes’; ‘Volvámonos’; ‘A Dónde Ibamos’; Gilly, A. and Lavretski, I., Pancho Villa: Dos Ensayos (Mexico, 1978), pp. 3748; Clendenen, , United States, pp. 155, 158; Knight, , U.S.-Mexican Relations, chs. 4, 5.

57 Clendenen, , United States, pp. 73, 80, 105.

58 Katz, , Secret War, pp. 280, 284; Katz, private communication.

59 Katz, , Secret War, pp. 145–52, 280–7, 314–26.

60 Gilly, , La revolución, ch. 4, p. 297.

61 Reed, John, Insurgent Mexico (New York, 1978), p. 58.Benavides, Luís y Adrián Aguirre, Las Grandes Batallas de la División del Norte (Mexico, 1974), pp. 23187.

* For financial support in researching this article, I thank Wake Forest's William C. Archie Fund for Faculty Excellence. I also thank Dr Julie Edelson, Dr Sarah Watts, Dr William French and, especially, Dr Friedrich Katz for their comments and criticism.

Pancho Villa and the Multinationals: United States Mining Interests in Villista Mexico, 1913–1915*

  • William K. Meyers (a1)

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